31 May Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon
We were so lucky to be able to go on a trip before the world lockdown due to COVID-19. We visited a country with a high happiness index, Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon. A month after our trip the virus was deemed a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Two years is definitely a long wait but finally, I’m updating to share the VERY outdated Bhutan post.
I was so disappointed by the quality of the photos while editing. During the first 3 days of our trip, my camera was shooting on aperture priority mode and that really forked up the ISO. It was all grainy and out of focus. Can’t believe I didn’t realize it earlier but thankfully, I noticed it almost at the end of day 3. Fortunately, my friends had taken photos on their phones during the trip so credits to them I could share it here.
Memorial Chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan
Many locals visit the National Memorial Chorten throughout the day to walk around the Chorten 3 times and chant prayers. Our tour guide provided us with Bhutan’s traditional costume (Kira) for us to experience the culture of the country. Even though we’re not one to normally wear dresses, it was a nice experience. Look at how vibrant the color and prints are in our group shot! (Picture on the right: A spinning the prayer wheels.)
The Buddha Dordenma statue located in Thimphu, Kuenselphodrang Nature Park stands 51.5m tall and 1,200 tonnes and is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It is said to emanate peace and happiness in the world.
Bhutanese believes in reincarnation and the reason why we don’t remember our past life is because our mind is corrupted. Our mind is born with attachment, ignorance, hatred & aggression. To know about your next life, look at your mind now because only you will know what are the things you’ve done good or bad. I supposed we might have done something good in our past life to be reborn as humans this life. The human world has fewer sufferings compared to e.g. the animal world.
According to the Chinese myth, when we die, there would be a bridge we have to cross to move on to our next life. Before crossing the bridge, a deity will hand over a soup that wipes our memory. Everything will be forgotten… memories, your loved ones, and even the sufferings. That was something I was told by my parent growing up. However, Bhutanese doesn’t believe in that.
Bhutanese hold strong Buddhism in their hearts so if they decide to be a monk, it will be for life. If a family sends their kid to be a monk and the kid grows up to eventually resign from his position because it wasn’t his choice, it is believed that it would be really bad karma on both himself and his parents.
icon-lightbulb-o Fun fact
Buddha was born into a wealthy royal family as a prince where he got married but decided to leave the palace. Leaving his lavish lifestyle behind, he spent his time meditating and eventually found enlightenment. As a son of the king, he had long hair which he had to shave off to pursue his journey.
Locals believed that while he was doing his meditation, 108 snails climbed onto his head to protect him from the sun and from having a heatstroke. Interesting! Different countries have different interpretations of these spiral or shell-like curls. Let’s just leave it up to individual on which version to believe. 😀
Druk Wangyal Chortens / Dochula Pass
Druk Wangyal Chortens is a historical site on the way from Thimphu to Punakha. Where 108 memorial chortens or stupas were built in memory of 108 soldiers who lost their lives in the Bhutanese war. Would have been able to see the panoramic view of the eastern Himalayas if not for the fog. Nevertheless, it was still a mystical sight with the fog creating a mysterious ambient.
Known as the most beautiful fortress in Bhutan, it was the capital city of Bhutan till the year 1955. Bhutan was divided into parts and when the Blue Bearded Lama arrived, he unified the country. Punakha now serves as a winter capital where the monastic body along with the king spends the winter season at. Punakha Dzong plays an important role in Bhutan because the enthronement of the first king of Bhutan was done here back in 1907. Unfortunately, photography is forbidden within the fortress and in most monasteries so I can only share what we see on the exterior. I think it’s enough to pique your interest no?
icon-lightbulb-o Fun fact
The Buddha statues in the fortress have blue “hair” or shell-like curls because the color black can send bad energy, so they painted it blue which represents longevity.
Why do the other deity statues look so scary with bulging eyes? Because in order to subdue the scary-looking demons, the deities have to look scarier than them. That made sense!
Awesome home-cooked lunch from Tashi’s family and with the best view we could ever ask for! Just look at the tranquil view of Punakha Dzong and the Punakha Valley already.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge at 160m is known as the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. It feels very sturdy even when it shakes so it’s not terrifying for someone like me who fears height. Check out the misty mountains in the backdrop and the amazing Pho Chhu Valley view!
Hiked up a hill the next day which took us about an hour to reach the Khamsum Yulley Temple. I don’t remember how tough was it but looking at how red my face is in the pictures, I supposed I struggled… lol. This was only the start of the trip, weak much as usual. At least the view of a huge paddy field and the fresh smell of the morning dew, with our ever-patient and encouraging guides kept us motivated.
Khamsum Yulley Temple
Built by Queen Mother of the 5th King to protect Bhutan from evil forces and to bring universal peace to this world. The temple design was very elaborate and there’s no other temple built as detailed as Khamsum Yulley Temple in Bhutan. I just love this picture of how the wooden entrance frames the temple.
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup
A short stop at the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup private nunnery which is a Buddhist college for nuns. Once they complete their education here, they will have a choice to go to any nunnery. Tashi, our guide had intended for us to tour the inside of the temple but the nuns were in the midst of a prayer ritual. However, we were allowed in the temple at a corner for a short while as we watched the space filled with nuns chanting their prayers. My picture resolution of the exterior of Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup were horrifyingly grainy so here’s a picture of how it looks like (credit source: here)
I asked Tashi why this stupa had eyes and he told us that there are 3 architectural type of stupas in Bhutan. The 3 types are representations from; Tibet, Bhutan and this dome-shaped stupa from Nepal. The eyes are actually the eyes of Buddha, guarding the nunnery.
It was a nice stroll along the rice paddy field before reaching Sopsokha Village. There were explicit wall paintings and shops selling wooden carvings of Phalluses. Definitely not expecting this many sightings of penises around the village. A Phallus (erected penis) is a traditional symbol meant to drive away evil spirits or evil intentions. The Phalluses were attributed to Lama Drukpa Kunley(The Divine Madman). A Buddhist monk known for his crazy behaviors and unorthodox practices. His Buddhism teachings involves beautiful women, sex and wine. *Raises eyebrow*
Chhimi Lhakhang (Fertility Temple)
It took us about 30mins to get to this monastery that stands on a small hill. The Divine Madman came to this temple while traveling the Himalayans to spread Buddhism. Interestingly he was attracted to this temple because the hill resembled the “breast” of a woman. It is religiously visited by locals but it was also common for foreigners to visit as well. Especially women who wish to receive blessings to conceive children. If they came as a couple, it is believed that the Divine Madman will not give his blessings to them.
He is a very possessive guy so normally the husband have to wait outside while the wife goes in to perform the ritual. The wife would have to perform a ritual by holding some items (including a wooden Phallus) and walk around the temple 3 times. And pick a baby name from 3 options given. She would be blessed with a boy if a boy’s name is picked and vice versa. Whichever gender, the name would definitely have either the word “Chhimi” the name of the temple, or “Kinley” the name of the Divine Madman.
Happy people, friendly faces
By far, the locals we met have been really open to us tourists with our cameras. Instead of shying away from the camera, most of them posed and smile at us. Such a warm and welcoming gesture.
Ending off my first Bhutan post with a recommendation video of the White Tara Mantra (Life Longevity, Health, Healing, and Compassion chant).
In the meantime, keep calm and carry on.
To be continued… stay tuned!