From Paro, Haa Valley is a two hour drive via Chelele Pass – the highest accessible point (3988 mts) by vehicle in Bhutan. The view from Chelele Pass was breathtaking. I personally loved the texture of the skies from up there.
The route to Haa is fairly decent, far better than the drive from Thimphu to Punakha. For some reason it felt like Haa was just on the other side of a mountain from Paro. We drove up a high ghat, passed through Chelele (which is midway) and back down on the other side to enter into Haa Valley.
Haa is the smallest district in Bhutan which opened to tourists only as recently as 2002. Haa Valley was unlike any other place we visited, the least crowded and most silent. Its serene atmosphere brought about a sense of calmness as we walked around the valley. For an average Mumbai person who is used to over thirty degrees centigrade weather, Haa Valley was awfully cold even during the afternoon. Temperature dropped to one degree in the night. Haa doesn’t really have any sightseeing to offer, we came here for the homestay experience.
Tourists usually come to Haa only for a day’s excursion but we stayed in the valley for a night at Ugyen Homestay. The home stay was far better than the hotels/rooms we stayed at on this trip. Ugyen (owner) and his family are very friendly people who made us feel at home in his two hundred year old traditional Bhutanese house. The kitchen/dining area of the house has a firewood stove right at the center with the exhaust pipe going out through the ceiling. We had to sit around it to keep ourselves warm. Staying at Ugyen’s also finally got us to eat some traditionally prepared Bhutanese meals. The house has three rooms for guests, all of which have heaters as well. We spent most part of the evening inside the house as it was freezing cold outside.
Haa Valley is also home to one of the branches of the Royal Bhutan Army who are trained by the Indian Military Training Team (IMTRAT). Parts of the army premises are open to general public. We happened to meet up with a few Indian Army personnel there. It was the first time I’ve ever had a conversation with an Indian soldier, and a very interesting one. Reckon they were also pleased to have met us in a different country.
The better interaction with the Indian Army men came the next morning. It was a Sunday and since there was no church near by we decided to spend some time in the army chapel. What we thought would be some time alone amongst us, a few soldiers from Assam were already present there. We joined them in their song, prayer, reflection and sharing. Spiritually, that was quite an experience. No better way to start the Sunday and the last few days of the trip.
P.s. You must visit Haa if you are traveling around Bhutan. If you are planning to stay the night, Ugyen’s house is highly recommended. Check out more on Ugyen Homestay here.
Also, please please check out this really cool video on my recent travel to Bhutan which has a short clips on our stay at Haa Valley.