Following a lovely breakfast we checked out of our hotel in Thimphu and boarded our transport for our first stop, the Desho Paper Factory. The next hour passed in a heartbeat as we learned out traditional paper making techniques. The bark of the black Daphne bush is used for the pulp: Daphne is an invasive pest species in western Canada – perhaps this is a way to utilize it and eradicate it. Once washed, dried and stripped into fibres it is added to water and glue- made from hibiscus root- plus any botanicals, then put in layers and pressed to remove the water. The sheets are then separated and hung to dry producing a beautiful paper suitable for paintings, diaries and fine calligraphy. An amazing process with the manufacturing area completely free of chemical smell. Translucent sheets of this parchment like paper hung in windows infused with various botanicals to create amazing patterns. An interesting pattern is made from cannabis leaves, a plant which grows wild in Bhutan but is illegal to harvest and use.
The weaving studio and outlet store was the next stop. The talent of the studio weavers is amazing – some pieces taking 18 months to complete. A few weavers are on site for demonstration purposes, the majority work from home. We spent some time with the weavers before moving on to the store. A beautiful nettle fibre hanging and a raw silk scarf have joined my growing pile of treasures.
Our final stop before heading east to Punakha was castle-monastery of Simtokha Dzong established in the 17 century, built to guard against incursions from the east through the valley from neighbouring powers. Our time there was magical as we watched monks being called to prayer and enjoyed our wandering in the flower beds surrounding the monastery.
The road out of Thimphu is a winding spectacular drive along a river which reminded us of the Fraser Canyon. Dochula pass (3100 meters) was our objective. During our drive we passed a number of cyclists headed to to the summit. It turned out they were with Sir Richard Bransons charity “Big Change” working together with Strive Bhutan. Big Change funds small scale education start-ups that have the potential to make a big difference to the education of future generations. Strive Bhutan is a 100 + mile trek across the Bhutanese mountains by like minded Strivers who will make a significant contribution to the Big Change fund raising budget. Sir Richard Branson was with them. He was very accessible to all who approached him and readily took advice from Jam Jam the goat in an impromptu chess game.
We got some photos of the 108 memorial stupas commissioned by the eldest queen mother to honour the memory of the Bhutanese soldiers killed fighting Indian Insurgents in 2003: before the high mountain mist rolled in.
Our descent into Punakha took about 90 minutes following a winding road with periodic spectacular views of the valley. On our journey we stopped at a local vegetable market which provided some photo ops enhanced by an entrancing group of kittens at a fruit stall. The Punakha region provides vegetables and fruit to most of Bhutan.
We stopped at a local village in the valley and embarked on a short hike through a series of small villages where rice harvesting was in progress. Wonderful photo ops in the late afternoon sun.
We are now settled into our hotel with a stunning view of the valley and Punakha. Stay tuned for tomorrow…..