Getting ThereEven before I landed in Paro, Bhutan, I knew that my journey here was going to be magical. From Delhi, one can take the 'Druk Air' which flies directly to Paro. On the flight, I caught my first glimpse of the mighty and stunning, Mt. Everest. I heard the Pilot’s voice “Turn to your left, and you will see Mt. Everest soaring above the clouds.” There it was, almost touching the sky. It’s when you from a vantage point, you realise how high the mighty mountain is. I was speechless, and I couldn’t stop staring at it. It’s a true wonder of nature.
Soon we reached Bhutan. Even the airport had a different feel to it. It was dotted with billboards of Bhutan’s King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and their Queen, Jetsun Pema, to welcome you to their land. The airport had a very tiny runway amid mountains and an even smaller airport. It was truly charming. There’s an inherent warmth within the people of Bhutan; their smiles reach their eyes which reflects the beauty of their hearts. I wonder if this has to do anything with Buddhism?
I found the answer soon enough. We had taken a guide for our tour in Bhutan, and you must do so, as it’s challenging to communicate with their people. Very few speak English. Our guide, Sangay Dorji, became a dear friend. Two years hence and we are still in touch with him! Speaks loads about their demeanour?
Bhutan & BuddhismHe told us that Buddhism is not only a religion there, rather it’s a way of living. It’s so inherent in their lifestyle that there are Buddhist altar in houses. A place where people pray every day.
Sangay guided us every step of the way, explaining about the culture, history & geography of his land. I could sense pride in his speech every time he spoke about his King & Queen. The crime rate in Bhutan is nearly zero, and merely there is a case of murder or robbery in the country. The people of Bhutan live peacefully and are safe under the Monarch's rule.
From Paro, we made our way to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. It’s the only capital in the world that has no traffic lights! The architecture of the Bhutanese houses is beautiful, with thatched slanting roofs that are usually painted in a warm red colour. A lot of the sightseeing in Bhutan involves visiting the Dzongs, that are royal or ex-government buildings. They are part of the monasteries. The Punakha Dzong is the biggest in the city and must be visited. It was one of the most beautiful monasteries we came across. The paintings on the walls are very intricate. The Buddha statue is also majestic in appearance.
Tiger's Nest and Punakha ValleyNext on our itinerary was the mighty, Tiger’s Nest. It was built in the 7th Century by a monk who was believed to fly on a tiger' back and ended landing on the cliff; hence the place is called the Tiger’s Nest. He is rumoured to have subdued the demons that resided in the valley.
The trek to the Tiger’s Nest is slightly long & arduous, but the struggle was worth it. It takes around 3-4 hours to reach the place. There are some captivating vantage points on the way to the Tiger’s Nest from where you can catch a great view of the monastery. The best view undoubtedly was at the hanging cliff. The experience was wonderful, and you should not miss going to the Tiger’s Monastery.
From here, we ventured to the stunning Punakha valley. The place is surrounded by hills, and there are vast green rice fields that were visible from our hotel room as well. We stayed in Chimi Lhakhang Village, which was a few kilometres away from the city. It’s the most extraordinary village here, that worships the phallus. On every house, you will see a big (excuse the pun) image of the same. It might get you off-guard at first, but you will end up getting used to it. This village has a 'Temple of Fertility' that gravitated this tradition in the first place. It was founded by Drukpa Kuenley who was known as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman”. There’s a fascinating story behind the creation of this temple. The “Mad Saint” used his “powers” (his phallus) to subdue a female demon. Though this is just a legend that resides there, one should definitely visit this temple. Many Bhutanese who face fertility issues tend to travel here to seek blessings of the “Divine Madman".
Visiting Bhutan is like visiting a land where time has a come to a halt. You will feel like you have been transported back to some other century. It’s a mystical yet beautiful place that brims with a wonderful culture and people that will help in concocting an escapade of a lifetime.