The Land of Dragon: Bhutan: 5

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It is so easy to get pulled into a life which you don’t want to lead – so much so that even writing about better times becomes difficult.

Here is the account of my last days in Bhutan. Something I have been meaning to write ever since my return, but has not happened.

19th March, Wangdue Phodrang

It is with much sadness that I am nearing the end of this beautiful journey. In these beautiful surroundings, listening to the sounds of a gushing river, the thought of Mumbai’s din is infinitely more harrowing. Never have I hated that city as much as I hate it now, in this lush green country.

On 17th Morning, we left Wangdue to journey to Bhumthang. The route is scenic, passing across two high passes, both close to 3400 mts in height – Pele La and Yongthu La. Before reaching Pele La, you can see a beautiful stretch of Black Mountain. On these mountains were random snow covers, a gift of the rain from the day before.  Somewhere behind these mountains, we could discern the faint traces of the snow covered Himalyas, but those peaks remained elusive.

After crossing Pele La, crossed the villages of 3 Ji’s – all three of them pristine, settled amongst pine forests, and surrounded by mountains on all sides. The stupas and temples of this region were very new – as is its relationship with Buddhism.

We had lunch near a lovely place close to Chendebji Chorten – a stupa built in the Nepalese style. The food was finger licking good, which perhaps was the added effect of the long gap which we had had since our last meal – there are no good places to eat between Wangdue and Trongsa except this one.

We decided to skip Trongsa on the way, to visit it on the way back – Phub calls it the most wonderful Dzong of Bhutan, and my interest was piqued. But the weather was turning, and I was more eager to get to Bhumthang – the promised sacred valley.

It was a wise decision, as soon clouds became ominous and started pelting hail on the landscape. The road soon was marked with white – that is how we saw Yongthu La. At 5:30, we were in the Bhumthang valley, shivering in the single digit temperatures.

The valley is beautiful in an ethereal way. Surrounded by hills on all sides that you can see, it looks like an oasis of land. A land which is green and happy, and like all happy places is marked by a meandering river. We were staying in the Jakar valley, beyond which is Ura – another beautiful land I am told, but I have to leave something for a later day.

Bhumthang is considered very sacred amongst the Bhutanese, and its landscape is dotted with many holy landmarks. One can walk through the Jakar valley, visiting these landmarks on foot, learning of an age long gone and still somehow alive here. We started with Jambal, one of the first Buddhist temples in Bhutan, built by a Tibetan king in the 7th century, which holds in itself many old smells – those of animal skin prayer wheels, of old stones and incense. There are three steps in the main temple, out of which only 1.5 is above the ground now. According to Bhutanese doomsday belief, the world as we know it will end when all steps are submerged – it will then be time for the Future Buddha to come to the world. (Sounds familiar?)

Walking ahead, at a small distance lies Kurjey Lhakhang, the place most closely associated with Guru Rinpoche or second Buddha. His first appearance in Bhutan was here, summoned by a local ruler Sendhaka. In this place, he lured a ferocius deity Shelging Karpo, and forced him into becoming a guardian of the place. Kurjey L. has three temples, one built by Guru Rinpoche in 8th centiry, the second by (guess?) Zhabdrung, and the third by the king’s grandmother.

The third most important landmark doting the Jakar valley is the Tamshing monastery, which was built in the 15th century by another revered monk Pema Lingpa. The monastery even today preserves a feeling of medieval times, with young monks taking their lessons in the courtyard, and the naughty ones punished in the corridor.

The monastery stands at the banks of the Bhumthang river, which adds to the touch of country idyll, as does the spread of herbs left in the lawn for drying, to make incense sticks, or the stray monks meditating/chanting mantras.

Outside the monastery, a path runs along the river, lined by trees on either side. Up that path, we went to the Jakar monastery where an initiation ceremony had just wound up – scores of school children had assembled for it, almost enjoying a picnic on a school afternoon.

Today, we traveled back to Wangdue. The weather was clearer on the onward journey, and we at last got a glimpse of Jhumulhari, the second highest peak in Bhutan.

After this night in Wangdue, we returned to Paro via Thimpu,and then back to Mumbai. Thats how it ended – 9 days ofpeace were not enough.

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