Bhutan Day 8: A Festival Above the Rest

PARO - DOCHULA PASS
Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival 

Paro
An awe-inspiring view of Paro valley from our hotel balcony at COMO Uma Paro at 6.45am. Time flies and this was the last day of our trip before flying back the next morning. Waking up to such awesome views, we would definitely want to return and stay with COMO Uma Paro again in the future.

COMO Uma Paro
Breakfast with a view of the Paro valley.

COMO Uma Paro
Great food, great service, great views. If only breakfast is like this everyday.

COMO Uma Paro
Getting ready to check-out from this lovely hotel.

COMO Uma Paro
A memorable wefie with the lovely staff at COMO Uma Paro after my check-out was done.

COMO Uma Paro
All dressed up in gho and kira and posing for a wefie with our fantastic driver, Mr. Sangye (first from left), our jovial guide, Mr. Jigme (second from left), and our lovely friend from the hotel, Ms. Yeshi (second from right).

Bhutan road travel
On our way to Dochula Pass (again). Incidentally, our trip had coincided with the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival which is held on the 13th of December every year. As the name suggests, it's held at Dochula Pass.

Bhutan road travel
Bored with the 1.5 hour journey and started taking selfies through the side mirror. I had swapped with our tour guide and taken the front passenger seat again to prevent motion sickness.

Bhutan road travel
Some parts of the journey were well-paved, smooth, and scenic.

Bhutan road travel
And some sections were tormenting due to road improvement works.

Bhutan road travel
Passed by some small towns and had a glimpse into the locals' way of life.

Dochula Festival
This was the third time we were at Dochula Pass, once on Day 3 and another on Day 4. However, it was very different today with an obviously much larger crowd, mostly dressed in their traditional costumes.

Dochula Festival
It would take approximately 15 minutes to get to the festival ground on the hilltop from the car park.

Dochula Festival
Looking back halfway up the hill, we could get a good view of the Druk Wangyel Chortens, or the 108 memorial chortens.

Dochula Festival
Our cheerful tour guide, Mr. Jigme, getting some warmth in the cheerful morning sun.

Dochula Festival
A huge crowd had gathered around the festival ground, which uses a green plateau as the stage and with magnificent views of the Himalayan mountain range as its backdrop.

Dochula Festival
A wefie with the festival. Average temperature in mid-December ranges from 5 to 10 degrees Celsius. Very sunny but we were still feeling cold.

Dochula Festival
Catching the signature jump by the key performer.

Dochula Festival
We wonder if he was shivering in the cold morning wind.

Dochula Festival
The Druk Wangyel Festival was established only in 2011. The festival is to commemorate His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces’ victory over Indian insurgent forces residing in southern Bhutan in 2003.

Dochula Festival
The colourful costumes and dramatic dance of the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival.

Dochula Festival
A fascinating display of dance and choreography, all against the stunning backdrop of the Himalayan mountain range. At more than 7,000 metres, it's possibly the tallest backdrop for any stage.

Bhutan girl
An adorable girl standing on a chair and dancing to the music.

Dochula Festival
A complete catalogue of kira and toego.

Dochula Festival
The kira is the national dress for Bhutanese women. It is an ankle-length dress consisting of a rectangular piece of woven fabric wrapped around the body. Although there is a half-body kira available which is more like a long skirt. The toego is a long sleeve short jacket worn over a kira. And finally, the long scarf called rachu.

Dochula Festival
A fish-eye view of the festival ground. The few tents on the left were where the royal family members and VVIP guests were seated.

Samsung Gear 360
My new toy for this trip - the Samsung Gear 360. A fantastic tool to capture (and devour) the entire environment with just one click.

Selected 360 still images (condensed and screen-grabbed) can be viewed here:
http://aikkianphotography.blogspot.sg/2017/05/bhutan-360.html

Dochula Festival
Extravagant costume against a magnificent backdrop.

Dochula Festival
Some characters were hilarious.

Dochula Festival
The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Mr. Tshering Tobgay (third from left), and the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck (first woman in front), gracing the occasion.

Dochula Festival
Queen Mother and ministers gathering for a group photo.

Bhutan girls
Joyful and friendly children posing for a photo at the festival.

Thimphu valley
We spent close to 2 hours at the Dochula festival and headed back to Thimphu for lunch. Caught a great view of the capital before entering town and let's see if you could spot the giant Buddha again.

Tashi Namgay Paro
After an unhurried lunch at Thimphu, we were back in Hotel Tashi Namgay in Paro. Had wanted to try the traditional hot stone bath but decided better not to in such freezing temperature.

Tashi Namgay Paro
Walked along the river bank in front of the hotel and the views were stunning.

Tashi Namgay Paro
A lovely puppy at the hotel driveway.

Paro town
Visited the main street of Paro on our very last evening for some last minute shopping before flying off the next day.

Paro town
No need for fancy LED or neon signs.

Paro town
Our favourite shop to get more gho and kira, and anything to help us dress up more like a local.

Paro town
More kira shopping - totally spoilt for choice.

Paro town
Paro town
A young woman working patiently on colourful tassels used for altar decoration in temples.

Paro town
The beautiful finished product.

Bhutan boy
Fascinated by my camera, this little boy had stopped and posed for a photo on the street.

Paro town
Bhutan's 7-Eleven. There are plenty of "General Stores/Shops" which sell anything and possibly everything a local needs.

Paro town
Young monks on the streets of Paro.

Paro town
Spotted a few modern-looking cafes amidst rows of traditional Bhutanese crafts and sundry stores. Slowly but surely, the fabric of Paro is evolving and we may see more of such modern amenities in the near future.

Paro town
Always happy, always friendly.

Paro town
A provision shop owner watching television and having dinner with his family.

Paro town
A wefie with the family before we left for our own dinner. We were not being rude or intrusive. The shop owner is a good friend of our tour guide and driver.

Paro town
Mr. Jigme, our tour guide, all changed-up and ready for a cold night at the farmhouse where we'll be having our dinner.

Paro farmhouse
Our guide had arranged for a different kind of dinner for us on the very last night of our stay. We were brought to this local farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, up and cold in the mountain for our dinner.

Paro farmhouse
Beautifully hand-painted walls and beams surround the interior of the farmhouse. And proudly on display were none other than pictures of the 5 honourable Kings of Bhutan.

Bhutan food
Simple and delicious home-cooked Bhutanese food, paired with a glass of local whiskey - an essential for such freezing night.

Paro farmhouse
A final wefie with the farmhouse owner (extreme right). Thank you for such a fabulous dinner!

Paro farmhouse
After dinner, we were presented with a series of local song and dance, all performed with 'live' folk music. The lively dance had brought us through the many facets of Bhutanese history, art, culture, and their way of life.

Inevitably, the song and dance had reminded us of the Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival we were at in the morning today. And at more than 3,100 metres above sea level at Dochula Pass, that was certainly always a festival above the rest.



GENERAL TIPS AND USEFUL INFO:

Date of trip: 6 to 14 December 2016

Accommodation:
  • Osel Hotel, Thimphu
  • Hotel Lobesa, Punakha
  • Tashi Namgay Resort, Paro
  • COMO Uma Paro, Paro (additional stay)
Weather in Dec is cool and beautiful. The sun can be harsh and intense in the day. A pair of shades and sunblock would be good to have.

It could get warm in the day, especially when trekking up the mountains for hours. The option to layer multiple light clothing would be more sensible and convenient than one thick and heavy jacket. Temperature typically ranged from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius in the day, to freezing temperatures at night. Some hotels may not have very effective room heater. Hence, bring warm pyjamas just in case. Consider bringing a hot water bag to snug under your blanket (Hotel Lobesa had provided 2 and they were God-sent on that freezing night).

When visiting temples, Dzongs and places of importance, long pants and collared shirts/jackets would be required. For ladies, please wear long pants/skirts throughout the trip. Several places would require shoes to be removed before entering. Consider the ease of footwear removal if you do not wish to spend excessive time meddling with shoelaces.
A set of traditional attire - the Gho and Kira will be prepared for all tourists. You may choose to wear it any day, or every day. The tour guide and driver will guide you through the art of wearing.

Road condition was bad, as most roads were under repair or construction. The terribly bumpy road surfaces coupled with windy mountainous roads was the perfect formula for some dramatic motion sickness. Prepare for the worse - motion sickness medication, sour plum, mints, Axe Brand medicated oil, Tiger Balm; arm with them all if you need. If you know you are going to fall victim easily, request to swap with the tour guide for a front passenger seat, which I did for some parts of the journey before becoming Singapore's vomiting icon.

Food was delectable and palatable. The 4 of us, 2 Singaporeans and 2 Taiwanese, had all enjoyed every meal with smiles and praises. Ask for their local condiments and chilli to add some exciting flavours to your meal. Staff at any restaurant would usually be happy to serve. Their local chilli cheese (Ema Datshi) would also fire up any bland meal you may find. Ask what your tour guide and driver are eating and you may be in for some flavourful surprises.

Tuesdays are "Dry Days", which means, no alcoholic drinks are available.


GETTING STARTED

Visit Druk Asia (https://www.drukasia.com/) and start planning using their wide range of packages as a starting point. Contact their friendly staff if you have any question or would like to customise any part of the itinerary. It's not necessary to follow the itinerary strictly. You could arrange with your personal guide and work out a more "free-and-easy" programme when you are there. But your guide and driver would always be with you as there is no other way to get around this country.

It's best if you book through Druk Asia and going as a small group with just your family or friends instead of booking tours through big travel agencies. You'll then be getting your own tour guide, driver and vehicle.

The USD200 (off-peak) or USD250 (peak) per person per night includes accommodation, meals, and everything one needs in a day, minus frills and shopping. Ample bottled drinking water is provided daily in your personal vehicle and there is really no need to spend a single cent except for souvenirs, or at the Centenary Farmer's Market (Thimphu), if you are a fan of local flavours and ingredients.

For info on entry visa, daily tariff, and FAQs can be found here:


SOME PHOTOGRAPHY NOTES:

The sun can be harsh and intense in the day during this season. As you can see from the photos, most days were cloudless, which means intense direct sunlight hitting on your subject. The extreme high contrast in highlights and shadows would be a constant challenge for your camera's dynamic range. A fill-flash could be needed to eliminate harsh shadows on faces.

Carry light as there will be a lot of walking. Below are some popular places and their timings (based on our poor physical condition and carefree pace):
  • Tango Cheri Monastery, Thimphu - 75 to 90 mins ascend, 60 to 70 mins descend.
  • Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha - 40 to 45 mins (one-way) across the valley, paddy, and uphill.
  • Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge, Punakha - 20 mins (one-way) from Punakha Dzong.
  • Haa Valley View Trail - 60 mins descend (optional trekking to lunch).
  • Tiger's Nest Ascend First Section - 40 mins by horse, or 90 mins by foot.
  • Tiger's Nest Ascend Second Section - 120 mins by foot only.
  • Tiger's Nest Descend - 80 mins + 50 mins (usually with lunch in-between).
Bhutanese are generally very friendly and approachable. Most would love to have their photos taken. They are indeed a happy bunch and do not be shy to ask for a picture (wish I had done that more). Regardless, respect their preference and personal space.

Some parts of temples and Dzongs do not allow photography, with or without flash. Please check with your tour guide if unsure before firing off like there's no tomorrow. Show necessary respect to the people, culture and religion, please.

And here's what I've brought and used for this trip (was a tough decision):
  • Nikon D750
  • Nikon AF 16mm f2.8D Fisheye
  • Nikon AFS 20mm f1.8G ED
  • Nikon AFS 50mm f1.4G
  • Nikon AFS 24-120mm f4G ED VR
  • Nikon AFS 70-200mm f4G ED VR
  • Sony RX100 III
  • Sony X1000V Action Cam
  • Samsung Gear 360 (paired with Samsung S7)
  • ONA Messenger Bag - The Union Street

SO, TO VISIT OR NOT? WHEN TO VISIT?

Still trying to read up endless travel blogs and wondering whether you should be visiting Bhutan, or when you should be? First, it's a myth that Bhutan is expensive, because the daily charges cover everything! Second, it's not true that it's hard to get a tourist Visa (in the case of Singaporeans). It could be more difficult to get an air ticket during peak season simply due to the limited flights into the country.

It doesn't matter if it's the Happiness you are after or the Thunder Dragon you are seeking; or for us, just the Dragon King we were hoping to meet, there is every reason to make a trip to this magnificent country at least once in our lives. Or is there even the need for a reason at all?

"It doesn't matter when you get married
as long as it is the right person."
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on his Royal Wedding, 13 Oct 2011 

As the King has rightly said, visiting Bhutan is perhaps as emotional and impassioned as his big day. It doesn't matter when, which season, as there is no right time or best time to visit this lovely country, because it is certainly the right and best place to be.


4 comments:

  1. Thank you for your photos and trip descriptions! You have such lovely photographs and write so very well. I will be visiting Bhutan this spring (June 2018) and this has given me a lot to think about for the visit. Cheers from Colorado, USA...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Peter. Am glad that the photos and writings could be of any help for your upcoming trip. And thank you for the compliment and encouragement! Feel free to let me know if you any questions. Most importantly, enjoy your trip! Cheers!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Love to see more posts from this festival's photography.
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