Day 2: 15th December 2015
Compared to other Asian cities, 8am in Thimphu is quiet and non-chaotic. Like the country, the Capital City is easygoing and laid-back. After breakfast, we headed to the North of the city (15km drive) to visit Chagri Dorjeden (Buddhist) Monastery also called Cheri Monastery. The drive took me past a nice painting, crystal clear chu (water) and a few local houses with ever-fluttering prayer flags. I have the urge to cover every building in the thongdrel – maybe I can pinch one ? but then I don’t want to end up on the blacklist. XXXXX, annoying foreigner, never allowed to set for in Bhutan. Reason: a thiefThe bridge marks the start of the hike up to Cheri Monastery. A long wooden structure- the bridge allow all visitors to admire the crystal clear water that runs below through the valley. Mini-stupas sits quietly along the window sills.
“That is cute!”
“In Bhutan, when we die, we cremate the bodies then mix the ash and form a stupa. This is our way of remembering our love ones,” said the guide.
I felt sad. Dying is an eternal long sleep where you don’t wake up. When I was 7 years-old, I wanted to die before all my love ones. Death is a word that I fear. Grief is not something that I‘m good at. I can’t deal with death very well. Countless people have told me that death and the passing of a love one is a natural process. It should not be a time of mourning but a way of celebrating one’s life, story and accomplishments. I wish I could think like that.
So I stood there briefly…facing the window sill and stared at 60 mini-stupas. I now see 60 faces staring back at me. 60 people, 60 families and 60 stories.
Like many monasteries in Bhutan, Cheri sits on a hill overlooking the Thimphu valley. Cheri Monastery was established in 1620 by the founder of the Bhutanese state. Goats lingered around the entrance and the courtyards and structure is stunning.
The gentle chants and chiming of the bells along with the view allows you to automatically calm down – however, the ultimate goal is to find and launch inner peace regardless of which environment you are in. I am far from achieving this since I’m always so easily affected by my surroundings. The tour guide took me around the monastery and explained various functions of the place along with the symbolism in some of the murals. After some offerings, we headed down the hill to make our way into Paro. Victoria should be in Delhi now…waiting to board her DrukAir flight.
After a chat with an interesting individual who was among the first group of foreigners to visit and work in Bhutan, we raced towards Paro International Airport……BUT, we couldn’t make it on time so the resort went to pick up Victoria. Our Paro resort is directly opposite of the airport and is a great spot for an aviation-fan to watch one of the toughest landings in the world. I raced inside and found Victoria, like the Don of the Corleone family, reading a book over her first Bhutanese lunch.
“So how did we spend the afternoon? We went to an abandoned dzong in Paro. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the once majestic dzong. A fire probably broke out and now, the place lies in ruins. Nevertheless, both Victoria and I thoroughly enjoyed the alluring place. I’m sure that the dzong have seen many visitors but one thing was for sure- we were the only ones there at the time. A sudden thought occurred to me: I’d like to get married here….so Dzong, will you marry me? Like your citizens, you are ridiculously good-looking and like me, we are both a hot mess! Victoria and I spent the night shopping for souvenirs and after spotting kids playing tug-of-war from across the street, I decided to join them. A nice way to end Day 2 in this most unique kingdom.
Day 6: 19th December 2015
Time flies when you are having fun. So, to end the last full day of my Bhutan trip (hopefully not the last), we stayed around Thimphu. First stop – a huge Buddha Statue still under construction. It was built to commemorate the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy. Like the Giant Buddha in Hong Kong, this Buddha Statue is also being built by a company in Nanjing.
It overlooks Thimphu and is surrounded by a recreational park. Shortly after the visit, Victoria went to see the Textile Museum and I went to the local zoo to see Bhutan’s National animal- the Takin, also known as the “bee-stung moose”.A very nice grandma who lives with her family towards the entrance of the zoo was particularly happy when I bought a scarf from her. She showed me her skills and I’ll never forget her smile.
After some last round of archery, we met up with Chambula and had lunch before visiting Thimphu Dzong. The original dzong was built in 1216 and was destroyed in 1772 by fire. It was rebuilt after the capital was moved from Punakha to Thimphu in 1962.
There are two entrances towards the right side of the dzong. The one closest to the flagpole ( in the photo below) is for the King. Victoria and I would have totally walked in:)
The dzong has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968 and houses the king’s office, cabinet secretariat and other government departments. Like every dzong, there is space, there are courtyards, vibrant colors and detailed designs. The snow-white walls and the beautiful wooden ornaments shimmers under the warm afternoon sun against a background of stunning blue skies.
The dzong is an unhealthy place for someone who love symmetry, lines, designs and forms in architecture. Everything is harmony and how I envy that cat. We left the dzong and a hint of sadness fell upon Victoria and I…. the trip has ended. One last dinner and one last drive back to Paro before our departure.
For this round of Bhutan trip, Victoria and I did the itinerary commonly chosen by most tourists. Yet, we certainly did and experienced many things that many tourists would have missed out on. The key is to engage with the locals, be stupid and stay curious. It was fantastic to spend 6 days with a great traveller and since the Eastern part of the country has been left untouched, I hope that Bo- our mutual friend/my former colleague/ beloved friend could also join in the fun. We could all visit Bhutan again and turn the ‘unfamiliar’ into something ‘familiar’.
Namey samey kadrin chhe la Bhutan! I hope to see you again and of course when I do next time, I have plans to run my charity for a local school and set up something for a local village in the EAST of your country. I can’t wait!