Punakha to Bumthang is a little more than 200 Kms and takes a total of about 8-9 hours, considering you are driving in the hills. Once of the most picturesque drives, cutting past charming hamlets, serene farmlands, hours and hours of deep forests and valleys, hills filled with Rhododendrons of every hue, the drive to Bumthang is long but you wouldn’t want it to end.
Enroute Bumthang, you need to pass to 2 famous Passes – the Pele La and the Yutong La — and the beautiful Trongsa Valley that has the longest Dzong in all of Bhutan, the Trongsa Dzong. Since we had started very late from our hotel (Punatshangchhu Cottages) in Wangdue, we couldn’t go to the Trongsa Dzong on our way to Bumthang. Sonam, our guide, re-scheduled it to the next day.
Drive from Wangdue to Pele La: From Wangdue, the drive is by the side of bare hills on the left side and the Dang Chhu river on the right side. In about 45 minutes, you will reach Chhuzomsa, the confluence of the Dang Chhu and the Pe Chuu. Once you cross over the bridge, the road is undergoing widening work, and hence, the drive can be quite dusty for about an hour uphill. There is no road block here though unlike the Thimpu-Punakha drive. And when there are fewer cars, the dust is not much of a problem. The problem starts when the cavalcade of army trucks pass by. On our way back, we encountered a few jams owing to rock cutting, which held us up for 30-45 minutes. But once the widening work gets over, it’s smooth and nice drive all over again. On a clear day, you can see the Himalayan ranges of Jhomolhari, Jichu Drakye and Kang Bum. There are these beautiful hamlets where you find women spinning yarns on their porches, older men idling their time and children frolicking around.
Stop by Pele La: Pele La stands grand at 3420 meters with the customary Chorten (Stupa) and long colourful flags covering the hilltops. There are 4 stalls too there selling handicrafts straight from the villages. Exorbitant rates though, and although I took fancy to a Yak-wool cap, I left it there.
Stop by Chendebji Chorten: From the Pele La, you drive down the hills covered with red, pink, yellow Rhododendrons for about 30 minutes, admiring the beautiful landscape around you, the little hamlets dotting the valleys, the crystal clear rivers, to reach Chendbji Chorten, a famous Stupa. The Stupa appears almost from nowhere, one turn in the valley and you are there. Against the majestic green and blue hills, Chendbji Chorten, stands tall in the valley to tell a tale of the triumph over evil and its burial in its soil. A 20-minute stop-over will ensure you have heard the story and taken the photographs and admired the beauty and serenity of the place.
Time for Lunch at Chendebji Resort: We were starving by the time we arrived at the restaurant of the Chendebji Resort. Sonam had the good mind to have ordered in advance. And hence, we devoured the food in a jiffy. And headed straight for Trongsa and beyond.
Drive from Chendebji to Yutong La via Trongsa: It was mid-afternoon by the time we left Chendebji, and our driver was determined to make it to the Yutong La as soon as he could. We reached Trongsa Valley in about 2 and a half hours, took a few photographs from the hill that faced the Tronga Dzong, drove past the Trongsa town towards Yutong La. Five minutes before the Pass though, we entered what I called, the Yak country – it was yaks yaks and yaks everywhere in that hillock. You definitely want to stop and take a few pictures here. Yutong La is almost walking from here. We didn’t walk though, for, by now it was very cold and foggy with slight drizzle.
Stop by Yutong La: Yutong La is at 3425 m, again, marked by a Chorten and the flags. Despite being very cold, we hopped out of our car for the photographs. Glad we did – the place looked eerie in the fog and the reduced light of the evening. We hopped back immediately after though. It was already very late by now and still had about an hour’s drive left for Bumthang.
Drive from Yutong La to Bumthang: It was Rhododendrons in the trees and bright lilac and yellow-coloured wild flowers in the grasses everywhere on our way from Yutong La to Bumthang. In about half an hour from the Pass, we entered the Chume Valley — oh what a beautiful little village – green everywhere. A desperate desire to walk through the village was killed by the realisation that it was almost dusk and would soon be dark. Karma, our driver promised us that he would stop by on our way back from Bumthang. We prayed that it would be a good and bright morning. And with that, we reached Bumthang, tired and hungry, anxious to hit the bed quickly so that we could hop out first thing in the morning to see Bumthang.
Also Read — Where to Stay in Bumthang — Hotel Review: Ugyen Ling Resorts