Trongsa to Bumthang
As morning dawned we had breakfast and headed into the town of Trongsa and a visit to the Dzong and Watchtower. The Dzong is by far the largest in Bhutan and we toured every inch of this fascinating structure.
However, the most interesting part of the Dzong for the students were the monkeys perched on the trees at the western side of the Dzong. A whole group of monkeys played in the trees and we got relatively close to them as we walked down through the back door entrance to the building.
The one notable feature of the Dzong was the fact that all folks heading east or west through Bhutan had to cross through the Dzong and pay a tax to the officials. The doors into and out of the dzong are situated in such a way that they pass through the center part of the building and on to the next place. Namgay gave us some idea of the time involved in travel in the 16th century: someone walking from Trongsa to a festival in Thimphu would walk for about three weeks! Today, it takes about 5 hours by car. Amazing.
Our visit to the watchtower museum culminated in a quiet sit at the top of the watch tower. This spot is one of the most peaceful in Bhutan. You sit on benches with a 360 degree view of the valleys surrounding Trongsa. The view is spectacular and the space is about the most quiet open space I can imagine. Many members of our group sat there for about forty-five minutes just taking in the place.
We left Trongsa and traveled the empty roads to Bumthang and the town of Jakar. The government declared this day a “Green Day” meaning that all vehicle movement was halted. Walking was the only way to get around (except for tourists traveling from place to place). As a result we made good time on this leg of the journey.
One of the most notable features of this road is the long, straight stretch of road passing through pine trees (similar to an American White Pine) along the roadside. What really stops you is the fact that we are no longer driving around corners…the road in the valley is straight as it heads into the town of Jakar….that one change really lightened the mood of the group.
In addition, we passed folks working along the roadside building drains and curbs next to the roadway. These folks carried their tools in large baskets slung on their backs and we met them all as they walked along the road back home after a long days work. With the workers were children from infants to probably ten years old, all involved in the days efforts. I remember having two young children at home and trying hard to get work done…and not being very successful; I admired the work of these folks on that afternoon.
We arrived in the town of Jakar in the late afternoon, checked into our rooms and headed to two famous temples in town.
The first temple we visited, Jam-Lhakhang, is one of the most sacred places in Bhutan. This temple, built in 659 C.E., has been continuously run by Buddhist monks. The building just feels ancient as you walk through the doors. The weight of the roof weighs down on the doorways and the slight bend in the door frame is testament to the age and use of this structure. It’s quite amazing to realize that this ancient structure is made of stone and wood and still survives in the world virtually unchanged in 1500 years.
As we entered the building, we saw many towns folk spinning prayer wheels and praying in the temple. They walk clockwise around the structure, spinning prayer wheels that are built into the walls of the building. Folks gave us a quick red, smile as the betel nut juices flowed out of their mouths, spit on the ground. The moment was serene.
In the inner shrine room is a sculpture of Maitreya, the future Buddha, sitting on a chair. The room and the relics in the room are very old and the space is very small. We gathered in the inner reaches of this building and Namgay explained the significance of the images and the structure.
Seeing this inner sanctum, you can’t help wonder at the power of these images and sculptures. The dominant image of Buddha, sitting in the center of the room surrounded by statues of later teachers and practioners was moving to us all. Combine that feeling with the dim light in the room, casting shadows on the beams above and the floor below, and you feel a real sense of being centered.