Bhutan Last Part

Sun 06 May 2018 in travel

It's been almost three years now since I returned from my visit to the Himalayas. The whole time I wanted to finish this series, write about the rest of my time there. But as so often, something got in the way.

So apologies for mostly describing pictures now owed to my very sparse memory.

Puppets and Archers

A friend took me to Garizompa near Thimphu where once a year, where we waited in line with hundreds of people to stick money into the dresses of full-sized puppets of important figures, including the currently residing king.

It was a whole festival with music and dancing and food but these puppets were the main thing.

Line outside Garizompa Puppet of the King

Some day I heard commotion from the arching ground that I passed frequently and realized I haven't watched a single arching competition - Bhutan's national sport - so I went in. I was surprised by how far away the targe were. A 1x1m wooden slate in a 200-300 meters distance. And the opposing team was dancing around it only to behind cover if the arrow looked like it's getting close - apparently to distract the archer.

And of course every hit was celebrated by singing and dancing.

arching competition team of archers


After a long cold winter, the hiking season finally started for me and I manage to do 3 multi-day hikes (if you count 2 as "multi").

Druk Path

The first one was with three Bhutanese friends along the "Druk Path" from Thimphu to Paro.

It started on a beautiful spring day.

start off druk path first break view at first break up in the mountains

We found a nice place to pitch our tents near a lake. Just as we were done, we heard the first thunder. Luckily, we were near a cliff which we thought might shield us from lightning so we moved the tents as close to it as we could. As we cooked our first dinner in the mountains, it got dark enough to see the lightning. We started counting the seconds. Still over 30 between the flash and the roar. Nothing to worry about.

It also started to get colder. To cold for me to sleep alone in my tent, so I squeezed in with the other three.

The thunder was approaching now. 10 seconds. Then 5. At some point it was right above us. Nobody spoke a word. We all counted in silence. I only stopped picturing our demise when I reached "10" again. What a night.

the next morning frosty mountains

And what a morning! We were completely snowed in. And as we marched on, it continued snowing the whole day with only occasional breaks in the clouds.

the clouds clear up a bit

After 13 hours of hiking, we finally reached our second camping spot, which featured a natural shelter to sit and cook under without being constantly snowed on.

second camping spot the second morning

On our final stretch, we finally got some more sun and also a little friend who followed us. Every group we met going in the other direction was asking us, where our horses are. Turns out it's unusual to hike through the Bhutanese mountains with only what you can carry on your back. But we made it.

finally the sun popcorn up high


Richer for the experience, I started planning the next hike. It was actually the plan of an Indian girl I met on a day hike, who had a friend visiting - a real nature guy according to her.

planning over cold brew

I met him in the Ambient Cafe and where we waited for our guide. Since there are no hiking maps and most trails are pretty lonely (Druk Path being the big exception), we figured better to have somebody with us who knows the way.

With him, we discussed possible tracks, dates and transportation. At some point he asked "How many horses do you have?". We had none. "Then how are you gonna carry the rice cooker?" he asked visibly confused. We didn't intend to bring one. "Then how are you gonna cook the rice?" he wondered in disbelief. We told him we didn't plan to eat rice. "Then I'm not coming."

That's how we lost our guide. We called around to see if anybody else would be willing to come with us. But from everyone we heard the same "No horses? No rice? No way!"

We decided to still give it a try. We had all the food and equipment already anyways. Worst case, we turn around and trace back our GPS track.

A couple of days later, a cab driver dropped us of at the beginning of a five day track to Dagala.

waiting for the cab first campsite

And as soon as we started walking, the rain started pouring and forced out to stop early at the first flat patch of mountain we found after a couple of hours.

We countinued the next day through rain and clouds until it got so foggy that we couldn't see the path anymore.

into the unknown foggy mountains lunch break

The next morning we dicovered that we were in a beatiful valley and we even had a couple of hours of sun to enjoy it. For example with an early morning swim under a waterfall.

Bit since we weren't sure where the path continued, were exhausted by two days of constant rain and it didn't look like the weather was improving, we decided to stay in the valley for a day, have a nice walk around, and turn back the next day.

We even found a hut.

a bit of early sun clouds coming in found shelter foggy tea turning back

Phajoding to Buddha Point

After we dried of a bit, we decided to use our left over food and gas and go for a smaller hike. Just up to the Phajoding - the monastery just about Thimphu - and back down over Buddha Dordenma the next day.

Nothing special except for the spectacular view from Phajoding. And we even made pancakes. Turns out that's a great way to make sure you use all of your gas.

night view morning view clouds over Thimphu view from the tent baking pancakes running from the rain getting caught up by the rain


Apart from hiking, I also helped to build - the Bhutanese movie database. I am surprised to see that as of February 2020, the website is still online and has even expanded quite a bit.

Here is one of my teammates.

my workplace


I also became fascinated by the concept of complementary currency and started groupcash. Looking for possible applications, my friend from the Druk Path managed to arrange a pilot project with his employer - who happened to be the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan aka the national bank.

presentation at the national bank

Every year, the RMA's Social Club participates in the national Tree Planting Day and this year every participant got a digital certificate, cryptographically signed by the national bank.

Since I left a month later, nothing came out of it of course. But I got a whole day of tree planting out of it and made loads of new friends.

on our way to plant trees RMA social club hard at work baby trees the whole crew

Startup Weekends

And just to round things of, I ended my Bhutan journey like I started with, with a Startup Weekend. I'm still a little bit proud that this time our project - a peer-to-peer bike rental platform - even had one whole paying customer.


My Final Weeks

My last weeks in Bhutan I spent doing all the things that I enjoyed the most. Exploring the areas around Thimphu, spending time with my niece, and supporting Happy Chips.

Dzong of Thimphu on the way to paro Bhutan life big bug happy chips campaign

Monk in Tango

After months of working on it, my sister actually managed through a friend to arrange for me the possibility of spending two weeks in a Buddhist monastery. It was a true honor.

I was welcomed warmly, got my own room, and was able to participate in all activities (as far as my abilities allowed). My days looked somewhat like this: I got up with the daily gong at five, spent one hour chanting and meditating, had rice for breakfast, spent a couple of hours reading, walking or meditating, had rice for lunch, gave English lessons, meditated some more, had rice for dinner, and went to bed with the setting sun.

Since I'm worried that I'll never publish this otherwise, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

watching football going to class sacred bridge shoes outside praying hall me in monk robes lunch time computer class paying hall my favourite spot the monastery making rice statues tango carrying up construction material preparing the festival my room my friends festival ornament from rice dough posing

Goodbye Bhutan

After Tango I only had about a week left. So I had one last good-bye party, gave Jimmey a final rub, and headed to Paro.

goodbye party goodbye to jimmy master smith last morning in Bhutan

An amazing time, that I wish I would have written more about when it wasn't years ago. But I hope these words and pictures give somewhat an impression of my time there.

Wanna talk about it? Found typo or wanna add something? Edit me