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Chamkhar Valley - Bumthang

Darkness has fallen by the time the bus enters Choskhor valley (Bumthang). Windows are closed to keep out the cold air as some passengers recite prayers.

There is a feeling of relief of reaching somewhere. The handy-boy shouts "reporting time 5 am tomorrow morning." The bus reaches the town by around 7:30 pm, 13 hours after it started from Trashigang. There are several other buses parked. Some heading east and some to the west.
There is a commotion. Tshering the boy who was to get-off at Gayzamchu is still sleeping and way past his stop. The driver takes him in promising to send him back the following morning in a Mongar-bound bus.
Jakar Dzong, Bumthang
In Bumthang, the passengers stay in the nearby hotels which are often infested with lice and bugs and cost Nu. 80 to Nu.120 a room. A passenger travelling the lateral route needs at least Nu. 800 to reach Thimphu with the bus fare at Nu. 480 and the rest to pay for food and lodge.

It is an early night for the tired passengers. Passengers don't get to see Bumthang properly as they reach when it is dark and leave when dawn is breaking.
It is another early morning but a more chilly one. Bumthang is much more colder than Trashigang

Some women passengers quickly buy Chugo (dried cheese) as the conductor yells for everyone to get in. At six am, the journey resumes.

Yontongla pass
The driver plays a religious audio tape perhaps influenced by the spiritual legacy of the valley. Most passengers doze off to catch up on sleep. The drive from Chamkhar across Chumey valley (Bumthang)which produces the well known Yathra weave is a pleasant one

After crossing Yontongla pass at 12,000 feet it gets warmer as the road descends to Trongsa. Several kilometres from Trongsa, the Majestic Trongsa Dzong glittering in the morning sun comes to view.

It's magnificent elongated shape built along the natural contours of the ridges on which it stands dominates the surrounding hills.

Trongsa

Like Trashigang and Mongar, the Trongsa township clings to the hillsides and the highway. But it wears a new look with parking space and footpaths - looking clean and tidy. The breakfast stop in Trongsa at around 9 am, brings in more passengers. Some carrying luggage that cannot get past the door. Conductor Lepo loads it at the top.

Trongsa Dzong
There is another round of inspection by the police at Bjeezam, few kilometers from Trongsa town.
The passengers are asked to step out of the bus so that the police officer can prod the bags, sacks and carton boxes with their rods. A constable climbs on top to inspect the luggage on the roof carrier. The whole exercise take over half an hour.

There are much more vehicles on the highway now. More buses, government vehicles, private and tourist buses. Except for some music coming through the speakers, the bus is unusually quiet. Following an un-interrupted drive for the next five hours, the bus reaches Pelela, another high mountain pass. "There is so much more movement on this road nowadays," says Pema. "Until recently people travelled from the south on the Indian highway. Even people from Bumthang and Trongsa travelled via Gelephu to shop in India."


Wangduephodrang
Wangdidzong
The second lunchstop of the journey is at Nobding at the foot of Pelela pass, in a roadside restaurant that serves the same menu, but better food. Downhill from Nobding, a farmer from Wangduephodrang enters carrying a green military bag with flies hovering around him. He leaves his bag on the passageway looking for an empty seat. There is a foul smell and the passengers start complaining "What's in the bag?" conductor Lepo asks. "Meat" replies the farmer and ignores the complaints. All the conductor can do is push the bag towards the door.

The bus reaches Wangduephodrang at around 3:30 pm but it doesn't stop. Passengers crane neck to look around, tired of only seeing the looming mountains and thick forest.

The passengers are aware its only another three hours to Thimphu and conversation picks up. Conversation revolves around relatives and where they will be staying and what they will do. The climb up to Dochula never seems to end. "This climb is the worst part of the journey," says Tashi, the civil servant who is eager to catch up with old friends in Thimphu." I am going to take a loan and buy a car, he says."

Druk Wangyal Chorten
Dochula Pass
The driver lowers the volume of the music as the bus slowly passes by the newly built monuments at Dochula pass. Some passengers fold their hands in prayer, other seeing it for the first time marvel at the breathtaking structures.

The descent from Dochula signals the journey's end as passengers check their belongings and tidy themselves.

SemtokhaDzong comes to view and after a few more turns the bright lights of Thimphu show in the distance. After two days through serene landscapes over hills, mountains, rivers through cold and hot weather, Thimphu looks out of the world.

Thimphu

The traffic is heavy and never ending. At around 7 pm the bus enters the Thimphu bus station. The bus door is opened and the taxi drivers are waiting. 'Babesa, Semtokha, Khasadrapchu' shout the cab drivers looking expectantly at the passengers. Angay Dema peers through the window and smiles. Her son and grandson are waiting to pick her up.

Contributed by Samten Wangchuk, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006
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