In the land of thunder dragon

In the land of thunder dragon

Travel tales

In the land of thunder dragon

It was a balmy evening in Bengaluru in late October when we decided to spend our New Year’s eve in Bhutan.

It was going to be my first journey to a foreign land and we planned to go backpacking across west Bhutan along with a few fellow backpackers whom we met as part of the Bangalore AdvenTurers (BAT) club.

It took us almost five hours to reach Phuentsholing from Bagdogra, and we halted for the night in Phuentsholing.

 After obtaining our permits to visit Paro and Thimphu from the local immigration office next morning, we proceeded to Paro town which was 160 km away. By the time we reached Paro valley, it was night and cold at zero degree celsius! However, the cold did not deter us from walking across the Pachhu river and gazing at the beautifully lit up Rinpung Dzong, a fortress monastery built at the beginning of the 10th century.

The next morning we proceeded to the famous ‘Tiger’s Nest’. It is located on a sheer 1,000 metres cliff, about 10 km from the city, and houses the ‘Taktshang’ (pronounced ‘stag tshang’) hermitage. The temple is highly sacred to the Bhutanese who believe Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava), the father of Bhutanese Buddhism, landed here on the back of a tigress. The trek to the monastery is moderate to tough and passes through forests of Himalayan pine and cypress trees. Squeezing through a cave where Guru Rinpoche had supposedly meditated was enlightening.

We then rode off to the capital Thimphu where it is hard to not notice that there are no traffic signals! There could have been no better way to start the last day of the year than by visiting the Great Buddha Dordenma, a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the mountains. It is calming to keep gazing at the glowing face of Buddha. We then visited the Memorial Stupa, Thimphu, also known as the Thimphu Chorten. It is popularly known as ‘the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan’.

Not wasting any time, we proceeded to Punakha valley where we planned to conclude our year in style! On the way, we stopped over at Dochula Pass, which is a mountain pass in the snow-covered Himalayas where there are 108 memorial ‘chortens’ or ‘stupas’ known as ‘Druk Wangyal Chortens’.

To the east of the pass, the snow-clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas are seen prominently and among them is the Mt Masanggang at 7,158 metres (23,484 ft) which is the highest peak in Bhutan. The pass is also home to the national tree, the Himalayan cypress. Don’t miss the temple of the ‘divine madman’, also known as Chime Lhakhang in the Punakha valley.

We rushed to visit the Punakha Dzong which is the second oldest and second largest ‘dzong’ in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. The dzong houses some of the sacred relics of Tibetan Buddhism. It houses the sacred embalmed bodies of two religious monks and a beautiful sanctum with murals depicting the life story of Buddha and large gilded statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung.

Dusk comes fast in winters in Bhutan and we reached our riverside camp site where a warm bonfire welcomed us. A local dance troupe entertained us with the traditional Bhutanese dance. It was an evening to remember and the cold winter night seemed never- ending! The next morning we woke up to the sounds of the raven, the national bird of Bhutan, and a game of ‘khuru’, a Bhutanese dart sport.

Also, don’t forget to taste the local delicacies like ‘momos’, ‘stew’, ‘chicken mara’, ‘ema datshi’ (chilli and cheese). Savour the local yak butter tea, local beer and ara (rice ferment); finish the meal with a ‘Doma’, the local ‘paan’! You can even purchase beautiful ‘thangka’ paintings and try on the traditional Bhutanese dress ‘gho’ for men and ‘kira’ for women. For philatelists, the colourful stamps of Bhutan are a collector’s delight.

Bhutan was a dream, a happy country measuring their life through ‘Gross National Happiness’, not GDP, and a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience the only carbon negative country in the world! Till we meet again or ‘Log Jay Gay’ as they say in Bhutan...

Sidharth Ramanand (The author can be contacted at sidharth.17@gmail.com)

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