My trip to Bhutan was a beautiful soul-satisfying journey. I hadn’t really expected this on a group trip (I have majorly been a solo-traveler preferring my time and space when I travel) but Bhutan being a bit tricky logistically, I decided to opt for a group travel to this place.
I learnt a lot on this trip…about the local Bhutanese culture as well as a bit about life and spirituality in general. I learnt to let go of my inhibitions…I learnt to be someone I am usually not and still enjoy it. I learnt that there are people out there exactly just like me and that, we could all forge some unknown connections even though we had barely just known each other.
Stepping foot outside the airplane at Paro, we were left stunned. Rolling mountains all around us with clouds flowing low was a mesmerizing sight. The airport, itself looked something out of a fairy tale. Intricate designs and artwork on the walls and the colors used by them were quite breathtaking. (More about these colours in upcoming posts)
Having cleared ourselves out of the airport, we met our Local guide there who welcomed us by tying a white silky scarf around our necks. This, according to him, is the traditional way to welcome any guest in his country.
With the Paro river flowing alongside, we started our journey onwards to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, which was our base for the next couple of days.
A short while after leaving the airport, we came across Tachog Lhakhang in Paro, an iron-chain suspension bridge that leads the way to a Dzong. Now, the bridge may look a bit flimsy but step on it and you realize the immense strength it has. It is said that the bridge was built in the late 15th century by a man named Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo (Ok..I googled the name since I forgot it post my trip).
Colorful prayer flags lie tied up on the handrails of both sides of the bridge – holding with them stories of the many hopeful pilgrims or tourists possibly who must have tied them there.
The sight of the flags, with the sparkling blue river flowing beneath the bridge, delicate peach blossom trees in bloom and the rounded rocks around the small mountain create a scene of such serenity that it is difficult to not feel positive around this region.
You need to walk across the iron-chained bridge to reach the Dzong, which, itself is a rather small structure built in the Tibetan style (You can know this by looking at the roof – as told to us by our guide there).
Prayer wheels in reddish brown and with chants written in golden color lined the four sides of the Dzong – each of which, you are supposed to turn only in the clockwise direction and also walking around clockwise around the Dzong. Alongside the wheels, you will find small structures called “Mini-Stupas”.
On inquiring further about these mini-stupas, we are told that these are left by the people as offerings – either when they are advised to by their astrologers (Usually left In numbers of 108) or when there is a death in the family.
In case of a death, the ashes of the person are taken and mixed with clay and the mini-stupas are created to be left at these places. These are meant as an ode to the dead person and for their peace.
You will also find many of these “Mini-stupas” being placed on mountains, near river sides and also below trees. These are all places of worship by the Buddhists. It is believed that before Buddhism found its way in Bhutan, nature worship – such as that of rivers, mountains, trees and such was prevalent. The influence and belief is visible even today in such instances.
A short stop there and making a new furry friend near the Dzong who wanted to come with us on our bus, we continued our journey to Thimphu.
Thimpu had a lot of places for us to explore but having traveled almost the entire night (flights + airport transit), we decided to have a relaxed first day in this town and headed straight to the central marketplace to satiate our hunger pangs.
The town square is a quaint place with an open ground in the center and a clock tower in its midst. Small souvenir shops and local restaurants surround the square in all of their simplicity.
A small restaurant at the town square, named “Momos and Noodles” caught our eye, and without another thought, a few of us headed there. I don’t think I mentioned earlier, but the weather was pretty cold – I think it was about 12 degrees centigrade with heavy gusts of winds blowing around us. In such conditions, most of us only had dreams of piping hot soupy stuff or something with chilies to warm up our bodies and souls.
The place was extremely simple and no-frills but there was a inherent warmth about it. A simple, plastic coated menu lay on our table and there was an instinctive feel that we had struck gold here.
I opted for a Vegetarian Thukpa – a dish that was described as noodles with soup. “Soup” was the magic word for the day for me…A hot concoction to warm my frozen fingers, that’s all I needed.
A few minutes later, a bowl showed up in front of me with the dish exactly as I had desired – piping hot soup with coriander, red chilies, garlic, ginger, shallots and a huge chunk of smooth noodles. A side bowl of red chili paste was given – just in case I needed an extra dose of heat in my soup and soul.
A variety of other dishes such as Bathup, Momos, Instant noodles and teas (including the Butter tea) were offered on the menu but my heart was content with my soupy noodles. Life had returned in my body and this meal actually set me back by only about 1 dollar in total. Their Lemon tea is to literally die for…I had it on the 2nd day we went there and ordered repeats for it. Same holds for their fried Cheese momos. They were crisp on the outside and filed with hot gooey cheese and finely cut vegetables inside, a heart-melting combination. In fact, I was so overtaken by it that I wanted to order a take-away even after having just eaten them but then, a bit of common sense prevailed as we were scheduled to have dinner an hour post that.
Post the beautiful meal, we headed to our hotel for the night’s stay and geared up for some local Bhutanese dance entertainment arranged for us by our tour.
The dance program, is conducted by these local artists who aim at preserving the local traditions of Bhutan and sharing them with visitors. A variety of dances were presented, some spoke stories of cranes, some that brought forth stories of valor and fights, some of how local women pounded on clay to build houses while the men used to bring the clay for them and their banter in the process.
The music, songs and the dances were quite beautiful – displaying subtle dance movements, colorful costumes and different folk tales of Bhutan. We even got an opportunity to join in the last dance with these wonderful artistes…Of course, we weren’t as good as them but hey, we got to learn some of their dance steps..Not something you get to do usually, right?
A rather interesting and fulfilling first day in Bhutan, I’d say.