Tashigang and Dramatse Gompa
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From Mongar we drove to Tashigang in the extreme east of Bhutan.
Few foreign visitors get this far, although it is now possible to drive out of Bhutan into India and either fly or get the train back to Delhi.
It was a steady climb up the side of the mountain beyond Mongar to the pass and then a long slow drop down the far side through lots of mountains into the Manas Chhu valley. This is a wide open valley with grassland as the woodland was removed by slash and burn agriculture.
Olives are grown around Sherichhu and there were huge metal vats boiling away to extract olive oil. The road crossed the river and then followed the stream up a deep valley. Most of the settlement was up the hillside with large fields and smaller paddy fields in the bottom valley.
We did a detour up to DRAMATSE GOMPA. It is a sharp turn off the road up a narrow dirt road which climbed up the side of the valley with sharp hairpin bends to Dramatse. There were scattered settlements off the road reached by tracks. There was little sign of life and few cows around.
Dramatse Gompa is built on the side of the hill and is surrounded by a few unpainted wooden houses. Several of these had been damaged by an earthquake a few months earlier. The original temple was 16thC and founded by the granddaughter of Pema Lingpa. The present building has been restored several times and about 100 monks live there. Outside was a small shop selling things for the monks. Inside was a large courtyard surrounded by a wall with buildings against it. The kitchen was a large dark room with three huge cauldrons bubbling away looked after by two small monks who wanted their picture taken. It was chili and ginger for tea.
Back on the main road, it was a good road along the valley bottom to Tashigang. This was one of the few stretches of road we actually managed to reach 30mph. Tashigang is built on the hillside well above the river. The main village is along the stream with a market place and a few shops. The residential area, where the hotel was, stretched up the hillside beyond. The children were leaving school for the day and there were two large trucks outside the school full of children waiting to be taken home.
TASHIGANG DZONG is a modern building on a 16thC site. The new administration buildings are outside the main dzong. There are about 120 monks in the Dzong. The youngest was about four years old.
When we visited seven young monks were chanting the morning service and playing instruments in the main temple in the utse. At the centre was a monk with cymbals. He was flanked on either side by a monk with drums then a monk with a huge horn and finally a monk with a smaller horn. They made a tremendous noise which sounded quite pagan.
We went for a walk round the upper town and were greeted by all the children who spoke good English and asked many questions – “How are you? What is your Name? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children?” There were loud shouts of either hello or goodbye (used interchangeably) by the kids. They were completely thrown when we replied good night. One bright little girl responded with “Good night” to which I replied “sleep tight”. She giggled and replied “sweet dreams”. As we walked back to the hotel we could hear her calling after us “Good night Mr Michael, sweet dreams Mr Michael…”
We were booked into the DRUK DEOTHANG ANNEX at Kyidling, which is a newer settlement overlooking Tashigang, with views across to the Dzong. It was an attractive building with steps up to the entrance with a small reception area. The rooms were built around a central courtyard with an open air dining room across the end of the courtyard. There were curtains closing off the dining area but it could get cold at night.
We were in one of the ‘best’ rooms above reception, which had a small seating area with table and chairs outside. The room was very basic and we did blink when we saw it – however once over initial shock everything worked and the place had tremendous character. There was a small shower area off the bedroom and it took us a long time to work out how all the different taps worked the shower.
There had been a problem with the water supply in Tashigang after earthquake/landslide damage and the water supply ran out in the mornings when everyone was wanting water. We were prepared on subsequent days and kept a full bucket of water in the bathroom.
The pictures for the journey to Tashigang begin here.
Pictures of Tashigang are here.
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