Bhutan Landscape & Geography
Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
20Trip End Jan 14, 2008
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The country is extremely mountainous, with steep valleys and raging rivers, mountain ridges and high passes - clear, sunny skies and dry air (at least in December), with gorgeous views of the high peaks in the distance. Bhutan certainly has its share of high country, complete with yak herders and difficult treks. Our guide, Kinley, is a trekking specialist, and had just completed the so-called snowman trek, at 28 days and 7-8 passes above 5000 m
Still, we were not prepared for the diversity within this small country. The range in elevation must be among the greatest on earth. Along the southern border with India the elevation is only about 300 m (just over 1000 ft), and it´s a mosquito-infested rainforest. The towns (there are no real cities in this country of only about 650,000) are concentrated in an east-west band running mid-way through Bhutan. This area, which is where we visited, is at an elevation roughly equivalent to that of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, around 6000 -7000 ft. The landscape, the clear blue skies, and the vegetation reminded us a lot of New Mexico.
We flew into Paro, in the west, and traveled by the very slow, winding, east-west road to the capital Thimphu, and then to Punakha, Trongsa, and Jakar in the Bumthang valley. We drove back over the same road, as there are no other options. To traverse this relatively short distance (maybe 100 miles as the crow flies) we drove many hours over three north-south mountain ranges. Our lowest point was in Punakha, around 1300 m/4300 ft above sea level, and the highest pass we crossed was 11,155 ft. [Note that these 2 Bhutan blog entries are not organized geographically; where appropriate, individual photo captions will explain where they were taken.]
There was quite a bit of rich vegetation - not the high, dry, windy planes similar to Tibet that I had expected
Another thing we found surprising, and again reminded us of NM, is the amount of chili they eat. In fact, Bhutan´s national dish is called "Ema Datsi" - spicy chili in a cheese sauce! They grow many varieties of chili, including the allegedly hottest in the world (I just read an article about it - MUCH hotter than habañeros). They eat chili as a vegetable - they don´t know what you´re talking about if you ask for chili sauce to spice up another dish. We were happy campers whenever we could convince them we weren´t typical tourists and actually liked spicy food!