On March 29th, Bhutan IV went to Gasa, one of the least developed dzongkhags in the country that has as one of its attractions natural hot springs. Gasa is situated about six hours north of Thimphu, passing by the district of Punakha. All eleven Wheaton students and Professor Owens met up with Tshewang, our tour guide to start this adventure. We left Royal Thimphu College at around noon. Our bus ride was very long, but when you are with friends and can combine laughing around with sleeping and listening to music- not to mention the views, the car ride becomes one more attraction. The road to Punakha was a normal Bhutanese road; one and a half lanes, cliffs and curves, but the road from Punakha to Gasa was very recently made and it was narrow and very muddy. We are very lucky to have skilled drivers that know how to deal with these roads while we sit back and enjoy.
After about an hour on the bus we stopped and had lunch at Dochu la (see Thimphu to Phobjika) that had a view of the forest and the clouds. A good part of the bus ride resembled the tropical cloud forest, with big trees filled with epiphytes, a river down below and a narrow road. Whenever we made leg-stretching or bathroom stops in a place at a low altitude we had to be careful to not come back to the bus with leeches on our skin. These animals are not dangerous, but it is certainly not pleasant to have one of these blood suckers stuck to your skin, as Sarah and Ben G discovered. What you do is you cover the leech with salt and that gets rid of it.
After many hours of sitting on the bus, we finally made it to a dead end where the bus could no longer go. We got out in the dark not knowing exactly how far away our camp site was. People gathered their belongings, took a hold of flashlights and started walking through a trail. The the trail was muddy and a little slippery. About halfway through, we were met by the smell of a bonfire in the distance and the sight of the fire lights. The walk ended up being only about thirty minutes long. The next day when we walked that trail again we discovered that it was a very pleasant trail with big trees full of rhododendrons in bloom.
We got to the campsite excited and hungry. Our tents were already made for us and food was waiting. We went into a tent that had a table and chairs and had a wonderful dinner. After settling into our tents we headed over to the hot springs. On the bus ride Tshewang explained that nudity in the hot springs is ok if no Bhutanese people were around –he mentioned that it was even preferable. He explained that woman who had been through child birth were allowed to show their breasts but otherwise it was preferable to use a bathing suit. So needless to say we all got into our bathing suits and headed over to the hot springs.
Being in the Gasa hot springs was a unique experience even for those of us who had been in hot springs before. There were three bath houses of increasing heat. The pools were made out of wood and had spouts through which the hot water poured in. We were told that drinking water directly out of the spout was good because the water had healing properties. Those who tried it said it tasted like sulfur. We were also told that when someone is sitting in the pool or on the edge of the pool it is not OK to step over them or the spout that brings the water in. That night we all spent hours soaking in the hot water and having some interactions with Bhutanese people who spoke English. There was a particular guy that befriended us and took us under his wing. We were the only foreigners in the camp site and he was asking questions and making conversation with curiosity.
The next morning we woke up and went to breakfast. In the morning’s light we saw that the mountains across the river had strange shapes; they gave the impression of being tilted or flopping over. Some people compared them with the mountains from the stories of Dr. Seus. After a very delicious meal we got ready for our trip to the Gasa Dzong. We walked on a different trail than the one we used to get to the camp site. We finally made it to where we were supposed to meet the bus, but it was running a little late so, since everybody was enjoying the walk so much, we decided to keep walking until it showed up. Finally the bus picked us up and we were on our way. On our way in we saw some Monks on one of the many Dzong terraces having tea, and later saw others hanging out on a roof We also noticed the existence of a Bank in the Dzong which we hadn’t seen before. In the Gasa Dzong we were able to go into some shrine rooms but the one dedicated to the protective deity we could only see from the outside, since woman and foreigners were not allowed inside. Some of us climbed up steep narrow stairs to the very top of the Dzong where the view of the mountains and the clouds was spectacular. . All the stairs were very steep, and the wall paintings depicted very amazing stories of the different Buddhist Saints as well as wrathful deities.
When we got back we had lunch and headed back to the hot springs. They were very crowded; some people found little spaces in the hot water, and the rest of us went to explore the river. Some meditated on a rock, some threw rocks into the river, and some jumped from rock to rock up stream. We all had an amazing time. After a little while it started to rain. Most of the people who had been by the river happily found places in the nice hot water.
Dinner time came around and we enjoyed a wonderful meal followed by a train of scary stories told by everybody in the meal tent. The scary stories were then followed by embarrassing stories, and then followed by funny stories. After dinner we headed over again to the hot springs where we again spent hours enjoying.
Next morning we had breakfast and got ready to head back to RTC. We hiked to the bus and enjoyed the bus ride that was interrupted by a lunch break and some view breaks. The most spectacular of the view breaks was the Punakha Dzong, an amazing and very big Dzong that sits between tworivers. (See Thimphu to Phobjika). After some more hours in the bus we concluded a memorable weekend in Bhutan.
– Ana Brenescoto