Bhutan: A Magical Journey

Unique is the word that comes to mind when I think of Bhutan. Magical is another.

Bhutan feels as though I am in an unspoiled corner of the earth. But an inescapable fact of life is impermanence. Just as I ponder upon the question as to whether Bhutan will remain the way it is, I cannot help but ponder and appreciate the impermanent nature of my life, which brought me to Bhutan.

My journey to Bhutan ended physically but the spiritual journey continues.

Taktsang Monastery

Perched on a cliffside at 10,240 feet, the Taktsang Monastery is considered to be one of the holiest places in Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche is said to have meditated here in the 8th century. By birth, I am a Hindu educated in Catholic and Jesuit institutions, and constantly drawn to the Buddhist concept of impermanence. Thus my spiritual journey begins with a few steps; over 25,000 more to take.

Prayer Flags

Prayer flags adorn the Kingdom of Bhutan — roads, mountainsides, monasteries, and more. Prayer flags are square/rectangular or vertical and come in five colors to represent the Five Pure Lights: space, air, water, fire, and earth. The prayer flags evoke a sense of joy in me because the mantras in the flags are blown by the wind to spread compassion and goodwill into all pervading space.

Chorten Offerings

Throughout Bhutan, chortens or stupas line the roadside commemorating places where Guru Rinpoche or another high priest [Lama] may have stopped to meditate. A testament to the profound faith that is shared by the people of Bhutan.

Thimphu and Tashichho Dzong

Located on the banks of the Wangchhu River, Tashichho Dzong is the seat of Bhutan's government and houses offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of finance and home affairs. In addition, there are several temples, chapels, and shrines within the dzong [fortress], which is open to public after office hours [4:30 PM].

Memorial Stupa

As a memorial to the king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Memorial Stupa is designed in a classical style with a pyramidal pillar crowned by a crescent moon and sun. Devotees circumambulate in a clockwise direction, some with prayer beads and others with prayer wheels which they spin to send prayers aloft, "Om Mani Padme Hum," the six-syllable mantra of loving kindness and compassion.

The Old and The New

Architecture in Bhutan is an excellent expression of cultural identity. Wood occupies an important role. The foundation is of stone, whitewashed walls of clay are usually half-timbered on the south-facing side. Wooden frames are assembled with pegs and painted black or brown.

Suspension Iron Bridge at Tachog Lhakhang

Born in Tibet, Thangton Gyelpo is said to have built several iron chain suspension bridges in Bhutan between 1433-1434. The Tachog Lhakhang Dzong can be reached by crossing this bridge over the river Paro Chhu. This original bridge has metal netting for extra support, which makes it flexible plus comfortable to walk across.

Drukgyel Dzong

A view of the snow capped mountains from Drukgyel Dzong, a fortified monastery in ruins since the fire in early 1950s. Once used to honor their gods and protect their country from attackers, Drukgyel Dzong now is quite serene and surprisingly one of the most contemplative places that I have set foot in.

White Flags

On occasion, ridge clearings will have a cluster of vertical poles with long white flags. These flags are erected to honor a deceased family member in order to guide them to the next life.

River Paro Chhu

A river changes continuously with progressive and successive movements, almost from one state to another. So do we. Within that river of my life, I simply paused to build a place for my soul to come and rest.

This Moment: Taktsang Monastery

Having trekked for hours, nothing is real but this moment, when I was where I wanted to be, at Taktsang Monastery. I was flushed with a sense of being, accomplishment, and a promise fulfilled. A trek to and from Taktsang Monastery is not for the faint-hearted; it's about faith and perseverance rather than strength. With gratitude and humility to my family.

Reminded Once Again

A stray dog joined me as I made my way down from the Taktsang Monastery. If I paused, he would take a few steps, look back, and stop. We continued on and even stopped to share a snack. Somewhere along the path, he went his way and I mine. Sweet partings and I was reminded once again about impermanence and continuous becoming. [Photo by JB]

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