Departing Paro this morning we turn east, taking the mountain roads that head through the beautiful landscapes of the Black Mountains and across the high Dochu La Pass (3,100m). Our journey takes us across a landscape blanketed in rice terraces and scattered villages and, as we climb up towards the heights of Dochu La, the road becomes festooned with colourful prayer flags. On a clear day this meandering highway offers some breathtaking views across the Bhutan Himalayas towards the towering peak of Gangkhar Punsum (7,541m), the highest mountain in the country. Descending from the pass the landscape changes; from forests of pine and oak, through rhododendron, alder and cypress, to turn more tropical as we approach the valley floor.
The first part of today's hike takes us from the terraces at Thinleygang, where we enjoy a picnic lunch, to just below the Wolokha nunnery in the Punakha Valley. We walk on the so-called Divine Madman's trail, named after Lama Drukpa Kuenley, a revered and decidedly controversial saint who is believed to have subdued the demoness of the Dochu La. Drukpa Kuenley's teachings went against the normal Buddhist conventions. He believed that the rigid doctrines of the day were isolating the priests from the ordinary people, so he set out to break down these barriers by deliberate provocation by, in his own words, using '...fair and foul words for mantras'.
The trail leads through a tropical forest of chirping birds, diverse plants and trees with scenic views of the valley and the river. In days gone by this trail was used by the Central Monastic Body while migrating to their summer and winter residences in Thimphu and Punakha respectively. The trail passes through Chandana, a typical Bhutanese village where legend has it that a house was hit by an arrow fired by the Mad Monk that came flying all the way from Tibet.
After enjoying a short break at the end of the trail, we visit the 15th century Chimi Lhakhang temple , dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley. The walk across the fields to the temple starts at the village of Sopsokha where you'll see brightly painted phallus's adorning the side of the houses. Chimi Lhakhang is also known as the fertility temple; women who are having trouble conceiving come here to pray and receive the resident lama's blessings, which he punctuates by tapping the women on the head with a wooden phallus!
Today's five-and-half kilometre hike on the Divine Madman trail is expected to take around two-and-half to three hours with a total ascent of 557 metres. The two kilometre walk to Chimi Lhakhang will take around and hour with a total ascent and descent of 20 metres.