Sep 302015
 

Haa Valley, Bhutan
September 2015

 

Tea in BhutanOur small group was treated to lunch in a farmhouse in the Haa Valley.

Tea is a very vital part of the social fabric of Bhutan.  It is served the moment you arrive in the home, and usually with snacks.  In this case the top basket is the typical cracker that you receive, even with black tea, when you arrive in your hotel.  These crackers are either savory or sweet.  Next is a pounded rice that is hard, crunchy, and delicious.  The third bowl is a dried and somewhat smashed corn, and the bottom bowl is puffed rice.

Butter Tea

We had to earn our keep, in this case, by making the tea.  In Bhutan what you are served in this type of social occasion is butter tea.

The tea, or suucha, varies by maker, but it is usually locally foraged herbs and not caffeinated black tea.  It’s brewed with water and a pinch of soda to keep the color, once the tea is ready, butter is added, from a yak or a cow, but far more common from a cow, and then salt to taste.

It taste sort of like a broth, similar to miso soup.

Making butter tea

First the tea is added to the churn

Once all the ingredients are in the churning begins

Once all the ingredients are in the churning begins

The finished butter tea being poured into a serving vessel.

The finished butter tea being poured into a serving vessel.

Churning cheese, this is the cheese used in Ema Datsi

Churning cheese, this is the cheese used in Ema Datse

Milk from the cow is used to make both butter and cheese.  After churning for awhile, the cream turns to butter.

Butter rising to the top of the churn.

Butter rising to the top of the churn.

Bhutanese Butter

Then the milk is put on the stove until it becomes cheese.

Cheese in Bhutan

The cheese has a texture similar to a farmers cheese and has a delightful earthy taste.

Cheese in Bhutan

Our hostess then went on to make spinach momos.

making Momos in Bhutan

*Spinach Momos

Once we earned our keep lunch was served.

Lunch in Bhutan

It consisted of rice, the momos (boiled), hardboiled eggs that were then fried, cabbage with chilis, daikon radish with pork rind, potatoes datsi, fried momos, a wonderful slightly hot soup with spinach, and of course, the ubiquitous ema datse.

After a delicious repast we were invited to view the family altar.  Since it is a private altar I was allowed to take photographs.

Alter in a Bhutanese Home

Bhutanese Alter

The two brass items are vajras. They are both thunderbolt and diamond. It is a symbolic ritual object that symbolizes both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). These are everywhere in Bhutan both as ritual objects and in paintings.  They are the Bhutanese National Emblem.

Incense Holders

Vessels for Holy Water. In Bhutan a touch of saffron is always added to the holy water.

DSC_8433

Incense Holders

Kuzuzangpo!

Sep 302015
 

Haa, Bhutan
September 2015

The Haa valley was not opened to tourism until 2002, it is the home of the Queen Grandmother, and is a culturally rich, and very lush valley developed around the Haa Chu (river).

The Haa Valley

Two of the most visited sites are the  7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum.

The White

The White Temple

The two temples were established by Tibetan king Songtsen Gempo in his mission to build 108 monasteries in one day.  According to legend, a black and white pigeon were released to select sites to build the temples. The temple was named Karpo (white) as it was built on the site where the white pigeon landed.

The new monastery at the White Temple

New school buildings surround the older White Temple

The White Temple is the site of Summer Festival, the center square is being rebuilt and there is a new monastic school also being erected.

Even the large prayer wheels had to be put in storage for the duration of the construction

Even the large prayer wheels had to be put in storage for the duration of the construction

The front door to the White Temple

The front door to the White Temple

Sites from the White Temple:

White Temple Haa Valley *White Temple Haa Valley *White Temple Haa Valley

The Black Temple

The Black Temple sits higher on the hill behind the White Temple

The temple was named Nagpo (black) as it was built on the site where the black pigeon landed. The temple was purportedly built on a lake, there is a small opening in the floor of the temple that lets you peek at what once was the underground lake. Lhakhang Nagpo serves as the seat for the guardian deity Da Do Chen. The principal relic of the monastery is the Choe-Lung-truel Sum.

The prayer hall is on the second floor, accessed only by these stairs

The prayer hall is on the second floor, accessed only by these stairs.

The room for the younger monks is just off the prayer hall.

The room for the younger monks is just off the prayer hall.

Haa Valley

The town is about two blocks long, and the people could not be friendlier.

Haa Valley

*

Haa Valley

*

The local clothing and fabric store

The local clothing and fabric store

Haa Valley

A little girl chasing her cows home.

A little girl chasing her cows home.

Relic of a home in the Haa Valley

Many farm houses throughout Bhutan were once made of rammed mud.  Often the house and the area around it will be abandoned if the home burns, or other event cause it to be forgotten.  A new home will not be built in the same spot as it is considered inauspicious.

Prayer Wheel

Thanks to the many running rivers and streams of Bhutan, water driven prayer wheels are very common.  This one in the Haa Valley lets you see exactly how they work.  The prayers benefit the person that builds the wheel, but also all people that enjoy the water the prayers are running in.

It is a one-way very windy road to get in and out of the valley

It is a one-way very windy road to get in and out of the valley

Wangchulo Dzong in Haa is one of the newest dzongs, built in 1915 to replace a smaller structure. It is a large square structure with battered (inward-sloping) walls.

Wangchulo Dzong in Haa is one of the newest dzongs, built in 1915.

Flowers of the Haa Valley

Wildflowers were prolific and beautiful

Sunflowers in the Haa Valley

Laundry day at the Black Temple

Pine Trees of the Haa Valley

Black Pinecones

*Farmers of the Haa ValleyKunzuzangpo!

Sep 302015
 

Bhutan
September 2015

This is the story of the Four Harmonious Friends. It is found everywhere in Bhutan. The image is of a bird, rabbit and monkey standing on each others shoulders and then they all stand on the back of an elephant. It is the epitome of social harmony.

Four Friends in Bhuddism

It is said that the bird finds a seed and plants it, the rabbit waters it, the monkey fertilizes it, and once it has sprouted and grown the elephant protects it.

Four Friends Story in Bhutan

By working together they all are able to reach and enjoy the fruit.

 

When you enter a Dzong there will always be paintings along the walls before entering.  The walls of monasteries and temples are covered in paintings.  Murals are abundant in the Bhutanese culture and the Four Friends is found everywhere.

Sep 302015
 

Bhutan
September 2015

Monks preparing for a funeral ceremony and the blessing of the Manidhar

Monks preparing for a funeral ceremony and the blessing of the Manidhar

Most people throughout the world have been exposed to Tibetan prayer flags, but the Bhutanese take the prayer flag a few steps further.

The five colors of the prayer flag are red for fire, yellow for earth, green for wood, blue for water and white for metal.

Flags for a archery tournament, they are not religious, they simply use the five colors.

Flags for a archery tournament, they are not religious, they simply use the five colors.

You will often see flags of these colors with no symbols or writing, and these are simply to ornament celebrations.

Flaming sword of Bhutanese Prayer Flags

The flags, when hung on poles are topped with the flaming sword of Manjushree, (the bodhisattva associated with transcendent wisdom). The sword is sitting on a lotus flower. The sword is to cut through ignorance and the lotus is a symbol of purity.

The sword sitting on the lotus is commonly found in art work in Bhutan

The sword sitting on the lotus is commonly found in art work in Bhutan

Prayer flags have a prayer, which is carved into a wooden block and then stamped on the flag. The five color prayer flags are called lunghdar, You will see these flags strung everywhere. It is important that the flags are strung near water, so that the prayers can be carried down to the water and sent throughout.

Lughdar Prayer flags of Bhutan

Lunghdar can also be found on tall bamboo poles and are found on hillsides and once blessed by the monk are hung for protection, health, wealth, good luck, hopes of achievement in a task, or the desire for wisdom.

The Wind Horse prominently displayed on a prayer flag.

The Wind Horse prominently displayed on a prayer flag.

The lunghdar are printed with the wind horse. The wind horse carries three precious, wish fullfilling, stones on his back.

Goendhar Prayer Flag

Goendhar Prayer Flag

The goendhar will be found on the roof of every house. Every year a ceremony is performed to bless the house and place a new goendhar on the roof. These flags are white with the five colors in ribbons attached. These flags are in honor of the protective dieties of Bhutan, each area has its own protective diety.

Manidhar Prayer Flags

Manidhar Prayer Flags

The manidhar flags are always white and most often hung on tall bamboo poles. These flags are usually in clusters of 108 and stamped with prayers to the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Manidhar are erected in honor of a deceased person.

The god flag

The god flag

The largest flag you will see is the lhadhar or god flag. These are in front of dzongs and other places of import and represent the fight against evil. These flags are always topped with a silk parasol or brass representation of a parasol. The parasol has no religious purpose, it is simply a form of protection for the flag, similar to seeing the parasol often held above Ganesha in Hinduism.

A silk parasol, and the flaming sword.

A silk parasol, and the flaming sword.

A ghost catcher

A ghost catcher

This is a Ghost Catcher (doe). They are built once a year and placed with a ritual ceremony in homes as well as religious sites.

When crossing the Chelela the prayer flags are awe inspiring

When going from Haa Valley to Paro you cross the Chelela. The prayer flags are awe inspiring

When you cross the Chelela, you catch site of Jhomolhari

When you cross the Chelela, on a clear day you may catch site of Jhomolhari

Jhomolhari peeking through the prayer flags

Jhomolhari peeking through the prayer flags

Sep 282015
 

Bhutan
September 2015

In Thimphu there is the Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum. This school, established in the 1970s is for preserving the traditional crafts of Bhutan. The course of study is between 5 and 6 years and teaches the 13 original crafts.

Students are tested and then placed in the craft school most appropriate to their talents, they are all on scholarships.

The 13 crafts are:

Utse of Punakah dzongCarpentry (Shingzo), these craftsmaen are involved in the buildings of dzongs, temples, palaces and houses.

ChortensMasonry (Dozo) This craft is associated with the building of chortens, dzongs, temples but also heavy millstones and stone pestels.

Carving of Bhutan*Woodcarving in BhutanCarving (Parzo) is not only on wood, but also slate and stone. This work is most evident to the tourist in all the beautiful carved wood work on homes, hotels and buildings throughout Bhutan.

Punakah DzongPainting (Lhazo) is both drawing and painting in Bhutan. The work of thee craftspeople can be found in the temple and dzong murals as well as all the symbols that grace the homes of the people of Bhutan.

Masks of BhutanSculpture (Jinzo). This is the art that is hardest to find throughout Bhutan, as it is mainly in the temples, and most often, behind the alter of the temple.  The place where a tourist has the opportunity to see the work of these craftspeople is in the masks worn during tsechu.

Casting in Bhutan

This is a ritual dagger called a Phurba (it is not sharp and is not meant to hurt a sentient being). It is used against evil spirits.

Casting (Lugzo) ususally refers to bronze and is found in the making of musical instruments and kitchen utensils, but also jewelry.

Swords of BhutanBlacksmithing (Garzo) is what it implies, but is also used in axes, plough blades, chain making and swords.

gold and silver smithing in BhutanGold and Silversmithing (Trozo) also includes copper and can be beaten, drawn or engraved work.

Rattan work of BhutanBamboo Work (Tshazo) This work is still found, more in the countryside, than in the cities. The most common type of this work is for the arrow quiver, but it also includes bangchung, covered bowls for carrying food palang for storing liquor, and belo which are small hats.

Weaving in BhutanWeaving (Thagzo) covers the entire process including preparing and dying the yarns, this is the largest crafts industry in Bhutan.

Embroidery in BhutanEmbroidery (Tshemzo). This has two specialties One is the items which are sewn and then embroidered, the second refers to the applique works.

wooden bowls of BhutanWoodturning (Shagzo) This is where Bhutans beautiful wooden bowls come from. This craft also includes the making of the small drums used during religious ceremonies.

The bark from the Daphne Plant

The bark from the Daphne Plant

Papermaking (Dezo) is the skill that is rapidly being lost In Bhutan. The paper is made from the bark of the daphne, but has grown to include bamboo and rice stalks. We visited a paper making factory in Thimpu, and here are shots from that factory.  It is a family run business, now in its second generation.

Papermaking*
DSC_7642 *DSC_7641 *Paper making in Bhutan *DSC_7632 *DSC_7629 *DSC_7627 *Paper i Bhutan

Sep 272015
 

September 2015
Punakha, Bhutan

Punakah Dzong

The Punakah Dzong is one of the must do’s of Bhutan, situated at the convergence of the Mo Chuu and the Po Chuu, it was the second dzong of Bhutan and  was built by the Zhabdrung in 1637.  The Punakah Dzong serves as the winter home for the Je Khenpo (Buddhist Abbot) and is the venue for the coronation of Bhutanese Kings.

Punakah Dzong

The seat of government until it was moved to Thimpu in the 1950s, this is truly the most beautiful dzong in all of Bhutan.

The entry to the wooden bridge

The entry to the wooden bridge

The gold dome of the six story utse was built in 1676 with much of the rest of the buildings being added between 1744 and 1763.

Utse of Punakah dzong

Frequent fires, the earthquake of 1897 and a burst of a glacial lake in 1994 have done damage over the years, but the dzong stands beautifully in defiance of what mother nature can throw at her.

Honeycombs riddle many of the windows

Honeycombs riddle many of the windows

This dzong has three docheys (courtyards)  instead of the usual two.  The first courtyard houses this huge white chorten and serves administrative functions.

Chorten

*Chorten

The second courtyard houses monastic quarters.

Punakah dzong

The two docheys are separated by the Utse, the central structure of the Dzong.

Stairs to the first floor of the Utse

Stairs to the first floor of the Utse

Doors to the hall where Ugyen Wangchuck, later the first king, was knighted by the Indian Empire in 1905.

Doors to the hall where Ugyen Wangchuck, later the first king, was knighted by the Indian Empire in 1905.

Punakha Dzong

In the third dochey is the temple, photos are not permitted, but it is truly awe inspiring.  The paintings, the wood work, the metal work is craftsmanship at its absolute zenith.

Phunakah Dzong

*

This building, open only to the Je Khenpo and the king, is the Machey Lhakhang. Machey means sacred embalmed body. Here is the body of Zhabdrung Ngaway Namgyal

This building, open only to the Je Khenpo and the King, is the Machey Lhakhang. Machey means sacred embalmed body. Here is the body of Zhabdrung Ngaway Namgyal, where both the King and the Je Khenpo come to take blessings before taking office.

Punakah Dzong

Bhutan’s most honored treasure is housed in this dzong. The Rangjung Kharsapani, brought from Tibet to Bhutan, is an image of the Chenresig (also known as the Avalokiteśvara “Lord who looks down”) and is kept in the utse.

The story goes that in 1639 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal tricked a Tibetan army by secreting the relic in his sleeve and throwing a subsitute into the river. With this sleight of hand he saved his throne, and explains why the men all wear their sleeves rolled up to their elbows.  The white of the sleeves, by the way, symbolizes purity.

Bhutanese Sleeves

Here are some images from throughout the Dzong.

This is the story of the Four Harmonious Friends. It is found everywhere in Bhutan. The image is of a bird, rabbit and monkey standing on each others shoulders and then they all stand on the back of an elephant. It is the epitome of social harmony. It is said that the bird finds a seed and plants it, the rabbit waters it, the monkey fertilizes it, and once it has sprouted and grown the elephant protects it. By working together they all are able to reach and enjoy the fruit.

This painting is found everywhere in Bhutan, it is the story of the Four Harmonious Friends. The image is of a bird, rabbit and monkey standing on each others shoulders and then they all stand on the back of an elephant. It is the epitome of social harmony.

It is said that the bird finds a seed and plants it, the rabbit waters it, the monkey fertilizes it, and once it has sprouted and grown the elephant protects it.

By working together they all are able to reach and enjoy the fruit.

 

Phunakah Dzong

*Punakah Dzong

*Punakah Dzong

*

Punakah dzong

*Punakah Dzong

*Punakah Dzong

*Punakah Dzong

*Punakah Dzong

 

Kuzuzangpo!

Sep 272015
 

September 2015
Punakha, Bhutan

Chilis of Bhutan

Chilis and red rice are the main staples of Bhutanese cooking.  A typical Bhutanese meal may consist of nothing more than red rice and Bhutan’s national dish ema datse.  Ema datse consists of large green, sometimes red, but always hot, chilies prepared in a cheese sauce. The cheese is somewhere between a farmers cheese and a gruyere.  If one wants to enjoy the cheese without the heat, there is kewa datse, potates with cheese or shamu datse which is mushrooms with cheese.

red rice of Bhutan

Chili Cheese

Ema datse

Fiddle headsThis is the season for nakey or what we in the west call fiddle heads. They are abundant and delicious.

Bones in the Bhutan Market

Bhutan is a Buddhist country, so killing animals is highly frowned upon, however, they do eat meat, which is usually killed by non-Buddhists and often comes from India or Thailand, but as witnessed by these bones in the market, not always.

 

MomoThen there is momo, these are small steamed dumplings filled with cheese and cabbage or meat. The proper way to eat them is dripping in chili sauce. These little dumplings are delicious, and always a welcome treat at the table.  Momo’s are not a traditional Bhutanese dish, this particular addition to Bhutanese  cuisine has been imported from Tibet.

DRIED Yak CheeseRock hard yak cheese or chugo is available, one treats it like gum and chews and chews and chews until the flavor comes out.

There are not grocery stores in Bhutan, all of your produce comes from the local market and a visit is a must to understanding the food culture of this country.  Here is a tour of the Punakha market.

Persimmons

Persimmons

You will catch a whiff of a rank smell similar to cow dung. This is the fermenting betel nut.

You will catch a whiff of a rank smell similar to cow dung while wandering. It is the fermenting betel nut.

The leaves in which the Betel Nut is wrapped before putting into the mouth and chewing.

The leaves in which the Betel Nut is wrapped before putting into the mouth and chewing.

Garlic

Garlic

Spices, spices, spices

Spices, spices, spices

This is cane. Once the stronger portion is removed to make furniture the softer parts are peeled and dried for use in the winter as a basis for soups and stews.

This is cane. Once the stronger portion is removed to make furniture the softer parts are peeled and dried for use in the winter as a basis for soups and stews.

The Bhutan Market

*Bhutan Market

*Spices of Bhutan

This is a vegetable, sadly no one was able to tell me what it was

This is a vegetable, sadly no one was able to tell me what it was

Dried fish is very prevalent in Bhutanese cooking

Dried fish is very prevalent in Bhutanese cooking

Bhutanese market

*Bhutanese Market

Guavas, apples, pears and bananas are also common fruits throughout Bhutan

Guavas, apples, pears and bananas are also common fruits throughout Bhutan

It is all Zhimbay!

Kuzuzangpo

Sep 272015
 

Hotel Zangto Pelri
Punakha, Bhutan
September 2015

Bhutanese Market

Chanterelles (Sese Shamu) are in season in Bhutan, so our mushroom expert and chef extraordinaire, Jacinta, bought a bag, no, you don’t get to pick them out, they are bagged by the seller prior to your purchase.  So after much deliberation as to the best bag, Jacinta purchased these beautiful creatures.Chanterelles in Bhutan

Jacinta brought them back to our hotel with the hopes of sharing with our group.

Mushrooms in Bhutan

The chef was so very accommodating, and willing to cook them for us.

The butter here is very rich

The butter here is very rich.

There was considerable discussion as to how to properly cook them, including a very slight shriek of horror from Jacinta when the sous chef said she was going to wash them first.  Jacinta got over the shock, and the cooking began.

There was a slight discussion as to the proper pan

The pan selection in the kitchen

Bhutan

Once the proper pan was chosen, and a discussion as to the perfect amount of butter, onto the stove they went.

Mushrooms in Bhutan

Then came the discussion of salt

Mushrooms in Bhutan

The teaching begins… while the Bhutanese chef was well versed in the kitchen, vegetables in this country tend to be cooked longer than is to the liking of our group.

Cooking Mushrooms in Bhutan

*cooking mushrooms in Bhutan *cooking mushrooms in Bhutan

The stove was propane, the BTUs expended are difficult to know.

Bhutan

Jacinta knew she had a protege well on his way to appreciating the fine art of the chanterelle until he suggested finishing with white pepper and Bhutanese chilis.  She masked her horror with grace and elegance, but with a firm, no.

Mushrooms in Bhutan

The finished product was divine!  This is an experience that can only be had when beautiful hearted people like Jacinta are willing to share their knowledge and passion.  I know the Bhutanese chef loved the experience, and Jacinta’s fellow travelers were so enriched by the experience.  It is a true honor to have her in our group.

 

If you are interested in learning more about the mushrooms of Bhutan check out Mushroaming.Com

Sep 262015
 

September 2015
Punakha, Bhutan

You can see the Chorten on the top of the hill from the bridge

You can see the Chorten on the top of the hill from the bridge

The walk to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten begins by crossing a delightful, and very stable suspension bridge. The area under the bridge serves as a pushing off spot for rafting and kayaking down the Mo Chuu.

Moo Chu BhutanThe walk is through lovely rice paddies with the first breathable stop being the prayer wheels set on the hillside half way up.

Walking above the Mo ChuuThe next leg is slightly easier as there are stone steps that are set into the hill for the better part of the walk.

Chorten in Bhutan

The Prayer Wheel at the Chorten

The Prayer Wheel at the Chorten

The building took eight years to build and is dedicated to the fifth king. The sculptural center is breathtaking, just chock-a-block with Buddhist iconography. As always, photos are forbidden inside the chorten, however, you are able to climb to the roof, three stories up, and gaze down on the valley for spectacular views and once again the use of your camera.

Mo Chuu Bhutan

*

Mo Chuu

*

There are 108 Chortens surrounding the main temple

There are 108 smaller Chortens surrounding the main Chorten.

Looking down on the Suspension Bridge from the Chorten

Looking down on the Suspension Bridge from the Chorten

The Welcome Gate

The Welcome Gate

Some sites along your route…….

Prayer Floags

*Cows in the rice fields*DSC_7982 *Bhutan Rice Fields *DSC_7985*

Children in Bhutan

*

The suspension bridge is very, very stable

The suspension bridge is very, very stable

Sep 252015
 

September 2015
Punakha, Bhutan

DSC_7799

The 108 Chortens in the mist, while it appears to be a small dollhouse collection notice the cars in the parking lot below.

The ride from Thimphu to Punakha goes across the Dochu La pass.  At the top of the pass is a collection of 108 chortens. The chortens were built by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk during a conflict on the border with Nepal.  Nepalese marauders had come into Bhutan and were living in the forests. One day the king mounted a surprise attack and was able to run the marauders out of the country, but before he did the Queen Mother promised to build these 108 chortens on this spot if the attack was successful.  Today they also are a memorial to those that died during the attack.

108 chortens

All the roads in Bhutan are undergoing construction, so the road is dirt, bumpy and results in a very long ride. As you leave the mountain you find yourself in the beautiful valley of Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan and a rice growing region.

Punakha Valley, Bhutan

The purpose of visiting the older portion of Punakha was to enter the temple of Drukpa Kunley better known as the Divine Madman.

The monastery of the Divine Madman

The monastery of the Divine Madman

Lam Drukpa Kuenley (1455 to 1570) was an enlightened Buddhist master who personified the true essence of Vajrayana tradition that is also known as “Crazy Wisdom”. This is the profound wisdom that transcends the mundane cultures of religion.

Gate at the entry to the monastery

Gate at the entry to the monastery

Called the Divine Madman because of his non-conventional and “outrageous” style of teaching, he deliberately portrayed the image of a vagabond and wandered around the countryside indulging in song and dance, women and drink, hunting and eating.

This chorti is painted in a different color pattern that most. It marks where Drukpa Kunley played the mountain demons.

This chorten is painted in a different color pattern than most. It marks where Drukpa Kunley slayed the mountain demons.

The Divine Madman was a social critic who taunted the hypocrisy of the established orders, including the monastic order. Thus the use of his phallus as a “flaming thuderbolt” weapon, symbolizing the discomfort that society experiences when facing the truth.

We sat under the Bodi tree as our guide regaled us with stories of the Divine Madman.  If you are interested, there is only one book about his life titled: “The Divine Madman – The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley” translated by Keith Dowman.

Monks reading at the monastery

Monks reading at the monastery

DSC_7860

The Divine Madman did not believe in building monasteries and certainly not monastic schools, so it is ironic there is a school on the property now.  It was his brother that had the monastery built.

Bhutanese Takin

This is the Takin. The Divine Madman is credited with creating the national animal of Bhutan by sticking the head of a goat onto the body of a cow.

The mist on Duch Pass

The mist on Dochu Pass

Offerings just casually set on the side of the road

Offerings just casually set on the side of the road

It is the beginning of rice harvest

It is the beginning of rice harvest

Rice Harvest

*Bhutan

Homages to Drukpa Kunley painted on the homes. These symbols are not just fertility symbols, in the case of Bhutan they also ward off evil spirits.DSC_7158

*Bhutan

*Bhutan

A few sites around the valley.

Wind Prayer Wheel

*Children of Bhutan

Kuzuzangpo!

Sep 242015
 

Bhutan's Giant Buddha

This is the Buddha Dordenma a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue the sits in the mountains just outside of Thimpu, Bhutan. It is one of the largest Buddha rupas in the world at 169 feet tall. The statue is made of bronze and gold gilt.

Bhutan's Buddha Park

Apsaras ring the Giant Buddha – Apsaras are female spirits of the clouds and water in Buddhism

 The statue alone cost $47 million US, and was built by Aerosun Corporation of Nanjing, China. The statue is a part of the Buddha Dordenma Project, that will include a park covering 945 acres at an expected cost in the neighborhood of $100 million.

The interior is ringed with stunning gold columns

The interior is ringed with stunning gold columns

The Buddha commemorates the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy, but also fulfills a prophecy. In the twentieth century, the renowned yogi Sonam Zangpo prophesized that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region to bestow blessings, peace and happiness on the whole world.Goddess of Buddhism

Behind the altar sits Avalokitesvara, “Lord who looks down”.  This bodhisattva embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.

The Altar in the temple under the Giant Buddha

The Altar in the temple under the Giant Buddha

goddess of buddhism

By pure luck we were there the day it was consecrated by the chief Bhutanese abbot.

The Abbott of Bhutan

The Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan is called the Je Khenpo. His primary duty is to lead the Commission for the Monastic Affairs  (Dratshang Lhentshog) of Bhutan, which oversees the Central Monastic Body, and to arbitrate on matters of doctrine, assisted by learned masters or  lopons . The Je Khenpo is also responsible for many important liturgical and religious duties across the country.

The Abbot blessing the crowd

The Abbot blessing the crowd

Bhutan's Chief About

According to the dual system of government in Bhutan, established by Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century, the powers of the government of Bhutan are ideally split between the religious branch, headed by the Je Khenpo, and the administrative branch, headed by the Druk Desi. The position of Je Khenpo is based on merit by election, and typically is given to the most respected monk in the Commission for the Monastic Affairs (Dratshang Lhentshog).  Therefore, unlike reincarnation lineages such as the Dalai Lama, the position of Je Khenpo is always a seasoned monk, and never a child.

The chinese guests were given these small Buddhas blessed by the Abbot. Placing them on their head is a sign of reverence

The chinese guests were given these small Buddhas blessed by the Abbot. Placing them on their head is a sign of reverence

The Chinese gathered around the Abbots chair

The Chinese gathered around the Abbots chair

The red carpet laid for the Head Abbot was decorated with mandalas made of colored rice.

The red carpet laid for the Head Abbot was decorated with mandalas made of colored rice.  This is after they were walked all over.

There is no record of how drums came to Bhutan but they serve a very important place in both cultural and religious ceremonies

There is no record of how drums came to Bhutan but they serve a very important place in both cultural and religious ceremonies.

Giant Buddha of Bhutan

 

*

The Abbots chair after everyone had left the ceremony

The Abbots chair after everyone had left the ceremony

The Grand Abbot of Bhutan

Sep 232015
 

September 2015
Thimpu, Bhutan

Tshechu literally means day ten, and  are annual religious festivals of Bhutan.  Each Dzong (province) has its own festival and they are held on the tenth day of the tenth month of the lunar Tibetan calendar. They are religious festivals, but they also serve as social events and places for people to sell their wares.  The Teschu of Thimpu is one of the largest.   The focal points are the dances with marvelous colorful costumes and stunning masks.  The dances tell moral based stories and are centered on important figures in Bhuddist history. Some of the dances can go on for hours.

DSC_7292

Dance of the Nobleman and the Ladies – Phooey Moley

DSC_7368This dance is primarily for entertainment and is based on an  Indian myth.  The story is about love and jealousy.
DSC_7363 *DSC_7362 *DSC_7346

Astara

Throughout the day, atsara, or masked clowns, mimic the dancers and perform classic clown duties.  They are even found in the stands playing with the children and hassling the adults in the audience for money in exchange for blessings, in the case of the gentleman above, with his wooden phallus.
Bhutan Dancers

*Bhutan Dancers

We had the privilege of seeing the Dance of the Drummers from Drametse – Drametse Nga Cham

DSC_7556This dance was introduced at Drametse in the 16th century.  The masks represent peaceful forms.  They are led by a dancer wearing a lion mask carrying a cymbal.  The other animals represent the 12 animals in the Buddhist astrological system.
DSC_7500This dance has a designation under the World Heritage Preservation arm of UNESCO
DSC_7490 *DSC_7485 *DSC_7472

Here is a 10 second video of the sounds and movements of one very small part of this dance.

Kuzuzangpo

Sep 222015
 

September 2015

Archery in Bhutan

Archery became the national sport of Bhutan in 1971. Played between two teams, the distance to the target is about 476 feet.  The small targets are cut from wood and painted. The targets usually measure about 3 feet tall and 11 inches wide. Bullseyes are called karay. Traditionally, Bhutanese bows are made of bamboo, and arrows from bamboo or reeds, fletched with feather vanes. Arrows may be painted and tipped with metal arrowheads. Quivers may be wooden, with an animal hide covering and a woven strap, however, as you can see from the photo above the expensive compound bow has become de rigueur.

archery in Bhutan

There is much verbal competition as well, it is part of the game to heckle ones opponents, but they also praise each other, and lend each other encouragement. This verbal battle that is waged is called kha shed. Competitors must be prepared to provoke or reply in an equal or more impressive literary fashion. One example is: “Where the vulture flies, my stone shall fly, there to collide.” (Bjagoed phu sa do chap kay).  I think you have to speak the idiomatic dialogue to truly appreciate the nuance.

They also celebrate with a happy dance every time a teammate scores.

A Happy Dance

A Happy Dance

Darts in Bhutan

Khuru, or a form of darts, is fast overtaking archery as a favorite sport.  “Khurus” are carved out of hard-wood and there is no restriction on the weight or the size to be played. A “khuru” can weigh anywhere from 5 to 10 ounces.

Khuru

The distance between the targets is about 100 feet and the target is pretty small too, at about 10 by 5 inches.

Khuru Target

They also do a happy dance when their teammates score.

Khuru

When they score they are given a colored scarf, as you can see this fellow must be one of the better players on the team.

Khuru

Dotsho or Hot Stone baths seem to be a uniquely Bhutanese concept, practiced in this country for centuries. The Bhutanese believe that the bath helps with joint pains and relaxing. One or more sit in a tub that has a wood grate forming a small pool at one end.  Hot steaming river rocks are rolled into the grated end and quickly heat the water to a desired temperature of those in the tub.  The person heating the rocks is not within site of the tub, so more heat and rocks are requested by pounding on the wooden chute where the rocks enter the tub.

Hot Stone Bath

Photo courtesy of Hotel Pegyel

The tub is filled with Artemsia leaves.

Hot stone baths, even at our 5 star hotel in Paro are very inexpensive, we were three to a tub and the cost was $20/person.

Kuzuzangpo!

Sep 222015
 

September 22, 2015
Paro, Bhutan

Paro Dzong

Dzongs serve as the citadel of each of the 20 districts of Bhutan, they are awe inspiring architectural wonders. Dozens were built of stone or rammed mud and lots and lots and lots of timber.  The wide planked Bhutan Pine floors are just one part of the woodworking mastery in these buildings. (Sorry but those floors were in areas off limits to cameras).

During the 15 and 1600s the dzongs primary function was that of the fortress. Today they are split in two, half being the administrative center of the region the other half serves as a religious center and housing for many of the monks. (in the case of the Paro dzong, at least 200 monks)

 

Our guide sporting his Kepna

Our guide sporting his Kabney

Tourists are required to wear long sleeves, collared shirts and long pants or skirts.  Bhutanese must don the Kabney.  The Kabney is raw silk, normally 35 x 118 inches and with fringe,  it runs from the left shoulder to the right hip. The general public wears white, members of the national assembly wear blue, the judges green, the district administers or Gups wear white with red, the Lyonpos or ministers wear orange and the king wears saffron.

Paro Dzong

The original Paro Dzong was built in 1647, it survived the 1897 earthquake but had to be rebuilt in 1907 after having burned completely to the ground.  There are no architectural plans when building a dzong, the builders simply rely on a mental concept of what is to be built.  Each dzong has unique concepts but basically they follow a standard plan.

Paro Dzong

The main courtyard of the dzong is called the dochey.  It is paved with large flagstones and is surrounded by rooms that serve as monk’s quarters and classrooms.

Paro Dzong

The central structure in the middle of the courtyard it called the utse.Paro Dzong

A snow leopard graces the utse.

A snow leopard graces the utse.

 

Paro Dzong

The Paro dzong is the most well known and impressive in Bhutan.  The correct name is Rinchen Pung Dzong and means Fortress on a Heap of Jewels.

Nyami Zam

Below the dzong is a traditional wooden bridge, this one is called Nyamai Zam and spans the Paro Chhu. This is a reconstruction, as the original was washed away in 1969.

A view of Paro from a window in the dzong.

A view of Paro from a window in the dzong.

The area of worship is off limits to cameras, however, it was used in Bertolucci’s 1995 film Little Buddha.

Paro Dzong*
DSC_7087 *

DSC_7095

Kuzuzangpo

Sep 222015
 

September 22, 2015
Paro, Bhutan
Blessed Rainy Day

Today is Blessed Rainy Day, a national holiday in Bhutan marking the end of the monsoon season. Today all natural water resources in the country are considered to be sanctifying and the people are encouraged to take an outdoor bath in order to be cleansed of “bad deeds, obstructions and defilements” and accumulated bad karma. Families traditionally gather for a large breakfast, and then like holidays around the world, general enjoyment is had by all.  Today I saw both archery, the national sport of Bhutan and darts, a game fast overtaking archery in this country as a favorite sport.  The kids were out, people were picnicking and it was a great day overall.

Kyichu LhakhangOur day began at Kyichu Lhakhang (Peaceful Temple), one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. The oldest portion of the temple is believed to have been built in AD 659 by King Songster Gampo of Tibet. Additional buildings were built in 1839 and in 1968.

Kyichu Lhakhang

While photos are not allowed inside there is much to see at the site.

Kyichu Lhakhang

*Kyichu Lhakhang

This is a chorten, often called stupas in other Buddhist countries.  The chorten is literally a receptacle for offerings and in Bhutan all chortens contain religious relics.  This chorten at Kyichu Lhakhang contains the ashes of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche the revered Buddhist master and teacher of the queen mother, he passed away in 1992.

The pinnacle of the chorten symbolizes enlightenment.  The spire symbolizes fire and has 13 steps representing the 13 steps that lead to Buddhahood.  The hemispherical dome symbolizes water, and the square base, earth.

 

Kyichu Lhakhang

A pair of Dharma trumpets and a prayer wheel. The trumpet is collapsable and the sound is analogous to an elephant singing.

Monks of Kyichu Lhakhang

Monks of Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang

Prayer wheels and Tsa Tsas

Bhutan is a Buddhist country and the religion seeps into every segment of life.  Prayer Wheels are everywhere.

Prayer Wheel

Prayer wheels are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. In these larger prayer wheels rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies (the more the merrier) of the mantra (prayer) Om Mani Padme Hum, often printed in an ancient Indian script or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container, and spun around and around. Typically, larger decorative versions of the syllables of the mantra are carved on the outside cover of the wheel.

Buddhists believe that saying this mantra, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the embodiment of compassion.

DSC_7037Viewing a written copy of the mantra is said to have the same effect and the mantra is carved into stones left in piles near paths where travelers will see them.

Dogs in Temples

You will find stray dogs everywhere in Bhutan.  It is said that in Bhutanese Buddhism there is a dark space between death and enlightenment.  In this dark space the dogs tail will light the way, so dogs are revered in Bhutanese culture.

cakes of Bhudism

Ceremonial cakes adorn all the alters in Bhutan’s monasteries, however, since photos are not allowed it has been difficult for me to bring them to you.  Today I had the honor of stepping into the work room of Kyichu Lhakhang where they make these cakes.  The base is a flour type cake, but the ornamentation is butter.  The larger pieces are painted once carved, the color is integral to the butter in the smaller ornamentation.

Ceremonial Butter Cakes

While I can not confirm what this monk was calling about, it appeared he was checking something in the script that sat before him, I later saw him using his phone to look things up on the web.  I have no idea if these are recipes, directions for designs or prayers, but it is an excellent example of how the cell phone has invaded Bhutan.

Butter Cakes and Bhutan

This monk was sorting supplies, molds and dyes for the process of making the cakes.  These cakes adorn every alter, once they have outspent their usefulness they are fed to the birds.

Kyichu Lhakhang

Whenever you step into a Buddhist temple you are required to remove your shoes, this always makes for a colorful and fun site.

Kyichu Lhakhang

Throughout Bhutanese temples you will find these delightfully colorful hangings.  The center pillow appearing piece is also found inside and out in monastaries.  These are strictly symbolic, a showing of protecting the faithful from the sun and the rain, similar to the umbrella found throughout temples in India.

Kuzuzangpo

 

Sep 212015
 

September 22, 2015
Paro, Bhutan

There are many photos one see in ones life and thinks how wonderful it would be to visit.  What the photo does not tell you is how difficult that can be.

Tigers Nest MonastaryThe Tigers Nest Monastery is one of the most venerated religious sites in both Bhutan and Bhuddism.  The monastery is built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave.  It is said that the Indian Guru Padmasambahva, who is believed to have introduced Buddhism to Bhutan came here to meditate in the 8th century.

The legend has it that he came to the cave on the back of a flying tigress, he came to meditate and did so for three years, three months three days and three hours.  This has led to the common three year retreat that Buddhist monks make today.

Just one of the stunning sites along the way.

Just one of the stunning sites along the way.

The monastery itself was not built until 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin rugby – Bhutan’s leader of the time.

Prayer Wheels and Prayer Flags are everywhere along your trek

Prayer Wheels and Prayer Flags are everywhere along your trek

In 1998, the Paro Taktsang was almost completely burned down, however 1999 was not an auspicious year for rebuilding so construction did not take place until 2000 and took 5 years to complete.  By that time it became a world wide endeavor, and when I asked the guide how, in more modern times, items were transferred up this mountain he told me the Swiss actually built a gondola to aid in the process.  The gondola is no longer there.

Footprints of one of the demos slain by Guru Runpoche

Footprints of one of the demos slain by Guru Runpoche

If you read much of the travel literature you are told it is a two hour walk.  That is most likely true if you are young, fit and accustomed to high altitudes.  It was pouring rain when we started out and that made for difficult walking in the very steep clay and mud. A word to the wise here, good sturdy shoes are recommended, and if you did not bring a walking stick with you, you can purchase a nice homemade one of wood at the bottom of the hill for $1.00 US., something, due to the mud, many wished they had.

At the approximately 1 1/2 hour spot for me we encountered a tea house.  You can get water, tea and biscuits, and there are toilet facilities.

From there the next hour or so is not quite as steep, but you are now in the 9000 feet range, so the going remains very slow.

Tigers Nest Monastary

About the time you wonder how much more you can take, you round a bend and there it is, what your climb was all about, you are now about 10,240 feet up.  The next challenge however is, what I have heard, is 720 steps,  I was too exhausted to count.  Half of those steps are downhill, but then the second half are straight up again.  These are stone steps, of various run and rise, so footing is treacherous and one must take their time.

Tigers Nest MonastaryAll the way down the steps I could here the rush of what I knew was a massive amount of water, but due to the clouds could not see.  This only added to the magic of the experience, the water source is a magnificent waterfall of deafening, crashing amounts of water.

The bottom half of the waterfall.

*

This is the bridge that marks the end of the downward staircase and the beginning of your climb back up the valley

This is the bridge that marks the end of the downward staircase and the beginning of your climb back up to the monastery

After you have gotten to the monastery you must divest yourself of everything you are carrying, this includes cameras, and then you climb even more steps to enter.

The interiors are absolutely stunning, and the art work breathtaking, making the climb worth it if you are not too exhausted to enjoy.  The saffron and red robed monks are there with big smiles and constant offerings of water for blessing and an odd mixture  of modern Japanese crackers for you eat.

There are frescoes and statuary and walls of clay sculptures, that explain the legends of Bhutanese Buddhism. If you are not knowledgeable of the various stories the iconography can be overwhelming.  I suggest you take in the artistic beauty and savor the moment.

The climb down, especially in the mud is treacherous.  We stopped for lunch at the tea house.  Lunch consisted of red Bhutanese rice, noodles, Chili Cheese ( a famous Bhutanese dish) and eggs, it was now about 2:00 and we headed down.  In all our day began around 9:00 in the parking lot and ended around 4:30.

These offerings are found all the way up to the monastery

These little items are all along the trail and are called Tsa Tsas . This is a Tibetan term used to describe small items used as offering and during meditation. Tsa Tsas are handmade and the process is taught to Buddhist students. The major purpose is to help in eliminating obstacles, purifying negativities, and creating positive energy (merit). Often, students are given a commitment to make 100,000 tsa tsas during their lifetime.

Traditionally tsa tsas are made with clay, left to harden naturally, and painted in either a fine luminescent gold or a pearlescent white.

Our guide spelled for me the Bhutanese word – TsaCha – I was never able to find this actual word in any literature, my misspelling or the fact that the Tibetan word is so much more common could simply be the reason why.

A noisy magpie with a pretty tail

A noisy magpie with a pretty tail

Tigers Nest Monastery

Looking through the clouds to the valley below

Prayer flags are everywhere in the area surrounding the monastery.

Prayer flags are everywhere in the area surrounding the monastery.

DSC_6968

*DSC_6898

*

You can take horses from the parking lot to the tea house. It helps a bit I suppose, but with the mud it looked more treacherous than fun

You can take horses from the parking lot to the tea house. It helps a bit I suppose, but with the mud it looked more treacherous than fun

Poles available for purchase at the bottom of the hill for $1 US

Poles available for purchase at the bottom of the hill for $1 US

The monastery is closed during the winter, but when it is open a family lives there.

The monastery is closed during the winter, but when it is open a family lives at the tea house 1/2 way up the hill.

This little guy stayed with me for most of the hike.

This little guy stayed with me for most of the hike.

On the stone steps is this small tea house for the guides, they sit, sip and wait for their slower charges

On the stone steps is this small tea house for the guides, they sit, sip and wait for their slower charges

A view of the monastery from the parking lot

A view of the monastery from the parking lot

 

Kuzuzangpo

Sep 012015
 

Written on September 21, 2015
From Paro, Bhutan
59 Degrees F and raining

Map of BhutanThe moment you land in Bhutan you know to dial it down several notches.  It is a slow moving and peaceful country.

To safeguard its environment, religion and culture, the country has adopted a controlled tourism policy. Although there is no longer a restriction on visitor numbers; all tourists have to pay a minimum daily tourist fee of approximately $250 US. This accompanied with a minimum amount of airline flights into the country, it is, while not as untouched as one might imagine, a country you know is special.

You can enter Bhutan by plane only through Thailand, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal or India. There is only one international airport in Bhutan and that is Paro (only opened in 1983).  You can drive into the country, but only if you are an Indian or Bhutanese citizen.

Paro is 7382 feet in altitude so some adjustment is needed right away, especially if you fly in from sea level.

Bhutanese Traditional ClothingDzongka is the official language, it is closely related in script to Tibetan, however Tibetans can not understand the spoken Dzongkha. There are 18 different dialects in the country but English is used as the language of education, so most everyone speaks English, and you see it on all the signs as well.

This is a Buddhist country, by that I mean that it infuses every pore and every breath of the people.

Relatively isolated until the 1950’s there is a great concern about the erosion of the culture. For this reason the traditional attire is required if one is working, especially in an official capacity.  The male outfit is called the gho and the females is the kira.

BhutanThere is also a ban on non-traditional architecture.  The architecture is simply stunning and I will be writing more about that later.

TV and the internet arrived in 1999, and I have been told that the cell phone has been the biggest factor of change rather than either of the other two mediums.

Until the 1960s Bhutan had no national currency, no telephones, no schools, hospitals and of course, no tourists, the roads are still not very well developed and yet the people are some of the most friendly and happy.  This is the land where they measure wealth as Gross National Happiness after all.

Bhutanese currencyThe currency is the Bhutanese Ngultrum, however, it is easier to travel with the Indian Rupee if you have come through that way. The exchange rate is 1 to 1 with the Rupee or about 65 to the US Dollar.  The only down side to traveling with the rupee is that the Bhutanese do not take 500 or higher rupee bills, so I entered the country with only about $400 US, that was a stack of bills 4″ thick.   This being said, they also don’t take anything but brand new American Dollars and heaven forbid they have writing or tears on the bills. You can change money very easily in the two large cities of Paro and Thimpu but it is not so easy in the more rural towns, ATMs are not yet a staple throughout the country, and credit cards are still a novelty outside of large establishments.

The Bhutanese flag was adopted in 1965 it features the Thunder Dragon, the country’s emblem. Yellow symbolizes the authority of the king, white represents purity and loyalty, while orange is symbolic of the Drukpa monasteries.

Bhutanese Flag

The Government of Bhutan has been a constitutional monarchy since July of 2008. Between 1907 and the 1950s, however, Bhutan was an absolute monarchy. The peaceful march to democracy has been a steady one. There is a council of ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. In 2007 a ban was lifted on political parties and a constitution was adopted in 2008.  While all of this sounds very progressive the country is still working on the change from monarchy to democracy.  They love their royal family, and there photos are everywhere.  They are a stunningly beautiful people and it is reflected in the handsome king and beautiful queen.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 5.42.32 AM

The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul or Land of the Thunder Dragon and The Druk Tsendhen (“The Thunder Dragon Kingdom”) is the national anthem. 

Symbol of Bhuta

The emblem of Bhutan features a vajra above a lotus, surmounted by a jewel, and framed by two druk.  The vajra means both thunderbolt and diamond symbolizing both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force).

That is a simplistic introduction to a complicated country, I will attempt to bring you far more in the coming weeks.

Kuzuzangpo