After two days in Thimpu, we were still adjusting to the dramatic change from the mainly Hindu cultures of Nepal and India to this very different Buddhist kingdom. Bhutan is currently governed by a lineage of “Dragon Kings,” starting in 1907, who have done much to bring their society into the 21st century with the rest of the world….but only at a rate they see fit, keeping their culture and traditions alive, and attempting to keep their society safe, just, and ‘happy.’
Our guide Ugyen (Who bears the name of Bhutan’s first great king) had planned for us to ride out of Thimpu and up over the nearly 1o,000 foot pass by Dochula Chorten to the city of Punakha. Unfortunately, I had gotten another horrific stomach bug, presumably from our time passing through West Bengal, so I couldn’t make it all the way to the top. Still, it was a a beautiful ride, and the last time we would get to ride the highways of Asia.
From Punakha, we first went to see Chimi Lhakhang, also known as “The Temple of the Divine Mad Monk.” The “Divine Madman’s” name was Drukpa Kunley, is the patron saint of Bhutan, and his story is quite the intriguing one. He is credited for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet, and known for his unorthodox ways of teaching enlightenment…..supposedly to shock the then prudish Tibetan clergy out of their narrow minded ways. One such way was by painting phalluses on the walls of buildings for protection. The people of Bhutan definitely believed this, because we saw them all over the place. Many women go to his temple to receive a fertility blessing, which we got as well, by being touched on the forehead with a wooden bow and arrow and carved wooden penis, the original one carved by Drukpa Kunley himself! Go ahead, put your jokes in the comments.
After Chimi Lhakhang we got to see the Punakha Dzong, constructed in 1637, which is where the central government of Punaka is located. Over the doorway were some of the most incredible bee hives we had ever seen, and beautiful murals were painted everywhere. We also hiked up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal temple through fields of rice and passing by friendly Bhutanese farmers. The artistic style of Bhutanese architecture is so beautiful, you just can’t help but be impressed.
After Punakha we headed for Paro, our final stop on the tour. In Paro we would see our final temple, the Taktsang Monastery, aka the “Tiger’s Nest,” perhaps one of the most visually impressive temples due to the breathtaking location, and one of the most sacred religious sites in Bhutan. Supposedly the site had been visited by Guru Rinpoche, seated upon a tigers back, in the 8th century. He subdued the local demon, then meditated in cave for three months. Around that cave is where the temple was built. The pictures are pretty, but you really have to be there to feel the energy and power.
And lest not forget the Takins. Found only in the Himalaya, these funny looking creatures have their own mythology. The story goes that the Mad Monk, Drupka Kunley, took the bones of a goat and a cow, put them together, and grew one of these little fellas. Pretty darn cute if you ask us. They were so interesting, we just had to stick them in here.
Like I had mentioned in the beginning of the post, this part of the trip was very different from India and Nepal. In India and Nepal there was more struggle, surprise, adventure, and unknown….in Bhutan we finally got to relax and be immersed in Bhutan’s rich culture and stories, and it’s amazing architecture. We really appreciated that. The day after the Tiger’s Nest we were on a plane back to crazy but lovable New Delhi, and the next day we were on a 24 hour flight back to America. Asia had so many things to teach us and experiences to give, its hard to put into words. I can only hope that the people we met gained as much from meeting us as we did from meeting them.
Thanks for reading our tale.
-Pamela & Nateon Ajello