Dragon Tales- The Maverick Monk in the La La Land

Warning-This post contains images that could be offensive to some viewers.

From the  cold and foggy DochuLa we drove down to the low lying  sub tropical Punakha passing through winding bumpy   roads and dense green forests.Punakha has a special place in the history of Bhutan.It was their old capital  and the Punakha Dzong is the second largest and oldest dzongs in the country.Two major rivers Mo Chhu and Po Chhu converge here.

Chocolate  mountains topped with chortens   and cluster of houses gave way to  terraced rice fields  and farmlands.Weather was pleasanly warm .We got down at Sopsokha village to  see the rural side of  Bhutan.About 70% of the Bhutanese stay in the villages and agriculture is their main source of income.This hilly fertile land is ideal for rice and it is their main crop.Maize,buckwheat,potatoes are the other  crops.There are many ongoing ambitious projects to make the country 100% organic by 2020.

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Punakha Valley

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Prayer flags, chortens,mountains,rice fields-so colorful,so Bhutanese

The village houses are made of mud and stone.Most of the houses, cafes and souvenir shops  have phalluses painted on the walls.What I took for graffiti is  meant for warding off evil spirits and to bring  prosperity and there is a legend behind  it.

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This graphic display is their homage to one of the revered lamas affectionately called The Divine Madman aka Drukpa Kunley.He was a Tibetan monk who came to Bhutan in the 15th century and went around spreading his brand of Buddhism.He chose not to follow the middle path and set out to break age old traditions and taboos.This unconventional monk  indulged in wine,women,music,dance,hunting  and feasting.He was also a proficient archer and subdued many demons with his phallus or “thunderbolt of wisdom” .One such demoness  turned into a black dog  to hide from  him but  he  killed the dog/demoness and buried her at  a hillock and built a chorten which is  the site of  a popular temple.Chimi Lhakhang or Temple of Fertility has since become  a sacred temple where reproductively challenged couples   offer prayers for divine help to conceive.

There are many outrageous feats attributed  to Drukpa Kunley . Some were so wacky that I was  finding it difficult to keep a straight face .  For the Bhutanese such  folklores and legends are part  of their daily lives and they  don’t  question  it.I am curious to know what the younger generation  think of   this colorful lama and his exploits.

I had noticed that Singey was using a lot of  ‘la ‘ in our conversations eg How are you today,la?Was the food too spicy,la? and I was  intrigued.Well,la is  added    as a  sign of respect and since they are so used to la in Dzongkha they can’t help it even when they speak in English.Another  special feature of the Bhutanese!

 

After the initial shock  one gets used to seeing the painted walls and doorways.But it could be awkward if you are with children.I went inside  a souvenir shop out of curiosity and found an eye popping collection.No, I did not buy anything. d2unnamed

A short trek through the rice fields take you to the  Chimi Lkhkhang dedicated to the  fertility specialist Drukpa Kunley.

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Trek through the fields and brooks

Chimi Lhakhang (Chimi means no dog)  is quite a small modest temple compared to the   humongous ornate ones I had seen in Paro and Thimphu..Drukpa Kunley  did not believe in building temples or monasteries.This temple was made by his cousin.There is a huge bodhi tree in the  front and a chorten where the demoness was buried.Unlike  other chortens this is painted  black (to highlight her evil deeds?)

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Chimi Lhakhang and the black chorten

Couple of young  mothers were seen waiting for the head lama to choose names for  their babies.  There is something interesting about Bhutanese names. They have no surnames or family names and most of the names are not gender specific..The names are chosen by the local Lama and parents have no say in this matter. Now I know why Kunley and Chimi are popular names here.Sonam,Dorji,Tashi,Karma,Pema,Norbu,Tenzin are also quite common and unisex names.Singey has a sister who is also Singey.Confusing?

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I went inside the temple  and found a statue of the famous Lama.One of the monks showed me an album with pictures of  cherubic  babies with their happy parents from many countries.Seems like the blessings have travelled far and wide. Being Drukpa Kunley’s temple the wangs (blessings in Bhutanese) are  given in a special way.The head monk taps your head with a huge wooden and ivory  phallus.Unique traditions   and legends !

This humble temple dedicated to a free spirited Lama has brought joy and happiness to a lot of  people.Divine Madman  or the People’s Lama?I can’t make a choice,la.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon Tales, DochuLa_A Heavenly Pass

Today I am leaving Thimphu and going to see the old capital Punakha which is about 70 km and would take  3-4 hours. We set off early keeping in mind the  ongoing  road repair works.Singey  was effusive as always and my history lessons continued.

After going through the slow winding mountainous road we reached  a  hilltop and a breathtaking sight unfolded .A hillock with 108 beautiful symmetric chortens or stupas enveloped in mist  looked something out of a fairy tale.DochuLa  is at a height of 3100 m and this popular tourist spot  was commissioned by the Queen Mother  as a memorial  to honor the victory of the Bhutanese army  over Indian insurgents in a military operation in 2003.Singey   told  me with unmistakable pride that the King  himself led his troops  .

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DochuLa

I went up the steps and walked around the  victory stupas known as Druk Wangyal chortens.The whitewashed 108 stupas with a brick red band  and golden spire  look stunning.108 is a sacred number in Buddhism  and refers to the number of torments or defilements overcome by Buddha to attain enlightenment.

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On a clear day one can see  the snowcovered peaks of the Himalaya from here.I wasn’t disappointed  . I felt the mist  enhanced the beauty and serenity of this spot.

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Misty and magical

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There is a temple near the site –  Druk Wangyal Lhakhang built in honor of the Fourth King.This was closed  for the public that day.

I came across a group of Chinese tourists togged up in Bhutanese  costumes and they happily posed for a group photo.

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Mountains and mountain passes are considered sacred in Bhutan and I went on to circumambulate the chortens  lost in  peaceful solitude.

Dragon Tales,Thimphu-Out and about

Another day in Thimphu  and it began with a visit to The National Memorial Chorten – a  prominent landmark and  religious centre  for the Bhutanese.It was not far from the hotel and the huge white  structure with the gleaming golden spire could be seen from far.Going to this shrine every morning  is a ritual for the devout   Bhutanese.

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National Memorial Chorten

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The Temple

 

Many elderly men and women are seen in the premises engaged in prayers  and circumambulating  the main shrine.Some are  seen spinning the giant prayer wheels and prostrating in prayers.This is  not so easy and I was wondering how some of those frail  old Bhutanese  were  doing  it with such ease and remarkable grace.  A group of ladies were  relaxing around the central  pavilion.This must be their favourite place for meeting friends.

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From the chorten I went to see the Centenary Farmers Market.This sprawling 2 storey building  is   the largest domestic market  for the local farmers. Being a week day it was not  crowded  and I could explore it leisurely.There are about 400 stalls displaying local  and imported  produce of vegetables,fruits,cheese, rice,spices etc.The whole market is kept remarkably clean and everything is clearly marked.

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Fresh organic local fruits

Bhutan has banned the use of pesticides    and agriculture is  wholly organic .Most of the Bhutanese are non vegetarians  and red rice,meat,cheese and chillies  form their staple diet.Chillies  are an integral part of their cuisine and  is used more like a vegetable than a spice.  Ema datshi is the national dish and it is  made of chillies and cheese. Cheese  products are seen in  all shapes and sizes.Asparagus and fiddlehead ferns called  Nakey were in season .I had  them almost every day and found it quite tasty.There is a section for dried fish and meat   but the odour kept me away.

 

As I came out of the market I saw a bridge  and had to  go there.Bhutan being a country with rivers has many bridges and most of them are pieces of art unlike the nondescript structures I have seen in India.This one  was also painted in  bright colors and decorated with prayer flags .

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Aesthetic and elegant

I spotted a pair of school girls and followed them to the other side and found many empty stalls . The  bubbly girls  informed  that this is the place for  the weekend handicrafts market.

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Leaving these charming girls I made my way to the National Institute  for Zorig Chusum(Zo=to make,rig=science,chusum=13)Here the students learn 13 forms of  art and craft which includes weaving,masonry,sculpting  and painting. It is admirable that the government has taken measures to preserve and promote their  traditional art.The courses take 4-6 years.

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National Institute for Zorig Chusum

I went inside  the  classrooms and  saw many young students . Some of the classrooms looked crowded  – could be the  junior grades. They  seemed to be engrossed in their  studies and I felt I was invading  with my camera though I was told that they are quite used to visitors. I was not convinced and preferred to observe their meticulous work .It was impressive to see  the talented youngsters.Girls were  seen mostly in the embroidery and sculpture classes  and boys dominated the painting section.I spoke to one of the teachers who showed  these sketches   by the students and gave  an insight into the  curriculum.

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Bhutanese art is also deeply rooted in Buddhism and was formally categorised into the  13 traditional art forms  towards the end of 17th century.Some of the eminent lamas themselves were great artists .

It was interesting to know that they use natural pigments and dyes and they have to  follow a set of iconography rules.Art is  considered a pious act and the artists remain anonymous. So what about artistic freedom?There are some art studios in the city that promote contemporary art.I must say that this glimpse into the traditional art  was the highlight of the day and I regret that I could not spend more time out there.

From the ‘Painting School’ I went to see the national animal-Takin.I have not heard of such an animal before and was curious .Legend has it that takin was created by the famed Lama Drukpa Kunley  who is also known as the Divine Madman for his unconventional ways.It seems he fixed the head of a goat on the skeleton of a cow and created this new species.Wikipedia informs that takins  belong to the category of goat antelope and they are also found in Tibet and China.Motithang Takin Preserve  is on the outskirts of Thimphu and  we drive through  a dense forest    and walk up a  short distance and there he stands.They do look rather odd  and  docile.

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Takin-national animal of Bhutan

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He looks melancholic

 

Can I leave Thimphu without seeing  the famous dzong? Tashichho Dzong  is the seat of the government and houses the throne room and office of the King,secretariat and ministries of finance and home affairs.It  is also the headquarters of  the central monastic  body and their summer retreat.By the time I reached it was closed and I could only see  the magnificent building  and surrounding gardens from far..

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Tashichho Dzong-Fortress of the glorious religion

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From the lookout point

It had been a memorable day and I went back to the hotel after a stroll in the central square.

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Clock tower square at night

Dragon Tales-Buddha Point

A massive  golden Buddha statue  can be seen from most parts of Thimphu and today I am there to seek  his  blessings.

The Buddha  statue , a part of Buddha Dordenma  project , is  a massive  51 meters statue   situated  on top of a hill  in the 1000 acres forested Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park. A  short drive  through winding roads   leads  to the site.

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In no time I am in front of Shakyamuni Buddha ,one of the largest sitting Buddha statues in the world.  Made of bronze and gilded in gold  he   is    seen with an alms bowl in the left hand .The face radiates compassion and serenity and  he seems to be looking right at you. The mammoth statue is surrounded by beautiful Dakinis_ enlightened  ladies of  Buddhism.

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Shakyamuni Buddha

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Dakini

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The Buddha Dordernma site  informs that this is   100 million USD international  project   and it commemorates the centennial of the Bhutan monarchy.Work began in 2006 and it  was consecrated  by the chief abbot in September 2016.

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Before going inside  the  meditation hall   I went around the place and took time to take in the majestic panoramic view of the Thimphu valley.

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Inside the meditation hall there are   huge statues of  Buddha   and his various manifestations.  The  gilded walls are lined with  thousands of small Buddha statues, huge thankhas  and elaborate mandalas .The iconography  is stunning.

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In spite of the serene environs I could sense a  corporate aura .It was rather disconcerting to see   so much  gold, diamond(The third eye  of Buddha is made of diamonds) and the prominent dispaly of  sponsors. After all,Buddha was the prince who gave up his kingdom and chose the middle path. I prefer the small temples built by revered monks and devotees where one can see history and piety.

After the Buddha Point I went to see   the Coronation Park.This is near the National Stadium.A 45 ft  tall walking Buddha statue   dominates the park .This statue is a gift from Thailand  and the  local people affectionately call him Thai Buddha.thai

This is a nice quiet place to  unwind and listen to the chants of  prayer flags.

 

 

 

 

Dragon Tales,Thimphu-A walk down the streets

From the rustic hamlet of Paro, I found myself heading for the equally sylvan surroundings of the capital Thimphu and Bhutan’s most populated city.

Getting there took  about an hour and a half, vending through highway and all the while being treated to a still unblemished scenic beauty on either side. The capital city came into being in 1961 and the valley that envelops it stretches along the Wang Chhu river. It does have some of trappings of a bustling city but omits some features that we have come to accept as standard fare these days – airport,  traffic lights ,MNCs  and billboards.

My hotel was  near  the main street and opposite the National Stadium. This  stadium has historical significance as it is built at the site of a famous battle which led to the unification of Bhutan and the coronation of their first king.  When I went in  a football match  was going on. Though archery is their national sport, football is quite popular.

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CHANGLIMITHANG NATIONAL STADIUM

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A short walk took me to the main throughfare of Zorin Lam Street and the clock tower square. This is a  city landmark  and  remains an ever popular hangout for the young and the young at heart. A gig in connection with 4G launch was going on .For a country which introduced internet  as recent as 1999,their telecom sector is booming.
I was quite tired after the epic Tiger nest trek  and was looking forward to a comfortable night’s kip . Clearly, I knew nothing about the notorious dogs there. They  were barking all night and the canine symphony kept me awake  most of the time.

Later I came to know that stray dogs are a major problem here and being a Buddhist country they  cannot euthanise  them.Singey told me that they have an ongoing spay neuter and vaccination program.Well,that did put me at ease.These dogs are fiercely territorial and  one can see chorten dogs,monastery dogs , restaurant dogs,etc.My tormentors  could be the downtown pack.

I got out of the hotel   as the city  was waking up to a new day. My first stop was the clock tower centre.  Souvenir shops,restaurants,cafes, and bars are seen around the  well maintained streets.A few elderly ladies were seen   turning the prayer wheels.I think this is their  morning ritual.

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CLOCK TOWER SQUARE

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From there I walked down towards the  traffic kiosk. Thimphu being the capital has the  heaviest traffic  in the country and it also boasts of having no traffic lights.Traffic police from the Royal Bhutan  Police controls the traffic.In 1995  traffic  lights were installed  but they were taken off soon as most people failed to follow  and there were accidents.So  the  traffic cops were reinstated   and this spot has become a major tourist attraction. The kiosk also sports  the  traditional  look.  The night revellers  were seen curled up and sleeping cosily.They must be the kiosk pack.

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The picturesque traffic kiosk.Don’t miss the sleeping beauties.

Symbols of Buddhism and pictures of the King  and the royal family  can be seen everywhere.

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Most of the commercial buildings are 4-5 storey structures  made in the traditional style with  brightly coloured  hand painted floral, animal  and religious motifs on the walls and  embellished windows.All the shops are numbered.bldgb19b16

Few old mud houses   share space with their modern concrete counterparts.

Impressive government offices are also scattered in and around the main street.

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UNITED NATIONS OFFICE

I wandered into an alleyway and  couldn’t help noticing the red stains on the wall.These are betel nut stains.Doma pani is the local term and quite a few  Bhutanese are addicted to its use.

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STREET ART &DIRT

The high point of the morning was  seeing the flowers  in bloom and I knew I  was in the right place.appleyellowflora

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dragon Tales,Paro-A Dzong ,monks and movies.

Dzongs [pronounced as zong] are fine examples of the traditional Bhutanese architecture. Each district has a dzong which serve as administrative and monastic centres.  They also have temples and living quarters for the  monks. Most of them were built during the 17th century.I was surprised to know that they are built without nails or iron bars and   without any   blueprints.Then how were they made?A high ranking lama  will be calling the shots  and he would be guided by  spiritual inspiration.

Rinpung Dzong  is  a   majestic  golden domed  red and white building  dominating the Paro skyline .  Rinpung means   a heap of jewels.This impressive  fortress/monastery    had  also seen massive   earthquake and fire and what we see now is the rebuilt structure. Most of the treasures were lost in the  mishaps except  a precious tapestry Thongdrel.This is unfurled  once a year  during the Paro Festival and it is believed that seeing it can cleanse  you of all  your sins.Festival season is the best time to visit Bhutan and  the next festival will be from April 7-11.

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Rinpung Dzong

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Bhutanese people have to be in  their national dress to get inside  and they also have to wear a  silk scarf  known as Kabney [for men]  and Rachu[for women].I must say they look very elegant in this attire.There is no such dress code for the visitors.We just have to be  dressed appropriately-long sleeves,no shorts,no caps.

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Men in gho and kabney and lady in kira and rachu

I was in no hurry to get inside and  spent time admiring the vibrant colours and the  intricate woodworks.

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After going through the imposing  main door you will see  the    huge courtyards, winding corridors,central tower ,temples and living quarters for the monks.The entire structure is   breathtaking.For me Rinpung Dzong was the jewel in the crown of Paro.

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COURTYARD

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CENTRAL TOWER

 

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MONASTIC QUARTERS

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We have to climb a lot of stairs and some of them can be quite challenging.The ascent is fairly easy but the descent needs  lot of caution.Photography is not permitted inside the temple complex.

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A VERTICAL NIGHTMARE-What goes up must come down !

Saw these student monks playing in the courtyard. They seemed  to be having  a good time and   I wondered  how many of them will go on to becoming lamas. Do they miss home? Is their curriculum tough?What if they can’t cope? What if they want to leave? I was very keen to talk to them.They are not shy and are quite used to  visitors.But this was their  recess and I did not want to disturb them.

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YOU NEED A HAIR CUT,BUDDY

Seeing these young  lively monks     I was reminded of  a delightful  Tibetan movie Phorpa [The Cup].It is  about a  mischievous kid monk who is obsessed with football  and is set against   the 1998 Football  World Cup. It was made by a Lama and I think this could  be his own experience. It takes you to  the  unknown world of young monks and they are shown as they are- free spirited and natural. Another one I remember is  ‘Spring,Summer,Fall,Winter and Spring’-a Korean movie on the life of a monk with each season signifying a  stage in his life.

Paro Dzong and movies?Yes, few scenes from  ‘Little Buddha’ were shot here.

Dragon Tales,Paro-Crossing bridges

I think I  am a pontist. I have always been fascinated by bridges  and there are quite a  few in Bhutan which are old and with interesting history.

This bridge is in  the Paro  valley and is  a popular tourist spot.Drubthop Thangto Gyalpo bridge  is a suspension bridge over the Paro Chu and  is over 600 years old.It was washed away  in a flood in  1969 and was restored in 2005.It was made by  the legendary  Thangtong  Gyalpo who  had built many bridges all over Tibet and Bhutan and was also  a physician,blacksmith and the founder of  Tibetan opera.I think he can be called as the Iron Man of Bhutan.

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A narrow path off the Paro Thimpu highway takes you to the entrance of the bridge tower .A prominently displayed board  cautions you.

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No swinging,please.

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Crystal clear Paro Chu

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Looks easy?

I was  very excited  and took the first few steps  without losing balance.It was a treat to  see the gushing waters and the majestic mountains.

Soon it started to swing as more people got on the bridge.So I had to slow down and watch the steps.

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You can make out the  600  year old iron chains reinforced with the new iron rods and  wire mesh.It is a bit unnerving to look down the wide gaps.This gentleman did not seem to mind  and am sure he found my  slow progress amusing.

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I must have taken 10minutes to get across to the bridge tower.It  is a  two storey structure with beautiful murals  of Buddha,Guru Rinpoche and the bridgemaker Thangtong Gyalpo. Some  parts of the old  iron chains are kept there.The windowsill  has a collection of tsatsas-the special memorials.

As you come out of the tower you can see the Tachog Lhakhang  on  the hill top and  this was  also built by  Thangto Gyalpo.It is a private monastery now  and is maintained by his descendants.

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Tachog Lhakhang

There is a wooden bridge near the iron bridge and this is meant for the cattle.Trust the  Bhutanese  to be kind to all  sentinent beings.After the swinging    iron bridge this was a cakewalk.

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Wooden deck for the cattle and the cautious.

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I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea –
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch –
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience –
Thank you,Emily Dickinson.

Dragon Tales,Paro-In search of a legend

Like India, Bhutan is a treasure trove of myths,legends and folklores .There are venerable seers with magical powers and multiple manifestations,protective deities and spirits inhabiting lakes,mountains,tress and rocks . Of course there is a fair share of the darker powers-the demons and  ogres.

Each place has its own set of tales ripe for retelling and each day I heard  incredible stories.Or are they really stories?Facts and fiction  blend harmoniously and I had to leave my scepticism and rationalism aside and  take in everything with an open mind.Bhutan does that to you.

Let me start with a holy trail to  one of the most sacred monasteries  -Taktsang Palphug Lhakhang  or Tiger’s Nest as it is popularly known.This is a cultural icon of Bhutan and  its most photographed and written  about site.The location,the trail and the monastery interiors  make  for a most unique experience .

Legend says that Guru Rinpoche  who is  credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan arrived here in the 8th century flying on a tigress who was his consort.He came as Dorje Drolo ,one of his eight manifestations   and  subdued  the local ogress .He meditated in  a cave for  three years and introduced the Bhutanese to Buddhism.  A temple was built around the cave in 1692.There was a fire in 1958 and it was rebuilt.In 1998 there was another fire which destroyed most of the temple.Renovations went on till 2005 .It is said that the statue of Guru Rinpoche  did not  suffer any damage.

Most prefer to  have this trek on the last day to get acclimatised as this is on a mountain cliff about  10,240 ft above sea level.My energy and enthusiasm levels   tend to diminish towards the last days  of  a trip so I decided to go on the second day.One of my better decisions ! Singey was happy to come along.

The  4.8 km trail is well marked and  you will never get lost. It is fairly easy for avid trekkers . Being  a reluctant trekker and  occasional wheezer  I knew that I would find  it difficult . There are horses which take you up half the way.I decided to walk all the way.It did look  challenging and impossible   but I was determined to reach the top.One can read about it or see the pictures  but the whole trek is  an experience you will  cherish.

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The trailhead.Can you see the white speck?The first sight of the Tiger’s Nest

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Like their colorful attire.Sorry mates,I am going to walk.

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There it is-mighty and magical

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This part is fairly easy and flat

The morning was pleasant  and since we started early  there were not many people. The first  part passes through a  dense  blue pine forest.I  am walking  at my own pace.Who would want to hurry when you have such   beauty all around?

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Enchanted forest      pic credit: Dr Bruno

 

Soon came upon these water driven prayer wheels   and a lovely bridge.

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From here the trail is steep and I was taking frequent breaks to get my breath and drink water.The crisp mountain air  kept me going and I did not have to use my Ventolin inhaler even once.

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The trail twists and turns

 

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Paro valley seen from the top

After about an hour and a half  I reached the halfway point   and took a longer break to enjoy the view and recharge. This ridge is marked by a series of prayer wheels and prayer flags and is also the first viewpoint.I must say  it offers breath taking views in every sense.

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Tiger Nest is seen on the right. pic credit:Dr Bruno

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The Taktsang Cafeteria is  nearby . Those who don’t wish to continue further  make this their final point .I did not want to lose the pace so  I kept going.

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Leaving the first viewpoint.

From certain turns you can see the  Tiger’s Nest enveloped in the clouds  and sometimes hidden among the trees and it still looked  very far and I wondered if I would ever reach up there.But seeing this marvel at regular intervals was a strong motivation to move ahead.

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Misty and mystical

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Through the woods. pic credit:Dr Bruno

 

People of all age groups including monks were seen going up and down the path .The local people  are seen in their traditional dress as this is a holy place.

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Higer and higher

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After what seemed like an eternal climb I  was relieved to see this flat path and  a forest of prayer flags.

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And these spanish moss draped trees.

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All along the trail  you would see these mini stupas which are called Tsa tsa and are made from the ashes of the departed and clay.They are left in holy places and are  considered sacred.You should not touch it.

At last I can see the second lookout point and decided to  stand and savor the vista .The final destination seems close enough to touch.That is wishful thinking as  it is on the other side of the gorge and you may still  need 1 hour or more.

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Looks as if it is fused to the rocks. So near and yet so far.

The hardest part of the trek starts now.You have to go down  500  cliff hanging steps.There is no going back now and I trudge forward.

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Slow and steady. Thank God for those railings.

The steep stairs  go down to  a small bridge across a waterfall that plunges  200 feet into a sacred pool.I stopped to taste the ice cold water and it was very refreshing.

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Shelkar Zar waterfall pic credit:Dr Bruno

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They make it look so easy

Here you can see a  small meditation retreat known as Singey Phu Lhakhang or The Snow Lion Cave which is built into a crevice on the rock face.I am sure  that this is an ideal location for meditation and seek salvation.

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Singey Phu Lhakhang pic credit:Dr Bruno

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Crossing the bridge

Now comes the  most grinding part.You have to go up  200  very steep steps.Aching ,puffing ,panting and stopping at every other step I am inching my way up.

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The final and most punishing path

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Getting closer

 

Finally you are in and you are overwhelmed by the entire journey and the atmosphere.

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The jewel in the crown

 

We have to keep our bags and cameras in the lockers .No photography is permitted inside and in a way I am happy about it.

Singey went on to pray and  he left me with a  friend who is a registered guide accompanying a couple from Slovakia and he took us around .The monastery complex has  four  temples and eight caves.They are interconnected through stairways and steps. Each one is beautifully decorated and has statues of Lord Buddha and various manifestations of Guru Rinpoche .The stunning frescoes , murals   ,altar with its various offerings  and the  monks in red robes   made   me forget   the exhaustion and  appreciate the serenity and calming silence. It was a  deeply moving experience .

 

Going back is more difficult but I did not feel it.It could be the endorphin surge .I made my way back slowly   beaming at everyone coming my way and encouraging them to reach before the monastery closes. I had a delightful companion.I think he is a permanent resident.

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Patiently waiting for me to catch up.

I had to stop at the  halfway point and spin the prayer wheel three times thanking  for the blessings and praying for  a return visit.Singey told me that those who come once will have to come twice again and I fervently hope that I can .

We   decided to go to  the cafeteria for tea and enjoyed the clear views of this incredible structure which defies logic and gravity.

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View from the cafeteria

 

I could not help thinking what  if someone had a medical emergency?It would be  good to have a mobile clinic and ambulance  at the base.The trek is not hazardous but the altitude and switchbacks can be stressful for the medically and fitness challenged.

The trek took almost 6 hours and gave me memories for life.Facts or fiction, Bhutan from any viewing is magical where there is no place for the mundane or soporific and I am looking forward to more.

Dragon Tales-Paro and a fort in ruins

Paro is a major district in Bhutan and has  historical and religious significance.It is also a picturesque fertile valley.  There are  over  155  monasteries and temples  in this place.I started off with a visit to  the Drukgyel Dzong   which means the Fortress of the victorious Drukpa.This is considered as one of the most famous archeological sites in Bhutan.

Dzongs are   unique Bhutanese fortresses which also serve as administrative  and monastic centres.Each district has a dzong and they are built at strategic locations mostly on the hill tops.Zhabdrung Ngwang Namgyal-the unifier of Bhutan is credited with building most of the major dzongs and he also established the dual system of governance.So each dzong  has a monastic center with temples ,schools , living quarters  and  administrative offices for the government officials.

Drukgyal dzong  was made in  the 16th century to commemmorate the victory over the invading Tibetan and Mongolian army.It also served as a major trade route as it was at a strategic site near the border with Tibet.It  was also supposed to have the best armory in the country.A major fire destroyed most of the fort in 1951 and  we see  only the ruins.Still it is impressive and worth a visit.

 

Singey  ,his wife Ugyen  and their kids Angel and Angela kept me company.A huge prayer wheel is at the  foot  of the  hill and from there it is a steep climb to the top.

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It took 10 minutes to reach the top.It was starting to get  dark and there was a chill in the air,adding to the suspense  ahead.

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View from the top

Finally reached the entrance  and I felt as if I have stepped into a bygone era.The whole place looked abandoned and a  little spooky.One can see the ravages of fire all around.Isn’t it ironic that this fort was never conquered by the enemy but was destroyed by  man made fire ?

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The Entrance

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Still Standing!

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Checkposts

 

 

 

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We went inside and could see only the  burnt  walls and woodwork.

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Singey informed that  this year the Prime Minister had announced  a  major renovation programme .

This fort is listed  as a tentative site in Bhutan tentative list  for UNESCO heritage sites.

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