Friday, September 12, 2014

Bhutan 2014: From Mongar Back to Jakar

The next morning (May 13th) we traveled from Mongar back to Jakar. Our first stop was at a roadside market just below Mongar town.
This was fiddlehead fern season, a treat reminiscent of asparagus. Joan and I enjoyed it several times on this trip.
A local specialty is toasted corn ... a heartier, unadulterated version of corn flakes. Eastern Bhutan grows a lot of corn.
We continued on after Tshering, our guide, bought some items, and began the climb to Thrumshingla, a gradual ascent at first.

Roughly in the vicinity of the Shongar ruins Joan called out for us to stop. She had spotted tigers that she had first seen on our drive into Mongar, two days earlier.
It has been a long tradition in Bhutan to create a small elevated platform in a farm field, where the farmer might sleep (or not) to protect the crops as they near ripeness. Raiders that must be deterred can include creatures up to and including wild hogs. This inventive farmer created or obtained faux tigers to take the day shift. A second one was more in the shade.
Tshering was impressed with Joan's eyesight and spotting skills; these photos were taken at 20x zoom.

In this corn field, or one just down the road, we spotted a yellow-breasted greenfinch.
And within minutes thereafter a fearless oriental magpie robin checked us out.
At sites where there had been quasi-permanent shelters erected for the road repair crews, there were permanent warning signs. (DOR is Department Of Roads.)
Some other roadside signs we remember are, "Shooting Stone" (what in the US would be "Falling Rocks") and "Inconvenience Regretted" ("End Construction"). Joan is fond of a slogan painted on one truck, "Must believe in my selfs."

On this segment of recently repaved road, we took advantage of the pullout and I photographed the leaning tree.
Kaka drove the van higher and higher on our way to the pass. We left the repaved road behind and drove by a cow.
Then fog descended. For several minutes I was concerned that our already modest pace would be slowed further all the way to the top,
but the foggy zone did not last long.

The steep-sided Himalayas often produce rockfalls that sweep away the pavement. Maintaining the national road/lateral highway is a constant struggle, especially during and just after the monsoons.
It requires delivery of stone and sand.
Our weaving along the concave and convex curves of the road was suddenly interrupted by a blood pheasant. I had only a few seconds to take this photo through the windshield. The GIMP helped me reduce the windshield effects.
Sometimes you can see the road ahead,
and sometimes you hope there is a road ahead.

The section leading down towards Ura, the easternmost town in the Bumthang district, stitches together hairpin switchbacks.
The outside of one of these curves was large and grassy, and became our picnic lunch spot. Yum! The big pot is a rice and corn mixture, a specialty of eastern Bhutan.
From our stop we could see the valley town of Ura peeking over a hill (click on the photo to enlarge).
While Tshering and Kaka cleaned and packed up, Joan and I strolled down the road, bird-listening and bird-watching. I did get a picture of a Mrs. Gould's sunbird.
A bypass has largely been finished from just east of Ura to Nangar, on the national highway just south of Jakar. The first few miles were still unpaved, but most of it is new, remarkably straight pavement. Kaka found it boring. Just after we turned onto this bypass, Joan spotted a Eurasian Cuckoo with prey in its beak. It was further away than I would have liked, but I did get a blurry photo. Are you getting the idea that Joan is an excellent spotter? Good.
From Nangar we continued on to Jakar, traversing a section of the highway that we had skipped when hiking from Tharpaling to Jakar. However, today's story was not yet over.

First, when we arrived at the Yu Gharling Resort (Hotel), they assigned us to room 202, not, as our guide Tshering thought he had arranged, a room in the same building as three nights before. A consultation between Tshering and the manager ensued, including the manager's comment about "a large tour group." We decided to take a look at 202, did so, and said it would be OK.

Then as we unpacked we noticed that some spots in the floor flexed, like walking across a trampoline. This wasn't reassuring, but we could walk around them. As we began to clean up, and Joan was undressed, the door between our room and the one adjacent began to open. Our previous room had not had such a suite-creating door. Joan called out "Excuse me!"  and the door-openers shut it. I went over to lock that door, but even with leaning on it and pressing both up and down to take out any slack, it would not latch. The deadbolt was at least a centimeter (perhaps 3/8") out of vertical alignment with the catch.

I pushed a chair against the door and in a position to block the lever-style handle from moving.

Tshering met us at dinner and told us that he would dine tonight with his brother-in-law at the Noryang restaurant. We told him that while, having unpacked, we would remain in 202 for one night, we needed to move for our second night. Tshering said if we packed before we left for tomorrow's activities the staff would move our stuff.

Joan and I had our private dinner. Near the end a woman from a couple of tables away came over, and the usual inter-tourist conversation began. "Where have you been so far?" She talked, and talked some more. Then she asked to sit down, and we said, "Sure." Oops. We were told about how many places she'd been in addition to Bhutan, how many languages she spoke, what an excellent traveler she was, and how clever she was. It was a strictly one-sided conversation. At about the half-hour mark her husband joined us, but her verbal assault did not abate. When the restaurant had emptied Joan and I deployed the "I think the staff needs to clean up" defense, and we both prayed that she would not follow us all the way back to our room. Fortunately she paused at the parting of our routes and Joan and I made our escape. Inside, we laughed at the absurdity of it all, but resolved to keep an eye out and not approach her orbit again.

Tomorrow we would explore more of the Bumthang region, including a hike. Sneak preview: it was a great day.