A Dream of Bhutan
Diana Hughes travelled to Bhutan with Panoramic Journeys in December 2013. It was the fulfilment of a lifetime’s dream to follow in her father’s footsteps. Here she tells us what visiting Bhutan meant to her:
In 1940 my father, Captain Harry Staunton of the Indian Medical Service, was Medical Officer to the British Mission which travelled to Lhasa in Tibet for the Installation of the 14th Dalai Lama. He remained as Civil Surgeon for Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan until 1942, and I have a few wonderful photos of him at that time. These are very precious to me as I never met my father. He was killed in a plane crash in 1945, when he was flying back to Bombay from England for my birth. He was 37. I was born a week later.
Many years later, I followed in my father’s footsteps. I travelled to Tibet with my two sons, and visited the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the Jokhang Temple and the Potala. Five years on, I took a trip with my husband to Sikkim where we were welcomed very warmly by the ruling family, Prince Jigmela and his mother Princess Coocoola.
There still remained Bhutan – I had to complete my odyssey to all these wonderful places. My wish was granted in December 2013, when Panoramic Journeys planned a perfect short trip for me and five friends, which took in Thimphu, the Dochu La Pass, Punakha and Paro. Thimphu was particularly important to me as I was hoping to meet Princess Coocoola’s cousin, Ashi Tashi, who had also known my father.
Unfortunately she had left for Calcutta a couple of days previously, so I wasn’t expecting any encounters with the Royal Family. I was quite wrong! My very helpful contact there took me to a celebration at the Royal Temple of the 49th day of death of the cousin to the Fourth King. This was a solemn but warm and informal family gathering – people were sweet to me and showed great interest in my photos and the story of my father.
I had been advised to get in touch with the British Honorary Consul to Bhutan who immediately invited me to the Taj Tashi, a most palatial hotel, to take part in a lavish dinner reception for the Foreign Minister from Sri Lanka. I had 35 minutes to get ready! The whole event had an unreal, Cinderella-like feel to it – I practically had to pinch myself to believe it was really happening! The princess, HRH Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, whom I had met that morning, said “Hello, again!” and I chatted to all kinds of ministers. Next day we continued with our tour, and our fantastic guide, a very learned and devout young man, Tenzin Mendrel , took us on a magical adventure tour of beautiful temples, legends and ceremonies, hikes and picnics. He was a superb guide and we were so lucky to have him with us.
The trip to Bhutan culminated in the most wonderful hike of all, up to the Taktsang Monastery, which clings to the side of a rock face 800 metres above the valley, a goal of mine for many years. The sense of achievement on getting there was beautiful! This was truly a thrilling trip, just perfect, and I can’t thank the Panoramic Journeys team enough, especially Kath, for organising it. The question now is – where to next?!