Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bhutan 2014: Over Thrumshingla to Mongar

Today, May 11th, was a long road trip from Jakar to Mongar including the pass of Thrumshing La, the second highest pass in Bhutan at 12,400' (almost 3800m). This snapshot from Google Maps shows Jakar at upper left and Mongar at lower right (click to enlarge).
We had been so pleased with yesterday's lunch at Noryang restaurant that Tshering, our guide, chose them to supply a hot travel lunch. We would picnic on the road to Mongar.

As we left the Bumthang area the villages and farms thinned out. The national highway took us along the edge of the Ura valley, one of the four valleys of Bumthang. Shortly after 10:00 there was a brief stop,
for cattle being taken to higher pastures for the summer. Note how the truck coming at us almost fills the road; this is common and one reason why I'm never going to drive myself in Bhutan. Joan and I felt we were safe with Kaka at the wheel.

Inside Thrumshingla National Park the soil takes on a whiter hue and sandy texture, as revealed by these road cuts.
We arrived at Thrumshingla just before 11:00.
One of our first tasks was to add our string of prayer flags, blessed by the monk at the Zhiwaling in Paro six days before. Tshering and Kaka did most of the work, but Joan and I helped. The straight, not-yet-drooping string of flags on top is ours.
Tshering took a photo of Joan and me standing in front of the flags. The black pouch on my belt is my camera holder.
Also one with Kaka included, looking impressive in his sunglasses.
We reciprocated with a photo of Tshering (on left) and Kaka at the pass marker.
Then we shoved off and started downhill.
Soon we could see the town of Sengor below and ahead. It's about 700 meters (2300') below the pass.
Bird sightings picked up almost immediately. Here is a cooperative white-capped water redstart.
Joan and I had hoped to see rhododendron in bloom, and we passed through the right climate zone on our way down to Sengor. This species grows tall.
We passed through Sengor and Tshering and Kaka found our lunch spot, up a short but steep driveway to a communications tower. They pulled folding chairs and a table out of the van and assembled a dining room.
It's amazing there was room in the van for the picnic equipment along with everyone's luggage.
A chorten is in the middle of the highway where the driveway splits off.
Tshering suggested that Joan and I take a stroll down the road while he and Kaka cleaned up. Right away we spotted a jack-in-the-pulpit with a striped/spotted stalk.
The stalk identifies it as the species Arisaema Nepenthoides; the yellowed color of the hood indicates that the bloom is rapidly aging.
Some avian teasers played hide-and-seek with us, but nothing that I could photograph. Soon the van came down the road and picked us up.

This was one of the best waterfalls along this section of the highway. During the monsoon (July-September) its flow must be intimidating.
By 2:30 Kaka needed a break (I would have been exhausted). He relaxed with a snack at this roadside restaurant, while Joan and I took another short road walk.
Joan and I think this picture is of a red-vented bulbul, although it took a while to reach a conclusion because of the backlighting and viewing from below.
We eventually reached the Kuri Chhu (river), and crossed the Kuri Zampa bridge at an altitude of 561 meters (1840'), having lost over 10,000' of altitude from Thrumshing La. Then it was back to up to the town of Mongar, at 1600 meters (5250'). Such a number is somewhat arbitrary because Mongar sprawls along and up a mountainside.

We stayed for the next two nights at the Wangchuk Hotel (not Hotel Wangchuk, an outfit in Thimphu). This was the view from our room.
The satellite dish and the large prayer wheel, visited at all hours, are a typical Bhutanese juxtaposition.
Joan and I spent a while at the corner of the hotel terrace watching a kuru (lawn darts) match. Several of the hotel staff were taking it in as well.

The Wangchuk is structured around an open-air interior courtyard. The dining room is on the ground level.
GeoEx had warned us that accommodations would become more and more basic the further east we went in Bhutan. Wangchuk Hotel was therefore a pleasant surprise. I can't speak for all the rooms in the hotel; however, ours was basic but clean and comfortable. There was one ten or fifteen minute power outage during our first dinner, for which the staff was prepared with portable battery powered lights, and they served the same tasteless "vegetable soup" starter as the Yu Gharling in Jakar, but overall it exceeded our expectations.

Tomorrow, a visit to Lhuentse and Khoma.