Anyone would go shutter frenzy as soon as the plane hovers over the mighty Himalayas. Green valleys, lonely houses perched atop of mountains, stunning peaks with many different hues-some golden yellow and some icy white.Tilting between the mountains, the plane landed in Paro.
My first impression upon landing was 'clearest sky and the most pristine beauty'! Bhutan is a country that is absolutely charming in its own quite and subtle way.
Sonam was waiting for us eagerly to welcome to his land of dragons. He welcomed us with a Kata, a traditional Bhutanese welcome, wishing well in their culture.
Kata is the small scarf like thing for welcoming in Buddhist culture.
From Paro, we headed towards Thimphu. The drive is about an hour or so. Our car whizzed past Paro river, farmlands, and temples.
It was our lunch hour when we arrived in Thimphu. We were straight away led to a lovely and authentic Bhutanese restaurant named Ga va. It was cozy and comfortable.
The food was absolutely delicious. Mushroom Datshi, potato Datshi, Ema Datshi, fried Bitter gourd (Khatem), Salad, Momos, Soup, radish fry and a red rice. It was so filling and satisfying. Bhutanese food is generally with chillies. Ema Dtashi is a type of food that’s only with chillies and cheese. It looks like soup but u eat it with rice. Datshi means Cheese. Ema means chillies.
I am not a spicy food lover but I did manage to enjoy their delicacies despite breathing fire from my mouth, nose, ears etc! Fried bitter gourd was my favorite though. I was literally crying at the end of our meal. It is a common misconception that if you are an Indian, you eat spicy and you love spicy, time to meet people like me 🙂
After lunch we headed to the Buddha Dordenma statue. This giant steel statue of Buddha measuring 51mt in height is a gateway to Thimphu valley. It is located on top of a meditation hall, inside the hall there are 1,25,000 little Buddha statues kept inside the bronze chest ranging from 8” to 12” tall. The meditation hall is a three storey that acts as a base to the Gaint buddha. This are is called Changri Kuensel Phodrang.
It was around 4pm when we visited this beautiful place. The valleys surrounding the staute were covered with fog, mist coupled with sunshine, that gave the entire place a magical touch.
Climbing for the Spiritual experience- Chagri Dorjeden Monastery, also called Cheri Monastery , is a Buddhist monastery in Bhutan established in 1620 by Ngawang Namgyal.
This monastery is located at the northern end of the Thimphu Valley about 15 kilometres from the capital. It sits on a hill 2800 mts high above the end of the road at Dodeyna and it takes about an hour to walk up the steep hill to reach the monastery from there. When we arrived there was prayer going on, we were blessed by the main Monk of that monastery. The synchronized chanting by the monks gave the spiritual experience a new meaning to us. We stayed there for a long time, listening the hymns and chanting. Photos not allowed inside the main temple.
After a tiring hike down the hill we headed for the much awaited lunch for we would be tasting the local beverage Ara. The lunch was in a very picturesque place over looking the beautiful mountains. We tried the local drink Ara with cordyceps. Ara is a Bhutanese Rice wine.
My take on Ara :- It was a diluted version of the Bulgarian drink Rakia. I was told later that the commercial Ara was indeed much diluted than the home made Ara which we were to taste in our coming days at a local farm house.
Our next place was a drive through Phobjika valley. Gangtey Goemba, a 17th century masterpiece is a monastery that sits on a hilltop overlooking the Phobjika valley. This monastery was established by Gyalse Rigdzin Pema Thinley, the grandson and the
Bhutanese treasure finder Pema Lingpa in 1613. The temple complex consists of the central goemba, monks' quarters, a small guesthouse and meditation centres.
That night we stayed in the The Leki farm house which was an absolute memorable experience. This is a traditional Bhutanese farm house surrounded by paddy fields and beautiful view of the Punakha valley.It was a cozy farm, a traditionally constructed two storey place. We got the true sense of daily life in countryside of Bhutan. Leki is a great host. She welcomed us with warm smile and big heart. The experience of all of us sitting in a circle, talking, singing and eating is an experience to die for. She served us some home made Ara, and some dried corn as snacks that went so well with the Ara. My daughter learnt to sing Bhutanese songs and Leki also taught me some of the Datshis. Food was super delicious and all the vegetables were home-grown, a true farm to table experience.
Leki served us some home made Ara, which i felt was very different from what we previously had tasted. That day we learnt that One drink you make enemies, more than two, you go friends in Bhutanese culture.
In the village of Yukawa (not sure if I got the spelling right)in Lobesa, within the district of Punakha, you’ll find Chimi Lhakhang (Temple). This temple is also called as The fertility temple. The strange fact about this village is that the houses and buildings are all covered with phallus paintings. There is a legend to explain this. Once upon a time, there was a monk called Drukpa Kunley. This monk was known for his unusual methods of teaching and his crazy songs lined with humor and sexual connotations, he soon became famous as the “Divine Madman“. This Divine Madman came to Punakha to get rid of a demon from Dochula. The demon took the form of a dog and fell dead as he was struck down by the “Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom” created by the Divine Madman. This Flaming Thunderbolt of wisdom is what they say was the Phallus and thus, the symbol of Chimi Lhakhang.
The stricken Demon was captured in a Chorten (Stupa) by the Divine Madman and he uttered the words “Chi Mi” meaning no dog.
From Haa valley, we passed through the magnificent Cheli la pass. The weather was in our favor and we could see the second highest peak of Bhutan, the Jomolhari peak aka "the bride of Kangchenjunga" 7300 meters high.
What do you do when you spot snow on your way, you go photo mania and we did the same. It was much fun, with bright sunshine plus snow.
Another fantastic experience not to miss in Bhutan is the Hot stone bath. It is a ritual in itself, rocks from the riverside are heated till red hot and gradually dropped into a wooden tub filled with water and scattered with Artemisia leaves. The burning rocks heats the water gradually and thus release minerals in to the water. It was so relaxing and much needed after ‘très chargé’ days.
This place was very clean and smelled of herbs and aromatic leaves. There was also a small cafe with few outdoor seating. After a hot bath having hot tea certainly sounds crazy, but the weather was chilly and our hearts wished for hot "chai"
Today the day started early as we were all excited to visit the most awaited Tiger Nest monastery. Also 6.5kms (up and down) in an inclined terrain is quite a task to start later in the day. The morning was very pleasant and so was the hike 🙂
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Takstang, the most iconic spots of Bhutan is a real gem perched on a cliff. This place is extraordinary. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a small collection of buildings precariously sitting on a cliff, 900 meters off of the ground.
It was constructed in 1692, around the cave where Guru Rinpoche first meditated, the event that introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. Legend says that Guru Rinpoche was carried from Tibet to this location on the back of a tigress, thus giving it the name “Tiger’s Nest.”
The hike is Is is mostly uphill and steep for most of the time yet I say it is fairly easy and doable. My 8 year old completed the 4mile hike in less than 4 hours so it’s definitely doable!
For people who cannot hike there are horses available at the ticket counter, one could book the horse and the lead will take you to the half way of the monastery. There are also hiking canes for rent at the entrance.
The breathtaking views will be the heart warming reward. Many pleasant souvenirs and happy and blissful moments are the only things we take back from this amazing trip.
This was a trip that gave us so much insight to the way of simple life Bhutanese lead. The teachings of Buddha were another aspect of this trip that made me come back and look for more answers. The joy of being with loved ones is priceless. At the end of this trip all of us wondered how everything went so well and as planned. The strong will to travel and explore makes everything possible.
Until next keep that spirit in the air 🙂