Bumthang & Then Some

October 27, 2015
Currently: Bemusing the quietness of Kathmandu’s streets in the midst of the Nepalese fuel shortage

I’m dying to share about my day in Kathmandu today, but that’ll have to wait until I finish my Bhutanese fairytale. I’ll do a quick (ha!) review of the highlights of Bumthang and the rest of my time in that beautiful country.

But before we even get there, these Bhutanese roads need to be forever memorialized in this blog. To sum it up: people deserve a sticker, a trophy, something! for journeying them. We had to leave Daisy behind in Punakha and took mini buses with the bounciest of backseats (Kerry and I’s butts could tell ya…). Trucks getting stuck sideways in the mud is not something unusual. Waiting an hour while tree branches get moved off the one lane and boulders get pushed over the edge is the norm. By the end of the trip, unplanned stops along the way weren’t anything new. I just accepted the break from the bouncing by walking off the stiffness in my legs and taking bets on how long this one would take.

 

Bumthang (actually pronounced buhm-tang; affectionately called bum-thaaaaang by the Drago group) is a district located in Central Bhutan and is considered the cultural and religious center of the country. Despite pushback from the community, the king persuaded the Jakar town to keep all of its buildings historically accurate in an effort to preserve the country’s culture. That basically means that no modern buildings can ever be built within the city, which is great for tourists who love taking pictures of really old things. Guilty as charged.

The main street of Jakar

And here comes the best surprise. Normally people plan years in advance to be able to attend a Bhutanese festival, and we just so happened to be in town for the beginning of the three-day Jakar festival. These festivals are essential to Buddhism because the very act of watching the dances is a way to obtain liberation from sins and earthly ties. These festivals serve as active reminders to lead a moral and honest life. The Jakar festival was one that explains the story of Guru Rinpoche (or Padmasambhava) who performed these dances to ward off the evil spirits to restore the health of the king. This king was so grateful that he later spread Buddhism throughout Bhutan…which to put it lightly, is the basis for everything the country breathes, thinks, and acts. But let’s just get to those pictures. Yes, I’m shamelessly keeping your attention through brightly colored things.

 

The rest of the time in Bumthang was checking out beautiful temples and monasteries like the Kurjey Lhakhang (KL for short). This place built around 1650 (yeah that old!) houses the body imprint of the sacred Guru Rinpoche. Its unassuming presence tells little of its significance as the first place that he visited in Bhutan. To date, it is considered the earliest relic of Buddhism in Bhutan. The middle temple was built in 1900 and the furthest left temple was built recently by order of the elder Queen herself!

KL is all the way on the right!
Side note. Archery is kind of a big deal in Bhutan.
Onwards, we squeezed in a visit to the Trongsa Dzong – yes, another one of those. But this dzong is spectacular because it’s the biggest in the country. Also it’s beautiful. Also it’s nestled in mountains with a pretty insane drop-off. So there’s that.
From a distance
Monks going off to a daily pray sesh

And more onwards, we end up bush camping a night near Gangtey so we can get a bright, early start on the Shasila Trail. This trail left some sore knees and bruised toes, but I’d say it was worth it. We got to see the most amazing views and enjoy a much needed stretch of time in fall weather. And now I get to say I’ve hiked in the Himalayans!

 the beginning of the hike
celebrating the views from the top
Last stop: Paro. And only because it hosts the most amazing site you will see in Bhutan. Google Bhutan and you will find pictures of Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest. It is by far it’s biggest attraction and there’s good reason for it. It’s a sacred monastery literally built into the side of rocks. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (same guy, very very important fellow) flew to this location on the back of his Tibetan-wife-turned-tigress. He meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours back in the 8th century and emerged in eight incarnated manifestations. So, this place is a pretty big deal.

But first you have to climb up. And I do mean up. Like 2,500 feet up. Below you’ll see where we began, and the white bit in the middle mound above the clouds is where we ended up.

But of course in classic Bhutan style, it was gorgeous going all the way up, so even with all the huffing and puffing, we didn’t stop admiring the wonders! It didn’t hurt that we got biscuits and tea on the way up and lunch on the way down. Not a bad last day in Bhutan.
So that’s all folks. For real. You made it through all of my cultural and historical exultations on the wonders of Bhutan. Our final hours in Bhutan spoiled us rotten. Blue Poppy, our tour company host, gave us a cocktail party and a magical performance of 10 traditional Bhutanese dance/songs presented by a local Paro band. It was the perfect end to a perfect stay in the perfect country. I’m sad to have left, but ready to continue on in my journey across these countries. I already have plenty of stories for my next post on Nepal.
But for now, cheers to Bhutan! If you take anything away from my blog it should be this: GO TO BHUTAN.
Okay, I’ve said my peace. Thanks for reading, once again!
Lots of love,
Lena

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s