Bhutan was one of our dream destinations and we wanted to visit there for quite some time. We first attempted to visit Bhutan in October 2018, but finally made it there in October 2019 after over one and half year’s planning. Read about our itinerary and entire experience of planning the Bhutan trip in the blog - Our Quest for Happiness: Planning Our First Trip to Bhutan. We traveled across Bhutan between October 2 and 8, 2019, traveling to Haa on the fourth day of our trip. In this blog we capture our journey from Thimphu to Haa, experience of attending a Tshechu, living with the locals in the lap of nature, having traditional home-cooked food and visiting the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. You can read about the first two days that we spent at Thimphu in the blog - Terrific Thimphu – Our Days Spent in the Capital of Bhutan. And, read about the third day that we spent at Punakha in the blog - Picturesque Punakha – Our Days Spent in the Old Capital of Bhutan.
Exciting and Exhilarating Drive
We started from our homestay at Punakha, had lunch at Thimphu and headed out to Haa. The drive from Thimphu to Haa was the longest that we drove in Bhutan. Normally, the drive should have taken 3 hours but, there was a major block due to a renovation on the road, so it took us 5 hours to reach Haa. Though the journey was tiring, our conversations with Thukten and Tashi kept us entertained. Due to the road construction, there was a lot of dust on the road and in the air, and we had to roll up our windows and switch on the AC. At some points, it was so dusty that it was difficult for Tashi to see anything at all and he had to rely on his instincts to drive, but this showed us how skilful he is and we were in safe hands. I also joked that it did not look like we were in Bhutan, it looked like we were on a desert safari! On the way there is a checkpoint where we needed to show our permits to enter Haa. Again, it was entirely handled by Rinchen Ghakhil Adventures and we had nothing to worry about.
Living with the Locals
When we reached Haa, it was dark and after the long drive, we decided to directly go to our homestay. We stayed at Ugyen’s Homestay in Haa. Upon reaching, we were shown to our room, situated in the ground floor of the majestic house. We expected a traditional wooden room, but it turned out to be a concrete one. This was a little disappointing. Later we got to know that due to age of the house and increased demands, Ugyen had to renovate the house. The room was a simple one and good for an overnight stay, but it clearly lacked the authenticity of a room in a traditional Bhutanese house.
After we freshened up, Ugyen’s daughter asked us to come to the dining area for some tea. The dining area and the kitchen is on the first floor of the house, accessed by a traditional Bhutanese ladder. We had a warm cup of tea, which was refreshing after the long and hectic day.
We went back to our room and rested for a while before heading over to dinner in the dining area. We went in October, which is the start of peak season in Bhutan, so the dining area was filled with guests from across the globe. The positive part about it is that you feel like a big family dining together. That day there were so many guests in Ugyen’s home that it was a little overwhelming for the family to take care of everything themselves and hence, the guides and drivers stepped in helping their guests. Thukten and Tashi, our guide and driver, were seated so far away from us and were not there to help us out. So, seeing us being a little uncomfortable, the other guides started helping and chatting with us. This is what we liked about Bhutan, all guides treat you with warmth and promote tourism in a positive way.
The dinner was good. We ate red rice, vegetables, clear soup, and dried beef. After dinner, one of the guides brought some Ara for us from the family’s stock. Then we retired to our room for the night. According to Tashi and Thukten the dogs in Haa are ferocious, and they warned us about it. We could hear them bark continuously; however, we were so tired that we fell asleep as soon as we hit the bed.
Exploring Heavenly Haa
Since it was dark when we reached Haa the day before, we could not see the beauty that Haa is famous for. So, we woke up at 6am, despite it being freezing cold, and went out to explore the village of Haa. We were leaving Haa in the afternoon, so we had to make most of the time that we had in hand. We had informed Thukten the previous night that we would wake up early and go for a walk. He was worried about the dogs in Haa so he told us to call him when we are ready, and he would accompany us. We called him and he was already up.
On the way out we met Ugyen and his wife and we smiled at each other. To our surprise, Ugyen did not speak English but he spoke Hindi! Knowing that we are from India, he asked us “India ke kahan se ho?” (where in India are you from?). We were surprised to see him speak Hindi. There is an Indian Army base camp at Haa, so he must have picked up Hindi from the Indian soldiers over there. Ugyen’s wife was not comfortable with Hindi too but she had a beautiful smile on her face and just asked, “chai?” We understood she was asking us to have some tea, we asked Thukten to tell her that we would have it once we are back from the walk.
We also finally got to see Ugyen’s house, which in more than 200 years old and is built in the traditional Bhutanese style typically seen all over Bhutan. Last night we were so tired we just headed into the house without looking at the beautiful architecture. This house belonged to the Ex District Governor (Ugyen’s uncle), which explains the grand nature of the architecture. After the ownership was transferred to Ugyen, he converted it into a homestay for travellers. This was one of the first places to stay in the village of Haa. We took some pictures of the outer view of the gorgeous house.
We headed out to explore the surrounding. On the way we saw a couple of Indian soldiers on their morning jog. We also came across the homestay run by Ugyen's sister, Chimi, which was originally Ugyen and Chimi's family home and is also over 100 years old. We reached a bridge built over Haa Chu and spent some time there clicking a few pictures. From there we noticed something like a helipad at a distance.
We then walked to the helipad, which was just beside Haa Chu. We were glad we walked to this helipad because the surrounding view from here was breath-taking. Haa village is set amidst three identical mountains which is its distinctive characteristic. We had read about it before going for the trip and were looking for those three identical mountains. We were so glad when we could finally locate it!
We walked on the banks of Haa Chu and came across some mesmerising landscape. Traveling to Haa from Punakha involved a 5-hour drive through treacherous landslide-ridden roads but, it was worth every mile of it after seeing such views.
After soaking in those beautiful views, we decided to head back to the homestay. Upon reaching, we saw that they were heating up stones to prepare for a hot stone bath. Since we had limited time, we could not try it out. We headed upstairs to the dining room and grabbed some breakfast and tea. The breakfast was good comprising of Suja, fried rice, scrambled eggs, and beef.
We also met the family’s cute little puppy named Simba and played with it for a while.
The Highlight of Our Haa Trip – Haa Tsechu
While having breakfast, a few of the guests were talking about going to a festival. Upon enquiring, we came to know that it was the first day of Haa Tsechu and it was going to be held at Lhakhang Karpo or the white temple. We were extremely excited as we love being a part of cultural events in every place we travel to. We were disappointed for missing Thimphu Tsechu which was going to be held on the day of our departure from Bhutan, so getting a chance to experience Haa Tsechu was an amazing surprise for us. We were supposed to do a bit of sightseeing on this day and head over to Paro early, but we changed our plans and decided to attend the festival, then head to Paro in the afternoon after lunch.
We quickly packed, freshened up and were ready to head to the festival. Since, there would be a lot of crowd, Tashi asked us whether we could walk to the temple as car parking could be a hassle. The temple is not too far from the homestay, so we decided to walk.
Once we entered the temple, we noticed that everyone was dressed in their best traditional attires. It was a pleasing sight. The temple seating area was already crowded so we managed to find some seats at the top of the seating area. We felt that gave us the perfect bird’s eye view of the performance area with the green mountain in the background.
The performance started with the Atsaras entertaining the audience. They were the life of the festival – helping dancers, entertaining the audience, not allowing dogs to come in between the performances, etc.
Till noon, we attended the festival and saw two mask dance performances and two song & dance performances by the ladies. The experience was beautiful and something that we would cherish for the rest of our lives.
Visiting the Black Temple
The performances would have continued the whole afternoon, but we decided to leave at noon, when there was a break for lunch. We headed back to our homestay where our car was. We also had to settle the dinner bill, so we went to the dining area. Ugyen and his wife offered us a cup of tea. We thanked them for their hospitality, bid them goodbye and then went over to see Lhakhang Nagpo.
Lhakhang Nagpo is a beautiful and unique temple with dark grey walls. Since everyone was busy attending the festival at Lhakhang Karpo, this temple was almost empty. Beyond the beauty of the architecture and the dark grey walls of the temple, we really liked the two friendly dogs who stay at the temple and sit on the courtyard like the guardians of the place, keeping a vigilant look at every person who visits. After exploring the temple for a while, we decided to have lunch at Haa town and then leave for Paro.
Tasting The Delicious Hoentoe
Haa, being a small town, has just a couple of restaurants and Pelden is the most popular one. So, we decided to have lunch over here. Since we visited this joint a little late, we had to settle for the only items that they had left from their menu. While all the items tasted great, none of them were the highlight of this meal. While researching about this trip, we had come across a dish called Hoentoe, which is native to this part of Bhutan, and had planned to have it during our trip in Haa. So, we asked our chirpy server, where we can find Hoentoe as we wanted to have that, but it was not there in their menu. She responded that, if we would have ordered in advance, they would have made it for us. We were disappointed and decided to settle for what we had ordered.
After about 5 minutes our server came back and told us that they have made some arrangements and can serve us a plate of Hoentoe if we give them some time. We had no problems waiting and confirmed our plate of Hoentoe. We were happy that we asked her, else we would not have been able to taste the lip-smacking Hoentoe. Hoentoe is like a momo, but the outer wrap is made from buckwheat rather than flour. The filling of a Hoentoe is only made up of dried turnip leaves, chilli, and fermented cheese – making it a little tangy and unlike any momo filling that we have tried, in Bhutan or in India. What makes our experience of having Hoentoe unique is the fact that it is a must have dish for the Bhutanese people of this region as part of their celebrations during Lomba (New Year) and this restaurant whipped up a batch just for us.
Our Love for Suspension Bridges
On our way to Pelden restaurant we had noticed a suspension bridge. We love suspension bridges and decided to check it out after lunch. The suspension bridge was built over the Haa Chu. It was mostly used by locals and there were hardly any tourists around. We started walking on the suspension bridge. While we had almost crossed over to the other side, we suddenly realised that the bridge was shaking vigorously and then heard the moo of a cow. We looked back and saw a cow rapidly walking towards us. We quickly crossed over and let it pass.
On our way back we met another cow on the middle of the bridge and let it pass carefully, without being hit by its horns. After we crossed back, we saw a third cow coming up the steps to cross the bridge. I thought it would be a nice memory to capture and started shooting a video of this third cow walking across the bridge on my GoPro. As soon as I completed the video and turned back, I saw a fourth cow rushing towards the bridge. I instantly moved aside. If I would have shot the video for another 5 seconds, the cow would have hit me to go on to the bridge. It was a scary yet funny experience.
The Windy Chele La
Finally, we were headed to Paro. On the way we stopped at Chele La Pass, which is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. It was extremely windy and chilly at the pass, we walked around for some time here.
Thukten and Tashi offered us some tea. We drank it while soaking in the gorgeous views that this Pass offered.
We then drove onward to Paro, where we spent our last few days in Bhutan.
What was your experience of traveling in Haa?
Do let us know in the comments.
If you are visiting Bhutan and need any help booking hotels to stay in, looking for restaurant recommendations, itinerary suggestions or need to get connected to a local tour operator, you can get in touch with us and we will help you with the bookings.
First Blog: Our Quest for Happiness: Planning Our First Trip to Bhutan
Second Blog: Terrific Thimphu – Our Days Spent in the Capital of Bhutan
Third Blog: Picturesque Punakha – Our Days Spent in the Old Capital of Bhutan
Fourth Blog: Heavenly Haa – Our Days Spent in Serene Rural Bhutan
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