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.
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!
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!
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.