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Bhutan: Thowada Goemba

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Thowada Goemba | Bhutan | Asia

[Visited: October 2009]

When driving up Tang Valley from Ugyen Chholing Palace, our speed dropped noticeably; not so much because we were driving slightly uphill, but because the condition of the road was deteriorating. For a while, I was considering proposing to hike, as our speed seemed lower than walking speed. At one point, we hit a big stone, which forced us to stop: the guide and the driver were trying to get the rock from under the car while I started looking for a tool to remove it, as I did not imagine they would be able to pull the obstacle from under our 4WD with their bare hands. Just as I climbed up a field next to the road and startled a young boy working there with his family, my friends below cheered: they had cleared away the culprit. We drove a little further, and the guide agreed that walking was a better option. We also still had to have lunch, and while the guide proposed to set up lunch at the riverside, I quickly calculated that we were running out of time. We ended up eating on the road. Within ten minutes, the guide and I were on our way. Towards the north, we could just see a white spot on the green mountains. Our destination of the afternoon: Thowada Goemba.

Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Prayer wheels all around the monastery at Thowada Goemba

We walked fast, passed a few more houses and met several farmers, before we entered the woods. On our right, we could hear Tang Chhu river, but we could not see it. Yet, we knew we had to cross somewhere. When the roar of the river became louder, and the trees opened up in front of us, I knew that the easy and fast part of this hike was over: from here, it would only be uphill. Then, we saw something that took us by surprise. There was no bridge anymore. We could see the remains of it, but it had apparently been washed away by the monsoons that had been particularly bad this year. The guide had not been here in a long time: he did not know about this. Without even thinking about it, we prepared to cross the river. The guide was adamant he take my camera backpack, and started negotiating the icy waters and the slippery boulders. At one point, he got so cold, he had to climb one of the rocks sticking out of the water and stand in the sun for a while, but then made it safely to the other side. Initially, I thought I could just pull up my jeans a little, but when I saw that the guide had been into it until his waist, I took off my jeans completely, tied them around my waist together with my fleece vest, and started crossing, with my camera dangling from one shoulder. Somewhere deep down, I knew it would not be possible to reach the other side without problems - and I was right. I slipped, lost my balance, and in a reflex, grabbed my camera. I even managed to keep it above the water until I regained my balance, but at a price: my jeans, sweater, and shoes were soaked. I was not even half way, and realized I should have taken a stick to help me out. The guide showed once more how fantastic he was: he crossed the river once again to look for one. But I did not wait, as the claws of the cold water were digging deeper into the flesh of my legs. When I got out of the river, they were completely red.

Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Dragon depicted on painting at Thowada Goemba

We had lost precious time, the sun was disappearing behind the mountains, and we still had a long way to go. With my wet jeans hanging on my bare legs, I climbed in my underwear, initially barefoot. We dashed up the first part, found several stupas and prayer walls on our way, and even had some parts where we went downhill - which gave our legs some rest. But the steep part still had to come. I pushed ahead, leaving the guide behind, who received phone calls even here, in the remote forested slopes of Tang Valley. Suddenly, I started walking less swiftly, the climbing seemed less easy, and I started blocking out the feelings of fatigue that were building in my body. My legs seemed very heavy, and I wondered what had happened. Was it the altitude - according to the guide, we would reach around 4000m? Was it the river crossing? The fast walking we had done earlier that hike and that day? Fact is, going uphill became a struggle. Worse still: I could not see how far I still had to go. The only thing I could do: push on. When I finally reached the entrance, I was trembling on my legs, and felt exhausted as if I had just finished a race. Fortunately, I still had some fruit with me, and water, and as I did not want to shock any monks around here, I wore my wet jeans. When the guide joined me, we explored Thowada Goemba, and discovered that it was completely deserted. Perhaps the isolation of the monastery added to its attractiveness, and I fell in love with it. The reward of the hike more than compensated the efforts. Thowada Goemba is supposed to be another ancient Buddhist place where Guru Rinpoche meditated - there are several places to meditate close to the monastery. The wooden balconies, the worn prayer wheels, the bright prayer flags, the magnificent views from the balconies of this structure clinging to the steep cliffs of the end of Tang Valley combine to make for a truly special place. In one room, I found a burning butter lamp - the only sign that someone must have been here before - but who knows how long ago that was? We still had to walk down - so had to leave this place where I could have spent an entire day. While trying to prevent another river crossing, we found another collapsed bridge and had to undress again to cross. We reached Tashi and the car just before darkness covered Tang Valley. Several hours later, driving over the narrow gravel roads of Tang Valley, driver Tashi sighed heavily when we reached the asphalt of the highway. That night, we had a late dinner - but all three of us were very satisfied after a fulfilling day.

Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Crossing Tang Chhu river proved difficult as the bridges had collapsed
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Colourful prayer flags on the balcony of Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Prayer wheels at Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Butter lamp burning at Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Old prayer wheels in the afternoon sun at Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Prayer wall on the way up to Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Thowada Goemba high up the upper part of Tang Valley
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Tang Chhu river with collapsed bridge
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): View over Tang Valley seen from Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Closed door in deserted Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Rock face onto which Thowada Goemba is built
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Waterfall driving a prayer wheel near Thowada Goemba
Picture of Thowada Goemba (Bhutan): Muddy trail in the upper Tang Valley

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