After breakfast, it was time to hit the road.
“Mr. Alex is a lion, how can a lion have a hangover?” That’s the way my driver greeted me after a day of drinking and golf and a night of beer and great food. We left the capital and headed to Punakha with a stop at Dochula pass (3,150m) for what would have been a great view of the Himalayan range, if the sky had been clear. Unfortunately, it was too foggy to see the mountain range from the pit stop. Perhaps, we would have better luck after a challenging hike even higher up.
After an espresso, it was time for TPOL to get one with nature by participating in an activity I usually find pointless. Why people enjoy wandering in the woods is something I had yet to figure out. Since this was Bhutan and I was on a quest to find happiness, I gave it another shot.
As I made my way to the top, I found an older man walking at a lightning pace, much faster than my guide and Ms. TPOL. I left them behind and followed him. At over 10k feet, it was difficult to breathe and after weeks in Shanghai of doing little exercise (TPOL’s Guide to Libations in Shanghai), I found it physically challenging. I pressed on. I couldn’t let the old timer think I was weak.
When we reached the top, we were greeted by a pack of dogs leading to this photo which I have captioned, “The isle of dogs.”
Again, it was too foggy to see what I imagine to be a beautiful view. Perhaps it was the temple or perhaps it was the serotonin from the climb, but at that moment I appreciated hiking and wasn’t bothered by the fog.
On the way down, I decided to run. The soft mud made it comfortable to sprint, but there were some close encounters where I almost crashed. Similar to when I ran the Athens marathon (see Athens Marathon Course Review), I didn’t stop to take photos until the end. The feeling of being free would be undermined if I stopped to take pictures. I enjoyed the challenge of completing the mission and the competition of how long it took me to reach the finish line. With this mindset, I finally appreciate hiking. The “stop to smell the flowers” hiking is still not for me.
Following the trek, we went for lunch. One knock on these organized tours is that they take you to pre-arranged restaurants. Day 2’s lunch was bad and this one was as well. It seems like they find the most basic restaurant to increase their margins. I would rather stop at a fast food place for beef momo than be taken to a bland restaurant. Although the food was not great, I did buy a beautiful tracksuit for the great price of $50 (see below). The Bhutanese thought I was a professional footballer.
After lunch, we arrived in Punakha. Driving by, we saw Punakha Dzong, the Palace of Great Happiness, the oldest and most beautiful fortress in Bhutan. But today was not for pictures or cultural visits. Today was for adventure. The first was crossing the Punakha Suspension Bridge. Jumping up and down is frowned upon and can terrify others that are crossing. It is also a good time. Tracksuit Modeling
The main event was the white water rafting. Tourists are given two choices: the gentler female river called Mo Chhu or the serious, choppy, category 3 white water rapids of the male river called Pho Chhu. Naturally, I voted for the male river. When the guide asked if I had any experience I said absolutely not. Following the safety debrief, I was scared of what I was getting myself into.
The following hour consisted of the following:
All forward! Everyone would row in synchrony.
Hold on! I would grab the rope and hold on for dear life as the rapids would slam into my face.
Stop and relax. I would enjoy the moment of calm.
Lock your feet! Put one foot in front of the other and paddle like hell.
Stop and relax. It’s over.
Next to bungee jumping (see 3,2,1 Bungee! Bungee Jumping Victoria Falls), this was the most exhilarating activity I have participated in. Like hiking, there was no time for me to take photos. I was engaged in the moment. Like bungee, we were lucky enough to have the guide capture a few pics in the brief moments of calm.
The Bhutan trip started off tame but quickly turned into a real adventure.
TPOL’s TIP: I kept requesting not to eat at the hotel or at tourist restaurants. Sometimes the guides obliged and sometimes they did not. It was the only frustrating part of the trip.
Day 3 was the best up to this point. It felt like happiness was right around the corner.