Sunday 21 October 2012
We were on a strict timetable because we had been invited to Namgay's mother's place for afternoon tea. Namgay was the groups Bhutanese head guide. That meant we had four hours in which to complete a three hour drive before stopping for lunch, which translated to one hour of photography time!
We didn't make it. We were only a kilometre outside of Punakha when we stopped to photograph the golden stepped fields and the back-lit promontories. They made great landscapes with plenty of shape, colour and light.
Back on the dusty black ribbon that connects the colours of Bhutan, we struggled to keep going. The Wangdue Phodrang Dzong was hard to resist, its imposing walls receiving a scant ten minutes, but as we continued along the road to Pele La (the pass), the temptations continued.
Prayer flags, Pele La, Bhutan.
The pass itself was a highlight with a group of prayer flags at the top of a rise and a great vantage point from just below on an easy access road. After walking up without a tripod, I walked back down to get it and returned. At 3420 metres, I found myself breathing a little harder than usual as I laboured back up the hill. I added a neutral density filter and a polarising filter to slow down the shutter speed and control the specular highlights on the orange foliage. I was very happy with the results as I trotted back down to find the rest of the cars had already departed, trying to make up time.
After lunch, we realised we were going to be late for Namgay's mum, even later when we drove past the Chendebji Chorten. The large structure sits in a narrow valley with dark clouds brewing in the distance. It was a landscape opportunity that couldn't be passed and so afternoon tea was delayed further still.
While we had spent most of the morning climbing, after the Pele La pass we remained relatively high, following a snaking road along the precipitous mountain flanks. Namgay's mum's village was on a flatter area of land, a collection of two dozen buildings and farming lands.
Inside Namgay's family home we found five rooms, scant furniture, an ornate prayer room and as much hospitality as you could ask for. Namgay's mum even posed for a portrait or two and the colourful walls made a sensational backdrop. The light was simply beautiful.