The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Chasing a Madman

We're off to meet a madman today, though the way I'm feeling, I'm not sure if the madman would like to meet with an 'off with the fairies' lady.  It was a hellish night in our hotel at Thimphu with lots of groaning, banging of doors and running in and out of rooms - and that was just in our room.   Outside in the hallway and stairwell it was all yelling, squealing and I'm sure, stair-master time.... judging by all the pounding feet up and down the endless levels of stairs.  My earlier headache and unease back in Haa and Paro had morphed into full blown 'cranial crush', 'gut groan' and butt... well put it this way, I was visiting the little room more times than I cared too.  As the sun rose, I emerged looking like I'd had a heavy night - grog-eyed and stumbly without the enjoyment of indulging in a glass or two. 

Our guide meets us in the foyer and suggests a short hike up a hill then down dale to the Motithang Preserve -  I suggest a lay in the back seat while we drive there - this doesn't impress the guide any and he comments that I need to be doing these little hikes to get fit for Tigers Nest which we are to do at the end of our trip. As much as I could see his point, I was actually flat out seeing anything as my head is pounding and just to open my eyes actually hurts.   I stumble out to the car and lay prone as the usual luggage tug-a-war eventuates between Mal and the hotel girls - they win again.  
First stop for the day is the Motithang Takin Preserve where we are to see the 'handiwork' of the Divine Madman.  The Divine Madman - Lama Drukpa Kunley - is a Bhutan saint of great reverence, but he was also a 'kidder' with outrageous humour and 'crazy wisdom' and it is said that he magically produced the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. After eating a whole cow and a whole goat, he put the bones together to make a single animal. 

The Takin we are visiting were from the original zoo of Bhutan which was dismantled by the Fourth King in keeping with the philosophy of Buddhism and all the animals set free.  The Takin however were so tame they refused to 'run away to the bush' and instead wandered around the city of Thimphu, getting in the way, searching for food, lounging on the roadway and generally causing mayhem, so they were returned to the zoo which was made into a reservation for them... along with some deer.
Just down the road we come across a lively game of darts - Bhutanese style.  Called Khuru, the dart is an enormous timber ball with a long metal bar that looks like a lethal nail and is thrown with great gusto at a target about twenty meters or so away ('stabbed' into the ground very similar to the archery target) while people stand infront of it.  
As in Archery, a lot of intensity and concentration goes into it and just like archery, there's a lot of song and dance too.  And bravado as we watch to spectators jump out of the way of the flung dart...crazy is not the word.

The Wang Chuu falls away are we climb out of the valley that holds Thimphu and drive up towards Dochu La, past a small village and roadside stalls selling baskets and baskets of apples. Dochu La soon comes into viw - a vision of white and red brick shimmering against a 'confettied' blue sky. 
One hundred and white chortens encircled with strands and strands of prayer flags. Built in 2005 as a memorial to those who died in 2003 battle against the Assamese Separatists from India. Dochu La is also a hive of activity with multitudes of cars, busses, and trucks parked in the middle of the road and a throng of bodies milling about, taking photos of each other, of the chortens and of a large building sitting out a hill that looks like a museum.  Last night we had purchased a set of five prayer flags and I'm keen to add to the swathe of flags already covering the woodland and hillside beside the Chortens. Just before I get out of the car, I hand a roll of prayer flags to our driver - had had shared with me earlier as we walked from the Taken enclosure, that his sister-in-law had passed away, just that morning. We are devastated for him and I immediately suggest to him that he go be with his family, and I will ask the tour company for a 'step-in' driver until he returns, but he has declined.  Now I hand him the flags - although a small gesture, I hope it will convey our sincere condolences.  Mal and I follow our guide up the hill, under the strands of glorious colour to where a group of men are chanting around a small fire. "they are saying prayers" our guide tells us and we are just about to move away, when one fellow rises and gestures to us to come over and hang our flags in the wisps of smoke. "How auspicious" I whisper and eagerly unfurl the flags. As I hand one end to Mal, our guide takes it from him and directs me to stand near a tree, he ties the end he's taken, I turn and go to tie mine, but before I have a chance to finish the knot he takes the cord from me and proceeds to tie it. I'm far from impressed and feel a flash of anger - something I would never want associated with such a sacred piece.  The beautiful moment is gone.  Mal has already turned and is heading back to the car park, he too is far from happy. 
Back at the carpark Mal had come across a group of people dressed in bright orange, at first we thing they are defence, but soon learn they are the DeSuung Volunteers (Guardians of Peace and Harmony) and serve the nation and community is times of disasters and community events.     I'm eager to also go up to the building on the other side of the carpark where a lot of people are wondering up to but our guide tells us we need to get moving. We have much to do. 
The bitumen road soon becomes a dirt track and we find ourselves driving along the National Highway in full construction mode.  It's a bumpy dusty ride as well as exceedingly slow and we reach a small village called Sopsokha on the late side of lunchtime.   
As we alight the car our eyes almost jump out of our heads - the whole town is decorated in phalluses of all sizes, colours, and differing dancing stances. I want to explore and photograph the colour and hilarity but we are whisked off the restaurant to eat.  The food is a bland version of Continental done so badly, vegemite on ricecrackers is a tastier choice.   Lunch done I bound out to find the nearest dancing dick, but our guide tells me we have little time and need to take a walk through the rice fields to a temple sitting on a far side of the hillock - Chhimi Lhakhang - the temple that had been blessed by the Divine Madman after he had lulled a demoness with his magic 'thunderbolt' (hmmm, an interesting moniker for it).    We wander through the fields, watching the men thrashing the rice while the women lay the sheafs in rows.  
It's beautiful scenery, pretty green fields dotted with golden hay stacks resembling small stupas with their spire top and waving poles of white remembrance prayer flags. We arrive to the temple and find a crowd of people enjoying the beautiful scenery and a large bohdi tree, it's enormous canopy and stone sitting area offering a cool respite from the afternoon sun. Also there is Colin, having just received a 'bop' on the head from a monk who used  an ivory phallus and the Divine Madman's bow and arrow, along with a name for his soon to be born baby.  He tells us the name and it has a poetic ring. He's already rung his wife with the news.  We all leave the temple together and wander back towards Sopsokha, chatting about babies and parenthood. Our guide calls our names and indicates to us that we are going to walk in another direction through the rice terraces so we bade Colin a farewell and traipse into the fields. To our astonishment we then turn, climb up a terrace and walk almost parallel to the road.  And to Colin.  But we are too far up to continue our conversation.  I cannot believe what has happen - our guide has just isolated us. Again.  Mal and I had noted this on another occasion, in a restaurant when we were directed to sit at the far end of the room, away from all the other tourists.  At the time we thought it a little strange, but this was so obvious.  We returned to the village and the carpark, waved goodbye to Colin and continued on to visit the beautiful Punakha Dzong.  

It's magnificent.  Sitting next to a coursing river of the most vibrant green, it's claimed to be the 'most beautiful' Dzong in Bhutan.  It's definitely got the most beautiful scenery surrounding it. We stop near the fork of the river and I go to get out of the car to photograph the scene. Our guide is at the car door taking my camera as I step out.  I tell him it's right, I can carry it but he insists on taking it - across the road.  Then he raises it and takes the photo.  I'm flabbergasted. 
Inside the Dzong is stunning in every way, incredible artwork, gloriously entwined iron lacework and timber with mother-of-pearl inlay. As we wander through the corridors we turn a corner and come across a wedding being photographed.   I love how every country I stumble through I stumble upon a beautiful bride.  And here she was looking exquisite against the beauty of the magnificent whitewashed walls glinting with gold and red. 
We leave the Dzong and make our way towards an enormous swing bridge.  It's high and long but I get the jellies even thinking of walking across it so I remain at the car while Mal and our guide go for a 'swing'.   
The air is cooling and the afternoon shadows become long.  It's too late to see any of the town of Punakha so we head to our hotel which turns out to be a good half hour drive from Punakha,  or anywhere else we notice,  our hotel overlooks the river and rice fields and is well away from any towns.  It’s very pretty, but isolated. Just as we are following two very tiny woman lug our enormous bags up rows of steps and paths to our room, our guide informs us he has just received a phone call from our previous hotel in Thimphu.   I'm horrified to learn I've left my laptop there. In my earlier groggy state of altitude haze, I'd left it sitting on the table in the hotel's foyer.  Where's a Divine Madman when you need one...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Food for thought - "were you ever happy?"

Happiness appears to be all around, even the graffiti in Bhutan exudes messages of joy and positivity – soulful scribble. “Different is beautiful” and “Never let go of your dreams” whisper to us from the side walls of the shops.  Around one corner I’m delighted to spy an advertising slogan of “get enlightened, read a book” in front of a small bookshop and then a few meters away a smiley face and rainbow with “lets all read”. 
Over breakfast we read our itinerary and decided there’s too much packed in for such a short time frame – 1 day, which isn’t due to begin until at least 9am. There’s a few-hours-hike to a monastery, three museums, three temples, a Dzong, the weekend market, and later in the evening – the one thing we definitely earmarked for our tour - and are really looking forward too - a cooking class.   We’re not ‘go and tick it off’ people and so we narrow it down to the weekend market, the Giant Buddha and the Dzong, with our cooking class in the evening.   When we meet our guide and tell him our plans along with wanting to have the whole of the afternoon to wander by ourselves in Thimphu so we can do some shopping and chill at Ambient Café, our guide is a little confused – most tourist want to see it all he tells us.

First stop is the wet market which is quite a chilled – and chili – affair.  The produce market is in a spacious and spotlessly clean multi-storey building and practically every stall has a bag or tray of chilies for sale along with all its other goods.  I’ve never seen so many vibrant fire-red and glossy green chilies in my life, there are fresh chili, dried chili, crushed chili, chili garlands, bags of chilies, chilies in jars and chili mixed with other ingredients.  Along with the chilies, the other very common item for sale is cheese, especially the strings of hard-as-a-rock (insert name of cheese) which needs to be left in the mouth for quite some time to soften before biting into it, unless you’re keen on a dentist visitation. We’re surprised by the varied selection of fresh vegetable and fruit on offer for sale and our guide tells us that Bhutan grows a lot of its own produce – all organic and completely spray free – and what it doesn’t grow, comes from India. 
Their meat and fish selection however is not as varied nor as plentiful, but Mal finds a sniff delight in the sausage department and hankers after a slice of salami.

Across the road and over a delightful timber and brick covered bridge – with the most gorgeous mandala on the ceiling – is the handicraft market which is full of thangkas, prayer wheels in every size, phalluses in every colour and surprisingly, crude ashtrays - very strange in a country where smoking is basically banned.
From the market we wander along the road past the very elaborate and manicured football stadium where we join a number of monks to peer through the closed barred gates and watch the national team practise.  The monks are super excited.  After a while of watching the team do warm up stretches and not much else, we leave and soon find ourselves at the National Archery Stadium of Changlinethang where a tournament is in place. 

The archers are in full national dress (the Gho) with joggers, which although looks a little strange with long socks doesn’t at all reduce their elegant appearance – and it’s all very serious.  We’re very close to the shooting line and clearly hear the swoosh and thud. 
The thud is always followed by a rousing cheer and yell from down at the target end and from the shooters end the team encircles and begins a song and dance. I notice that amongst the crowd of keen onlookers, there’s only males; grown and child and many monks – they absolutely love the competition and watch with intense concentration – I’m the only woman in the audience.   I ask our driver if women compete and he laughs and shakes his head, “No, this is for men only.”   I tell him that back home women compete in all sports and we have very good archers.  He looks amused.  

As we leave the ground, we find ourselves amused by the notice warning about stray arrows, and wonder how many tyres get 'punctured'.

Just as we’re leading the archery our guide suggests we stop at the National Memorial Chorten, built in memory of the third king in 1974 and being the temple junkie I am I eagerly agree.  It’s beautiful.   A large white chorten with twelve enormous mani wheels near the front entrance, it sits on a large gardened  round-a-bout and is well visited.  Our guide tells us that many elderly people come here every day and spend most of their day here, chatting, meditating, and doing 108 circumambulations of the Chorten.  We do three. 
From a beautiful peaceful memorial to a much loved king to an oversized enormous Buddha that I’m sure would confuse the original Buddha as to the true philosophy of his word.  It screams ‘look at me’ and is all gold and glitz, so much so, it hurts the eyes to look at it in the stark midday sun.  Gifted to Bhutan by Singapore we’re told that every piece of the building and its adornments were imported in from Singapore and costs a ridiculous amount.   As we walk around it I can’t help wondering “Why”?   and wouldn’t the money been better spent helping the Bhutanese improve their medical and education programmes.   I find I’m becoming more perplexed about the contradiction of happiness and simpler life with the over the top ostentation and can’t see how gold leaf attached to a wall can bring happiness to a nation. I mention this to the guide and he smiles and says "It brings happiness to the people to see it."  He then tells me that the 'third eye' is made up of precious stones - it all doesn't make sense to me.   Up-close and inside the building is wall to wall gold, and houses 1000 small buddhas along with some beautiful artworks, including an intricate thangka made entirely of silk thread embroidery – the thangka is unbelievably stunning.
Next to Buddha park, is a walking trail to a prayer-flagged festooned park that was opened in celebration of the marriage of the 5th King.  Holding a Guinness World Record for the most amount of trees – one thousand - planted at exactly the same time, Kuenselphodrang Nature Park is at a height of over 3000feet and has the most spectacular views of Thimphu city and the valley.  

Spectacular however falls short for describing the Thimphu Dzong, our next stop. Surrounded by rose gardens, the Dzong is opposite the Royal Family’s palace and the National Parliament of Bhutan.  We’re asked not to photograph the right side of the roadway as we walk up to the Dzong, as well as the first part of the Dzong as it is the administrative centre for not just the area but also the nation.
There’s only a small part of the Dzong we can visit – the temple and the central courtyard – it’s a beautiful Dzong and what we are allowed to click away at shows nothing of its majesticness and beauty.  The temple is incredibly beautiful and ornate and inside all I want to do is sit and while away some meditation time, but this is barely possible with the coming and goings of the tour groups. Plus our stomachs are grumbling – it’s lunch time, and as breakfast was nothing more than toast and tea, I’m eager for some real flavoursome food. We’ve noticed there is no such thing as morning tea on our ‘tour’ nor is there any chance to pop into a coffee shop for a pick-me-up caffeine shot. 

Unfortunately lunch is again a buffet affair and consists of rice, noodles, butter fried vegies, fried potatoes and a stewed chicken dish.  The only flavour on offer is good ol’ chili cheese as a side-dish. I’m mystified as to why we can’t choose our own restaurant or menu choices.
After lunch we question our guide as to what dishes we will be learning to cook in our much anticipated class tonight.  He tells us ‘chili cheese.’  ‘And?’ we ask.  He looks perplexed, ‘just chili cheese,’ he replies.   ‘Better not be just chili cheese.’ I retort, then I ask if it's possible to go to the restaurant and speak to the chef.  We drive to a very swish looking restaurant that has a French-cum-vintage look to it, a beautiful restored Royal Enfield is displayed at the front and inside it has beautiful thick chunky timber tables and iron lace chairs.  We’re introduced to the chef and with solemn apologies, he tells us we won’t be having a class tonight as he has a function to cater for.  We stunned and wonder when this was (if it was) portrayed to our tour company or our guide.  Back in the car we ask our guide what alternative might be made, he replies with, ‘That activity will no longer be happening.'   I’m far from impressed.  We ask to be taken back to town so we can have the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, and also suggest that because tonight’s class was cancelled, and as last night’s dinner was not very nice, we will find our own restaurant for this evenings meal.  Our guide tells us we are not allowed to choose our own restaurant, he will organise it.  And as we drive back to the centre of town he then tells us that we are going to the paper factory. My patience has become rice-paper thin.
The paper factory tour does not eventuate and as we alight from the car we notice the air has cooled and it is late afternoon, the sun no longer lighting up the beautiful artwork on the centre of town - it's too late to get photos. Instead we spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing at Ambient Café and indulge in a coffee bean haze of joy.  Later we wander down to the square and find a large screen in front of the clock tower and lots of excited locals eagerly waiting for a film on the Black Neck Crane to begin.  It’s the National Conservation Film Festival, being held as part of the celebration lead-up for the Fourth Kings 60th birthday.  We join the crowd until the cold gets too much for us then we scurry away to the restaurant that has been organised for our dinner.  It’s an upmarket restaurant and we get  all excited at the thought that it’ll be al-la-cart and eagerly await a menu – but no, it’s buffet.   As we line up to help ourselves we begin chatting to one of the staff behind the counter and find she is the manager of the restaurant.  Our conversation comes round to our cancelled cooking class and how disappointed we are and she tells us she owns a little homestay/lodge in Paro and offers cooking classes to her clients, and if we’d like, we are welcome to do a cooking class there when we return to Paro at the end of our tour.We are delighted and ask for a card to pass onto our tour company and guide. Then to our surprise she apologises for the lack of spicy flavour to the food serve at the restaurant and adds that she is 'embarrassed.'   "But you will be delighted with the real taste of Bhutanese" she adds. 

Just as we’re finishing our meal and readying to leave, the manager comes over to wish us a good journey and then tells us our guide has rung to check that we came to the restaurant for our meal.  A feeling of being ‘watched’ comes over us. 
As we leave we pass a graffitied wall -“were you ever happy?” - the message whispers and I wonder - are they.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Finding happiness along the Affirmation Highway

“Don’t hurry or your family will worry.” 
“Mountains are pleasure only if you drive at leisure.”   
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

There’s no such thing as a roadside advertising billboard in Bhutan, and as we drive along the ‘affirmation highway’ - as I’ve dubbed the road from Haa to Thimphu - we are given gentle reminders to slow down and savour life.  It’s not until we realise that the country side we are viewing is absent of the garish bombarding of commercialism and oversized advertising signs that it dawns on us how open and free the countryside feels and the views of quaint mud-rammed houses dotting rice terraces that cascade towards a wide aqua-green river gives us a feeling of serenity.
Although it's an ice-cold morning, we leave Haa in a blaze of sunshine, the heavily forested mountains glowing in a green and golden hue.  The road hugs the side of the mountains, and we are awashed with views of chequered board fields in gold, red and green with villages of adorned white and timber houses. Far below, deeply plunging valleys fold into a coursing river that’s  embroidered with rapids. 

Every now and then we pass a chortan, a swathe of brightly flapping prayer flags or a long mani wall, the gold Sanskrit shining in the sunshine.   The villages we passed through are idyllic, tiny winding laneways where the homes are beautifully decorated, as if each neighbour was trying to outdo the other. 

Not only the windows, doors and walls painted and embellished, but so are the eves.  At one village we stop and take a walk through – our car to meet us at the other side -   the laneways laced in flowers, herbs and five leaf ‘mull’ plants that we’re told are only cattle feed – no wonder the cream coloured jerseys we see wandering around and lazily chewing their cuds have such sleepy doe-eyes. 

Just passed this village we view an enormous Dzong, once a jail for the worst of the worst and our guide tells us of how the prisoners were dealt with many years ago; tied into a sack and thrown down into the river, apparently if they survived the icy, turbulent waters, they could go free. It’s an impressive looking buildings perched high on a hill – indeed a room with an amazing view, but maybe one ‘you’ rather not see.
Lunch time is approaching and our guide tells us we’ll be having lunch in a local home.  We’re excited at the thought of being invited into a Bhutanese home and seeing how they live.  We soon arrive at a small, but beautifully intricately decorated abode that’s still in the process of being built.  Next door is a small restaurant.  The home and the restaurant are sitting in the ‘middle of no-where’, not another house or village that we can see around.  We jump out of the car and rustle through our packs for a couple of packets of macadamia nuts we’ve brought from home to give as gifts to our host.  We’re introduced to a young woman, called Tenzin, and are taken around the back of the house and directed up a small ladder-cum-stairs to a room that doesn’t have any furniture, but is beautifully painted in swirls of orange on bright yellow, and adorned with photos of the royal family – I love it.  We’re told to go into another room and here we find a small table and four chairs and a small cupboard in one corner.  We take a seat, eager to chat.  Tenzin smiles, gives a small bow then disappears from the room.  Our guide opens a picnic basket and proceeds to unpack the meal, then tells us to help ourselves.  We’re a little confused.  “Is Tenzin not joining us.” We ask.  “No, Tenzin has to serve in her restaurant” is the reply.  We eat our lunch and drink our tea, just us and our guide and driver.  Then it’s all packed up and we’re told it’s time to leave.  Back downstairs we’re directed to get back in the car, but we say we’d like to go into the restaurant to thank Tenzin for the use of her home.  Our guide is reluctant and tells us he has already thanked her.  We insist on thanking her ourselves and go into the small, but cosy restaurant.  It smells divine – the aromas drift around us and tantalise our tastebuds.  We’re surprised to see how busy it is, every table filled with happy, hungry diners. We wonder where they’ve come from. We thank Tenzin then go back to the car, as I get in I ask our guide why we didn’t eat in the restaurant as it looked lovely.  He gives me a concerned look and answers with ‘too dirty for tourists’.  I’m shocked and assure him that it is far from that, but he shakes his head and tells us that tourists can’t possibly eat the food there, besides he adds, ‘it’s too spicy for you.’  I feel uncomfortable at how the expectations of tourists are perceived in Bhutan and wonder if it is just what our guide thinks or if this is the actual perception across the board.
We continue on and soon reach the highway to Thimphu, passing over the river and past a set of beautiful chortens that glisten in the sunlight. The next hour ls spent reading affirmations and road safety messages dotted alongside the highway.  Thimphu comes into view and unlike the delightful villages and small towns we’ve passed through, we find it to be a jungle of concrete buildings of various colours – all still decorated with the auspicious signs but no-where near as intricate or beautiful as the homes and shops of the smaller towns. 
Thimphu is heavily congested with traffic and is noisy and dusty, but we’re keen to explore it, but our guide says first we must go to the Post Office where we can get a stamp with our photo on it.  It sounds very kitsch to us and we say that we’re not really interested but apparently it’s a highlight on the tourist list and we are to do it.   We drive into a building that looks as if it’s in need of a good renovation and we’re taken up a dark stairwell to a small room where a number of other tourists are gathered and being encourage to get their photos taken for a stamp.  Again our guide suggest we too do this and again we decline. Instead we look at the stamps and first day issues and although I haven’t the least bit of interest in stamps, I buy a first-day-issue of the ‘strong man of Bhutan’, we do this because part way through our trip, our itinerary has us staying with the strongest man in Bhutan so I feel it’s only appropriate to have this little souvenir.  
Our guide then tells us our next stop is a weaving centre but I suggest to him that we’d rather go to the Bhutan National Library to see the world’s largest book.  Our guide insists we go to the weaving centre first, so off we go.  The weaving centre is a small two storey building with the looms downstairs and a shop upstairs.  We view the weaving – I’m astounded at how intricate the craftsmanship is and how these women work without a pattern.  The pieces are incredibly vibrant and stunning. Then we are directed to the shop but I decline to purchase anything, being so early into our trip, I’m really not ready to commit to a weaving yet.

I ask again if we can go to the Library but instead we are taken to an art gallery where the most beautiful thangkas and Bhutanese landscapes adorn the walls, once again it is suggested – ever so subtle -  for us to purchase a little piece.

We are then told we are going to go to a paper-making factory, but I say I’d like to be to be taken to the Library and, we’re told it’s now near closing time so it’ll be a quick visit.  I’m far from impressed when told this.
Bhutan’s National Library is gorgeous.  A stunning piece of architecture surrounded by the most beautiful rose gardens and with an even more stunning outlook. Inside the library itself is a beautiful piece of art – wide timber floors, worn smooth with time, intricately painted shelves and architraves, and rows upon rows of Buddhists texts in various colours behind glass, some of them hundreds of years old.  We’re taken first to a room to see a smaller version of the ‘world’s biggest book’, which is a pictorial display of Bhutan’s landscapes and culture, then we go to the main room to view the real book.  It’s huge and kept in a massive glass case.  The page is open to an image of mountains with prayer flags.  Photography is not allowed in the library but this doesn’t deter many of the tourists who sneak a snap on their smart-phones. As we leave the library, our guide suggests we now visit the paper-factory but all we want to do is put our bags in the hotel and go find a much need cup of coffee – preferably of the roasted beans variety. 
Once again the hotel we are staying at is well out of town – it’s big and impersonal and when we enter our room we’re dismayed to see that it quite run-down.  We’re here for two nights.  We quickly stash the bags and get the driver (and guide) to take us into Thimphu central so we can start exploring the capital city of Bhutan…and of course find that coffee. 
And again the guide is reluctant to let us go by ourselves, and tells us that Thimphu can be unsafe and that the traffic is bad, but we insist on being allowed to wander and look by ourselves.  We are finally dropped off near the “Times Square” of Thimphu a square with prayer wheel walls and a clock tower in the centre, and we go in search of coffee, finding it in a delightful café called ‘Ambient’ – it’s perfect!  The coffee just as good as home, the atmosphere fantastic and the Wi-Fi fast.  We spend a good two hours whiling away the late afternoon, then enjoy shuffling about in Thimphu’s vibrant main street, a collection of old-style timber shops with low doors and modern glass and chrome flash.  As the evening starts to fall the city becomes more bustling and the smells of Bhutanese flavours wafts out of small cafes and restaurants.   We’ve been told that dinner begins at seven at our hotel, so we catch a taxi back.  We are to find we should have stayed in the main street and found a dinner there, for the hotel fare is exceeding dismal. Once again the delectable ‘taste’ of Bhutan remains nothing more than an aromaous sniff.