If you want a short break that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, try Bhutan. You’ll come back a different person!
7/18/2018 12:45:08 AM
|written By : Ruma Phukan|
Sometime back, a group of us, old friends, thought of travelling together to a place that none of us had visited earlier. With the rupee almost seventy against the dollar, the West certainly did not beckon, and when a friend suggested Bhutan, the rest of us said aye, aye, and so Bhutan it was. I don’t think any of us thought it would turn out to be such a wonderful holiday!
A 20-minute flight from Guwahati on Drukair, Bhutan’s national airline, takes you to Paro. As the aircraft begins its descent, it glides into a narrow valley between high mountain ranges, and as it turns, the wings of the aircraft come so treacherously and dramatically close to the mountain walls, that you realise what it is to be suspended in time and space. It lands smoothly, and you step out only to have your breath taken away by the majestic beauty of the sky and mountains, and the traditional beauty of the small airport buildings. One of the first things you notice in Bhutan is the intricate designs painted in the most exquisite colours on the carefully crafted woodwork of every humble home, every ancient monastery, and every majestic Dzong. And, yes, even in the buildings clustered around the airport!
The mountain air in this Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon is crisp and invigorating, filling you with a sense of lightness and well-being, and as you take deep breaths your lungs are filled with the clean fresh air they’re always craving for. A car was waiting for us, and from Paro we drove to Thimphu, the capital, a distance of about 54 km.
Among the many places we visited in Thimphu were several monasteries, the Memorial Chorten, Semtokha Dzong, Trashichadzong and Buddha Point. Buddha Point was originally known as Kuensel Phodrang, which is said to mean ‘all-seeing place’. And at this vantage point, the Lord sits atop a misty mountain keeping a watchful eye on the tiny Himalayan kingdom. Here the Lord is the Buddha Dordenma, or the Vajra Throne Buddha, the vajra (the thunderbolt) symbolising indestructibility. The statue is 169 feet high, towering over us, yet calm and gentle as the Buddha always is. Above us are only the sky and the sheer mountain slopes plunging to a deep valley. The bronze statue glows warmly in the evening sun, and for a while at least we were lost in that beautiful serene world between heaven and earth, so far away from our own humdrum one. We came back the richer for that experience.
While at Thimphu, you should not miss the grand Trashichadzong which houses the King’s throne room and the Central Monk Body, the Folk Heritage Museum and the School of Traditional Arts among other things. Then, like us, do have an authentic Bhutanese lunch at the Heritage Restaurant. Ema datsi and chicken paa with red rice are a must, as are the soup and butter tea.
The sky in Bhutan is a startling azure from one end of the horizon to the other, until black and white clouds come out of nowhere and jostle for space, and the mountain mist creeps stealthily up, suddenly hiding everything from view. As your car climbs higher and higher up the mountain, your eyes are riveted on the magnificent conifers and the broad-leaved deciduous trees that clothe the slopes in myriad shades of green and almost blue. As the road twists and turns, you are delighted by unexpected bursts of colour every now and then: the yellow, red, pink, mauve and white of wild flowers!
In Bhutan, mountain and river sides are not marred by shops selling cheap trinkets, chips, gutkha and other such stuff. Instead they are marked by prayer wheels that seem to have been turning since time immemorial, and prayer flags in various sizes and colours. There ‘the hills are alive to the sound of music’, different from what you and I hear all the time. It’s the music of melodious Buddhist chants, the sonorous bells and gongs of the monasteries, the softly fluttering prayer flags, and the gurgling of narrow mountain streams that tumble rapidly down, music that fills your heart and soul with peace and tranquillity, and a sense of wonder that we thought we had lost forever.
Nunneries and monasteries are sometimes perched so high up, right on the edge of formidable mountain slopes, that you cannot but marvel at the tenacity of those believers of a faith for whom the harsh terrain and the even harsher climate were but small hurdles to be brushed aside in their quest for the meditative practice associated with the rituals and philosophy of Buddhism. One of the most spectacular monasteries in the world must be Taktsang Monastery, or the ‘Tiger’s Nest’, as famous as it is revered. Never, for a moment, can you forget that this is a country whose people, culture and traditions are mystically woven with Buddhism.
As we travelled east from Thimphu, we visited Punakha. Punakhadzong is situated at the confluence of the Mochu and Pochu rivers, and affords one of the most beautiful sights in the country. It’s worth pointing out that many of the Dzongs were built in the early 17th century to serve as administrative centres, watch towers, and also storehouses which would ensure supplies in the event of warfare. Paro and Wangdue were two other beautiful halts on our itinerary. Visits to Chele La (La meaning pass), at almost 3,900 metres, and Dochu La are wonderful outings through breathtaking scenery, made even more beautiful by the play of light and shade on alternating mountains and valleys, and the mountain mists that come and go so playfully. And watch out for the wind, it might just blow you away! Our guide advised us to be quiet and attentive, and soon we were rewarded with the musical notes of rare Himalayan birds which, alas, we did not see. At that altitude, the picnic lunch that we carried tasted heavenly!
If you happen to be the adventurous outdoor type , there’s fly-fishing, river-rafting, mountain biking and trekking along some spectacular mountain terrain.
So, if you want a short break that doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket, try Bhutan. You’ll come back a different person!