Bhutan # 6 Wandering in North Punakha Valley

Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which we visited in Bhutan musings #5,  dominates the upper Punakha Valley and commands views south along the Mo Chhu and north towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.


P1000409  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view down the winding Mo Chhu towards our hotel and Punakha village was truly stunning.  The road snakes its way at the foot of the hills on the other side of the river.  Rice farms use every possible piece of land between river and hills. Conservation of the forests is high on the Bhutanese Government’s agenda. But it’s a balancing act with a growing population meaning more people to feed and so more land needing to to be cleared for farms.  It’s a problem in most countries worldwide.


P1000409  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view north, upriver towards Gasa and the higher mountains of the Tibetan border is equally pleasing. When I was here in 2003, we walked down from those mountains to this river before a small bus picked us up for the final bit of road into Punakha.  Looking at this view brought memories of that trek flooding back to me.


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P1000412 © DY of jtdytravels

As we began to wend our way back down the slope, we looked down on an amazingly intricate patchwork of rice terraces.


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P1000413 © DY of jtdytravels

These terraces seemed to just tumble down the mountainside.  Some harvested, some are ripe for harvest, and others , on the upper slopes, still green.  Careful planning is obviously needed to balance the work load and the harvest timing. Both white and red rice are grown in this valley.


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P1000389 © DY of jtdytravels

 This time, as we walked down the path, we were able to look down onto the terraces below us.  The family we had seen earlier were still hard at work threshing their rice. While we wandered, they worked.  Thought provoking!


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P1000390 © DY of jtdytravels

Toddlers at play whilst their parents work.  No creche here.


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P1000424 © DY of jtdytravels

Hibiscus trionum, a weed in these crops, shows just how temperate the climate is here.


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P1000425 © DY of jtdytravels

There must be very few countries in the world where the ubiquitous but rather beautiful Morning Glory doesn’t grow.


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P1000431 © DY of jtdytravels

A well camouflaged dragonfly with delicate gauzy wings.


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P1000434 © DY of jtdytravels

Just the very top of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple showed on top of the ridge as we made our way back down through the rice fields.


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P1000442 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking the other way, the view was one of rugged mountain peaks.  Clouds began to roll in. Was this to be the end of our good weather?  Hopefully not. We still had so much to enjoy in this valley.


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P1000436 © DY of jtdytravels

It pays to look down as well as up, even when surrounded by magnificent mountains.

Back down near a fast flowing small stream, I found this insect, maybe a water nymph…

his shadow, a perfect replica in the mid-day sunshine.


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P1000446 © DY of jtdytravels

Nearby was a rather attractive butterfly.


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P1000447 © DY of jtdytravels

A quiet eddy by the side of the river.


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P1000449 © DY of jtdytravels

After a pleasant wander, we were back to that flag bedecked bridge across the Mo Chhu.

‘Twas time to return to our delightful hotel for lunch –

 and it was a well earned lunch!

More anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:


Bhutan : # 5 Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten

Our stay at the Uma by Como Hotel was not all about relaxing and enjoying that view, stunning though it was.  We also took several short trips out into the countryside to enjoy other sites, and sights, in this most beautiful of valleys.


P1250313  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1250313 © DY of jtdytravels

On the map, our hotel is marked with an x, just above the word Punakha.  Our first foray into the countryside took us further north up the Mo Chhu to the tiny settlement of Yambesa (near Sirigang) to visit the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.  Another wander along windy back roads took the group (minus me, because I had a tummy upset!), south to Talo and other villages near the Samgnacholing Dzong.  The next day we ventured further south, close to the junction of the road back to Thimphu, where we visited the Chimi Lhakhang Black Dog Chorten before coming back to Punakha to, at last, visit the famous Punakha Dzong.


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P1000416 © DY of jtdytravels

With all those names that sound so strange to an English speaker, it’s no wonder at all, is it, that we needed a Bhutanese guide!  And that guide was Leki, a very handsome and personable young man – and an excellent guide.  So now, let’s take our time and spend a few musing episodes wandering with Leki in this stunningly beautiful Bhutanese valley.


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P1000372 © DY of jtdytravels

To be begin our wanderings in the Punakha Valley we travelled north up alongside the west side of the Mo Chu. Our destination for the morning was the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten which, we discovered, was on the other side of the river and perched high on a ridge.  For anyone wanting to get to this special chorten, the river must first be crossed via a colourful, prayer flag festooned footbridge. After that, it’s a rather long uphill hike.  Bhutan is a place for walking and most of that walking is initially in an uphill direction… of course, coming back down is not such a huff and puff affair.


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P1000377 © DY of jtdytravels

For most of the group, this was their first chance to experience a Bhutanese footbridge.

With the river swirling below and the prayer flags flapping near your face…

this can be a somewhat disconcerting walk.


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P1000378 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way up, we passed a small private Chorten standing alone in a field.

Buddhists  believe that building a Chorten is considered extremely beneficial, giving to those who build it very positive and accumulating merits during one’s life.  On the other hand, they also believe that destroying or vandalising a stupa is considered an extremely negative deed. Such an action would likely create massive negative karmic imprints leading to future problems during the person’s present stay on earth and even after death.   There are stupas of every size in Bhutan; some are very grand, but even simple ones like this, seem to add a sense of permanence and place and peace.


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P1000382 © DY of jtdytravels

A young Bhutanese boy watched our progress.


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P1000386 © DY of jtdytravels

As did an old man.


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P1000384 © DY of jtdytravels

Our path took us up along a ridge through rice fields.  Here, we watched a farming family at work threshing the rice. Everything is done by manual labour; it’s all hard work.


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P1000385 © DY of jtdytravels

I spotted this twisted tree trunk on a small side path – time to duck the head.


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P1000393 © DY of jtdytravels

An unknown herb beside the path.


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P1000394 © DY of jtdytravels

At last a sign to let us know we were indeed on the right path.


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P1000399 © DY of jtdytravels

Colourful prayer flags and a buddha statue stands opposite the main door into the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.


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P1000403 © DY of jtdytravels

There were large, highly decorated prayer wheels in a small pavilion in the grounds.

You always walk clockwise around a prayer wheel.

Individual Chortens stand on a ridge behind.


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P1000400 © DY of jtdytravels

Fascinating shadows on a line of small chortens.


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P1000405 © DY of jtdytravels

This gentle old man was very welcoming.


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P1000406 © DY of jtdytravels

He was happy to smile for this portrait even though we interrupted his meditations.


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P1000418 © DY of jtdytravels

Many strange beings adorn the buildings.


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P1000423 © DY of jtdytravels

Finally we arrived at the very impressive, four storey high Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten.  It was built by Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, the third of the four sisters who were simultaneously wives of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.  A splendid example of Bhutanese architecture and decorative art, this Chorten took almost nine years to complete and is the only one of its kind in the world.  Although most Bhutanese buildings are constructed without formal plans, what makes this building unusual is that not even engineering manuals were consulted for the building of this temple.  Instead, the Bhutanese craftsmen involved in the building, including carpenters, painters, and sculptors, consulted religious scriptures for all the detail.


P1000419  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000419 © DY of jtdytravels

The Queen is said to have built this temple in the hope of removing negative forces and to promote peace, stability and harmony in a changing world.  The temple was consecrated in a three day ceremony in 1999 and was dedicated for ‘the well being of the kingdom, its people and all sentient beings’.  It is a stunning building and well worth the climb.


P1000414  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000414 © DY of jtdytravels

And the views from the grounds of the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten are also stunning.  We’ll look at those in more detail in the next episode when we’ll retrace our steps down the hill, taking in the views at a leisurely pace, back to the bridge.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:


Bhutan : # 4 Uma by Como, Punakha Hotel

Often when travelling on an organised tour, the itinerary has the group constantly moving from one place to the next.  The evening destination is considered to be just somewhere to sleep before moving on to the next place; never stopping long enough to take in the ambience and surroundings of that evening destination.  This was one time that didn’t happen.  And it’s easy to see why we stayed in this beautiful valley for three nights with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the ‘destination’ – the delightful Uma by Como Hotel.


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P1000342 © DY of jtdytravels

The hotel is nestled in the hills further up the Mo Chhu.  The entrance gate, with courtyard behind, is rather understated but this hotel is built to fit into the landscape not dominate it.


P1000344  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000344 © DY of jtdytravels

Below the reception area, it became obvious why the hotel was built in this position with views over the valley.  As I took this photo, I noticed the men whipper-snipping the grass just below the hotel.  A few moments later, they stopped their task – guests had arrived – and the peace of the valley was restored.


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P1000346 © DY of jtdytravels

A view of the village below the hotel.

Tourist hotels like this provide extra work for the people of the valley.


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P1000350 © DY of jtdytravels

We were taken to our room, again understated.  It’s the views that make this place special.


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P1000351 © DY of jtdytravels

And what views.  How about this for a view from your bedroom window!

Now this was well worth a three night stay!


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P1000352 © DY of jtdytravels

Lunch was served – a ‘deconstructed’ Caesar Salad – fresh, crisp, delicious.  Because the Puankha Valley is so productive, much of the food used in the hotel’s meals comes directly from the local farmers.  The chefs receive fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and fresh dairy products every day.  And that’s good for the farmers – and for the tourists.


View from Hotel web brochure

picture from Hotel web brochure

A view of the hotel from further down the hill.

The back basket is a common method of carrying things in Bhutan.


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P1000353 © DY of jtdytravels

A bit of an explore, then a relaxing rest – just taking in that view from our room.

Why not?  Wouldn’t you?

It was good to see so many trees after the comparative barrenness of the hills on the Paro to Thimphu side of the mountain we had passed through earlier in the day. The climate is much more temperate and moist here allowing for the growth of moist mountain forests of rhododendron, alder, cypress, hemlock and fir and bushes such as daphne.


P1000354  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000354 © DY of jtdytravels

This traditional farm house was not far up the valley.  As is so often the case in this mountainous country, the land here is made productive by terracing and that makes for a lot of labour without the aid of machinery.


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P1000360 © DY of jtdytravels

Back to our room to prepare for dinner… and another look at that view.

The light was changing; dusk was falling; peace reigned.

Just magic.


Balcony of hotel web brochure

Outside terrace, picture from hotel web brochure

The ambience of the hotel’s terrace at dusk was also delightful.


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P1000363 © DY of jtdytravels

Dinner, Bhutanese style, began with momos, with chilli dipping sauce, and a soup.


Hotel in evenig from web brochure

Evening view of hotel from web brochure

A  hotel set amongst beautiful mountains… what more could you want!

Yes, sometimes, its good to just stop and savour the moment.

We’ll explore some more of the valley anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:


Bhutan : #3 Paro to Punakha

Bhutan is divided into twenty districts as shown on the map below.  Our itinerary would take us to just three of those districts: Paro and Thimphu, marked in purples; and Punakha in aqua.  Of course, there is so much more to explore  in Bhutan.  However, being a mountainous country, one can’t presume to travel in a straight line and, in any case, the sparse road infrastructure is not conducive to getting from point A to point B in a short time.  There are no trains.  There is but one airport, at Paro.  So one would need a good amount of time to be able to explore other parts of the country, and tours into many areas are strictly limited.  Special passes are needed to get to some areas, and others are almost never visited by tourists.  If you are prepared to walk, there is more of Bhutan available to be explored but only on selected tracks with a set itinerary and with Bhutanese guides.


From Google Map Images

From Google Map Images

Bhutan is the only country in the world, I believe, to measure its wealth in Gross National Happiness.  This is one reason why the numbers of visitors to Bhutan each year are strictly limited.  The Bhutanese like their peaceful, Buddhist lifestyle and have learned many lessons from watching what has happened in Nepal as a result of almost unbridled tourism.  As well as limiting numbers, the Bhutanes place a levy on the cost per day for each tourist. This is used to help pay for schools, hospitals and other infrastructure.


P1250317  map 1

P1250317 map

I’m fortunate to have been able to visit Bhutan twice.  Back in 2003, when my legs were ten years younger, I trekked for twelve days covering 217 kms to get from Paro, north along the Tibetan border to the northern of  District of Gasa and back down to Punakha.  We camped out each night in all sorts of weather; there was no electricity; the only water was in the icy cold mountain streams; and we saw only three other westerners in all that time.  It was a most wonderful experience which I would recommend to those who are fit, who don’t get altitude sickness and, above all, who love to trek through stunningly beautiful wilderness scenery.

The map above shows our 2003 trekking route as well as other possible trek routes available to those who wish to walk.  In 2003, we went north-west from Paro, past Drugyel Dzong to near the border with Tibet at Takenthangka; then north- east following the river to Lingshi; from there we walked up and down from one pass or la to the next – Gombu La (4280m), Jhari La (4747m), Sincha La (5005m) – until we came to Laya.  A little further on, we turned south and trekked through Jigme Dorje National Park to Gasa before following the river further south to Tashithang.  There we finally came back to a road-head and were taken to Punakha in a small bus.

This time, on a more leisurely visit, we drove by small bus from Paro to Punakha along made road.  I had planned to take Jennie with me to experience the beauty of Bhutan and meet the wonderfully friendly and gentle people – without the need to trek.  But a knee operation put an end to Jennie’s hopes of finally getting to Bhutan herself.  So my good friend Trevor came to share the experience with me.  I always think that one needs to share such experiences to make the most of them, so I was very pleased that Trevor was able to join me for the journey.


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P1250322 © DY of jtdytravels

Just before we begin our photo journal for the day, let’s take a brief look at the road map from Paro to Punakha.  If we had wings and could fly with the crow on a direct diagonal route, it’s not such a long distance. But there’s just one problem with that in Bhutan; mountains and lots of them.  The road journey takes about four hours to cover 140 kms.  Leaving Paro we followed the Paro Chu (River) south-east, then turned north-east along the Thimphu Chu to Simtokha.  We bypassed Thimphu for now and would come back there later in the tour.  We continued on cross country, to Dochu La, a mountain pass of 3116m, where we had a rest and enjoyed the view.  Then on again, with many twists and turns on a rather slow and torturous road until we finally turned north along the Mo Chu to Punakha.  Here two tributaries meet, the Mo Chu and the Po Chu, in one of the most beautiful settings you could ever hope to enjoy.  Now, let’s take that journey to Punakha.


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P1000287 © Dy of jtdytravels

The area between Paro and Thimphu is rather dry and the vegetation is sparse.


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P1000289 © DY of jtdytravels

The road, cut into steep banks above the river, provides some breath holding moments for passengers. This is not a drive for the faint hearted even though the roads are better than when I was first here in 2003.


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P1000290 © DY of jtdytravels

At a river crossing on the road between Thimpu and Punakha, there is a check point for goods and people, but not tourists – our bus is suitably marked!  A decorative gateway spans the road.  A photo of the young king and his queen is also tastefully displayed but cannot be missed.  My photo, above, is taken looking along the top of a “T” intersection, the stem of the “T” is the bridge itself which is to the right of the picture.


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P1000317 © DY of jtdytravels

These trucks show the type of colourful decorations displayed on even the most utilitarian of transport.  These are Indian made Tata trucks; a very common sight in this part of the world.


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P1000292 © DY of jdytravels

Travel along the winding road beside a river seemed to go on forever; slow going.


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P1000297 © DY of jtdytravels

At the top the 3116 m pass of Dochu La, we had another chance to stretch our legs.  In this delightful spot, in the midst of trees, stands one of the King’s homes.  Not a large palace, but a tasteful Bhutanese style home, a very pleasant rest stop for the King and Queen on their way between the major centres they need to visit in this country.


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P1000330 © DY of jtdytravels

And why wouldn’t the King want a house here with a view like this to the Himalaya!

Just imagine this scene in winter with snow covering all those hills.

And for those who love flowers, this sunflower is your flower for today.


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P1000323 © DY of jtdytravels

With a tele photo view of the mountains, you can see why roads wind alongside rivers.


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P1000322 © DY of jtdytravels

Beside the road at Dochu La, there’s a very interesting monument, the Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens. There are 108  decorated chortens or stupas in the group – 108 being a very important number to the Bhutanese.  This monument was commissioned by Her Majesty, the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in memory of all soldiers of both sides and others killed in a war on the Indian/Bhutanese border in late 2003.

It’s amazing to think of these peace loving people going to war against anyone, but in 2003, they were pushed into a war they did not wish to fight.  For many years, rebels of the Assam Independence movement in Northern India, had made their camps (about 30 of them) across the border inside Bhutan.  From these camps, they made guerrila like skirmishes into India against the Indian army.  Finally, India had had enough of the rebels and gave their Bhutanese friends an ultimatum to either drive the rebels out of Bhutan or the Indian army would be forced to cross into Bhutanese territory and do the job themselves.  This forced the King’s hand.

With his people against war of any kind, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, father of the current king, decided to ask for volunteers to help him to drive the Indian rebels out and keep the integrity of Bhutan’s border.  Against tens of thousands of rebels, the King and one of his sons, led an army of only 7,000 volunteer soldiers into an unpopular war.  It was a short battle with the Bhutanese victorious.  Some Bhutanese wanted to erect a monument to the victory.  But the King believed that war should never be glorified.  Instead, his eldest queen (he had four wives, all sisters), had this rather understated monument erected in memory of everyone, from both sides, who had lost their lives because of this battle.


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P1000312 © DY of jtdytravels

Each of the chortens is decorated in traditional Bhutanes style.


from the web

Image from the web

Carved and painted slates depicting Buddha sit inside alcoves in the sides of chortens.


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P1000308 © DY of jtdytravels

The top of each chorten is covered with stone shingles.


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P1000299 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s sobering to find, in this peaceful place with its wonderful views to the Himalaya,

a reminder of war!


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P1000331 © DY of jtdytravels

Driving on down a very windy road from the high pass at Dochu La, we finally came to the more fertile Punakha Valley.  Here the climate is warmer and more temperate, the vegetation more lush (bananas can even be grown here) and rice fields are more productive. Both red and white rice is grown here.


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P1000335 © DY of jtdytravels

Down in the valley, we followed the icy cold Mo Chu towards the village of Punakha.


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P1000334 © DY of jtdytravels

Here, in a stunningly beautiful setting, the waters of the two main rivers of Bhutan meet; the Po Chu meaning male, or father river and the Mo Chu, meaning female, or mother river.  It’s clear to see where the differently coloured waters of these rivers meet.


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P1000339 © DY of jtdytravels

On the banks of the Mo Chhu, sits the most beautiful of all Bhutanese Dzongs.  Its name, aptly, is Place of Great Happiness; or in Bhutanese, Pungthwang Dewachen Phodrang.  This building was the seat of government when Punakha was the capital of Bhutan (until 1955) and there’s much more to see and learn about this Dzong in a later story.


P1000340  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000340 © DY of jtdytravels

But, a visit to this very important Dzong had to wait for another day.

We still had further to drive up the valley to our hotel

and there, a late lunch awaited us.

But more of that anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:


Bhutan :#2 Paro : Drugyel Dzong

Our time in Paro at the start of our Bhutanese journey, was for just one day.  We made the most of it by driving up the Paro Valley to Drukyl Dzong, a ruined fortress built of rock and mud. Although a ruin since it was largely destored by fire in 1951, the Dzong is still impressive and, as an important part of Bhutanese history, it’s well worth the visit.

P1250297 Map of Paro

P1250297 Map of Paro

Before we go on, a little history of Bhutan may help in understanding this small country.  Bhutan is a largely Buddhist country and the Paro map shows several Monasteries and Dzongs in this area.  One of the first of Bhutan’s Buddhist monasteries was built here in the Paro Valley at Kyichu (just north-west of Tshongdi) in the 7th Century by a Tibetan king, Songstan Gampo, who reigned from 627 to 649.  From then until the early 17th Century, Bhutan was really just a group of warring fiefdoms, each with their own lord and sub sect of Buddhist monks.  The country was eventually unified by a Tibetan lama and military leader, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal, who had fled from Tibet because of religious persecution.  In order to repel any Tibetan armies, he built several fortresses, one of them being Drugyel Dzong built in 1649 on a pass between Paro and the Tibetan border.  When the Shadbrung died in 1651, his death was kept a secret for 51 years in an effort to try to keep the peace in the country.  That didn’t work and the country lapsed back into internal conflict.  It wasn’t until the the mid 1880s, after a civil war between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa (in Central Bhutan), that peace was restored under Ugyen Wangchuck.  In 1907, he was unanimously chosen as the hereditary King of Bhutan by an assembly of leading monks, families and officials.  Thus began the Kingdom of Bhutan under the reign of the Wangchuck family which continues to this day.  Interestingly, the current King, 33 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, carries one of the names of that first unifier of the country, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal.


Trevor's Camera shot

David with the boys:  Photo Courtesy Trevor

Namgyal’s fortress of Drugyel Dzong was to be our destination for the afternoon.  However, on the drive up towards the dzong,  our Toyota Coaster had a flat tyre, so a couple of us abandoned the vehicle and began walking up the road; the driver would pick us up again when the bus caught up to us.  Our timing was perfect.  It was right at the end of the school day, so we were quickly joined by four boys walking home from school. They were two sets of brothers; one set were the comics (boys will be boys), the other two boys were more serious. Dressed in traditional Gho and long socks, their ages ranged between 7 and 11.  When asked what they had learnt that day, they said they had played a game!  We knew, though, that all lessons are conducted in English with the exception of lessons in Dzonkha, the country’s official language.  So we knew we should be able to have a conversation  with the boys.


Photo courtesy Trevor

Trevor with the boys

And we were right.  They were wonderful to chat with.  We could easily understand them and vice versa.  They wanted to know where we were from, what our father’s, mother’s, grandfather’s and grandmother’s names were etc.  When we asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they knew; a policeman, an engineer, a doctor and a monk.  Their fathers were both drivers; one a bus driver and the other drove taxis.  This interlude was just another of those wonderful moments that unexpectedly occur when travelling, and when they do occur, they add so much to the experience of visiting foreign places.  But they just won’t occur if you ‘only sit and wait in the bus’!


P1000232  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1000232 © DY of jtdytravels

After chatting to the boys, we went further on up the road, crossing a small stream bedecked with colourful prayer flags.  These are the usual size prayer flags put up by ordinary people to send their prayers wafting off in the breeze.


P1000237  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000237 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking up the hill in front of us we saw the Drukgyel Dzong, sitting high on a ridge.  Considered to be the most famous archaeological site in Bhutan, Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 to control the route between Bhutan and Tibet.  This fortress was never breached by an enemy.  Its important role in the defense of the region only ceased in 1951 when it was partially destroyed by fire.


P1000245  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000245 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual on a walk, I was on the look out for wild flowers.

This one is Parochetus communis.


P1000253  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000253 © DY of jtdytravels

This delicate pink flower growing by the side of the road is, perhaps a daphne. The Bhutanese make their traditional paper from the bark of a daphne plant.


P1000246  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000246 © DY of jtdytravels

Once we arrived at the dzong, we could see just how much damage the fire had done.  Most of the timber features had been burned out.  However, much of the stone and rammed earth wall structure still stands giving some idea of the way in which the fortress was built around central quadrangles.


P1000247  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000247 © DY of jtdytravels

Although Drukgyl Dzong is said to have had the best and finest armory in the country, there were other ways used to beat the enemy.  One story goes that an attacking Tibetan army was once made welcome in the Dzong and treated as guests. They were even invited to a feast.  But, as the Tibetans began to relax and enjoy themselves, their faces and then their bodies began to swell.  The wily Bhutanese had decorated the guests’ tents with branches from a particularly poisonous tree.  The end for the Tibetan army was swift and sure at the hands of the Bhutanese.


P1000248  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000248 © DY of jtdytravels

Even now, the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong continue to be protected and revered by the Bhutanese as an important monument linking them with victories over several attempted invasions by forces from Tibet and Mongolia.

Drukgyel Dzong was only ever a defense fortress unlike the other regional Dzongs which even today serve a three fold purpose: as a strategic fortress and also as a court for the unique Bhutanese dual government system which consists of Buddhist Monks, who deal with religious affairs, and government officials who deal with regional temporal affairs.


P1000249  ©  DY  of  jtdtravels

P1000249 © DY of jtdtravels

From the walls of the Dzong we could look way down into a valley of terraced fields.  Agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 80% of Bhutan’s population.  Farming consists mainly of subsistence farming and animal husbandry with farmers producing rice, cardamom, chillies, dairy products from both yaks and cows, buckwheat, barley, some root crops, apples, citrus and some maize.


P1000251  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000251 © DY of jtdytravels

It was interesting to watch a group of people harvesting the rice.


P1000254  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000254 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside the compound of the ruined Dzong;  Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting.


P1000257  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000257 © DY of jtdytravels

This plant formed an usual head of pale pink flowers.


P1000258  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000258 © DY of jtdytravels

And as always, in such places, there will always be members of the daisy family.


P1000261  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000261 © DY of jtdytravels

The construction method of stones and rammed mud still stands testament to its strength after all these years.


P1000264  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000264 © DY of jtdytravels

The massive stone masonry walls rise high above a steep slope of the hill.  They entirely enclose the inner space of the Dzong.  Since the hill rises steeply on three sides, the Dzong is accessible only from one side and thus had only a single entrance heavily guarded by troops in three towers.  It’s said that secret tunnels provided protected passages for the fetching of water from the river below the hill.  These were also used to secretly send troops out during time of war.


P1000243  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000243 © DY of jtdytravels

More prayer flags – always a colourful scene.


P1000265  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000265 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way back to Paro we passed through this village.


P1000274  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000274 © DY of jtdytravels

 A delightful couple of Bhutanese girls.


P1000278  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000278 © DY of jtdytravels

A view of Paro’s Rinpung Dzong, a large Buddhist monastery and fortress that houses the district Monastic Body and the government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag.


P1000279  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000279 © DY of jtdytravels

Coming back down into Paro, we looked down on newer buildings with tin roofs.  In the past, tin roofs had to be covered with wooden shingles or stone slabs. This isn’t required now.  The tin roofs are certainly not as picturesque as the traditional housing.


P1000280  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000280 © DY of jtdytravels

In such a mountainous country, every arable piece of land is used to produce food.


P1000284  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000284 © DY of jtdytravels

This view over Paro is dominated by that runway; we were back where we had begun.

We stayed just one night in Paro but would be back at the end of our Bhutan journey.

Our destination next day was to Punakha, north east of Paro.

More of that anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:









Bhutan : #1 Paro

There’s probably no greater contrast to be found in the world, than the contrast between the rush and chaos, hustle and bustle of the Indian city of Kolkata and the peace and quiet of the mountain Kingdom of Bhutan.

P1000198  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000198 © DY of jtdytravels

Our morning flight took us away from the millions of people who crowd Kolkata, over and through the foothills of the Himalaya, to the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon where a mere 700,000 people inhabit the whole country of Bhutan.


From Google Map Images

From Google Map Images

Map showing Bhutan in relation to India, Nepal and Tibet.


P1000195  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000195 © DY of jtdytravels

Unfortunately, we were seated on the ‘wrong’ side of the plane and only caught glimpses of the mighty Himalaya.  Never-the-less, just the sight of them is enough to stir the blood and make one anticipate a very different type of experience.


P1000187  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000187 © DY of jtdytravels

We flew in Royal Bhutan’s Airline, Druk Air, which has a distinctive and proud logo depicting the Thunder Dragon.  This airline has only a very small fleet and we flew on one of its two Airbus 319s.  Our destination was Paro, the only commercial airport in the whole country.  Pilots have to hold a special license to be able to fly into this airport.


P1000199  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000199 © DY of jtdytravels

There’s only one airport because the Paro Valley is the only place in the whole country of Bhutan that has a long and flat enough stretch of land to construct an airport!  As we banked through the hills, we could just see, far down the valley, a yellow, flatter area of rice farms.  And that tiny strip of yellow was our destination; Paro Airport.


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P1000200 © DY of jtdytravels

The approach was quite exhilarating with mountains to the left and right of the wing tips.


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P1000206 © DY of jydytravels

 Safely on the ground, engines off, the calm and serenity of Bhutan began to set in.


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P1000205 © DY of jtdytravels

Welcome to Bhutan.

Bhutanese art and style is evident even at the airport terminal.


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P1000209 © DY of jtdytravels

Attention to detail in the art work.


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P1000210 © DY of jtdytravels

No busy highways outside this airport terminal… just a tranquil country scene.


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P1000212 © DY of jtdytravels

Rice fields and typical farm houses in the Paro valley.


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P1000214 © DY of jtdytravels

Driving up out of the valley, up is the only way to go, we came to a viewing spot.  From here we could enjoy the clear blue, unpolluted sky and begin to breath in the pure mountain air as we looked up the valley we had just flown through.


P1000215  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000215 © DY of jtdytravels

Down in the Paro valley, beside the cold mountain stream and some buildings under construction, was that runway!  While we were in Paro, we were to experience several times the unusual sight of a plane coming into land below us.


P1000216  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000216 © DY of jtdytravels

Prayer flags are a common sight in Bhutan.  One hundred and eight is a significant number to the Bhutanese so those who can afford to do so, erect this number of prayer flags to commemorate the death of a family member.


P1000219  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000219 © DY of jtdytravels

As we drove higher into the hills, we saw, far away across a valley, our first glimpse of the famed ‘Tigers Nest Monastery’, an iconic and much photographed symbol of Bhutan.


P1000221  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000221 © DY of jtdytravels

A closer look through the camera’s tele lens shows just how precariously the monastery is perched on the rocks of the mountain side.  We planned to walk up there to visit the monastery later in our Bhutanese journey, but for now, we just viewed it, in awe of those who built it in the first place and of those who still live there today.


P1000224  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000224 © DY of jtdytravels

Throughout the hills there are small farms dedicated to growing the Bhutanese red rice which is a red japonica rice.  It is semi-milled which leaves some of the red bran adhering to the medium-sized grains.  It takes a little longer to cook than white rice but less time than brown rice.  It retains its pink colour, is soft and slightly sticky.


P1000223  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000223 © DY of jtdytravels

As timber is plentiful, it is the basic resource used for building.  This simple dwelling, possibly someone’s first home, shows the use of rough sawn planks.


P1000222  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000222 © DY of jtdytravels

This is the traditional style of house seen throughout the Bhutanese country side.  Usually three stories high, the ground floor is used to shelter animals, the second floor is where the family lives and the top floor and roof areas are used to store  grain etc. The open style roof area allows for ventilation of the storage.


P1000230 ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000230 © DY of jtdytravels

Decorated windows provide a great place to watch the world go slowly by.  No rush here.

Chillies and jerky hang to dry from the lower windows.


P1000236 ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000236 © DY of jtdytravels

A phallus painted on the side of a house is very common sight in the countryside, though not so much in the towns.  It’s an ancient symbol of fertility and is said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.


P1000238  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000238 © DY of jtdytravels

It comes as a surprise to many western visitors to find this symbol depicted in many different ways not just on houses but in the arts and crafts, especially in the countryside.  ‘Gift wrapped’ with ribbons, dragons and snakes, this symbol comes in many guises.


P1000234  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000234 © DY of jtdytravels

A patient Dad carries his sleepy son in a traditional shawl.


P1000240  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000240 © DY of jtdytravels

Not many houses have flower gardens; vegetables usually take priority.


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P1000228 © DY of jtdytravels

Where ever you drive or walk in this country, there is a view down into a valley.


P1000227  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000227 © DY of jtdytravels

And you also need to stop and look up.

The snow covered peak of Mount Jhomolhari is impressive.

Seeing that is a reminder that Bhutan is bounded in the north by the mighty Himalaya.

So much beauty – and this was but the start of our Bhutanese sojourn.

More anon.


All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:



India : Kolkata # 3: Out and About in the City

Getting around a city like Kolkata is frustrating for everyone involved.  Apart from the large numbers of pedestrians, there’s such a mix of types of transport all trying to share the road  – and no-one can go anywhere very fast.

P1000118  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000118 © DY of jtdytravels

There are, for example, at least 40,000 yellow taxis in Kolkata.  They invariably dominate the street scape.  These old Morris Oxfords, now called Ambassadors, are the backbone of the Kolkata taxi fleet.  It’s obvious, though, that not everyone wants to take a taxi… a ride on the top of a ute was the way to go for at least one young man!  Just as well the traffic is so slow.


P1000061  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000061 © DY of jtdytravels

The city authorities in Kolkata are phasing out the use of bicycles and rickshaws – supposedly to decrease congestion.   I’m not sure how, or  if, this will work.  It will put many men out of work and increase the cost of moving goods around the city.  It will inevitably increase the number of motor vehicles on the road into the bargain.  And what will that gain?  While other large cities are trying to reduce the numbers of cars in the city and encourage the use of peddle power, this city seems to be going against the flow.  It will end up as a stand still car park!


P1000126  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000126 © DY of jtdytravels

It would seem, that scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past.

How will children like these get to school, I wonder?


P1000112  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000112 © DY of jtdytravels

There are buses and trams but they are very overcrowded.


P1000110  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000110 © DY of jtdytravels

Our guide, Shanti, told us about the underground rail system which is said to be most efficient.  We didn’t have a chance to test that statement.  But efficiency is not a word that can be said of the tram system which moves people at the extraordinary speed of 6km/h.  It’s a rather antiquated system.  I was told that one tram route was especially reopened for the festival after being closed for around 6 years.


P1000132  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000132 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s probably just as well that trams move at not much more than walking pace in the crowded streets.  Note the ‘Ladies Special’ notice on the front windscreen.  The sign refers to the first bogie (or section) of the tram only but at least it gives a safe place for women to travel through the city.  And with the safety of women on public transport in India being brought into question over the last year, it’s probably a good idea.


P1000165  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000165 © DY of jtdytravels

 There was plenty to see as our small tour bus made its way slowly through the streets.

Little green and yellow tuk tuks are still in use – but for how much longer?

Over-loaded trucks like this are a common sight in India.


P1000077  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000077 © DY of jtdytravels

We did have a destination on this city visit: the vast Victoria Memorial Hall which stretches 103 m (338 ft) and is 56 m (184 ft) high.  Built to commemorate Queen Victoria, it was begun in 1906 and inaugurated in 1921.  Constructed of white Makrana marbles, it incorporates both British and Mughal elements in its design.  It’s used as a museum of artefacts and memorabilia relating to the time of British rule in India and of Queen Victoria, even though she never visited India.  We didn’t go inside; the queues waiting to go in were just far too long to make that worthwhile on our short one day visit to the city.


P1000079  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000079 © DY of jtdytravels

Out in front is a very large and rather sombre statue of the Queen herself.


P1000080  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000080 © DY of jtdytravels

Large statues of lions guard the entry to the gardens and building.


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P1000082 © DY of jtdytravels

The  Victoria Memorial is surrounded by large, cool gardens, enjoyed by many visitors.


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P1000111 © DY of jtdytravels

There are many reminders of the days of the Raj as you drive through this city.


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P1000128 © DY of jtdytravels

Some buildings of that period were very ornate and are still in relatively good repair.


P1000045  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000045 © DY of jtdytravels

There’s not a lot of OH&S here for painters at work on maintenance of this old building !


P1000123  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000123 © DY of jtdytravels

What must once have been a rather spectacular piece of architecture, is crumbling.

A pity, but I guess its restoration would be difficult and expensive.


P1000124  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000124 © DY of jtdytravels

Another place we stopped at was a large colonial built palace which is now a museum.   The place is run by an extended family who can’t seem to agree on anything.  The result is that nothing is done to conserve the multitude of almost priceless artefacts collected by their ancestors – artefacts like metre high Ming vases, Belgium crystal chandeliers and an original Rubens,etc. etc.  It was rather depressing seeing all these treasures un-dusted, uncared for, partially covered up, and all definitely unloved.  We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the museum, so the only photo I have of this palace is one of the exterior.  Even then, I was severely reprimanded for taking it – though it was taken across the fence line while I was standing in public space.


P1000098  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000098 © DY of jtdytravels

Whilst on this city tour, we went down to the edge of the Hoogley River.  Here we saw a man who had recently lost a family member, possibly his father.  After taking a ritual bath in the river, he had his head shaved and then a white shawl-like garment was wrapped around his body.  This is a common death ritual in a family.


P1000099  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000099 © DY of jtdytravels

For this ritual, the material is seamless and one continuous length.

Many come here to bathe in the river…

both for hygiene cleanliness and for spritiual cleanliness.


P1000094  ©  DY  of

P1000094 © DY of

One memorable and relativey quiet scene before we left the great metropolis of Kolkata,

was of the Howrah Bridge across the Hoogley River.

This was my second visit to Kolkata but I have also been to many other cities and states of India and, in the past, I lived and worked in Nepal.  I love this part of the world.  However, I still find it impossible to describe the place adequately to someone who has not previously visited the Indian sub-continent.  I hope the photos give some idea of the vibrant city that is Kolkata.

From here we flew to a very different destination; beautiful, mountainous, gentle Bhutan

and that will be the subject of my next set of musings.


All photography Copyright ©  David Young of  Jtdytravels

some of our other travel stories and photos can be found on:

and on

India : Kolkata # 2 Early Morning in the Market

The markets in Indian cities are the place to go to have a real sensory experience of life in India… the constant movement of humanity, the life, the chaos, the sounds, the colour and the smells.  Even after many years of visiting the sub-continent, I never get tired of it.

P1000043  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000043 © DY of jtdytravels

As this was my friend Trevor’s first visit to India, I wanted him to experience all of this without the tour group and without the time keeping that is inevitable with group travel.  So we ventured out onto the street even before many of the stalls had opened for business.   We were able to experience the city ‘waking up’.


P1000044  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000044 © DY of jtdytravels

 It might have been early but there were already plenty of people about.


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P1000049 © DY of jtdytravels

Some street stall holders hadn’t shown up yet, their wares still tied up in bundles.


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P1000158 © DY of jtdytravels

Some were still asleep on their makeshift beds atop their stalls.


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P1000092 © DY of jtdytravels

Others had less comfortable places to rest.  The poverty we see in India is always confronting to those of us from countries like Australia, especially as we considered the comfortable and warm beds that we had just vacated at the hotel.


P1000173  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000173 © DY of jtdytravels

Many were still engaged in their morning ablutions.


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P1000058 © DY of jtdytravels

This little guy had to wash the breakfast dishes.


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P1000052 © DY of jtdytravels

A street cobbler was already busy giving damaged footwear a new lease of life.


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P1000102 © DY of jtdytravels

Unlike in many western countries, the Indian society doesn’t have a throwaway culture…

if it’s broke, fix it!


P1000104  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000104 © DY of jtdytravels

While others worked, this man begged… but he didn’t hassle anyone.

Note the ‘comfy’ seat!


P1000176  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000176 © DY of jtdytravels

We had indeed expected to be hassled in the market area and were prepared to beat a hasty retreat back to the security of the hotel.  But this was not the case.  Although there were stalls along both sides of the street, and I admit most don’t open until 10h00, we had no problems from beggars or stall holders.  We were, of course, approached and asked if we wanted this or that, but a polite “no” was enough on most occasions.


P1000178  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000178 © DY of jtdytravels

The vegies, at this stall at least, looked good and fresh.


P1000059  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000059 © DY of jtdytravels

It was time to turn back to the hotel and rejoin the group.  On the way we passed this cold water seller, filling up his trolley for the day with water from his jerry cans… a timely reminder to we westerners not to drink the water here unless it is bottled properly.  Our tummies are not prepared for the water that most Indians drink on a daily basis… and there’s nothing worse than ‘Delhi Belly’ to spoil travel.

The city had woken and was ready for the day which begins here in earnest about 10h00.  The street had been swept and now there were piles of rubbish in the gutter; some had been burnt, some were still smoking and there were some piles which were still waiting for a match to be put to them.


P1000157  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000157 © DY of jtdytravels

Our hotel was not far from the markets but it was a world away in ambience.

The Oberoi Grand Hotel is a grand old lady of times past.


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P1000072 © DY of jtdytravels

I even found a delightful flower to photograph – however, I have no idea what it’s called.


P1000065  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000065 © DY of jtdytravels

As we entered , I noticed a small gecko showing off, walking along the ceiling.


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P1000066 © DY of jtdytravels

Back in the foyer of the hotel we awaited our fellow travellers to begin a tour of the city.

What a contrast this was to the market area we’d just been exploring.

But that’s India.  It’s a land of contrasts.

More anon


All photographs Copyright ©  David Young of jtdytravels

More of our travels can be found on


India : Kolkata # 1 Durga Puja Festival

Together with a small group of fellow Aussies, I flew to Kolkata on 8th October, 2013. Known as Calcutta during the British Raj,  Kolkata is the capital city of the Indian State of West Bengal.  It’s the third most populous city in India after Mumbai and Delhi.   Roughly 4.5 million people cram into the inner city area whilst the total population for the city and its suburbs is over 14 million, a number that is constantly growing.

P1000183  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000183 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s not surprising that the air was not clear over a city of this size.


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P1000114 © DY of jtdytravels

For those who have never been to India, arrival in Kolkata can be quite a daunting process.  And on that day, the streets were even more chaotic than normal.  Our arrival coincided with the beginning of the Durga Puja – the most important festival of the year for the Hindus of Kolkata.  This festival, which has its origins in Medieval times, is celebrated particularly in the NE states of India.  It’s a five-day annual holiday which worships the Hindu goddess Durga who defeated the evil buffalo. In essence, it celebrates the victory of Good over Evil.


P1000115  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000115 © DY of jtdytravels

The usual population of fourteen million, swells by another 7 million people for this festival as people from many miles around arrive and depart each day to attend that day’s activities!    Welcome to the colour, the noise, the smell, the chaos of India!


P1000062  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000062 © DY of jtdytravels

The Festival is a good excuse, if you need one, to buy some new clothes…


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P1000057 © DY of jtdytravels

… and maybe some shoes.


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P1000084 © DY of jtdytravels

And if you’d rather not wear shoes, why not paint your feet!


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P1000137 © DY of jtdytravels

There was a happy atmosphere and many of the locals were welcoming of tourists like us.


P1000135  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000135 © DY of jtdytravels

Statues of Durga are made on bamboo frames which are covered with mud taken from the Hoogley River that runs through the city.  Cloth that is impregnated with this mud is used to bind and hold the whole thing together.  It is then painted white before being lavishly painted in bright colours.  Originally, Durga was always depicted with her four children, and sometimes with a couple of other deities.  Nowadays, separate statues are prepared.  These statues can be a couple of metres high.


P1000151  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000151 © DY of jtdytravels

Many such statues are made in various places across the city.  They may even be embellished with tiny LED lights.  But all of these wonderful creations have a very short life.  For, at the end of the festival period, they are each carried to the banks of the Hoogley River where they are ceremoniously committed to the already muddy waters.  And the process of designing and preparing next year’s Durga statues begins again almost immediately… even bigger, ever better and, certainly, brighter.



P1000131  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000131 © DY of jtdytravels

So many devotees visit Kolkata to view the statues and light displays that special bamboo barricades are erected to control the crowds.


P1000134  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000134 © DY of jtdytravels

The footpaths are divided into male and female sections!  These barricades effectively double the width of the footpaths which, in turn, narrows the road by a car width. This just adds to the already very congested roads.


P1000146  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000146 © DY of jtdytravels

Today, modern trappings added to this ancient festival include a variety of displays using coloured LED lights.


P1000152  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000152 © DY of jtdytravels

With lights, music and dance being such an important part of the festival, most activity occurs at night when the crowds fill the streets from around 17h30.  From then on, they just wander around the sights until late.


P1000085  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000085 © DY of jtdytravels

We were certainly not the only ones to be fascinated by the evening’s events.   It’s said that the Durga Puja is the largest outdoor art festival in the world.   It’s a chaotic, happy festival.   What an introduction to !ncredible India.

More anon


all photographs Copyright ©  David Young  of  jtdytravels

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