Spiti Tales- Mountains, valleys, lakes, and bridges.

After bidding farewell to the divine Kinnaur Kailash, we set out for  Tabo. This route is known for landslides and we knew the photo stops would be considerably reduced. We passed through Akpa, Morang, Spello and Pooh.The road conditions varied from smooth tarmac to narrow mud tracks.  On the way, there are some lovely bridges and waterfalls. This stretch has some of the finest bridges  I have ever seen, ranging from Bailey, suspension to massive modern ones.

The good roads

Mud roads.Don’t miss the Mummy rock. Pc: Ajay

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The Border Road Organisation (BRO) is responsible for the maintenance of these mountain roads and frequently we came across people engaged in clearing the rock_  strewn paths. They have put up a number of quirky sign boards all along the route doling out safety precautions. ‘If married, divorce speed’, ‘ Be gentle on my curves’,  ‘Mind your brakes or break your mind’ and ‘Be Mr.Late than late Mr.’  are a few I remember now.

Our first halt was at Khab. This is where the mighty Sutlej which originates from Tibet meets Spiti river coming from the Spiti valley. The landscape is barren, arid and vast. The greenery has almost vanished. Mighty mountains lead us to a narrow tunnel with overhanging rocks.  Though technically we are still in Kinnaur I  feel we have entered the surreal land of Spiti.

The gateway to Spiti

Khab Bridge adorned with prayer flags.

The confluence of Satluj and Spiti rivers. Satluj is muddy brown and Spiti river is ash gray.

The rocks show a range of colors and some of them have striations. Wish we had a geologist in our group!

This rock reminded me of a gargoyle with cold, evil eyes.

Rock art Pc: Ajay

Boulders perched precariously

Our convoy.

 

Khab has another significance. Shipki La-the high mountain pass and border post on the India-China border is about 40 km from here. You require special permits to go there.

A slice of the sky Pc: Mangesh

Face off! Mr.Snub nose and Ms.Sharp nose.

From Khab to Hangrung valley

From Khab, the road ascended through a series of switchbacks. There were no other vehicles in sight. It was like going into an alien, remote land. All we could see were the mountains in different colors and dimensions. The landscape is like Ladakh except that Ladakh is always bursting with tourists.

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A patch of green.

The next stop was Nako -a beautiful village and often a night stop for the travelers. Nako is an important center of Buddhism. There are two main monasteries (gompas) and many temples in the Nako village. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have meditated in the caves seen up in the mountains.We could not go inside the monasteries as they were closed to the public.

Old Nako Gompa

After a quick lunch, we went over to Nako Lake. After the rocky, dusty, barren terrains, the shimmering lake was like an oasis. It looks more like a  large pond.

Enchanting Nako Lake

Nako lake is a natural lake and remains frozen during winter. The water was crystal clear and green reflecting the trees around the periphery.  The tranquility and silence all around was overpowering.  Though Nako has become quite popular on the travel circuit, there were not many people around.  I can imagine how this place would look with a bunch of noisy, selfie_ obsessed tourists.

Circumambulating the lake

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The walkway around the lake leads to the Nako village and its cluster of houses made of earth and stone. Fodder and firewood are piled on the wooden roofs and most houses have a pen for their cattle.   Prayer wheels, colorful prayer flags, and cairns with inscribed mantras seen among the winding lanes reflect the age-old Buddhist traditions.

Nako Village homes

A pen with no inmates

All peace and quiet here.

Where are the people?

I wanted to peek inside.

Mani stones

Prayer wheels and Mani stones

The premises are kept very clean. But where are the people?   Most people-both men and women work in the fields.Their main crops are peas, potato, wheat, and barley. The Himachal government has provided many houses with solar panels and they also have a helipad to transport people in case of an emergency. New concrete buildings are coming up beside the traditional homestays and small guesthouses. I did not see a school or a hospital.

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I had not even heard of Nako before coming here and now I am leaving with pleasant memories of a small, peaceful village.

 

 

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Spiti Tales- A glimpse of Heaven

Warning – This post is image heavy.

Duly fortified after lunch,  we went out to explore the orchards around the hotel at Kalpa, Kinnaur.  This region is known for its apples, apricot, almonds, and chilgoza. Wherever we turned, there was something fresh to eat.  It was a pleasure to have the fruits without stickers.1

 

There were a lot of tourists and bikers staying at the hotel. The tourist season starts from March and in winter most of the hotels in the area remain closed as the temperature can drop to -15  degrees.  There are a couple of hamlets,  temples, and monasteries in Kalpa which are worth a visit but today  I want to do nothing but commune with nature.

Kinnaur Kailash Range Pc: Ajay

 

Kalpa is at a height of 2960 meters and I am gazing at mountains at 6000 meters. The majestic Kinnaur Kailash Range has  Raldang, Jorkanden, Kinner Kailash and a  17m rock pillar Shivling peaks. I couldn’t make out which is which.  All the peaks are enveloped in the clouds.  The glaciers stood out like thin white lines.

In mythology,  Kailash is the winter abode of Lord Shiva. In the month of August,  devotees take up a difficult trek to circumambulate the sacred mountain.

It was 18:30 and dark clouds were still hiding the peaks. I was content gazing at the vastness of the sky and the mountains. And then the clouds lifted and we could see a golden peak glowing with dazzling rays.

Glowing peaks and dark clouds

The next moments went by in a flash.I watched spellbound. The celestial light seemed to glow brighter each moment. It was a divine experience and words fail me.

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The ethereal display lasted for about 5 minutes and the clouds reclaimed their spot.

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All of us were in a euphoric daze. My friend was in tears. Someone said they could see Lord Shiva atop the summit. There must be an explanation for the sun rays lighting up that peak but today I am going to believe in miracles and don’t want to be rigidly scientific.  I don’t think my pictures do it full justice. The following images are from Ajay.

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After this soul stirring experience, I could see a change in the group.  Yes, the mountain has cast a spell on us.We became more open and friendly. What a special day this has been!

The next day we were up early and lined up in the balcony hoping to see the sunrise. Alas, the mountain was unwilling to take off the fluffy cloud caps.  I guess they were playing peekaboo.

Morning hues

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Hide and seek

I wish we had more time to stay and watch the clouds play.  Unfortunately,  we weren’t able to spend as much time here as I would have liked.  By 9:00, we were ready to hit the road.  Spiti is getting closer.

Leaving the blessed land of Kinnaur

 

 

Spiti Tales__ The Mountain Gods and Roads.

After enjoying the peace and solitude of the Goddess Temple, I went back to the hotel.On the way found this charming little cottage.

Ideal for a retreat

Exchanged pleasantries with a friendly village lady.  People in the small towns always impress me with their simplicity and kindness.

Always ready for a chat and a cup of tea.

A few backpackers and village folks were seen at the bus stop. The local men and women sport the traditional green cap known as “Thapang”.

The sullen looks could be due to the long wait for the bus Pc: Ajay

Today we are going to Kinnaur_ the winter home of Lord Shiva. Himachal Pradesh is also known as the ‘Abode of Gods”. There are more than 2000 temples and small shrines here. Each village has its own deity and festivals.

From Sarahan it takes 5 hours to reach Kinnaur and the drive is through the National Highway 22. Inspiring vistas unfolded and lively chats resumed.vista2

 

Our first stop was  Taranda Devi temple. She is the guardian deity of the mountain roads and this temple is maintained by the Indian Army. No vehicle passes by without stopping to take blessings from the Goddess. The views changed dramatically from this point.

Taranda Devi Temple. The brass bells are offerings from the devotees.

Taranda Dhank

Now we are going through one of the deadliest roads featured on the History Channel. Taranda Dhank is notorious for landslides, shooting stones and fatal accidents. The road is carved out of the massive rocks.

A cliff-hanging ride

The tension and excitement were palpable. But Deepak, our driver was cool. This young man was focussed on the road and negotiated the deadly curves and hairpin bends with remarkable ease. He wouldn’t talk much but could be quite stern if we tend to stay long for photo stops.

The iconic rock tunnel on NH22-Gateway to Kinnaur Pc: Ajay

Narrow roads, sharp turns, towering rocks, deep gorges Pc: Ajay

Rock art__ sculpted monkey. Pc: Ajay

 

Living on/off the edge Pc: Mangesh

Heart stopping moment

The rock umbrella

Driving on these roads is like being on a car rally minus the frills. One misstep could be fatal. Our drivers showed amazing skills, concentration, and attitude. They were always looking out for one another and also ready to help other drivers.  Road rage and risky stunts don’t exist in their rule book.  Deepak told us that the state road transport corporation has very strict criteria for selecting the drivers and rightly so. I can’t stop admiring our drivers and that tenacious bus and truck drivers who ply on this treacherous route every day.

Passed by the major hydroelectric project in Karcham and reached Reckong Peo__ the district headquarters of Kinnaur. Popularly called Peo, it is a bustling small town. The rocky terrains changed to lush green mountains with dense pine forests and orchards.

The Hydel plant on the Satluj Pc:Ajay

Reckong Peo town

From here the winding road climbed up and we reached the  Hotel Kinner Villa. After the hair-raising adrenalin packed drive,  it was like entering a magical world. The majestic Kinnaur Kailash was standing there in all its glory with the peaks hidden by the clouds.

The sacred mountain Kinnaur Kailash

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Light and shadow play

My room was on the second floor and from the balcony, I felt I could stretch out and touch the mountain.  I am going to put my camera away and soak in the views.

 

This post is dedicated to Deepak and his friends__ the unsung heroes of this odyssey.

May God be on your road every way you go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spiti Tales, Bhimakali Temple- The Jewel in the Crown

I woke up to the sound of temple bells and devotional songs. The time was 5:30.  I went up to the roof of the hotel hoping to see the sun coming up the mountains but was greeted by the mist rising from the valley.

Good morning, Sarahan.

On a clear day, we can see the Shrikhand peak of the Himalayas. There was no point in waiting. So I  decided to go to the temple before the devotees start coming for the morning puja. There is a short path lined with apple orchards leading to the temple gate.

The Bhimakali temple is over 800 years old and is one of the 51 shakti peeths. It is dedicated to Goddess Bhimakali, the presiding deity of the erstwhile rulers of Sarahan.  The majestic temple complex is made in the traditional kath-kuni style using stone and wood which is suitable for the climatic conditions.

Bhimakali Temple

From the main gate, you enter a  large courtyard and the temple complex comes into view. It looked more like a castle. The heavily carved building in the front used to be the old palace of the ruling Bushahr family.  The temple resthouse, canteen, and administrative office are in this courtyard. It was slightly unnerving to see a gun- toting guard in this pristine environs and a grim reminder of the times we live.

The temple guest house and canteen

Exquisite wood carvings

The premises are kept very clean and one can feel a sense of peace and serenity all around unlike most of the temples which are always crowded and noisy. The present chief minister of Himachal Pradesh is also the king of the Bushahr dynasty.The signs of royal patronage are quite evident.

From the first courtyard, an ornate silver door opens to the smaller second courtyard.unnamed (11)unnamed (6)

Embellished with deities

The doorknob is a knockout!

A short flight of steps flanked by two tigers takes you to the main temple towers.

The old and new temple towers

The tower on the right is the old temple which was damaged in an earthquake and was deemed unsafe for regular worship. The new tower was made in 1943. Photography is not permitted inside the temple. The Goddess is enshrined in the top floor of the functioning temple.  From the windows on the top floor, I  could see the spectacular mountain range still covered in the mist.

There are three other temples in the complex dedicated to Lord Raghunath, Narasimha and Lanka Veer. Legends and mythological tales abound in the Bhimakali temple. It was surprising to know that human sacrifices used to be held here until the 18th century.

The Lord Narasimha temple

There is a  mini museum showcasing old utensils, weapons, musical instruments, and relics. Staff quarters of the temple priests are seen near the old tower. Each structure seems to blend with the surrounding mountains.

The slanting roof made of slate stones protect the structures from strong winds

Majestic snow-capped mountains, lush green meadows, orchards, and a temple with stunning architecture makes Sarahan the quintessential Himalayan town. The Goddess Bhimakali could not have chosen a better place to reside and watch over her devotees.

Spiti Tales-The Caravan starts

Soon after the Bhutan trip I started getting the  familiar  symptoms of  Wanderitis and began  searching for the next  get away. I didn’t have to wait too long.  Friends from Mumbai sent me the details of a group tour to Lahaul & Spiti and I signed up .

Spiti is  a least populated cold desert mountain valley   with surreal landscapes , high mountain passes, enchanting lakes and picture postcard hamlets  is cut off from the rest of the country  for almost eight months  during winter and is open from late July till October.Spiti means The Middle Land-the land between Tibet and India and is in the state of Himachal Pradesh. This terrain is noted for the most  scenic and the most treacherous roads and is prone for landslides.

The trip started from Chandigarh   where I   met the  fellow travellers coming from Mumbai. I was excited to meet my  four friends after almost two years . Six couples and  a family with their daughter and grandson(the youngest member )   completed the group .  There was no time for formal introductions . No worries,  I would be getting to know them in the coming days.  After a  quick lunch at a local hotel  we started for Shimla-our halt for the night.We were staying in a  hotel at Taradevi away from the  hustle and bustle of the city.

I am an insomniac  during travel and was waiting for the dawn to get out of the room.

Misty morning

By this time my roommate   joined me and we went  to   a small temple nearby.Two friendly mountain dogs kept us company.From the temple  we  spotted a quaint railway station.It was exciting to see the Kalka-Shimla  Railway-the narrow gauge railway  passing through 102 tunnels and 864 bridges   and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We waited for sometime but no train was in sight.

Taradevi Railway Station

I would love to ride a toy train

By 10 we were ready to to leave  and after a customary group photo  set off for the next  destination Sarahan.This is another thing I like about Himachal Pradesh. It  has such sweet sounding   districts and towns-Chamba,Kullu,Kinoo, Jipsa,Solan, Seoni,Tapri,Chitkul, Una and more.

The roads are pretty good and there was not much traffic.Breathtaking views, pleasant weather and  friends-I couldn’t have asked for more.

Leaving Shimla

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A special feature of this tour was   the  travelling kitchen . Arjun and his dedicated team   pampered   us with simple, wholesome , fresh and yummy food. It was  nice having the meals on the roadside and it reminded me of school picnics.

Food on the highway

Soon  Sutlej  river came into view and  the landscape  started to look different. Over the next two days  we saw different shades of Sutlej-the most sacred river of Himachal Pradesh.  We are now  in Rampur . From here onward one can see a lot of hydropower plants.

Roaring Sutlej

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Rampur town in Sutlej Valley

From Rampur  it  was 34 km to Sarahan. Pine and cedar forests gave way to lush apple orchards  and traditional houses made of wood and stone .  I was excited to see  the  fruit laden tress and  had a wild impulse to  pluck some.Himachal apples have a  fascinating history. They were introduced in the state in  1916 by an American missionary Samuel Evans Stokes  and  since then they have become the most important cash crop of the region.  Royal delicious,Red delicious and Golden delicious are the most common  types  grown here.  All of us feasted on the fresh and juicy apples and wanted to buy more. This would make an ideal gift from here.

Never seen so many apples on a tree

Red Delicious pc-M Kulkarni

Wish I could take it all  !

Sarahan is the gateway to Kinnaur_our next destination, and is at a height of 7850 ft.This was the summer capital of the  erstwhile Bushahr kingdom and is  steeped in mythology. The Bhimkali Temple   dominates the little town.

Sarahan and Bhimkali Temple

There are a couple of small shops and guest houses around the temple.By the time we reached the temple was closed.

Our hotel was a modest  one right in the centre of the  town and very close to the Bhimkali temple .It was a long day and tomorrow is going to be another long one.Time to hit the bed.

Dragon Tales-The Bridge on the River Po

As I   was coming out of the Punakha dzong  I  could see a long bridge in the distance  and wanted to  have a closer look.After  a short   trek through a dirt path  I am standing on the bridge and as expected this was another  magnificent structure.It is  the second  longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and  stretches over the Po Chhu.  I knew it would take considerable time to cross the bridge  but it was too good to pass up .I associate bridges with romance and pathos and this bridge  was exceptional  all the way.

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The mighty bridge spanning 350 m

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A long way to go

The bridge is sturdier and less  bouncy  compared to the one in  Paro  and  offers  stunning views of the  mountains and villages.I saw a variety of people on the bridge-school children,villagers, monks and  a quadruped.
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The lone monk pc:Dr Bruno

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Back from the school

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In meditation

Colorful prayer flags seemed to be telling me something and I wished I could read what is written on them.It started swaying  gently as I reached the centre.I think this bridge would make an ideal location for movies.But it is not very easy  getting permits for movie shooting.  Bhutan has strict regulations and hefty royalty fees . Bhutan April 2016 395IMG_0767

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Gently flows the River Po

 

Now I am at the other end and a prayer wheel welcomes you to the village.A two storey building   and rice fields  are the main sights.d2d1

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Is this a museum ? office ? residence ? This is a general store.

An old lady was seen turning the prayer wheel and  three kids were playing in the court yard.They  were very friendly and curious  and asked  a lot of questions.  I can’t remember the last time  a child wanted to know my name ! The youngest kid was the centre of attention and she entertained us with her antics.Even the dogs were in awe of her.

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Playtime

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Little Miss Sunshine

 

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The boss with her loyal guards

The girls   insisted on accompanying me  to the other end.They cross the bridge  every day to go  to the school and dzong.I had to coax them to go back after we reached half way and made a promise to visit them before they start going to college.I looked on as they waltzed their way back.

Today was  a day of serendipitous moments and I  wish I  could stay.

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Goodbye

Dragon Tales,Punakha-Seeking Bliss

Besides the Tiger’s  Nest  Punakha Dzong is the most iconic and revered monument in Bhutan and  is also known as The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss.It is also the headquarter of Punakha district.This was the last dzong  of my trip and  I found it  the most beautiful and majestic.  .Words and pictures can’t do justice to this magnificent fortress/monastery.

Situated at the confluence of the Mo Chhu(mother river) and Po Chuu( father river) Punakha Dzong was built in the 16th century and  holds a special position in the history of Bhutan. This  regal dzong is closely associated with Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – the Tibetan Lama and the  founding father of Bhutan. He was the one who unified this country  and established the dual system of governance. Many dzongs were made during his time  as  defence fortresses against invaders. .He  fought many Tibetan invasions and consolidated the country  giving it a distinct  Bhutanese identity. He went into retreat in  1651 and was  believed to have passed away  in this dzong..His death was not revealed for a long period for  fear of  unrest. His embalmed body is kept in the most important  section of the dzong along with certain sacred relics and he is  worshipped all over the country.Most of the temples have  statues of Buddha,Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung and now I can identify him as the Lama with  a flowing beard.

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Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel pc-wikipedia

This was the first sight of the dzong and  I was struck by its picturesque setting.They could not have chosen  a better  location.

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The Palace of Bliss pc Dr Bruno

 

 

There is a charming cantilever bridge connecting the main land with the dzong over the Mo Chhu.The original bridge was washed away in a flood in 1957 and this new bridge was made in 2008.

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Tower of the cantilever bridge over Mo Chhu

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School children on the bridge

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Sparkling Mo Chhu

 

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Dzongs are made of mud,stone and timber and painted in bright red,white and black.

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Seen from the bridge

 

 

Leaving the bridge tower  the imposing facade  of the dzong comes into view.Now you will  see the massive scale of the  structure and  I wonder how they made such a perfect  building in that period with  limited tools and technology.
A strict dress code is enforced . Bhutanese have to put a scarf ‘Kabney ‘ and visitors have to be in formal wear.I appreciate that.Can you imagine going to  this grand citadel in  casuals?
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The stone and wooden staircase leading to the dzong

The wooden stairs can be pulled up in the event of an attack   and there is a huge wooden door .A unique feature of this dzong is the three courtyards(Other dzongs have two ) The first courtyard  has the two storey administrative wing .There is  a huge white stupa and  a Bodhi tree at the centre of the courtyard.

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The giant Bodhi tree standing like a sentinel

A six storey central tower  UTSE   separates it from the second courtyard which has the monastic  quarters.

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The central tower.This little girl was very excited and was dancing around.

Compared to the rest of the dzongs the art work  and colours are magnified and one can’t help   but stop  and gasp  at the intricate carvings and paintings on the doors,windows,staircases,balustrades and balconies.It looks as if each part is made with great diligence and devotion.I remember the master in the art school saying that creating a piece of art is a also a form of worship. . Seeing the abundance and mastery of the exquisite art all around  I felt  I was having symptoms of Florence Syndrome.d7d15d11

All of a sudden  there was a commotion  and  I could see many important looking people assembled  in the courtyard .I thought they were waiting to receive  someone from the royal family  or  a VIP and decided to  wait and watch from the balcony.

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Kabney spotting. Green is for judges ,white with red stripe for headmen and white with fringes for the common man

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Monks are also waiting.

Soon  the the courtyard  was resonating with chorus chanting , booming drums,blaring horns ,  gongs,cymbals and  a religious procession started.It was a fascinating  sight and I was spellbound.

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Yellow hatted monks pc Dr Bruno

 

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Monks with drums

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I did  not know the religious significance of this ceremony but it was thrilling to  be part of it.

The third courtyard  houses  the temple. The sanctum santorum has  gigantic statues of Lord Buddha,Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung .There  are huge gilded pillars  and every inch of the walls and ceiling are adorned with  exquisite murals depicting the life of Lord Buddha.The silence and serenity   of the temple was overwhelming . One need not be a believer or follower of Buddhism to appreciate the energy  and power of this sacred hall.

Next to the main temple is the     Machey Lhakhang  containing the embalmed body of the great Zhabrdrung  and  its entry is limited to the King and the Chief Abbot.

Punakha Dzong was damaged in flash floods,earthquake and fire several times(most recent was the flash floods in 1994) and each time it was restored   to its former glory.In 2011 the wedding celebrations of  the present King was held here.What impressed me most was the way the Bhutanse have preserved their national heritage sites.India takes pride in its rich cultural heritage but most of our ancient monuments are in a sad state of neglect and some have even disappeared.It is sad seeing our protected sites in ruins and  defaced with graffiti.We have a lot to learn from this neighbouring country.They don’t forget their past even when they are adapting to the challenges of  the modern world.

Punakha Dzong-a perfect blend of  religion,art and architecture and I will always remember it as  the Palace of Sublime Moments.

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Punakha Dzong- Timeless and invincible

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-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.