Tag Archives: Bhutan

Bhutan Travelogue: Part 2

Takhtsang

Takhtsang

One of my friends commented on the previous post that it starts like a travel diary but ends up asking some questions. The Qs. are more rhetorical than intended to get any actual answers. The fact is the trip to Bhutan raised some Qs. in my mind and I wanted to know if the same happened with some of you who have travelled abroad.

Continuing with the travelogue…

The evening of day 1 saw us strolling down the streets of Thimpu, absorbing its sights and sounds. Lord Buddha is seated on a mountain nearby- gazing serenely on his people below and keeping them safe from harm.

Legend has it that a mythical dragon roamed the skies and his roars caused thunder. Slept with all fingers and toes crossed and with fervent prayers that the Thunder Dragon be kind to us as the country was drenched in unseasonal rains the previous week. This would also put a dampener on our plans to visit Takhtsang (see pic above). Luckily our prayers were answered and the next day started with clear blue skies and not a hint of rain.

Nearly 3 hours later with an arduous climb through dense forests brought us to Takhtsang- built on the sheer edge of a cliff at a height of 10,000 feet. Wide-eyed and speechless, we could only marvel at this architectural wonder. The people responsible for building this were surely possessed with some divine powers to be able to build it- so high, and so remote, one wonders how they carried the tools, implements, building blocks, etc. up there, or later provisions for the monks who inhabited the monastery.

Day 3: Destination- Punakha. En-route we passed through Doch La (La translates to ‘pass’- a gap between 2 mountain ranges) with its 109 chortens (Buddhist memorial) built by the 4th king’s 1st wife for the king’s protection and to honor the soldiers who had laid down their lives in an earlier war. Quite heartwarming.

It is said that on a clear day, you can see 7-8 distinct mountain ranges from Doch la. Despite an overcast sky and mild drizzle, we could get a commanding view of the Himalayas, standing tall and steadfast to protect the kingdom against any threats.

The drive to Punakha was through some of the loveliest forests I have ever come across, covered with various alpine flora and pink and purple hued-rhododendrons, topped with a fragrant bouquet of pine that makes you wish time stood still…

Punakha is barely a small town but is important from a historical point of view since it is the site of the largest and oldest ‘dzong’- giant structures meant to serve as fortresses, administrative and religious centers. The Punakha dzong is also where the royal wedding of the current king and queen was held recently. The main attraction for us was the dzong of course, and indulging in some adventure sports of the aquatic variety: white-water rafting!!

Bright and early the next day and all geared up to tackle the rapids on the Mo chu (‘chu’ translates to river). Bhutan is famous more for the mountain treks than water sports. The Mo chu has intermediate level rapids (level 3 with level 5 being the toughest)and some of our group were getting queasy at the thought of it. However all fears were allayed by our guide- a pro who had rafted in some of the toughest rapids in Asia. An exhilarating, adrenalin pumping ride topped by a swim in the ice-cold water!!

This had to be what life was about!

Some more sightseeing later, Thimpu was where we were headed for what Indians probably do best- bargain hunting; and some souvenir shopping.

From the highest point in Thimpu, the city looks spectacular at night- little twinkling lights in the valley, the Thimpu dzong (seat of the Parliament) artfully lit up in red and gold, the Buddha on the mountain…

Unwilling to leave the many splendors of this magical land, but immensely grateful for getting an opportunity to visit it, it was however time to head back to India (or reality?).

This country brings many superlatives to mind yet each seems fitting. Druk Yul- a beautiful, many splendored land. A land in transition, with much to learn from its past and look forward to in its future. I only hope that whatever changes come they are in harmony with the ways of old and the best of the new.

As they say in Dzongkha, Tashi Delek! (May good things come your way)

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To hear the roar of the Thunder Dragon!

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A trip to Bhutan

I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit the land called Druk Yul in Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan) in April 2013. Bhutan is not yet high on the tourist map since it caters mainly to high-end travelers. To protect the beauty and pristine environment, the number of visitors to Bhutan are restricted through the high cost of travel, star hotels, visa permits, etc.. India has signed trade agreements with Bhutan, thus being an Indian made it easier to travel there. However, we still needed a separate permit (for both entry and exit) for each district that we visited! (Looks like everyone is suspicious of Indians).

Mid-air the pilot brought our attention to the lofty Himalayan mountains- we were lucky enough to spot Mt. Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu.

As we began our descent to Bhutan, deep valleys covered with forests of pine and cypress enfolded by snow-capped mountains gave us a glimpse of what was in store for us. However, nothing could prepare us for the awe-inspiring sights as we stepped out of the plane. We landed at Paro, an hour’s drive from the capital city of Thimpu, courtesy Druk Air or the Royal Bhutan Airlines. The airport was a small one built in the traditional Bhutanese style of a sloping wooden roof supported by wooden beams jutting out, painted with sacred Buddhist symbols. It is impressive to note that as a way of preserving the traditional architectural designs, the law mandates that all buildings be built in this fashion.

An hour’s drive on some very high quality roads (thanks to the Border Roads Organization- Indian army), along the Paro chu (Chu in Dzongkha translates to river) brought us to Thimpu. Check-in formalities and a refreshing cup of coffee later, we were all set to explore the city.

However, being the National Election Day everything was shut down till evening thus forcing us to return to our rooms for lunch and an afternoon nap.

Democracy has been introduced in Bhutan only a few years ago, and it is important to note that it was the initiative of the 4th King to open up the economy and give power in the hands of his people. The royal family is revered as gods and this decision made the king even more beloved to his people.

Bhutan seems like something from the pages of Grimm’s fairytales- a small and beautiful kingdom ruled by a benevolent king and his beautiful queen, who take care of their people and who in turn are loved and respected by their subjects.

The people are content, without being ambitious or greedy and still follow their age-old customs and beliefs. They are ardent followers of Buddhism and law-abiding citizens.

Thimpu has no traffic lights or speed breakers. Pedestrians are given the right of way and everyone follows the speed limit. In India, where roads are treated as runways and sidewalks as dedicated two-wheeler lanes, traffic lights which no one pays heed to and pedestrians trying to navigate among this chaos- it were refreshing and surprising to see the traffic and civic sense of the Bhutanese people.

Why is it that we find it so difficult to follow rules? We need someone to constantly drill them into our heads and when someone tries to do it, we feel offended? It’s not rocket science, is it?

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