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Thimphu, Bhutan

March 1st, 2003

Visit the Outdoor Market
There is an antique section of the outdoor market, which we combed for bargins. Lots of beautiful things, but also expensive.

Souviner
I got some hefty door handles which were cast bronze and touched up by hand. The cast is the shape of a dragon looking backwards with it's long tongue sticking out. Each one is unique because of the handywork.I gave them to Craig Jenkins, our Kiwi carpenter on the Vallejo. He remarked that the Maori also often have that "looking back and sticking out their tongues" motif.

 

Drive to Punaka
It is about a two hour drive and the roads are narrow and windy. They are just barely paved and it looks like they get a beating from the rains. Bhutanese do not seem to work on the roads. They hire Indians.

Dochula Pass
We stop at the top, at Dochula Pass, and have tea in a wooden hut with a cast iron stove in the middle. They have rocks on top of the stove which they give us to warm our hands.

Tea is served with cream-filled cookies to counter the misty clouds whose wet coldness penetrates to the bone. There is a light snow on the ground. It is chilly but I go outside to video the stupa and the prayer flags.

The prayer flags have a symbolic wheel and dagger on the top. I think the "Ritual Dagger" is to conquer evil or negative emotions and the 'Wheel of Life' represents the process of cyclic existence and reincarnation.



Prayer flags have drawings of auspicious symbols and written invocations, prayers, and mantras. When wind blows (expressing the quality and nature of mind) the sacred prayers are activated. Flags are found outside homes and spiritual places. The prayers are carried out to all as a blessing. This includes sentient beings of all types even animals and insects life.




little religious oddities
A car pulled up while I was alone standing amoung the pray flags. A local man got out and tossed a coin into the collection of "Tsatsa" that the locals bring to the base of the stupa. "Tsatsa" are small icons that (to me) look kinda like shells and are fashioned from clay that is supposed to be collected from sacred sites.


There is a prayer page weighted down with one of the "Tsatsa."

I saw a lone crow.

 


Jigme Singye Wangchuck, 4th King of Bhutan

Punaka
The current King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, married 4 sisters from Punaka. He married them all at the same time. I am told in Bhutan, a man or a woman can have as many spouses as he or she can afford.

It is also interesting that Bhutan only just became a Monarchy in 1907 - when the rest of the world was switching to other forms of government.

Our group has lunch at a hotel in Punaka. It looks very new. I thought there were an awful lot of hotels in Bhutan and that it was odd because they have such limited and controlled tourism.

 


After lunch HRH, Harry, Nick, Soane and Mele go fishing. The rest of us go visit a Monastery.

 

Punakha Dzong

We drove through town to where two mountain rivers converged together at a point.


One river was said to be 'female' and the other 'male'. The Monastery is built between them.


This is the female river.


The swinging bridge was made of wood and cables. It was covered with wind flags.




After we cross the bridge and before we go inside the monastery, Tashi stops to put on his religous scarf. It is just like the ones we saw in the Museum on the first day we arrived in Paro. Different colors denote rank: white is for commoners, red and saffron for Monks, and a sort of green for the King and highest lamas.


Monks live and study here. It is also a place locals come to worship.


There are birds everywhere in the trees and the air is filled with a joyous aviary-like cacophany.


The biggest prayer flag I ever saw is here (photo does not do it justice).

The steep stairs into the Monastery are idyllic.


They made me think of Brad Pitt and "Seven Years in Tibet."


At the top of the stairs there is a prayer wheel.



Are you suppose to make a wish before turning these? ;-)


There are paintings on the walls that we don't understand.


Tashi tries to explain that this one has to do with astrology and auspicious days.


In the courtyard inside much of the woodwork has been redone very recently. They are in the process of painting it.


And it is all done by hand.


Not only are they painting it by hand, but they use sticks - there is no 'brush' part. They only use different size - from pointy to wide - sticks.


They have only about 1/3rd to go.

Further in the Monastery we come to the temples and prayer rooms. And of course, no photos. In one of the roomsa group of monks are performing a ceremony. We are told that a reincarnation is leading it. We are allowed to go right up to the open door and watch but not go in.

I can see inside the small room a Buddha alter with incense and lit yak butter candles, about 20 young men in red monks robes & shaved heads sit cross legged on the floor facing away from us. A couple of them turn around and look back. They start to chant and grunt in unison.

We go into the Temple across the courtyard. Inside it is huge. We see no one. The only source of light appears to be throught the big entrance door. The floor is wooden. Many pillars coverd in ornately formed gold colored metal hold the high roof. In diminishing light at the far end are 3 enormous carved Buddhas facing the entrance.

The biggest is the Historical Buddha - always sitting on a lotus - in the middle. His eyes seem to be looking down and he seems to be looking at you because you are so small under him. It works even better as you get closer. I notice bells and drums and dorjis and stuff on the floor in front of him.

To his right is a Buddha famous for his architectural skills and to his left is the Buddha famous for his engineering skills. Their eyes seem to stare out over you, except the right eye of the architect. They also have on stylized hats or crowns.

On the side walls are floor to ceiling cubicles, nooches, shelves of Buddha statues.

Eric sits cross - legged on the floor by the drums and monk implements. I meander around and end up in the back watcing a young monk, maybe 19 or 20, who came in prepare ceremony plates of rice, butter, and dried meat. We make eye contact briefly and he smiles really big. I almost burst out laughing. I notice his teeth are very white. He lifts a gold vessel with peacock feathers, pours some liquid from it's slender snout into his hand and drinks it. He turns to me, "Do you want some Holy Water?" I hold out my hand. As he pours some into my hand he tells me "It is for health and long life." It tastes sweetened.


Tashi leads us clockwise through the rest of the monastery.


It feels a bit like medival times. Stone and Wood. Narrow passages.


Looking up you see the traditional, bright, ornate Bhutanese motifs.

 

Khamsum Yuelly Namgyal Chorten

Only Eric and I go with Tashi on the hike. It starts at another swing bridge over the river, treks through rice paddies with locals working the fields and up a short but steep hill.


The Chorten was built in honor of the Crown Prince of Bhutan by his mother. She lives behind it in the white house hidden by trees.


This view is from halfway up.


It takes about 30 minutes or less to walk up.


Before I went through the entrance gate I turned around to admire the view.


View looking out from entrance gate.

The Stupa represents Buddha's holy mind and each part of the Stupa shows the path to Enlightenment. On this website there is a detailed list of all the architectural meanings.

It starts with:

1.The basic platform that "Holds the Earth" symbolises the ten virtues of :

Body :

* to protect life
* to practise generosity
* keep pure morality.

Speech :

* to tell the truth
* to reconcile
* to speak In a quiet and gentle way
* to have a sensible speech.

Mind :

* to be content
* to be altruistic
* to have faith In the right views (which are the correct foundation for liberation).

etc.

Alas, again, no pictures allowed inside.

The Chorten's is 4 stories and we start by going up to the top. It is the roof. We walk around the golden dome 3 times. A little boy, maybe 7 years old who guided us up here opens a glass door in the golden dome allowing us access to the the money plate in front of the carved Buddah inside. I add a piece of chocolate to our donation. The little boy is visibly confused by the gold foiled candy but says nothing.

Each floor down celebrates a different Buddha.

On one floor is the God of Power. There are statues and thangkas of deities copulating with their consorts. Tashi tells us about the deities and without the least bit embarrassment or hesitation says, "see the 'worshippers sucking the genitals?" (In fact what I saw looked like standing copulation, not oral sex). For more info read about the Congress of the Holy.

I couldn't help but note that the deities of power are painted as very scary. And they have big white fangs. I also noticed one of the religious ceremony implements is a wooden stake. Let's not forget that this religion is centered around virgins. Am I the only one to think 'Vampires'?

The bottom floor had a huge 3-D Mandala in the middle but the walls were painted with eerie ghost-like images and seemed to represent Hell.

For sure, we had just transended three dimensions of higher levels - reached the Buddha - and were being purified upon our return by the Monk who gave us Holy Water to drink and rub on our head and neck.


Prayer Wheel.


As with all the religous places, one enters from one point, walks clockwise and exits at a different points.


Drive back to hotel (temporary road block by a slipped truck that was in tow)

 

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photos from HRH's party
 
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