“Haa mane Hawa (Haa means wind)” he said and laughed to his heart. He has derived the statement after through observation. The newly coined relation of Haa with Hawa was interesting and I wholeheartedly accepted the new meaning. The tiny valley of Haa in the Haa district is seated at the foot of three mighty mountains together known as the Miri Punsum also called the three brother’s hill. The Haa river quietly meanders through this quaint valley originating from some glacier in Jomolhari. The valley is home to many ancient temples and dzong and is the place of origin of many legends.
After our trek to the Tiger’s Nest the previous day, we thought it would be difficult for us to take the journey to the Haa valley via the Chele La Pass the next day (read about my trek to the Tiger’s Nest). But to our surprise, we were perfectly fine to take on another trek the next morning. 🙂 So we packed and started early to venture to Haa valley.
Again we had plans for a night stay at Haa as we had ample of time left in Paro (read this to know how we managed extra days in Paro). Staying in Bhutan for a few days I realised how every mountain we traversed has a different type of vegetation which in turn gave a different look and feel to the surrounding. This day we were travelling towards the highest mountain pass in Bhutan known as the Chele La Pass.
As we ascended through the thick spruce and larch forest we encountered tiny to large, frozen water-bodies beside the road. I was so excited to be so close to the snow and when you are so close to the snow a little game with the balls of snow seems pretty natural. Again there was the call of the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie. (Read my story on bird watching in Bhutan.) This bird was sighted almost at any place in Bhutan and seemed to be a common bird here.
The Chele La Pass is situated at a height of 3988 metres (13084 feet) above sea level. On clear days it offers a panoramic view of the snow-capped Himalayan ranges along with the view of the sacred Mt. Jomolhari. As the legend goes the female protector Goddess named Jomo (one of the five Tsheringma sisters) reside in this mountains. She is bounded by her vow to Guru Rinpoche to protect the land, Buddhist faith and its people. Thus this mountain has a great religious significance in the life of the Bhutanese people.
Despite our expectation, the weather conspired against us and deprived us of the best view. It was a cloudy misty weather. All were eagerly waiting for the grand show of the mountains having the veil of clouds lifted. When all at once there was the Jomolhari and then – click click click. Within seconds it was shrouded again. Thousands and thousands of long-shafted prayer flags were seen withstanding the strong winds yet standing tall at the ridge of the mountains. Some enthusiastic trekkers start their trek from this point to the peak.
But we drove down towards Haa as the weather improved a little. Here we noticed the abundance of Red-billed Chough (check the pictures in my birdwatching post on Bhutan), flying in flocks. They belong to the family of crow and also resembles the raven but with a glossy black plumage and a red bill. We were here at the wrong time of the year and the valley lacked the otherwise green cover. But in Bhutan, I guess no time is a bad time.
Even without its green ground cover it still looked equally appealing with the green trees all around. The descent to the valley offered an excellent aerial view of this secluded, pristine land dabbed with small settlements along the alpine forest and the swift flowing Haa river. Rice is the major crop grown in this region. The surrounding forested region is comprised of the Torsa Strict Nature Reserve and is connected to the Jigme Dorji National Park via a biological corridor and thus is home to many wildlife species.
Haa is also known for the ancestral home of the Queen Grandmother. Many legends and myths are associated with this land. It is said that before the introduction of Buddhism the locals used to follow animistic religion and were known to worship local deities with blood offerings. Buddhism was introduced by Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century and since then the animistic religion is portrayed only in the form of masked dance performed during festivals.
Haa is home to a small settlement of people including various nomadic herds and is a military base where the Indian army is stationed for guarding the region against the Chinese attack. The Haa dzong is the headquarters of the Indian army with the residential quarters in the surrounding areas.
There is also the big compound of the fisheries department mostly dedicated to research and development on river trouts. Various ponds were seen sprawling with trouts of different sizes. We accidentally entered into the otherwise restricted access area and happened to see the beautiful compound.
Now coming back to the statement by our guide Lakey – “Haa mane Hawa”. The moment we reached the valley and stepped out of the vehicle we felt the strong wind. It was not just a gust of strong wind but continuous strong winds blowing across the valley with the strange sound. The sleepy little town would otherwise be a silent valley if not the strong winds. And the wind was cold enough to chill the bones.
Haa valley is also famous for the Black and the White Temple. These two temples along with the Haa Gomepa is considered very sacred among the local Buddhist. Many legends are associated with these temples. As per legends Bodhisattva disguised as a pigeon led the local farmers to this holy site of the gompa. Festivals associated with the worship of Amitabha Buddha takes place here every year on the 10th day of the 11th month of the Bhutanese calendar.
The white temple is also known as the Lhakhang Karpo is an ancient temple with whitewashed walls within a vast complex. It was built during the 7th century and is home to Haa’s monastic order. The temple propagates the Buddhist concept of kindness and dharma and stress on the idea of attaining salvation through liberation from worldly ties.
Some say that the Black and White temple was built during the same time after the holy vision of rays being emitted from the body of an ancient monk named Chogyal Songtsen Gampo. The white temple stands where the white rays from the body fell and the black temple stands where the black light merged. While others say that a pair of black and white holy pigeon flew from Tibet to Haa. They rested in the respective place where the black and white temples were later constructed.
The Black Temple is also known as the Lhakhang Nagpo is a small temple with black painted walls. The temple follows the ancient tantric form of Buddhism. There are no residential quarters for the monks here, only a room for the caretaker. The temple has a holy puddle which is connected to underground spring water. It is said that a mermaid resides in this waterbody.
Now it was time to explore the town. Walking down the roads was getting difficult in this strong windy situation. The winds hitting out face making it difficult to breathe. We were in the Haa Dzong. Legends say this ancient dzong was built to ward off the evil influences of the serpent deity. The dzong now houses the office of Indian Military positioned there to guard the region. Here we met an Indian army man who was happy to fellow Indians. As we spoke to him we came to know that he belonged to the Punjab Regiment, was commissioned here for two years and would be back home the next year.
Then we reached the picture-perfect town of Haa. Bright traditional buildings line up either side of the broad road. The Haa river flows parallel to the town. Again a suspension bridge on this river with numerous prayer flags adds charm to this surreal landscape (read about suspension bridge in Bhutan). It was already late and we were hungry. Within this small town with mostly closed shops we managed to find a restaurant. To our delight, it serves freshly prepared food on order. We placed our order and went ahead to capture some moments near the suspension bridge.
By the time we returned to the tastefully decorated interior of this traditional small town restaurant, our food was ready. The pretty lady in charge of the restaurant promptly lighted the Bukhari (traditional room heater) on a high heat to give us the comfort of warmth in this chilling weather. On request, the lady gracefully posed beside the Bukhari. I ordered my Bhutanese favourite the Kewa Datshi along with other items. The homely hot food was overly delicious and reflected the warmth of people preparing and serving it.
The spring has not yet arrived so the tourist season has not begun. The homestays have not started their business and all of them were locked. I wonder where the resident has gone. There was a sole resort that was open but the staffs were so reluctant to have any guest to look after. Ultimately we decided to drive back to Paro leaving behind this quintessentially picturesque town of winds – the Haa valley.