We are now in Nepal; quirky Internet connectivity made it difficult to do justice to beautiful Bhutan, so this post will be a quick collection of photos and memories of Happy Land.
A few years ago, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer was chosen as one of the seven new wonders of the world. Thimphu’s gigantic Buddha didn’t exist at that time. If it had, I’m convinced Buddha would be giving Rio’s statue some serious competition.
The base of the statue contains a temple, filled with hundreds of thousands of smaller Buddhas, butter lamps and butter sculptures. Yes, you read that right–sculptures are made of colored butter!
Dedicated to teaching Bhutanese arts and crafts, this school focuses on 18 traditional crafts including painting, woodcarving, metal work and embroidery.
Whenever I visit a country, particularly one whose economy is dependent on the tourist trade, I like to drop some dollars by buying gifts, so a stop in the school’s small shop was a definite requirement.
Handmade paper is another traditional Bhutanese craft. We watched the entire process: the raw materials being delivered, heated, compressed, made into sheets and dried.
Notice how hard these young women are working? They were all smiling as they were lifting those heavy bundles! And yes, I most certainly did make a purchase at their tiny gift shop.
The modern world is rapidly creeping into Bhutan. Construction is everywhere. But it isn’t just new buildings and new technology. Since the introduction of television in 1999, the western world has slowly been influencing Bhutan’s youth.
Thimphu’s clock tower plaza, right beside our hotel was the site of what looked like an auto exhibit, but it was a whole lot more.
Young Bhutanese shed their traditional clothes, donning jeans and tee shirts to dance to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”. Unfortunately, my camera’s software is incompatible with my iPad, so you won’t be able to see the beautiful young girls I videoed dancing, but with any luck, I’ll be able to link a YouTube video of the boys doing their hip hop routine when I get back home.
You may be wondering what kind of audience the entertainment drew. Well, wonder no more, because when my personal paparazzi used his long lens to capture me unawares, he also photographed the crowd.
A bit sparse, no?
Much of the road between Thimphu and Punakha is under construction, making travel slooooow and very dusty. We stopped at the Dochula Pass on the way to and from Punakha.
The Dochula Pass memorial honors the 15 Bhutanese that were killed fighting the Indian separatists from Assam. The separatists were creeping across the Bhutanese border, creating training camps. The fourth king actually led his troops into battle and was victorious. No wonder he is so beloved!
The pass is 10,000 feet above sea level, so Tashi thought it would be good practice for the Tiger’s Nest if we took a hike in the Royal Botanical Park that adjoins the memorial.
The jacaranda were also in bloom, outside the Palace of Great Happiness.
This is the entrance to the Palace’s temple. Inside Tashi gave us a fantastic lecture about Buddhism, using the artwork that covered the temple walls as an ancient Power Point Presentation.
We also visited a nunnery located atop a mountain, where I purchased some bracelets from this sweet 21 year old nun, who spoke perfect English.
No visit to Punakha would be complete without a stop at the Chhimi Lhakhang Monastery. To get there you need to hike through rice fields, a village and up a hill.
This monastery was founded by Drupka Kinley, the Divine Madman, whose “Thunderbolt of Wisdom”, also known as his “Flaming Thunderbolt” , brought his own special form of enlightenment to local women. Infertile couples visit the monastery where the woman is doinked on the head with a huge wooden “thunderbolt”. Could that be the Bhutanese version of IVF?
The Divine Madman is the inspiration behind the artwork that festoons the area’s houses.
Although not part of the “official” itinerary, our wonderful guide thought we might enjoy a visit to the 17th century village of Rinchen Gong. These villagers are definitely not used to having visitors! Our arrival was quite an occasion, especially for the children, who chased our van up the steep dirt road.
Our last stop was in Paro, where we climbed to the Tiger’s Nest and visited Bhutan’s very first temple. It was built in the 7th century by Tibet’s great ruler, Songtsen Gampo, and it is where he pinned the left foot of an ogress who once covered all of Bhutan and part of Tibet.