The view from my hotel room with clear blue skies again today on the morning of day 2.
Breakfast at the hotel before checking out and meeting up with Hem and Seren for some more sightseeing.
Arriving at our first stop, Memorial Chorten.
Memorial Chorten is a stupa built in 1974 to honor the third Bhutanese King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and grandfather to the current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. We then joined the numerous residents of the city walking clockwise around the stupa while they recited prayers at the start of their day.
And spinning the prayer wheels for a blessing.
After a short drive up the hill we arrived at the Buddha Dordenma statue. The 52 metre tall statue was built for the 60th anniversary of the fourth Bhutanese King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
Kanthaka, a favourite white horse of Prince Siddhartha and whom later became Buddha. The statue was completed in 2015 after nine years of construction and at a cost of $47 million.
Two of the many statues of dakinis (sky dancers) or ‘female messengers of wisdom’ surrounding the Buddha Dordenma.
We then headed off for a trek through the nearby Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park that is situated in the hills above Thimphu.
Prayer flags fluttering in the breeze with the north of Thimphu beyond.
The trail is said to be used by the King for mountain biking and it seemed to be the perfect place for it.
Looking down the valley to the southern end of Thimphu.
It was great to be out and about in the almost perfect weather.
Tashichho Dzong in the distance before we made our descent back down into the city.
Back in central Thimphu where I met up with Ms. Maya, whom I had been emailing back and forth at Raven Tours to organise my trip. She had started out as an intern at the company while Hem was a tour guide and they were now husband and wife.
Enjoying a lassi with my gift of lemongrass spray that Ms. Maya had given me.
We then hit the road again for the one hour drive back to Paro.
Rinpung Dzong beside the Paro Chhu just after we arrived in Paro.
I had asked Hem earlier about having some authentic Bhutanese food so we headed into town to see how my tastebuds would cope with the super spicy cuisine.
Apart from the red rice, all the dishes had some measure of chili added. On the far right is the super spicy Ema datshi, a national dish of Bhutan. It is made from chili peppers and cheese; "ema" means "chili" and "datshi" means "cheese". I only managed a small bite of the Ema datshi before I was gulping down the water!
After the fiery but very tasty lunch we headed up the hill to the National Museum of Bhutan. The main building was closed for repair after an earthquake in 2011 and instead they had a sample of exhibits in an adjacent annexe.
The original museum building was built in 1649 as a ta dzong (watchtower) to protect the Rinpung Dzong in the valley below.
Looking down the valley to Rinpung Dzong.
And at the entrance of Rinpung Dzong after walking down the hill.
Just inside was a very colourful mural of the six realms of existence of Saṃsāra: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells.
Inside the dochey (courtyard), the five storey tall utse (central tower). Built in 1644, the dzong survived an earthquake in 1897 but was severely damaged by fire in 1907.
Looking north-west along Paro Valley.
To the south with the Nyamai Zam, a traditional wooden covered bridge that spans the Paro Chhu river.
And a panoramic shot of the valley.
Crossing Nyamai Zam. Earlier versions of the bridge were removed in time of war to protect the dzong.
We then went for a stroll down the main street of Paro.
The goods were from both neighbouring China and India.
Phallus art for sale. Bhutan has celebrated the phallus for centuries and its origins have been traced either to a popular Bhutanese saint or pre-Buddhist pagan rituals.
Local teenagers hanging out in Paro town centre.
Looking down the runway of Paro Airport as we made the short drive to the hotel.
And about to check in for my two night stay at Tashi Namgay Resort.
Welcome hot towel.
A short walk to my unit, #125, just up the hill.
The interior decor was modern but with touches of traditional Bhutanese design.
I was impressed that the bathroom had an actual bath too.
And the view from my patio of the airport across the river.
Dinner was at the hotel again. They had quite a few Indian guests (who are the biggest visitors to the country and are exempt from the daily tourist fee) so the buffet was mainly Indian food with chicken curry and paneer.
And enjoying some bread pudding and honey for dessert at the end of day 2.
A Druk Air A319 taking off in the distance on the morning of day 3.
A banana smoothie with eggs and pancakes for breakfast.
At 8am I met up with Hem and Seren and we drove up Paro Valley to the starting point of the hike to Paro Taktsang, or also known as the Tiger's Nest Monastery. Walking sticks for rent for $1 at the entrance.
Horses waiting to ferry up less able hikers.
Paro Taktsang visible in the distance, sitting on the side of a sheer cliff and 900 metres above the floor of Paro valley.
At an elevation of 3,120 metres (10,240 ft), the monastery is often shrouded in clouds. Today however the sun was out with ample blue skies again.
The monastery was first built in 1692, around the cave where Indian Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century.
Inside the small buildings where water flowing down the hill spun large prayer wheels. Apparently the water that is touched by the wheel is said to become blessed.
Despite the elevation the hike was fairly easy going with the grade not too taxing.
Prayer wheels made from empty bottles that are spun by the wind.
A glimpse of the Paro Taktsang through the trees. Taktsang means "Tiger's lair", and it is believed that Guru Padmasambhava flew here from Tibet on the back of a tigress.
Colourful prayer flags along the side of the track.
After about 90 minutes of hiking we rounded a corner we were treated to the amazing view of one of Bhutan's most famous cultural icons.
Looking down Paro Valley as we descend down and across to the monastery.
At the entrance of the monastery where we had to store our camera's, phones and bags and then get a pat down to ensure we weren't sneaking anything in.
Inside we first visited the entrance to Dubkhang, the cave where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three months. Just outside the cave was a statue of Dorje Drolo, one of the eight Manifestations the of Guru - in wrathful form riding upon a tigress with which he flew to Taktshang. The cave itself is opened for public viewing only once a year, and is said to hold the phurbu (ritual dagger) of the guru
We then visited the different Lhakhang or chapels. First was Guru Sungjonma Lhakhang, which has a central image of Pema Jungme, another of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava.
It was very interesting listening to Hem explain the background and significance of each of the Lhakhang, as well as insights into Buddhism practiced in Bhutan and its contrast with the Abrahamic faiths.
Another view of Paro Taktsang as we started our descent back down the mountain.
Some of the horses following us down.
And posing for a selfie with Hem at the end of a great hike.
Buying a souvenir to take home.
We then met up with Seren for the drive back down the valley.
For lunch we headed to a local house in Paro Valley.
Some coffee to recaffeinate after the trek up to the monastery.
A potrait of the Royal family on the wall with the King and Queen with the young Crown Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.
Preparations under way in the kitchen.
A serving of red rice along with an array of tasty Bhutanese dishes.
And a portrait of my waitress with her dark blue silk wonju.
Our original plan after lunch was to visit Kyichu Lhakhang, originally built in the 7th century and one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. However when we pulled up a policeman outside said that it was closed as the Royal family was visiting.
Spinning prayer wheel. We instead then headed to Drukgyal Dzong, built over 400 years ago but almost completely restored by a fire in the 1950's .
Looking down a path to one of the dzong's defensive watchtowers.
Drukgyal Dzong (victories fortress) was built to commemorate Bhutanese victory over Tibetan-Mongol forces in 1644.
After laying in ruins for over 60 years, refurbishment of the dzong began in 2016 and was still in progress.
Descending down the ancient steps. Drukgyal Dzong is also on the UNESCO tentative World Heritage site list.
In the late afternoon we headed to a local farm which offered Bhutanese meals and the opportunity to enjoy a traditional wooden hot-stone bath.
The hot stones are first heated up in a fire until they are red hot.
The red hot stones are then placed into a chamber at the end of the wooden bath tub, purportedly releasing high concentrations of minerals.
Rows of sandals in the changing room. The baths were unisex so I was fortunate that I had brought my swimming trunks!
My wooden bath with Artemisia herbs (the source of Absinthe) sprinkled into the hot water.
And enjoyed a sublime 40-minute soak. Perfect for easing the aches after the hike earlier in the day.
Just outside some locals were playing, Khuru, a form of outdoor darts and a traditional Bhutanese sport. As with the archers I had seen in Thimphu, their accuracy was quite impressive.
As well as for fun, Hem said that they were also playing competitively for money.
At the farm restaurant where I was treated to some Ara, a Bhutanese rice wine similar to Japanese saké or Korean soju.
A photo on the wall of the King of Bhutan.
And enjoying a final Bhutanese dinner with Seren and Hem.
Hem was busy with an exam at the Ministry of Tourism tomorrow so after being dropped back at the hotel we said farewell and I thanked for him for the great and very enjoyable trip.
In the morning I walked up the hill to the airport lookout. A Druk Air ATR 42–500 in the distance taking off and on its way to Dhaka.
Pancakes, omelette and baby potatoes for breakfast.
Just after 9am Seren took me for the short drive to Paro Airport.
Using my last Bhutanese ngultrum for a cup of Himalayan Java coffee. The currency is pegged to the Indian rupee and I got given 100 rupees as part of my change.
The departure area was quite chaotic, with several morning flights leaving close together with everyone in the same waiting room and no indication of what flight was boarding apart from an occasional muffled call on the PA system.
Our 11:30am to Kathmandu was the last to be called and I finally made my way across the tarmac to the waiting A319.
And about to board after a fascinating and memorable trip to Bhutan!