‘You will find snow blanketing this place in the winters…it will be very cold and difficult to survive. It is not a very popular place like Thimphu or Paro, and tourists mostly avoid this place. Sometimes I feel like leaving this place and settling in Thimpu’. While serving a plate of delicious cheese Momo, Tshering was sharing his experience with me. Tshering runs a small food stall in Haa Valley, and he was right; this small town is one of the least frequented places by tourists in Bhutan. It was the middle of March and during my two days in Haa, I barely saw any tourists.
Haa was the last and most peaceful destinations of my solo trip to Bhutan. It is a small district (Dzongkhag), and second least populated area in Bhutan. Haa was closed to the world until 2002, and opened for tourism only afterwards. Apart from the picturesque location; the friendly local people and their rich heritage, a stallion-like river named Haa Chu, thick alpine forests, clean roads, and chill weather, have all contributed to make this pristine place as slice of heaven on earth. This tranquil valley is also the army training centre of IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team), where the Indian army runs a training camp, in alliance with the Bhutanese army.
Hiking in Haa is a rewarding experience. It was a beautiful evening, when the sun shone through the clouds, and a verdant hue greeted me everywhere I looked, that I started walking towards the Haa Dzong. On the way, the flora and fauna of my surroundings continued to amaze me, with the incessant greenery and chirping of birds of all colours and sizes. This is when I met an Indian soldier who was on his routine evening walk. I started chatting him up on his experience at Haa, and he got around to explain to me the reason for his presence there. He explained that because of its proximity to the China border, Haa is an important strategic location for both Bhutan and India. Considering how important it is for India to maintain the safety of Bhutan as a buffer state, the presence of the forces is indispensable. When the conversation drifted towards the places to go around in Haa, he mentioned that there are two Dzongs in Haa (Dzong is a Tibetan origin administrative building) – the old dzong, which is now an Indian army base camp, and a new one, which is the Dzongkhag’s administrative office.
Mr. Sharma, the army man, guided me towards the old Dzong. This Dzong is unique, as it is also the base camp of the IMTRAT, but it is open for tourists. It was a smaller Dzong, compared to other Dzongs of Bhutan. But I was delighted to see the amazing multi-coloured combination of the glasses. I had not seen this kind of colour palate on my entire Bhutan trip.
After spending a little time at the Dzong, I started walking further. After a short hike, I chanced upon two temples, White (Karpo Lhakangs) and Black (Nagpo Lhakangs). These two holy Lhakangs are very special and auspicious for all Bhutanese. As per local tradition which was passed down orally, ApChungdu, the deity who was the local guardian and protector was also worshiped here. Unlike other local deities, ApChungdu is powerful and loves drinking the hot blood of animals. A few years back, animal sacrifices to satisfy this powerful deity were a common practice.
As the day came to an end, I stood alone on a hanging bridge and saw the last light of the sun envelop my surroundings in twilight with myriad hues. The gushing sound of the Haa Chu river was coming from below, as the chilly yet fresh air kissed my face. The sun set slowly and the lonely valley became lonelier. There are some places you know you are going to miss, even before you leave them, and Haa for me was one such place.
Haa might be an uncommon destination for tourists, but the city is well-connected to Thimphu, Paro, or Phuntsholing. Haa can be approached from two sides, either from Chhudzom (while coming from Thimphu or Phuntsholing), or via the Chele La pass (while coming from Paro). Chele La is also the highest motorable road of Bhutan. This pass connects the twin cities of Haa and Paro. The rewarding bit about coming via Chele La is the fantastic view of the sacred mountain Jomolhari. Tourists mostly travel to Chele La pass from Paro and then return. If you are planning to travel to Bhutan, and intend to explore an isolated valley, then you should definitely add Haa to your places to visit.