Bhutan: The road to Punakha

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Day 5: 18th December 2015

We started the day with archery and after losing the match we made our way towards Punakha Dzong. Before 1955, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan not Thimphu. 1200 m above sea level, rice (red and white) is grown here as the main crop and two main rivers (Mo Chu and Pho Chu) adds much gentleness to the already stunning scenery.

Punakha Dzong or the Palace of Great Happiness was the coronation place for the first King of Bhutan and also the place where a treaty was signed in 1910 whereby the British agreed not to interfere in the country’s own internal affairs. Since it is close to Pho and Mo Chu (rivers), flooding poses a threat to the structure.

DSC01496The wooden bridge which was initially built together with the Dzong in the 17th century has been reconstructed after being washed away by a flash flood. Therefore, the current bridge was rebuilt in 2008.

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The entrance to the dzong is like a gateway to a mini-oasis and watching the monks in their red robes walking here and there is almost like witnessing a real time-travel. Victoria and I came across a grandma with her prayer beads and her gentle presence made us realize what harmony is truly like.

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Before being greeted by open courtyards, the walls were adorned with the typical paintings of the four gods and each of the direction that they represents. It also contains the painting of the Four Friends which symbolises respect, working in harmony and tolerance of differences.

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Then, the passage opened up to the vast courtyard with a lone tree sitting quietly in the middle.

DSC01427The symmetry, uniformity and balance in the architectural form and design is one those many little things that kills me when I travel. The angle that it forms along with its perspective shot makes me pee in my pants. I get excited when photos turn out great even though I know that the reason is not due to my skills but the country herself.

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Due to its location, the dzong was at the center of many wars. When the local chief was battling it out with the Tibetans, who greatly outnumbered the Bhutanese, the chief asked his men to run around the dzong thus creating confusion on the actual number of his troops. Also, the guide told us that when the chief pretended to throw a prized relic into the river, the Tibetans all jumped right in and was subsequently washed away. The relic never made it into the river, instead; it was well hidden inside the sleeves of the Chief.

“And that is why the gho has a huge sleeve,” explained our guide Norbu.

So in 1639, the Tibetans were defeated by the Bhutanese right on that spot. And to make the place even more significant for Bhutan’s history, this is also the place where the treaty with Britain was signed. A more blunt way of saying it is: “Listen England, we know that you are much bigger than us and you have a much stronger army but look….how about you leave us alone?” Oh my Bhutan, you sure have guts! So hot!

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The dzong serves as the office block for governmental bodies. The sun was out and with her snow white walls and intricately designed doors and roof, Punakha Dzong looked extra majestic. I was told that during religious festivals, the white walls would be covered with a thongdrel (like a large religious painting). Maybe, I get to see it next time?….or even better, I can carry one home!

The monks carried on chatting and I do envy them as they have all the time in the world to bask under the sun and just relax. I know I’m on a break too but my mind was busily noting down observations and things that I need to write into my travel diary. I lingered around the courtyard with Victoria and when a wasp nest randomly drops in front of you and you hear a soft voice from behind, it is sort of time to leave.

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Death right in front of me

We didn’t realize that the dzong was suppose to close for its midday break so we lingered for an extra 10 minutes. We certainly didn’t notice the two police (one policeman and one policewoman) waiting quietly and patiently in the corner. Finally, it was time to go. We all headed back to the entrance.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the policewoman since I haven’t seen any females yet in the army or bodyguard or police departments. I was told by the policeman, who I scared on National Day that “We do have policewoman but you need to look harder.”

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I love her uniform and smile.

What a golden opportunity! So…yes, I flirted with her…shamelessly ….just like how I’ve flirted with everyone. Why not? That’s how I roll. I flirt with Victoria, I flirt with random strangers and I flirt with the world. Life is short- say hi, smile, be stupid, flirt! (haha) and most importantly live life to the fullest.

It’s a nice uniform and I think I’ll look good in it. The lovely policewoman has a great smile and the fact that she, along with her other colleagues are all very approachable reflects one important thing: the police serves not intimidates the people. The Bhutanese police and military personnels are very much like the Bhutanese-  genuine, friendly, approachable and frank individuals and perhaps too patient, polite and tolerant especially when they have the misfortunes of running into slightly unpredictable foreigners.

” I love your uniform. You look very good in it,” I said to her,     ” How long have you worked here for?”

She blushed and said. “I’ve worked for more than a year and thank you Madam. You are pretty too.” There was a few seconds of pause where we just looked at each other and laughed at the awkwardness. Then, she asked me “Do you like my country?”

“It’s unique and different so yes I do!”

We arrived at the entrance and her colleagues, a group of 3 other policemen started laughing when they saw us.

“She can be the husband and you can be the wife,” they joked.

Haha, I don’t think that will go very well at court. I’m pretty sure foreigners can marry Bhutanese but then I know the Bhutanese will have some difficulties. Also imagine how the judge will feel? ” You- little bandit, keep your hands away from my people!”

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After lunch at a local restaurant, we walked along the bridge and admired the view of the rivers below our feet.

DSC01515Nature is so easy to destroy yet so difficult to maintain. This bridge, like the one between ancient traditions + cultural heritage and urbanization + modern developments, is something that only Bhutan can maintain or destroy.DSC01578

We ended the day walking around a local village where from afar, locals and visitors are able to visit the temple of fertility. We saw a local man carrying his new baby hinting that the temple is popular and renowned for the fruitful blessings.

Bhutan, you don’t need it but I give you my best wishes.