The prayer flags were fluttering in the air. The sound of the breeze was ringing through my ears. As I took the turn up in the eastern Himalayan ranges, the curvaceous road was suddenly engulfed in the ascending mist. I felt as if the wind was whispering, announcing the arrival of this compelling, yet hidden valley of Bhutan.
This valley was a well kept secret of the country and was off the tourist map till 2002. The pristine valley is the second least populated dzongkhag (District) in the country and popularly known as “Hidden-Land Rice Valley.”
Nestled on the western most edge of Bhutan, Haa Valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in the country. The isolated valley lies behind the mountain ridge of Chele La and it borders with the northern boundaries of the Chumbi Valley of Tibet on one side. The verdant, quaint and the remote valley spread across an area of roughly 1706.8 sq. km, will undoubtedly leave you speechless with its splendid beauty and compel you to fall in love with it. Haa is one of the 20 dzongkhag or districts comprising Bhutan and apparently the smallest one in the country.
By the time, I entered the valley, darkness had fallen over. It was drizzling. The tiny light of the scattered houses from the distant villages was visible. As I walked on the muddy trails, the earthy fragrance welcomed me to the hundred-year-old farm house.
The restored old property left me awestruck as I climbed the wooden stairs to my designated room. The restored farmhouse with rich interiors, wooden furniture, painting, and the intricate details on the walls was overwhelming.
Moreover,experiencing the warm hospitality of the Bhutanese family floored me completely. And I could not wait till dawn to explore this gorgeous hidden valley of Bhutan.
As I peeped out of that small wooden window, early in the morning, my eyes were blessed seeing the sun-kissed valley beyond the horizon. I walked through the narrow village trail, following the sound of the prayer wheel, which was ringing constantly in my ears since last night.
The sound became louder as I inched forward. With the chirping sound of the birds, twittering in the trees, the rustling leaves on my path, I landed on the bank of a gushing water stream. The tryst with nature in the mysterious terrain was blissful.
Seeing the villagers starting their day, the rising smoke from the backdrop of a traditional kitchen and the rising sun above the alpine forest was one of those moments which I will treasure forever. Life takes its own time to react here.
As you walk through the valley, it feels as if nature is unfolding its beauty layer after layer. The green meadows with yellow flowers surely remind you of the countryside of the Alps in Switzerland.
Apart from the picturesque locations, there are a few temples and monasteries, which are a must visit.Lhakhang Karpo (White ) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black) temples stand out while the hundred-year-old monastery of Tagchu Goemba adds to the scenic beauty of the valley.
As I was strolling around, the symmetrical and gorgeous architectures of those scattered houses drew my attention instantly.Those small traditional houses in the lush green meadows looked like a painting.
I was impressed by the uniformity of the architectural style in Bhutan.From the capital city to the remote corner, you will come across the same pattern, colour and shape, which gives you the perfect example of maintaining the cultural legacy throughout the country.
The intricate details and the exquisite Bhutanese painting on the wall make it unique in the world. The architectural style of Bhutan is one of the most celebrated cultural identities of this Himalayan kingdom.
I was more than happy when I visited an old (more than 100 years old) traditional house in Haa Valley. The house belonged to our guide Karma’s Grandparents, where they are still living a traditional lifestyle.
Climbing up the steep wooden ladder to reach the first floor was like a task. The door opens up to a large kitchen and hall area which is basically used for both purposes. The aluminium utensils, the traditional stove with chimney, those rugged walls made me realise that time had frozen in this part of the region. The rawness of the lifestyle of people is obvious in every corner of this valley.
The livelihood of the people of the Haa valley mainly depends on the agriculture. In its fertile valleys, people grow mostly high altitude crops like wheat, potatoes, barley and millet. The yak is considered a significant contributor to the economy of this region.
A dried variety of Yak Cheese called the “Habi Ruto” is a speciality of this region. Most of the people of this region raise domestic animals such as yak, cattle, chicken, pigs and horses.
People of Haa valley are commonly known as “Haap”. The smiling faces and the warm personalities of the people make this part of Bhutan a desired land.
A set of unique cultural practices of this valley sets it apart from the rest of Bhutan.
I got to know that “Haap”, unlike the rest of the world, celebrate New Year much earlier. They celebrate New Year on the 29th day of the 10th Month of the Bhutanese calendar (early November). The “Haap” New Year is known as “Lomba”, that means “To carry the year”. Apart from that, they also celebrate the famous summer festivals where you will get a glimpse of their nomadic lifestyle and culture .
As I was getting ready to leave this amazing quiet corner, I fell in love with its rawness. The stillness in the air and happiness in the faces of the people floored me completely. That unpretentious nature of the people was so overwhelming that it left me wondering about other parts of the world, where I find most of them are so mechanical. I don’t wonder anymore, why Bhutan is called the Kingdom of Happiness.
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