“ If you want to fly give up everything that weighs you down”
Bhutan was inhabited by people as early as 4,000 years back. There are archaeological evidences indicating settlements in Bhutan dating back to 2,000-1,500 BC. Bhutan in ancient times had many different names; it was known as Druk Yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon in the 17th century. The outside world however called it Bhutan, derived from a Sanskrit word Bhu-Uttan meaning ‘High Land.’
Bonism was the main religion in Bhutan before the arrival of Buddhism. It was only in the 8th century that an Indian saint Guru Padmasambhava, popularly know as Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
Many warlords battling constantly with one another ruled Bhutan until Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal from Tibet unified the county in 1616 AD. He established a dual system of governance – the Choe Sid (Spiritual and Religious tradition) where temporal affairs are looked after by the King and spiritual matters by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot)In earlier days, the Desi appointed by the Lhengye Tshog (Council of Ministers) and Zhung Dratshang (Central Monastic Body)looked after the temporal affairs.
After the long period of civil strife that followed the death of Zhabdrung in 1651, power was finally consolidated with the crowning of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary monarch in 1907.The monarchical system continued till 2008 before the Fourth King stepped down and introduced democracy in Bhutan. Today it is a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.
Bhutan is nestled in the Eastern Himalayas between two of its powerful neighbours India and China.The population of the country is little over eight lakhs according to the latest census in 2018.
My visit to Bhutan was just on a whim though I wanted to visit but it was not in my priority list and today I am glad that I decided to visit this beautiful country with beautiful ,friendly and happy people. Bhutan measures prosperity by taking into consideration the citizens’ happiness levels and not the gross domestic product
I decided to join the WOW group for the trip, there were 18 vivacious ladies including the WOW Buddy.The bonding started from Mumbai Airport itself ,our Flight to Paro was from Delhi. Bhutan has only one International Airport ie The Paro International Airport and from India flights are only from Delhi & Kolkatta.(There are various ways you can travel to Bhutan which I will write at the end of my article in the section Tips to Travel.) Paro International Airport is one of the most challenging Airports,out of the eight very skilled pilots in the world four of them are employed by Druk Air the official Bhutanese carrier so we were in safe hands 🙂
We were advised by our Buddy to take the left side window seats so there was a clamour for the prized seats other passengers were also aware of the breathtaking view from the left side of the aircraft, although we were at Delhi Airport at 02.30 hrs(the flight was at 0630 hrs) I somehow was at the end of the queue so by the time my turn came the window seats were gone and I had to content myself with an aisle seat, my neighbours were a British couple and to my utter disappointment gentleman’s camera was on the window from the time the plane took off, frustrated I left my seat and went towards the front seats I was completely overjoyed to find my friend( we met at the Delhi Airport ) sitting at the window I was delighted and I am thankful for her generosity to let me sit at the window. I took some spectacular shots of the Himalayas..
The pilot also announced the names of the peaks we also identified the Mt Everest. Flying with Druk Air was a pleasant experience the Airhostesses were charming and polite.We landed at 9 am Bhutanese time( they are 30 mins ahead of us.)As soon as we came out of the aircraft we were greeted by the pure & fresh mountain air.I greedily inhaled as much as I could to compensate for the polluted air we breathe back home in Mumbai.
We were greeted by the warm smiles of our Buddy Snigdha and our guide for the tour Mr Saajan and the driver Bahadur aka Steak.Our luggages were loaded and we waited for some time as the Kolkatta flight had not yet landed.We had a chance to interact with ladies from different parts of the country Mumbai,Delhi Banglore, Cochin,Kolkatta and Chennai.After settling down and greeting each other we embarked on our journey at about 1030 hrs to Thimpu the capital of Bhutan it is approximately 40 kms and takes about 50 minutes since the terrain is hilly one cannot drive very fast.
Our first stop was at the oldest iron Bridge Tachogang Lhakhang.The bridge is 900 years old and was built by Lam Thangthong over River Paro.
We had to walk down a km downhill after crossing the bridge there is a temple.
We also had our first experience of Bhutanese Prayer Wheel. Bhutan.Prayer Wheels are cylindrical wheels containing scrolls that are repeatedly inscribed with mantras.By turning the prayer wheel clockwise it is believed that the mantras are activated and released.The mantras are said to be purify negativity generate compassion remove barriers to enlightment and bring benefit to everyone.Traditionally the mantra “Om Mani Padre Hum” is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel.Meaning that in dependence on practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom you can transform your impure body,speech and mind into the pure exalted body,speech and mind of a Buddha.
On the left side of the entrance of the temple I noticed objects which looked like cup cakes they were however ashes of dead people which is carefully preserved for the salvation of their souls..At the entrance we saw small stones kept on top of each other it signified the number of times people visited the temple.
The white Cup cakes and the stones piled up by visitors
A steep flight of stairs takes you to the top of the temple.The main relics of the temple are Lord Buddha,Guru Padmasambhava,Chenrizig and Zhabdrung.
The Colourful Motifs on the ceiling and the paintings of the Deities
There are colourful motifs on the ceilings of the temple.From the window of the temple we could see another bridge which is now closed.
After taking some photos we decended one by one as the steps were a bit tricky.
After we all got into the bus we proceeded to our next stop which was the Chhuzom- Chhu means river and zom means join,is the place where Paro Chhu and Wong Chhu(Thimpu river) meet.
The Chuzom is also a major road junction after taking a few photos we returned to the bus and continued with our onward journey to Thimpu.
On the way we passed a number of villages notable among them were Kharbje and Sitsina.We also passed a Hydro Plant.
Group Photos Outside the Temple
We reached Thimpu at about 12 pm and headed to the mobile shops to get the local sim you can get one for Rs 250 with a talktime of Rs 200 and can use data on the same card.After all of us got our sims we proceeded to the Clock tower one of the landmarks of Thimpu.
The clock tower square is located below Norzin Lam,Thimphu above the national football stadium in the heart of the capital.The Clock-tower has a typical Bhutanese architectural outlook with rich Bhutanese carvings and paintings. There are traditional hand crafted dragon with golden painting on all the four faces of the tower which symbolizes the county as an independent dragon kingdom. The tower has beautiful paintings and carvings of flowers which add more magnificence to the tower. The shops, restaurants and hotels in the clock tower square have a blend of fine traditional and modern architectural Bhutanese design with multi-coloured wood frontages, small arched windows, and sloping roofs. The buildings around the square are all small three storied structures. Water fountains and traditional Bhutanese Mani Lhalhor (prayer wheels) make the place an ideal location to catch up with Thimpu.Prayer wheels are seen almost everywhere around the country which is a Bhutanese way of life and belief that turning them brings good luck.
The square often serves as a platform for various events and activities such as fund-raising events, movie award ceremony, trade fairs, live musical shows and many more.There is also a small play ground opposite to the tower where kids can play. The square has even played host to the Indo-Bhutan friendship car rally.We were dropped here for lunch there are number of restaurants like Zombala,,Bhutanese Kitchen,Druk Namgyal.
We all chose to eat at Druk.It’s a 4 star hotel with pleasing staff and good service the food I would rate average.They have Indian,Bhutanese and Continental on their menu card.
Being the first day we stuck to Indian food though it was 4 star hotel the prices were not very high.We(My roomie and myself, at that point I didn’t know she would be my roomie but we just decided to be together) ordered a paneer dishand phulkas.The phulkas(Indian Bread) were served hot and soft the size although were a bit small.We were asked to assemble at 2pm, we had finished early, after walking around for sometime we sat on the steps and watched a local band rehearsing for a show in the evening.After lunch it was time to check into our hotel.We were booked into Hotel Amodhara for a two night stay.
After reaching our Hotel we were welcomed with a hot cup of tea,I was surprised that Hemangi and myself were roomies although we met for the first time in Delhi Airport we instantly clicked so we were happy when we were allotted the same room.After settling down Hemangi and self decided to take a stroll outside the hotel the crisp mountain air greeted us which I quite enjoyed after the sticky and warm weather of Mumbai.
We returned back to prepare for the much awaited Pink night of WOW club where in we all dress in Pink and lot of wine flows accompanied with music and dance and an intro session, it is a kind of ice breaking session as all of us were meeting each other for the first time.
Intro Session during the Pink Night
We all gathered at the designated time each one looking beautiful and radiant the hall was resplendent with different hues of pink.After the interesting intro session where you had to give a word which describes you and then start the intro.Now that was difficult ! but we helped each other, a lot of wild dancing followed.It was an evening full of fun and frolic.
It was soon dinner time so we all headed towards the restaurant..After Dinner we all called it a day ,since we had not slept the previous night I crashed into the bed and soon fell asleep.
The second Day on the itinerary was Thimpu sight seeing and all of us were in the Traveller at the designated time ie 9.30 am after a sumptuous breakfast.Our Guide greeted us Kuzu zangpo la which means hello Or Good morning.”La” is suffixed as a token of respect.Our first stop was the Buddha point.As we proceeded on our journey Sajjan gave us information about his country.
Bhutan as we know is land of Buddhism mostly people are vegetarians.Non Vegetarian food is also consumed but they do not kill animals meat and fish is imported from West Bengal.They use animals for dairy products.Our guide is however a nonvegetarian and to quote in his own words he consumes everything except “meisha” and “geisha”(humans and dogs).The government provides free education and health care to its people.The government of Bhutan promotes organic farming and by 2020 aims to convert the whole agricultural area to Organic Agriculture.
Buddha Dordenma Statue(Buddha Point)
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8 inch tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue apart from commemorating the 60th Birthday of its fourth king Jigme Signe Wanchuk also fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world..The entire project cost is 100 million US dollars. 27 million dollars were donated by a Singaporean Bussinessman.The materials were imported from Hongkong.
There are strict dress codes whenever you enter any Dzongs or Monasteries in Bhutan.Legs and arms should be fully covered. Caps and sunglases over your head are not permitted.
We reached Buddha Point at about 10 am..There is no entry fee charged .There was a strong wind as we made our way,on reaching the top one gets a specatular view of the Thimpu Valley. I was awestruck when we reached the gigantic Sakyamuni glittering in the morning sunlight the left hand touching earth and the right hand holding a begging bowl.The third eye is made up of diamonds.
All around the statue are Dakinis there are forty of them they are also made of bronze and gold plated.After taking many photographs of the Buddha,Dakinis and the spectacular Thimpu Valley we ventured into the meditation Hall.
There was a small prayer room with a throne near the steps to the meditation hall but it was locked so we just peeped inside.Photography was not permitted inside the meditation hall.Inside the meditation hall there are huge statutes of Buddha and his various manifestations.
The glided walls are lined with thousands of small Buddha Statues,huge thankas and elaborate mandalas.The iconography is stunning.
We spent about an hour in the premises after this we headed to our next destination –The General Post Office where we got self made stamps
The procedure is to select a photo of yours on your phone or camera which you want as a stamp(instead of Gandhiji or other leaders) and give it to the lady at the counter.You have to pay Rs 360 for 12 stamps and lo behold you have a stamp of Bhutan with your photo.I bought some picture postcards and put stamps on it and posted to my son,and two of my friends the post cards have not yet been delivered we were assured they would be delivered in seven days !!..We spent some time here as everyone wanted to try out this unique and novel idea.There are also gift items and artefacts which you can buy at reasonable rate.
After this we were dropped for lunch at Clock Tower.I was impressed to observe that there are no traffic lights and no one honks pedestrians cross through only the zebra crossing and traffic waits for people to cross a very European way of life ! We first went to the Bhutanese kitchen but they had a buffet with fixed menu so we decided to go to Druk
This time I tried non vegetarian and a Bhutanese dish.Jha sha Tsheom( chicken stew with chillies and ginger) and Kewa Datse(Potaoes and cottage cheese cooked with green chillies) and Red rice.I recommend all these dishes as they were delicious.We ordered momos which were nothing special I expected momos made with rice flour but they were the usual ones made with maida or refined flour.The hearty meal cost us only Rs 525 per person( Five of us shared the meal) including tips.
We assembled by 2pm and by 2.30 pm reached the Textile Museum.There are no entry fees and it is open 9-4 pm Monday –Saturday. The Museum reflects the Bhutanese architecture.There are a number of steps to the museum building. Established in 2001 under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck,the National Textile Museum showcases a wide range of beautiful Bhutanese textiles including the crowns and attire used by the Monarchs and members of the Royal Family. It also introduces visitors to major weaving techniques and local style of dress.
A short film on the museum was shown to us after that we proceeded to the galleries the experience was enriching we not only saw the beautiful dresses on display but also gems and jewellery of the royals.The Kira broaches and hair pins were indeed fascinating.
We now headed to our next destination the Changangkha Temple Immensely popular amongst the local Bhutanese, the Changangkha Lhakhang temple is perched regally upon a ridge above central Thimpu, south east of Motithang. Established in the 12th century by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, this is one of the oldest fortress – monasteries and is a long, uphill climb but the stairs are well-made and it isn’t a difficult journey.
A pleasant breeze accompanied us to the temple.As you enter you put your cameras and mobile phones inside your bag for photography is not permitted. After removing our shoes,we all spinned the large prayer wheel which is at the entrance.After entering the temple we all made a semi circle and sat down and closed our eyes and meditated for about five minutes I could feel a sense of calm and well being.After that our guide told us about the deities and the traditions of the temple.Parents come here to name their children and to seek the blessings of the deity Tamdrin for protection in the inner sanctum, a part of the monastery that only the Bhutanese are allowed into. These children then return every year to pay homage and offer thanksgiving at the temple. The temple walls are adorned throughout with small prayer wheels.Spinning these wheels on auspicious days is said to multiply the strength of your prayers and send them whirling upwards to the heavens.Parent also bring their sick children to the temple.I observed people offering fruits and milk in bottles I also observed Bhutanese pilgrims prostrating and seeking the blessings of the deities.
The Lhakhang houses Chenrizig as the main deity- an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation of Avolokitesawara as the central statue, truly an awe-inspiring sight. The deity is also referred to as Tara or Avalokiteswara or God of Compassion.To the extreme left is the warrior God ,it is said in times of wars the soldiers seek blessing of this deity.
Your wishes are also fulfilled here and as suggested by our guide we tried our luck with the dice which is kept at the entrance of the main temple, number 11 is the lucky number if you get it then be assured your wish will be fulfilled.Getting odd numbers is also considered lucky.Most of us tried some got lucky and some were not so lucky but we did with full faith .After this the monk offered us the saffron and camphor water you accept in your left palm touch to your lips and roll the rest over your head as we do in our temples in India. Make sure you don’t miss out on the picturesque view from the kora or the pilgrim path around the temple, with its charming black and gold prayer wheels.
That brought an end to the days sight seeing, the day was over but the evening just started for we had a birthday girl amongst us,the birthday cake was cut amongst singing and best wishes from all of us the wine was arranged by the birthday girl’s close friend,The cake and the wine both delicious and a heady combination 🙂
After this we headed to Mojo Park a pub in Clock Tower.The band Jameson was performing that evening.
All headed to the pub but they forgot to take me along as I came out of the washroom of the hotel in the lobby( I informed some of the members of the group that I was going to the washroom) I found the entire gang missing I ran out as I thought they must have just got out as it was just a few minutes but lo and behold they could not be seen either to the left or right side of the hotel entrance, now can you imagine my panic? but I took a deep breath and went inside the hotel asked the receptionist for directions and I carried on but I was still not sure, I found the traffic police looking at me so I went up to him asked for directions,he told me he did see a gang of women walking straight so I started walking straight the road seemed never ending(its 2 kms ) so to make sure I was in the correct route I called Our guide Saajan(Thank God I saved his number the previous day) to my relief I was on the correct route.All the time I wondered that how come no one missed me including the buddy(effect of the wine I guess 🙂 But I can assure you now that Thimpu is safe I walked alone with my bag along my neck which had all the documents and valuables but nothing untoward happened this is a big endorsement to Bhutan and her honest citizens.Finally I reached the Bhutanese Kitchen and I was not sure which way to go ,suddenly I remembered that I had The Buddy’s number written on a piece of paper I pulled out the paper and dialed her number it was busy !!! Now was she looking for me? I guess she was as I spotted her across the road.She realised when they reached the pub after a head count and found one missing ! she was in a panic and headed to search me, though she didn’t have to look for long,for I was just 2 minutes walk away from the pub.So that’s how my adventure ended on a happy note.I soothed my nerves with a drink and some snacks although I was not very hungry.
The live band came quite late after a few numbers some of us wanted to have dinner so we headed out looking for a place to eat as suggested by our buddy “Chulha” which was near our hotel a 2 km walk it was already 2045 and the place closes by 2100, so we decided to look for some place close to the pub, we took a right and started walking we had just walked for a few steps when we spotted Hotel Wangchuk they had a multi cuisine restaurant,we just barged in for, it was close to 9 pm ! thankfully they took our order which they said was the last one.On hearing this our antennae was up 🙂 and we quickly informed others that if they didn’t want to survive just on drinks and snacks they should hurry. At the same time , we requested the hotel staff, they were ready to oblige only, if they ordered the same stuff ! now that was strange for a 4 star hotel. But as told by our guide Bhutanese are not very business minded they prefer not to take stress and remain happy.The rest of the group agreed as they were thankful they were getting something to eat.I just ordered a corriander lemon soup which was delicious but the inviting aroma of the food ordered by others made me hungry and I too digged in to it.The dal fry Aaloo jeera, phulkas rice and the mixed vegetable was the best I tasted in Bhutan we never got the same taste anywhere I think all of us will agree to that.The rates are also pocket friendly.
After this we all got together and walked back together extra care was taken to keep track of all members of the group.But all is well that ends well.
Some More Photos……
Although it was my second day into the country I did not panic as Thimpu is not a very big city and it is easy to find your way, although it was night time I found it quite safe to walk around.After reaching the hotel we all bid good night and called it a day as the next day was an exciting road trip to Punakha via Dochulla Pass.
Ending this by beautiful quote by Buddha
“ The past is already gone, the future is not yet here,there is only one moment of you to live”
…………To be Contiued