“Happiness will never come to those who fail to appreciate what they already have” ============== Buddha
The next morning was the exciting road trip to Punakha,the designated time for departure was at 9 am and the check out time from the hotel was 0830 hours. My roomie and myself we were totally in sync with each other, both early risers we were the first ones for breakfast at 0730 hrs, we had a leisurely breakfast(We had packed so there was no hurry).With head counts done we started our onward journey with our bubbly buddy and cheerful guide.After the customary greetings Saajan(Guide) went over with us the Day’s Itinerary.The first stop would be the Dochula Pass next was the Chimi Lakhang also known as the fertility temple followed by lunch and the last stop would be the Punakha Dzong and thereafter we would check into our hotel in Punakha.We were booked for two days stay at Meri Puensum Resort.
We started at the designated time the Pass is about 30 kms and it took us about 45 minutes to reach, so we were there by 0945 hrs..The drive from Thimpu is very picturesque with Poplar,Oak and Magnolia trees in full bloom adding to its natural beauty.On the way our guide briefed us about the Pass.
The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass on the road from Thimpu to Punkha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas were built in honour of the 108 soldiers who lost their lives during the military operation in 2003.Apart from the chortens there is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (head of the state of Bhutan).
The Pass although not the highest one but holds the distinction of as one of the most picturesque one.We could not see the majestic Himalayas due to the fog engulfing the entire area.
We were all prepared for the dip in temperature it must have been between 1 – 2 degrees.But that didn’t prevent us from enjoying the panoramic views and capturing them on our cameras.There is a café where you can have coffee and pasteries.The Café also has a reasonably clean washroom.
Three of us ventured up on the hills where we found beautiful meditation caves,we sat there for some time.It is indeed a right place to meditate with the heady fragrance of the flowers not sure of the name, but looked like jasmine they were white in colour.
I wish I was able to capture the fragrance as I captured the flowers on my camera and share it with you.The experience was I would say calm and blissful where I wanted time to stop !!!.I am so glad that we walked up the steep climb otherwise I would have missed this experience. We came down to find Sajjan(Guide) capturing some jump shots we also joined in the fun.
We were there for about 1 ½ hours and started from the place at 11.15 am we reached Rinchenling Cafeteria at about 1140 pm.
Since we had an early breakfast we were famished, and were glad to find that the food was ready.We made a bee line for the fish curry Bengalis in particular were happy when they were told that Rohu fish is on the menu(they get the meat/fish from West Bengal) but we were very disappointed with the preparation,the curry was okay but the fish was hard and leathery as if they forgot to defrost the fish !!!.So here is a word of advice avoid this particular cafeteria.The vegetarians were equally disappointed, the only saving grace was the Ezay a kind of red dried chilli pickle, it was hot but delicious I mixed it with the the rather bland curry and ate it with rice.We also ordered Canned Schweppes Ginger ale(Rs 150 each)The Ginger ale was sooo refreshing.
After winding up lunch we made our way to Chimi Lhakhang or the fertility temple at about 1230 pm, its about 15-20 minutes dirt trail, on the way we found many shops and also roadside stalls selling colourful phalluses or penises.In Bhutan many households have giant Penis on the entrance of their homes to ward off evil spirits,malicious gossip and promote fertility.
For centuries people in this tiny landlocked country have sworn spiritual allegiance to a divine human organ the “phallus” or as we know it as “Penis”.Anyone who has been in Bhutan can recount sightings as graffiti on walls, some small some big colourful and some even having eyes and tied around with ribbons and yes all of them erect !!!. In souvenier shops you would find them made of all types of material.We found one road side hawker carving one with wood.However now as Bhutan opens up to the World the ancient tradition is somewhat embarrassing to the present generation this is attributed mainly to the influence of Western Culture as expressed by an old man.Some tourists are shocked and some are amused but since I was aware I was expecting to see them, and respected the Age old Bhutanese tradition.
We reached the temple at about 1250 pm and sat under the huge Banyan tree and waited for the other members to reach.After all assembled our guide narrated the story of Chimi Lakhang.It is said that Drukpa Kunley also known as Divine Madman or Mad Saint subdued a demon of Dochu La trapped it in a rock at the location close to where the chorten now stands. Around the time when Drukpa Kuenley first visited Bhutan, a demoness called Loro Duem resided on a high pass presently called Dochu La. She terrorised all who tried to cross the pass and the people in the valley lived in fear. Two more demonesses lived on two smaller passes and the three of them caused people misery and suffering. When Drukpa Kuenley heard of this, he hunted down the demoness at Dochu La and the three demonesses recognising Drukpa Kuenley’s power ran down the valley and the other two demonesses dissolved into the body of Loro Duem.When she reached the plains of Lobesa, she transformed herself into a dog to avoid detection. But Lam Drukpa Kuenley recognised the demoness dog, killed it and buried it under the mound of a hill. Drukpa Kuenley’s cousin Lam Ngawang Choegyal later built a Lhakhang in honour of his illustrious relative and named it Chimmi Lhakhang.
Lam Drukpa Kuenley(1455-1570) was an enlightened Buddhist master who personified the true essence of “Vajarayana” tradition is also known as “Crazy Wisdom”.This is the profound wisdom that transcends the mundane cultures of religion.
Devotees fondly call Lam Drukpa Kuenley the “Divine Madman” because of his non-conventional and outrageous style of teaching.He deliberately portrayed the image of a vagabond and wandered around the countryside indulging in song and dance alcohol and women,hunting and feasting.In reality what it meant was that he was beyond the norms and convention established by human Society.Lam Drukpa Kuenley was a social critic who taunted the hypocrisy of the established orders,including the monastic order.Thus the use of his phallus as a flaming thunderbolt weapon symbolises the discomfort that society experiences when facing the truth.
He also advocated the use of phallus symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the roof.The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. This wooden phallus is decorated with a silver handle and is used to bless people who visit the monastery on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessings to beget children.The tradition at the monastery is to strike pilgrims on the head with a 10-inch (25 cm) wooden phallus(erect penis).
Before entering the temple we removed our shoes and put our phones and cameras inside our bags.We sat in a semi circle.We found the locals making water, candy and wine offerings and prostrating three times at the shrine.There is a larger than life statue of the Divine Madman,his older brother Ngawang Chogyal and the deity of the Valley Chokimo who was once a demon but subdued and transformed into a Buddhist by the Divine Madman.There were also paintings on the walls depicting stories of his life.Before leaving we took some photographs of the temple.We started our way down at about 1315 hrs.The washrooms here are clean and we were told to use them as our next destination the Punakha Dzong did not have proper washrooms.
We left Chimi Lhakhang around 1345 we had a photo stop on the highway and reached the Dzong at 2.15 pm. The entry ticket is Rs 300 per person and the timings are 9am – 5pm pm. Bags and cameras are allowed.But a strict dress code is followed (which I had earlier mentioned in the first part of the article).The Bhutanese men wear gho and a white scarf known as the Kabney.There are different coloured Kabneys,for the Royals- Yellow, Minister – Orange, Judge – Green and White – common man.The women wear Kira and the scarf worn by them are called Rachus.
Punakha Dzong in western Bhutan is considered the most beautiful Dzong in the country, it is also the most important Dzong in Bhutanese history. Dzong means a Fort.Punakha was the capital of Bhutan from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in all of Bhutan and one of the most majestic and famous structures in the country. It took only about a year to finish the building of this Dzong, but by far the most impressive fact about this Dzong is that it was built without the use of nails, not even one.
Most of Bhutan’s national treasures are kept inside this Dzong and it was here that the King of Bhutan His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and his beautiful wife, the Queen of Bhutan Jetsun Pema got married in October 2011. Punakha Dzong is 180m long and 72m wide and the Utse (central tower) is six stories high.The Dzong is located between the two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu (pho means male) and Mo Chhu (mo means female).
Therefore the only way to access the Dzong is to cross the Bazam (bridge) which was rebuilt in 2008 after the original 17th-century bridge was washed away during a flood in 1958. In addition to its strategic position surrounded by the two rivers, this Dzong has several other features to protect it against invasion. There is only one entrance to the Dzong with extremely steep wooden entry stairs, that´s designed to be pulled up, and there is a heavy wooden door that is still closed at night.
The Punakha Dzong is unusual, it has three Docheys(courtyard) instead of the two that is normal in the other Dzongs around Bhutan. The first courtyard (northern) is for administrative functions and houses a big white Stupa and a Bodhi tree.The second courtyard is the residence of the monks which gives the place a serene ambience.
The six storyed high Utse(Central Tower) intervenes between the two courtyards.The middle courtyard is the smallest, and there is nothing here except the entrance to the Utse. The third Dochey is the most important one, it´s where both the main temple, and the temple holding the national treasures are located, the well preserved embalmed body of the Zhabdrung is also kept here.No one is allowed inside the treasury except the two Guardian Lama, the King and the Je Khenpo (The Head of Bhutan Buddhism).
We climbed the steep stairs after reaching the top, our bags were checked for security reasons.We all gathered under the Bodhi tree and Sajjan (Guide) showed us how to wear the Kabney. After this small demonstration we started our tour of the Dzong, We observed that the structure and pillars did not have any nails.We had a quick photo session under the Utse.The Dzong has been the venue of coronation of all kings of Bhutan. Frequent fires have damaged the Dzong and large scale restoration work has been carried out which was funded by the Indian Government.
We saw the massive Thanka which survived the fires.The Thanka is for public display during festivals and is hung on the Utse (Central Tower).We paid our homage to Buddha,Guru Rinopoche and Zhabdrung
The Stairs to the Dzong
Domche is the annual festival held at the Dzong in the months of Feb-March which is largely attended by people from all villages and far places of the district.The ranghung “self-created” image of Avalalokitesvara enshrined in the Utse of the Dzong (brought by the Zhabdrung from Tibet) is displayed during the festival.We were in awe of the beautiful and colourful architecture and the eye catching murals.The presence of the monks gave the Dzong an aura of spiritualism.We were all ready to depart when our buddy suddenly could not find her wallet she ran up the stairs with the guide in tow and thankfully found her wallet intact.This is another instance of Bhutanese honesty.We finally left the Dzong at about 4 pm and reached our hotel at 4.15 pm We were booked for two nights at Meri Puensum Resorts.
We were welcomed with a hot cup of cinnamon tea which was very refreshing.After identifying our luggage and taking the key of the room we proceeded to our room.Our room was comfortable and we had a fantastic view of the mountains.After a few minutes the hotel staff came looking if we had mistakenly taken a suitcase,which did’nt belong to us.A suitcase of a member went missing ! I suppose the day’s adventures were not yet over ! The buddy and the Guide were in a tizzy running up and down checking all rooms but still could not find the suitcase finally CCTV footage helped them to locate the suitcase.The culprits were blissfully unaware that the missing suitcase which both of them were handling didn’t belong to either of them.Everybody heaved a sigh of relief !!!.We all met at dinner which was good,the fish fry was good compared to what we ate earlier in the day.Not ready to call it a day we all sat at the canopy and had a funny hilarious evening playing dumb charade.Hard to guess and never heard before names of movies were dished out. 🙂 We ended with a lovely song written by my roomie.It was raining and it was getting cold so we shifted to a member’s room and chatted till late at night(recounting the story of the missing suitcase 🙂
Next morning was the exciting trek to Khamsum Yulay Namgyal Chorten followed by river rafting.We packed a day bag as we would need to change after rafting.We started at about 0830 hours from the hotel, on the way we stopped at Kyunga Hotel to collect the menu card.One has to pre-order as they cannot cater to a large number without prior notice so we all wrote down our orders on a piece of paper and handed it to Saajan(Guide)The orders were then made telephonically to the hotel by the Guide while trekking to the temple.We reached the base of the trek to the temple which is also the rafting site.After all members got their walking sticks we started the trek at about 9 am.We walked through paddy fields,with women handling horse laden with farm produce
The route is beautiful with blue pine trees,poplar,oak & pine trees.Hiking in the pleasant weather with my favourite songs was an enjoyable experience. I stopped quite often to click photos of the scenic views.The steepness starts with the ending of the paddy fields.After the paddy fields finish, you will reach a Huge prayer Wheel .
Some of the members walked fast and reached the temple and waited under the Bodhi tree along with Sajjan(Guide) It took me about 30 minutes and the entire group reached in about 45 minutes.Since we started early we were the only trekkers so it felt nice to have the place to ourselves.
Khamsum Yulay was built in 1990s and it took ten years to complete.It was built by the Queen Mother and dedicated to the king and for the well being of the Bhutanese.It is majestically located on a ridge with amazing views of the countryside.After clicking many photos we went inside the temple.
Walking from the north door you come face to face with Vajrakilaya one of the most wrathful of protective deities Its a huge sculpture filling the entire room and encased in glass. It’s too big to grasp as one being, even the main heads are hard to see, being close to the ceiling and obscured by the dizzying detail of the various other manifestations. There are 103 complete 3-D sculptures, each an aspect of the deity and emerging bodily from his main mass, all in brilliant colors.When we walked around, we saw that the faces went in all directions. After this our guide lead us to a narrow staircase to the floor above. Here is another shrine room, and another wrathful deity statue, not as overwhelming in size and complexity, but still ferociously powerful. Here, however, there is room to sit and meditate. If the first Vajrakilaya is the global guardian, with enough faces to watch over the whole kingdom, the second is more personal. I feel I could at least have a conversation with this deity, tell her about my problems and seek her guidance. We continued with our tour, our guide led us up another stair, to the third level. Here is a third wrathful deity, perhaps even more ferocious and energetic.The message is not confined to the central shrine but the walls are also covered with deities.Finally we climbed up the third stairway that emerged to the temple’s roof.The view here is breathtaking !!! And here, at last is a modestly sized,classically posed golden Sakyamuni facing southward towards the Sun, peaceful and welcoming.
We Took many photographs with the mountains and the river as the backdrop.We carefully got down one by one as the staircase was a bit steep.
We Started the descend to the base at 11.30 am and reached at about 1230 pm which was also where the Rafting Office was located We had booked our session with The Druk Rafting Services After we were all geared up we were given instructions,group photos followed.
There after we set out in groups of 6 with our captains.Our boat had only Five as one of the member refrained from rafting.Hence a extra boy was allocated to our raft.The kind of raft we were rafting are known as Paddle Rafts.
We started at 1 pm with instructions of forward and all of us paddled forward.Normally rafting conjures images of crashing through horrendous rapids and monstrous waves with laughing and joyful rafters hanging on but in context of our rafting it was a gentle drift down the river admiring the beauty and encountering a few small rapids but yet exciting.
We rafted on the Mo Chu river which is gentle being a female river I guess as compared to the Pho Chu which is the male river. During the rainy season the rapids are high and though its exciting its not considered safe.We tried to race with each other, unsuccessfully stall each others rafts.What was a one hour rafting turned into two as we all went a little ahead of the designated spot to disembark.The chilly winds and the rain made it more enjoyable.The boys were very enthusiastic and co-operative.They tried to bring in as much as fun possible and cheerfully sang some bollywood and Bhutanese songs.
We disembarked at around 3 pm by now we were all starving.As there was no provision to change we headed to Kyunga Hotel in Khuruthan for lunch. A room was provided for us to change.After changing we sat down for lunch and got our pre-ordered meals.Some of us ordered Maggie as the pre-ordered meal didn’t calm our rumbling stomachs.The food was average but the rates quite pocket friendly.The service was prompt.After wrapping up lunch it was time to drive to the longest Iron Suspension bridge.
When we reached, it was drizzling some of us had umbrellas.The slope to the bridge was slippery and unfortunately a member slipped and fell down she had to now not only contend with the aches and pains of the trek and rafting but also of the fall.A spray of Volini and good nights sleep and she was fit as fiddle the next morning.
Before I end I would like to add that it impressed me immensely to find Bhutanese Men and Women sporting the national dress ie Gho by Men and Kira by women.The gho was introduced in the 17th century and is a spin-off of the traditional Tibetan dress. The baggy pouch in front is not only a good way of hiding that beer belly,it has a practical use too – forming one of the largest pockets in the world, where everything from phones to wallets to keys are kept there, and even babies are carried in the front pouch. Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju. I am overjoyed to inform you that the postcards that I had posted with self photos as stamps have successfully reached their destinations 🙂
I will leave you here dear readers, Next morning was the road trip to Paro -the last leg of our trip.
Ending with this apt quote by Buddha “ There is no path to Happiness.Happiness is the path”
To be Continued…………………