Bhutan : Exploring the Wonderland
January 1, 1970
by Vedika Pandey
I had no idea what was in store for me when I started planning for my trip to Bhutan.
I had my flight from Delhi to Paro, the highlight of which was when I got a wonderful view of certain Himalayan ranges and peaks, including Mt. Everest and Mt Kanchenjunga . So, for the people traveling from Delhi – you’re in for a wild ride!
The country of Bhutan, with its fair share of mountains and valleys and rivers, exudes calm and tranquility. The natural beauty teamed up the culture and spiritualism makes Bhutan the perfect destination to relax as well as to explore. The buildings over there display Bhutanese architecture, with religious designs and symbols painted on the house walls, giving out a very traditional feel. The citizens, during their school/ office hours wear their traditional dress – Gho for males and Kira & Tego for females. Everything looks so beautiful and different from any place that I’ve ever been to.
During my trip, I stayed in Thimpu, Paro and Punakha. I was in Bhutan in the month of May, so the weather was pleasant. Thimpu and Paro were mildly cold, while Punakha, being a valley had comparatively high temperature. I had pre-booked the guide and the taxi over there via the travel agency TravelKaro. It was good service.
My flight landed in Paro from where the taxi took me to my hotel in Thimpu. It was a comfortable one and half hour ride, with beautiful scenery all around. I spent my first day in Thimpu exploring the local markets, and doing a bit of shopping.
I started off my next day in Thimpu by visiting the Kuensel Phodrang, also known as the Buddha Point. It displays a gold-plated, bronze statue of Buddha. It is the largest statue in the country. It sits upon a meditation hall, which serves as the throne to Buddha. The hall houses over one hundred thousand smaller statues of Buddha.
Next, my taxi took me to the Changankhya lhakhang. This Buddhist Temple is perched on a hilltop and has steps leading up to it. Parents traditionally come here to give auspicious names for their children and to seek blessings.
National Memorial Chorten
The next day I visited the National Memorial Chorten. It is a huge Tibetan style Chorten used by the Bhutanese for their daily worship. It was built as the memorial to the third King of Bhutan.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine
After that I went to the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, which is located on a hilltop. Many of Bhutan’s traditional medicine doctors are educated there. Just at the start of the building, there’s a huge statue of Buddha painted in blue color, which represents ‘health’. The institute also has a small museum that displays various herbs and minerals and also states their use in curing diseases. It’s very informative.
Punakha has a very pleasant weather. On the day I travelled from Thimpu to Punakha, I visited the Fertility Temple, or as they call it – Chimi lhakhang. It is a Buddhist monastery placed on a hill. Tourists need to trek for about 35-40 minutes to reach the monastery. It’s a pleasant walk through the villages and paddy fields. The monastery is dedicated to the saint Drukpa Kunley aka the Divine Madman. People come here in the hopes of having a child as well as to take blessings of the saint.
Legends about the saint Drupka Kunley say that he preached Buddhism in an unconventional way by singing, dancing, comedy and sensual connotations. Hence the reason why people here follow the bizarre tradition of worshipping the male phallus. You’ll see the designs painted on house walls, shops etc.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
The next day I visited Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. ‘Chorten’ in Zonkha (i.e the Bhutanese language) means ‘stupa’. This structure built by the Queen Mother is such a beautiful example of Bhutanese tradition and architecture. The stupa is situated on a hilltop, so it takes about 1 hour to trek up the hill to reach the Chorten. It has 3 storeys containing beautiful paintings and sculptures inside it. On reaching the top of the stupa, you get an amazing view of the whole Punakha Valley.
‘Dzong’ means fortress. Punakha Dzong is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan, and is the administrative centre of Punakha District. The Dzong is different from other Dzongs in the country in the sense that it has an additional third courtyard instead of the usual two. Built at the confluence of the Pho Chuu and Mo Chuu rivers, access to the Dzong is across the Bazam bridge built over the rivers. Make sure you cover your hands and legs while visiting the Dzong.
From Punakha I started for my next and last stop – Paro. On the way, I stopped at Dochula Pass. It’s quite a popular tourist spot. Dochula Pass has a group of 108 stupas which were constructed over there in the year 2004 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory against a terrorist organization which had infiltrated the country. There is a huge park just next to it which makes for a good walking place. The park also has a few huts where people sit and relax or meditate.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery
The one place where I’d recommend everyone to go to in Paro, is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery – Paro Taktsang. The Tiger’s Nest monastery is located on top of a high cliff above the Paro valley.The base of the cliff is about 10 Kilometers north of Paro city. I had a taxi take me from my hotel to the base. The trek to the Tiger’s Nest monastery is about 4.6 kilometers one way. The path is very steep and the last leg of the trek has a lot of steps. There’s a cafeteria at around half of the distance to the Monastery.
The base has lots of shops for the tourists. There are also horses available for the tourists to ride. However, the horses only go up to the cafeteria, that too only uphill. The rest of the distance has to be covered by foot. I would recommend covering the whole distance by foot over horse ride as the path is steep and narrow, which makes it risky. The trek is equally exhausting and enjoyable.
You can also try the local dishes in the restaurants within the city.
I tried Thukpa and Shamudatshi in the Khamsum hotel ; 10/10 would recommend it!
Bhutan is a culturally rich, wonderful place. Go out there and enjoy!