Travel

Tales from the mountains of Bhutan

February 10, 2018

 “Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta.

 

I can’t agree more with Ibn Battuta,  travelling does makes you speechless, a week visit to Bhutan in 2016 still brings a smile on my face and takes me back to this last land of Shangri-la and turns me into a storyteller.

Bhutan is one of the most beautiful destinations of Asia and the last remaining Buddhist Kingdom of the world. A land where happiness is valued more than wealth, culture is Pride and religion is more than just spirituality. It was our first visit to Bhutan, so we decided to start from Thimphu.  After a quite sleepover at the hotel, I woke up early in the morning to bask in the splendour of Thimphu. The quietness of mountains, the chirping sound of early birds and the smell of early morning air. There is so much an early morning can offer to a tiered soul and can bring comfort and smile.

As we proceeded for my breakfast we set just in front of a large French window that gave us a panoramic view of a bluish green mountain covered in clouds. I looked at the surroundings- so serene, a mist of white clouds floating above the sleepy mountain. The sun has just risen drawing a soft lining across the sky, as if it was waking up the mountains. With this lightness in our heart we started the day.

Kado, our guide on the journey to explore Bhutan was all set with his vehicle and a good morning smile on his face. As we hit the roads of the Thimphu district the clean and noise free surroundings made us feel as if we were in some sort of retreat, even after being in the capital city. Let us not forget to mention the lush greenery that makes it even better. The first landmark we see is a beautiful Chorten.

The National Memorial Chorten is a Tibetan-style Chorten; it is one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu city which is also a sacred worship place for many Bhutanese. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’. We saw many elderly people circumambulating the Chorten, which they do throughout the day. This beautiful White Chorten crowned with a golden spire was built in the year 1947 as a memorial to the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It is one of the most popular and iconic monuments of Thimphu. As we walked close to the Chorten the whole surrounding was echoing with the sacred words “Om Mani Padme Hum”…. I wondered if it works for me and went forward to chant those golden words and just take a chance to whirl the large prayer wheels. I don’t know about my friends but it did gave me some sort of peace.

National Memorial Chorten, Thimphu

 An elderly man sitting and offering prayers at the Chorten.

The next stop was,

The National Institute of Zorig Chusum. It is a centre for Bhutanese Art education run by Human Resource Bhutan, with the sole objective of preserving the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan. One can visit this school to get a glimpse of how these beautiful traditional artefact and paintings are made. We entered different rooms dedicated to different works such as painting, wood carving etc. The students were friendly and were really busy with their work. as we walk through it can be see what level of dedication is required to make such beautiful artefacts’ and paintings.

The curriculum covers comprehensive courses on different topics such as drawing, painting, wood carving, embroidery and sculpting etc. Meanwhile, Painting courses are more given importance. It requires 4–6 years of training in Bhutanese traditional art forms.  This kind of initiative is definitely going to benefit not only the country but also the world at large. Because who doesn’t want to see such beautiful creations.

Beautiful woodcarvings done by the students.

When in Bhutan how can we not see a Takin. I have heard so much about it, and since I was already sipping a bottle of wine named after this mysterious animal it augmented my curiosity.

Motithang Takin Preserve is originally established as a Zoo. It’s a large fenced enclosure where these mammals are kept. Takin (Burdorcastaxicolor) is the national animal of Bhutan. The animal is very rare and has religious and mythological importance to the country. We were super excited to see Takin. A slow walk and a mighty gaze is all it can offer us. Still that’s enough for me as I appreciate the fact that I saw something that lives above 4000 meters on the north-western and far north eastern parts of the country.

Takin (Burdorcastaxicolor) at the Motithang Takin Preserve Zoo, Thimphu.

Another landmark was,

Buddha Dordenma Statue  also called as the Buddha point. The huge 51 m. statue of Buddha Dordenma stands tall overlooking the Thimphu valley as one of the tallest Buddha statue in the world. This place gives you outstanding view of Thimphu valley. The green mountains covered in white sheet of clouds indeed make this point a magical escape for every visitor.

The Buddha statue at the Point.

Beautiful statues of fairies are built surrounding the Buddha statue.

Breathtaking views of Thimphu Valley from the Buddha Point.

Exploring Thimphu was extremely exciting and it almost took us the whole day. However, the beauty of this beautiful place cannot be justified by these mere pictures.

Food……The day ended with a different type of meal, I am not saying that I didn’t like it but it was new to my taste buds. Although, I did enjoyed the Ema Dashi (Chilli and Cheese) and my favourite Kewa Dashi (Poteto and Cheese), but Hontey (A momo shaped dumpling filled with herbs) was not my cup of tea. The Bhutanese cuisine is all about Cheese and chilli’s, Ema Datshi is the traditional dish of Bhutan and it is very common in every meal. Apart from that noodles, rice, local pancakes are also a part of their daily diet. Similarly just like the Datshi, another popular eating habit involved the chewing of a particular milk product called Churpi, Churpi is actually quite popular among the people of Sikkim as well but in Bhutan you get variations in Churpi. Generally Churpi is made from yak milk and it’s white in colour that has a hard structure. It doesn’t taste like anything. Once you start chewing it becomes quite addictive as you enjoy the slow chewing of the stuff. But in Bhutan there is another version of Churpi available which is soft and slightly different in colour. Although, I never tried this version of Churpi for myself but one of friend from Sikkim said it tastes sweet and milky. This made me regret not trying one.

Shops by the road display the local produces and Churpis.

A day to travel around Thimphu wasn’t enough, but we did enjoy our stay. As the night came down we explored the city streets and local markets. Thimphu made me fall in love with it from beautiful monuments to friendly strangers, from breathtaking views to amazing structures. Thimphu is definitely a crowning glory of Bhutan. The night came early that day but it seemed too long to end for me. I could not sleep as I was too excited to wake up in the morning and run for my breakfast and that breathtaking view of the mountain. It was an unforgettable memory. Another reason that kept me awake all night was our next destination ‘Dochula Pass’ and ‘Paro’.

I did my morning routine and filled my mind with the picture perfect breakfast experience and started for the day. Forget about the popular destinations and tourist spots the road itself was so beautiful that we could not help ourselves from getting down from our car and capturing a few snaps. The mountains were touching sky it seemed and were ending nowhere.  I struggled really hard with my camera to capture the beauty of these giant hilly mountains but the camera did no justice. It was an experience you have got to feel on your own. Our first destination is Dochula Pass, but before that we were greeted by a beautiful wild river flowing majestically through the wild. It was the Paro river, wild like as a young child. Kado told us that the spot we are at is very well known and also bears historical as well as religious importance.

Tachogang Lhakhang Bridge, is situated by the Paro-Thimphu Highway over the Paro river.  It was built around 1420 by Thangtong Gyalpo who was a great architect and a saint of Bhutan. We stopped for a short walk to the legendary iron saint’s bridge and then Hike to his monastery. However, the iron bridge is closed as it is old and weak; another concrete bridge is constructed for the tourists to cross the river.  A rang of mountains with lush greenery and the sound of the river flow. If this is not haven where would it be?

Tachogang Lhakhang Bridge, Paro

Moving on, as we continued our journey, the sky cleared up and it was all sunny and warm. It took us almost two hours to reach our next landmark. All of a sudden the sky turned gray and started drizzling. We could not see anything but only a cover of mist. As we proceeded towards the memorial structure it started to appear bright and clear. Just like a magical entry in a theater the memorial stupa structure appeared and left us awestruck.

Dochula Pass also known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens is one of the most beautiful passes in the world. Situated at the high top of a mountain pass on the road from Thimphu to Punakha, overlooking the Himalayan range the Dochula pass is a concentration of 108 stupas constructed in the memory of Bhutanese soldiers killed in 2003, in a war against the insurgents from India. The queen Mother of Bhutan, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk specially made the monument after the victory of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck against the rebels who were using Bhutan as a hide out and raid India. The pass gives an excellent panoramic view of the Himalayas and the locations make it perfect for a peaceful retreat to you mind and soul. The cafe nearby the pass also happens to serve mouth watering food and has a beautiful surrounding.  The constant change in the weather conditions from sunny to misty to drizzling this magical spot becomes more appealing.

Dochula Pass also known as the Druk Wangyal Chortens, Bhutan.

Druk Wangyal Cafe.

After visiting this place I thought there can not be any other place prettier than this, but I was proved wrong when I reached Paro and went for a hike to the most iconic attractions of Bhutan, ‘The Paro Taksang’.

The Paro Valley.

 Paro is a less commercialised place, unlike Thimphu Paro has a more traditional feel to it. The difference between the two cities can be clearly seen. But there is no doubt the natural beauty of the two places are beyond comparison. Our guide Kado advised us to take a good night sleep and wake up early in the morning, as the most adventurous part of our journey to Bhutan waits for us. After such beautiful experience we could only scream for more. However, little did we know that it is not just a hike but a hike of a lifetime. The night came with a cold shower of rain and the city of Paro went to sleep.

Paro Taksang , with the first ray of sunlight we had to wake up and prepare ourselves for the ultimate experience. It was almost 10:30 am when we reached the foot of the mountain and arranged for required gears i.e. a stick to hold your grip in the mountain. We saw people coming down already and looking at us. We decided to hurry up, as the Paro Taksang is situated at the cliff of a mountain 7000 feet high up from the valley floor and then again to the Tiger’s Nest 3000  feet above. Altogether it is 10000 feet above the Sea level. It was a two hour climb to the monestry but for us it seems to be like forever. Every 5-10 min. We were running out of breath and taking rest. The weather was also not helping with constant raining and slippery soil it was difficult to climb at a constant pace. Somehow we reached the canteen on the half way to the monastery at 2 pm. For once all of us thought by looking at the monastery from the canteen, “let’s go back, it is impossible to reach there”. It was already late for us to go there, even if we reach we may not be able to return as the woods gets dark soon. I almost emptied two of my inhalers to reach this far I am not going anywhere but to the Taksang. The local tour guides accompanying tourists had a chat with us and encouraged us to have some faith in Buddha and continue the climb. I wondered so many people form so may different places are here, Korea, France, Israel, Japan, China etc. whenever someone crossed us said ‘Common you can do it you are almost there!! ’. Some even encouraged us in their own language and we did connected we also soughed with thrill and joy.  After walking for hours and tracking uphill, we finally saw the first view point. Our joy knew no bound and tears rolled down my eyes. It was such a feeling that cannot be described but can only be felt.

As we went down and entered into the canyon, a one hundred meter high water fall at the deep end of the canyon appears immediately in front, with the path traversing directly across its base. Once down and across the front of the water fall the steps start back up toward the Tiger’s Nest once again, over 700 steps in all. Finally, everything is worth once you reach the Monastery. The view from that mountain cliff is a view of a lifetime.

The Paro Taksang also known as the Tiger’s nest monastery, Paro.

Once we reached their we had to submit our cameras and shoes to the guards and then enter the  Tiger’s Nest and climb the several levels within, visiting three temples and wheezing at the unreal view. The cave where the Guru Padmasambabva is said to have meditated is cold, people say they can still hear the chill breath coming from the cave. We went inside every temple and lighted oil lamps and burned some insane sticks to seek the blessings of lord Buddha and guru Rinpoche. Silently I wondered inside my heart may be this is what people call once in a lifetime. I could have never imagine myself coming to a place climbing 7000 feet and praying to Buddha in Bhutan. Meanwhile, here I am in between the sky and the earth gazing at a green valley.

We walked back with a happy heart as we bid goodbye to this magnificent wonder. The way back is always easier, but not for us. The dark comes early to the mountains, walking on sloppy mud filled cuts in low light almost scared us. We encountered a stranger (a friendly Dog), appearing out of the forest. This stranger was no less than an angel; it accompanied us till the darkness completely took over. It was 7:30pm and we had only mobile torch to accompany us. Finally, a familiar voice appeared from behind the woods. It was Kado calling for us, we almost freaked out in Darkness but as soon as we hard Kado we felt alive and safe. We reached the valley and laughed with joy. What an end to an epic journey.  That night I slept like a child, no thought, no dream. Despite the cold, rain and a little discomfort I finally found a place that brought me back my inner peace.

I cannot thank enough my friends and my soul mate for taking me on such an exciting journey that I am and I will cherish for a lifetime, and of course Kado for being such an amazing guide and friend to us. At the end all that I can say this is not the last visit but it has just started. Until next time  Thank You Bhutan…

My green friends from Bhutan…

 

Have you Visited Bhutan? if not hurry pack your bags and leave your worries at home… if you enjoyed the post please let me know. comments and suggestions are welcome.

with love

Jinty…

 

 

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