Month: June 2013
In the Capital City: Thimphu
Our first full day in Bhutan began with a trip to Tango Buddhist University in the mountains surrounding Thimphu. The city of Thimphu is the largest community in Bhutan, boasting about 90,000 residents. In the mountains surrounding the city are many monasteries, this one founded in the 17th century.
The hike to the stupa, temple, and monastery was hard. Although the path was built by monks in the past two years, the climb was steep. It took us about forty-five minutes to make the trek to the top through thick forest and in a canopy of trees.
The monastery and university is run by the realized incarnation of the original founder of the university, a boy about 16 years old. We were allowed to sit in the room while the monks chanted a Four Thoughts mantra with the use of drums, horns, and cymbals. Sitting in his seat at the front of the group was the bespeckled young man. Walking around the room was a monk who kept the other monks singing and chanting without slouching or falling asleep.
Namgay explained that this young boy, the head of the University, was found at the age of about three years old when he was brought to the temple and told the monks that he had hidden a lash in a secret place in the chanting room. The monks had to pry open some wooden boards and found the lash stowed there nearly 500 years before. Wow.
After leaving the temple, we headed back to town for a quick lunch and then onto watch archery competitions in the archery grounds in Thimphu. Four teams competed: 2 teams with compound bows, and 2 teams with traditional bows and arrows. The target was easily 150 yards away and was no more than about one foot wide by two feet tall. Each time someone hit the target, the group would sing a song. This competition was awesome to watch.
Soon after, we spent about 45 minutes at the handicraft market across the Paro River. Later we traveled to the Thimphu Stupa and to the new construction of a 100 meter Buddha, and finally to see the national animal, the Takin.
Our day was full of surprises, interesting interactions, and LOTS to see and do. I realize that I cannot do justice to the travels in this blog and will attempt a more detailed description of events in another location.
In the meantime, enjoy the photos….more tomorrow!
Bangkok to Bhutan: Travel into the Land of the Thunder Dragon
Some reflections about our last day in Bangkok:
After a long conversation this morning with everyone in our group, many decided that our experience in Bangkok was one for the history books. The feeling of being overwhelmed (as I mentioned yesterday) was pervasive. Students wondered out loud what life was really like in this city. They asked remarkable questions about the lives of folks just trying to get by hawking wares or trying to provide some service, any service, to tourists and residents.
In the late evening, walking the streets of Chinatown on Yaowarat Road, a woman was packing her kitchen and her umbrella and entire cook set dropped on the ground, spilling utensils and equipment into the street. Miles and Layla were walking in front of me and immediately came to her aid as the wind threatened to send more plastic bowls, cups and the like into the busy thoroughfare. As they bent down to help, this woman looked warily at the two and thanked them, in Thai, profusely. After that moment we really wondered at the life lived in this city of immigrants, tourists and Thai….what is life like, really?
Travel to Bhutan
I think I can say with some confidence that we all left Bangkok ready for our travel in Bhutan. The morning gathering in the hotel went well and we took the 15 minutes ride to the airport. If you have never traveled through Bangkok, you will find the Suvamabhumi airport something to behold. The sheer size of the airport is impressive. The airport also is one of those places in the world where people from just about every part of the world intersect. As one of the main hubs of travel for all of Asia, Suvamabhumi has become a kind of gathering place for the world. I wonder if we couldn’t solve most of the world’s issues right here, having a cup of tea and working together in this massive gathering place? Just a thought.
The flight to Bhutan took three hours and we stopped, briefly, in northern India before heading into Paro. If you haven’t landed in Paro, it is a dramatic end to a beautiful flight on the edge of the Himalaya mountains. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsZqN-uEgQU) Clouds covered the region and we did not get a glimpse of Everest or Jomolhari….maybe when we leave!
We met our tour guide Namgay and his company Illuminating Tours. (http://www.illuminatingtours.com) Namgay we befriended a couple of years ago on our trip and we were excited to see him. Let me make one note about our return: both myself and Miles were the only two folks to were traveling to Bhutan a second time with the school and as we got off the plane, we were both taken with emotion as we walked into the airport building (in Bhutan, you deplane on the tarmac). This place has special meaning for us both, for very different reasons, and we hugged as we shared this moment of wonder.
Our first visit was to Paro Dzong, an impressive 17th century fortress build here to defend the Paro valley from Tibetan invaders. The structure is impressive with ten-foot walls surrounding a central “keep”. Today, the dzong houses about ninety monks and government officials. We visited with the monks as they were memorizing important chants and sutras.
We finally made it to our hotel and settled in after a wonderful vegetarian meal. Sleep, tonight, was welcome