Dragon Tales-Paro and free history lessons

My  travel agent Singey stays in Paro and I decided to go there in his car. This would be   a good way to get to know this country and its people.Singey had done his high school and college from Kolkata and he is immensely proud of his home land.Over the next few days he and his family  took me around and  they  won me over with their hospitality and warmth.

Paro is 175 km from Phuntsholing and it is a  pleasant  5 hour drive through well maintained  winding roads   with majestic mountains , lush green valleys and sparkling  free flowing rivers.  The weather was perfect with clear blue skies and cool winds.There  was not much traffic and  over here people  seemed to be in no hurry.Bhutan is a  carbon sink( a fact most seem to know) and about 72 % of the land is forested.

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Paro Chhu

 

Singey  patiently tried to  answer my queries .  It was  more interesting to learn from a local  and I was glad that I opted out of having  a registered tour guide. Hydropower  projects  and tourism are the main  revenue earners and more than three fourth  of the electricity  generated is exported to India.So India is an important  regional ally.Most of the roads are built and maintained by  the Indian BRO(Border Road Organisation).Till 1960 there were no schools,hospitals,proper roads,currency or electricity.Tourism was introduced only in 1974.High value low volume tourism is their mantra.

The population is  about 780000. Education upto  highschool  and health care  are free.The medium is English and Dzongkha. Depending on the  high schoolgrades the college education is also supported by the government.Many go to India ,USA,UK and Thailand for higher studies.Singey told me that most of them prefer to come back after completing their education.But unemployment is an issue.

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Prayer flags and stupas are regular sights.After crossing this bridge at the confluence of Wang Chhu and Paro Chuu(chhu is river)  we are in the Paro valley. Soon the airport came into view.This is the only international airport and was opened in 1983 and is considered  to be one of the most  challenging.It would have been thrilling to come by air but now I can just look at the tiny airport and admire.

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Paro Airport

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Look like toy planes

I checked into Hotel Drukchen   near the airport.All the buildings in Bhutan are required to have  traditional Bhutanse designs  and this was a fine example.

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Hotel Drukchen

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Room with a view

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dragon Tales-Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang

Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan and  is followed by 70% of the population . My knowledge of this ancient religion is very limited.After spending  a short time here I feel that Buddhism is the most distinct feature of this kingdom .One week is too short a period to get an insight   but each day was a learning experience.

I wanted to start by  visiting  a buddhist temple and I did not have to look far.

More than 2000 Lhakhangs  or temples are scattered around the 20 districts  in Bhutan.I had my first glimpse of one in Phuentsholing.

Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang  is  near the  immigration office and it has an impressive structutre .It was  6 30 in the morning and  people were coming in large numbers for their morning prayers.

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The main  deities  are Buddha,Guru Rinpoche   who brought Buddhism to Bhutan and Zhabdrung Rinpoche who unified Bhutan.The walls are decorated with murals and frescos  depicting the life of Buddha.  The altar was beautifully   adorned with lamps,prayer bowls,flowers  and incense sticks..It is believed that by gazing at Buddha,lighting lamps,offering flowers,burning incense  , prostrating before the deities  etc ,the functions of the five sense organs are completely immersed in Buddhist practises.As in most  Buddhist temples,there is a large prayer wheel and a huge  fig tree in the courtyard.Remember to spin the prayer wheel in a clockwise direction.Turning the prayer wheel is supposed to have the same benefits as reciting the mantras inside.

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Butter lamps are kept in  a it small room near the main temple and  one can make offerings .

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Giant butter lamp

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Devotion

This temple reminded me of a small village temple where people come for prayers and meeting one another.I am put off  by large , popular temples where one has to stand in a serpentine queue for hours to see the idol for a minute or less before you are pushed out by the milling crowd.Here people  seemed unhurried  and  one can sense the serenity and spirituality all around.

I spent some time in the temple garden and returned to the hotel  happy with the auspicious beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gateway

Phuentsholing or Pling(local term)  is the border town and border crossing  was rather easy .Since I had booked through  a registered Bhutanese tour agent  I was told that I could have a guide  through out my stay.I don’t mind having a guide for  a limited period but    having someone for 6 days  reeling off statistics and  cliched stories  was not  appealing  and I decided not to have one. My attention span is quite limited and   I would rather   see,savor and digest.

Checked into Druk Hotel,situated next to the Immigration Office .I did not want to waste any time and took off to  look around.

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Druk Hotel

It is difficult to imagine that just  an ornate gate separates  the two countries.The contrast is overwhelming.One side is too congested,noisy,polluted,chaotic and the other side is clean,orderly and colorful   with people  in their traditional attire.The architecture is also striking.Phuentsholing is considered as the  financial,industrial and trading  centre and most of the goods come from India.Buddhism is a way of life here and prayer wheels,prayer flags and stupas are seen  everywhere.

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No traffic  signals

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And Bhutanese revere their kings.It is a democratic,constitutional monarchy .Pictures of the royal couple and  the fourth King are seen in  all the government buildings and shops.They are popularly known as K4 and K5.

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Sale of tobacco is banned in Bhutan and if you are caught smoking in public places you will be fined. No such ban on alcohol   and I could see more bars than restaurants in most of the places. It was interesting to know that they have  K5-  a premium whiskey to commemorate the coronation of the fifth  King and Silver Jubilee whiskey to honor the fourth King.

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Bus Terminal

I saw a big temple near the hotel  and decided to  go there the next day  before checking out.