Trongsa to Bhumtang
At 7 A.M. we leave for a three- hour drive to visit the last day of the Domkhar Festival in Bhumthang. The route crosses YotongLa pass (10,800 ft.) which is marked by a chorten and an array of prayer flags--it marks the boundary between western and central Bhutan as well as the western border of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Beyond Pele La is Longte Valley where people raise sheep and yaks. We will pass through the village of Rukubji Valley with its big secondary school and Gompa. The houses here are clustered amid extensive fields of mustard, potatoes, barley, and wheat.
As we descend the pass we drive down through rhododendrons and ferns and reach Chendebji village. This was a night halt for mule caravans traveling from Trongsa during the reign of the 2nd King of Bhutan. Just below Chendebji village is the Chendebji chorten, a large white structure beside a stream. This chorten is modeled after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu and was built in the 19th century.
Arrive at the Domkhar Festival around 10 a.m. when we leave the paved road and take a short side road to the village of Domkhar where we will spend several hours attending the last and most religious day of the Domkhar Festival when the huge quilted and hand embroidered thongdrel is hung from the exterior temple wall. This is one of the smallest festivals in Bhutan and as such not many tourists go there-last year I counted just 30 foreigners among 500 villagers and festival dancers. We are good friends with the lama there and will have lunch with him in his private grandstand overlooking the small courtyard where the festival takes place.
We get very special treatment from the festival committee because we sponsored the rebuilding of the kitchen house that burned to the ground just one day before the 2009 festival. Also, Robin wrote a story about the Domkhar Festival that was published in the 2009 Spring issue of Tashi Delek-see the Rainbow web site to read that story in preparation to attending the festival. Unlike the larger festivals in Paro and Thimphu where thousands of villagers and tourists sit in grandstands in huge courtyards, making good photography near impossible, the quaint and intimate festival in Domkhar allows us total access and closeness to the dancers. You can sit or stand on the edge of the cobblestones and work with your tripod and equipment to get great close-ups and wide panoramas.
We are allowed access into the dressing room and are invited into the temple to take photos of the lama and his entourage of musicians and chanters during ceremonies.
When you feel you have enjoyed your fill of the festival grab your guide and driver and continue on to Jakar, the central town of the Bhumthang district. As you enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bhumthang Valley) you will visit a center of Yathra weaving. Yathra is the name for the locally produced hand- woven woolen cloth. Distinctive patterns and bright earthy colors enliven the fabric which is used for a wide variety of purposes and much sought after throughout Bhutan. We have been asked many times, "Where is the best place to buy authentic Bhutanese handicrafts?" This is that place! They have a huge assortment of hand-woven cloth, jackets, bags and clothing as well as a few authentic antiques and rugs woven by Tibetan refugees.
When we reach Jakar we will check into the hotel and then if time permits and you are so inclined you can explore Jakar Village. Remember, we return to this hotel for another night in three days just after our two nights in Ugen Choling so you will have time again to explore Jakar Village twice. Two suggestions that are a must-see are the Swiss cheese/Red Panda Beer factory and the ancient and revered Tamshing Temple, known to the locals as the Temple of Good Messages. Built in 1501 by Pema Lingpa with "...the help of celestial beings," this temple is the most important Nyingmapa temple in the kingdom. The temple houses an ancient chainmail jacket that is said to wash away sins of the people who are able to wear it over the shoulders while circumambulating the temple three times. Overnight at the four-star YuGharling Resort (Turn in laundry when you arrive for pickup when we return from Ugen Choling in two days.) Overnight: Overnight: Yu Gharling Resort.