Our travels today led us to the temple of the Divine Madman, Lama Drukpa Kunley (Kinley). The Temple was established in honor of this bizarre spiritual leader in Bhutan.
While the story of Lama Drukpa Kunley is one that is inappropriate for an online journal, the main idea behind the story is that even someone who exhibits crazy behavior can be enlightened. The message here is that any person you meet might be that teacher, that friend, that person who can change your life for the better and help you understand the world a little bit better.
This author, Keith Dowman, has written a version of the story of this remarkable person and you can check it out here: http://www.keithdowman.net/books/dm.htm
A Word About Food
Food in Bhutan is full of vegetables, especially ferns. What? Yes, ferns. People pick the ferns from specific places in the country and they are stir fried like any other vegetable. They come in a variety of forms (from bright green, thin stalks to black thick bean-like pieces) and are very tasty.
In addition, our group has grown to love the Ema Datshi served at every meal; Eme Datse is a national dish made of hot, green chilis and cheese curds. Very much like a hot New Mexican chili, the dish is wonderful and varies slightly from place to place. Check out information on this dish here: http://www.food.com/recipe/ema-datshi-bhutan-477883
Of course, on the bus rides, we have some hungry folks and Isa has been nice enough to buy snacks for the students….snacks that get devoured by the time we stopped!
On to Punahka
We continued our travels down the road to Punakha. As you travel through Bhutan on this main road (when I say main, I should say ONLY West-East road across Bhutan), you rise out of the Thimphu valley into the mountains that separate Western Bhutan from Wangdue and the dry lowlands in west-central Bhutan. The climb reaches to about 10,000 feet at the pass, with views (if you are lucky) of the Himalayas. The sharp peaks, snowcapped and gleeming in the sunlight are a dramatic sight when compared to the dense forests that surround you on this drive. As Isa mentioned, this forest reminds one of the cloud forests of South America and Peru in particular.
When crossing the Dochu La Pass, you arrive at the site of a newly built temple and 108 chortens constructed in the center of the road. These small (four to five foot high) structures, painted white with a deep orange color around the top and sides, represent important deities and lamas. The chortens (also referred to as stupas) were built to honor the fourth king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Each time we have visited this place, the mists enshroud the chortens giving the whole area a sense of mystery as if you just found this site deep in the middle of some forest.
As you drive down the road into Punakha, you wind your way through forests and around the mountainsides. The descent is long, dropping from about 10,000 feet to about 1,800 feet above sea level. As you can imagine, the heat came upon us slowly and by the time we made it to the little town at the site of the temple of the Divine Madman, the heat was around 90 degrees F!
The short drive from the temple to the historical capital of Bhutan follows the Pho Chu river toward the Dzong. The structure is impressive, straddling two rivers, the Pho Chu and Mo Chu and saw the impressive 17th century Dzong built by the man who unified the country, Zabdrung.
The most impressive aspect of the Dzong is the shrine room, including massive statues of Padmasambhava, the founder of Buddhism in Bhutan, Buddha Shakyamuni, and Zabdrung. The temple includes a painted version of the life of the Buddha on the walls surrounding the interior of the structure, and the massive quality of the structure feels BIG.
After leaving the building we walked a short distance to a large suspended bridge stretching across the Punakha river. Near the bridge is the cremation ground for the western part of Bhutan. Families bring their loved ones here after they die and place them on the concrete structures that are then covered and surrounded in wood. We saw two families praying over the bodies and some can sit for days according to the specific instructions of lamas and monks.
The suspension bridge was cool in that it swung side to side in the wind as we crossed. Cole decided to run quickly from one side to the other, making the whole thing swing in the breeze. Awesome.