Friday, 8 May 2015

Taktsang Palphug Monastery or Tiger's Nest, Paro

Continued from "National Museum and Rinchen Pung Dzong"...

One of the main reasons for me to visit Bhutan was the trek to the Paro Taktsang. This monastery is a sacred Buddhist religious complex, located on the cliffside of the upper Paro valley. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have flown to this place on his tigress, and then meditated in the cave inside the complex during 8th century. A temple was constructed at this place during 1692.

The monastery hangs on a cliff at 10, 240 ft and about 3000 ft above the Paro Valley. There's a waterfall on the trek path and a wooden bridge is constructed across it; the waterfall is about 200 ft. During the rainy seasons, crossing this bridge is next to impossible; in fact, trekking to this place is next to impossible!

The evening before the day on which I was supposed to trek to the Tiger's Nest, I was apprehensive and had a zillion doubts in my head. First concern was about my fitness level; absolutely unfit for this trek. Second concern was about the weather; if rain, no trek for me. Third concern was that, having read reviews of the trek and having heard people's experiences, I was to trek only till the cafe; no further trek for me. Fourth concern was about my shoes that had no soles. Fifth concern was about the altitude sickness; I didn't have it but had to be aware. :-)

We set out early on the day we planned to visit the monastery. The weather was kind-of 50-50 favorable. I wore my Reebok sole-less shoes; the sole of my shoes has come off on the first day of my visit to Bhutan. So, the idea was to trek with my sole-less shoes, and then return with my soulful. Well, you get the idea - a spiritual journey from several angles! This is one trek that you do alone irrespective of whether you are in a group or alone.

With a hiking stick in hand, a backpack on my back, and a prayer in my mind, I decided to trek anyway. In my backpack, I had a banana, a small water bottle, a hand towel, a band-aid, an umbrella, a camera with prime lens, and other items. I seriously hoped that rain wouldn't spoil the fun.

There are several directions - northwest path through the forest, south along the paths that devotees take, and north over the rocky plateau - to trek from. The mule track passes through the pine forest, and is said to be steep. Remember that the dried pine leaves can be super slippery if wet. Also remember to stick to the common trek route; chances of getting lost are high, in case you wander.

Slowly and steadily I began the trek. Every part of my body hurt. People and mule overtook me from left and right. I felt just like the Panda in the Kung Fu Panda movie. I had never realized that so many muscles and tissues existed in my body that could hurt terribly! I let everyone run their way uphill; puffing and panting, I climbed up, avoiding the mule dung, which is all over the trek path till the cafe. Wet soil and mule dung are the worst combination.

At one point, I realized that I was way ahead of others, and I was alone with Nature. The sound of my breathing echoed in my ears. My heartbeats sounded louder than ever. The birds sang melodies to keep me motivated. The clouds seem to be playing hide-and-seek; they cover portions of the range, and then revealed the ranges. I took short breaks of 2-5 mins at several points. Longer breaks means cooling the body, and then restarting all over again; that can cause more strain.

After a while, it seemed like I was being gently carried, and placed at the foot of the stairs leading to the monastery. I kept my backpack and everything except my purse at the luggage counter, wrote down my guide's details (, who was accompanying my two friends), and then climbed the stairs. The puja had commenced in the main temple; I sat at the side of the Guru's idol, facing the drummers and lamas. Did pranayama and meditation for about 20 mins. That experience was out of this world. All my pain had vanished. I was content and happy. I saw the other temples in the complex and the cave; couldn't climb down the unsafe cave. Lit butter lamps and prayed.

I met one friend and the guide, when I descended the stairs. Informed the guide that I would commence my descend and wait at the cafe. It was unbelievable for him that I had trekked and reached the monastery before them. He kept mum for a long time. Well, that's the effect I have on people! :-)

The descend was fun. Saw several birds. Witnessed the romance between the mountain range and the clouds. Saw the life that the Paro Chu gifts its people. Felt immensely content. Felt Guru Padmasambhava's complete grace. With no effort, I was on the ground, and at the parking lot. As I already mentioned, this trek was a spiritual one. For me, Guru's grace did the magic. Some experiences are better to be kept to oneself because not everyone can comprehend; not necessary to comprehend.

Oh, what happened to my shoes? The wetness of the ground/water on rocks had seeped into the soles, making a mess. The shoes stayed together throughout the trek and back; I was grateful. At the end, I disposed the shoes in a dustbin; the shoes too had to attain moksha!

TIP: This trek is not for children and elderly people. The temples at the monastery complex are closed during 1-2 pm (or so, for lunch break); if you start your trek late, will have to wait till the temples open. The toilet facility is available at the cafe. Don't wander off or go to the edge of the cliff to get a better photo. Always keep in mind about your safety. If you experience altitude sickness, rest for a while; drink water; return. If you feel weak, eat a chocolate or sugar or a fruit. Try to enjoy the trek!

Paro valley

Mules and its owners resting

The stairs

Two of us

The Tiger's Nest valley

Cloud covering the nest

Cloud revealing the nest

The pine forest

Another view of the forest and valley

Prayer flags

Waterfall and the bridge

Leading down to the bridge
Lot of prayer flags
The cafe

Shoes and muddy mud

My sole-less shoes

National Museum and Rinchen Pung Dzong, Paro

Continued from "Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery"...

Paro was next in our itinerary. The National Museum happens to be an old watch-tower (of the Paro Dzong that is situated down the hill). This conch shell-shaped watch-tower was renovated during 1968 as a museum. The watch-tower, which was the original museum, was destroyed by earthquakes, and was under renovation. The artifacts were all moved to a near by building that acts as the museum.

The museum houses masks with descriptions and with information about the dances during with the masks are worn. There's also a video to watch. A lot of sacred pictures and paintings too are showcased in the museum. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the museum.

I loved the masks section; made rough sketches of the masks, in my notebook. Another favorite section was that of Bhutan's biodiversity - mammals, birds, fauna, and floral. Photos about birds and its descriptions can take an hour to read. Bird calls are recorded, and I liked listening to the calls. It was here that I chit-chatted with a guide who told me about the birds that his tourist group had spotted, and met an Indian elderly lady from Europe who was as mesmerized as I was with the variety of birds of Bhutan.

Down the hill is the Paro Dzong or Rinchen Pung Dzong, which translates to "Fortress of a Heap of Jewels." This dzong was built by Guru Rinpoche, and later Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal constructed the new dzong on the same foundation. There's so much to know about this dzong. Read "Paro Dzong."

I enjoyed the walk on the traditional wooden covered bridge on the Paro Chu.  I also enjoyed the walk from the dzong down to the town. The path is the lined with lush green trees. I was questioned our guide about where the youngsters where, and well, this is where I saw one or two teenage couples!
National Museum Notice

Entrance, and the stone piles

The watch-tower under renovation

Paro Dzong and the surrounding, from the hilltop

The dzong

Wheel of life painting


Paro Dzong Courtyard

Prayer wheels

See how much Bhutanese love their chillies :-)
The walk-path leading down hill

The bridge entrance

The wooden covered bridge

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery, Punakha

Continued from "River Rafting"...

[Participating in Thursday Challenge - "Peaceful" (Landscapes)]

The next place of interest was the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery, built at Omolatsekha. The monastery has a two-storied temple, a chorten in Nepal's style of architecture, and a nunnery complex. Well, yes, it's all about the location, isn't it? The nunnery is at an absolute stunning location, onlooking the different valleys.

The temple has one of the biggest Avalokiteshvara bronze statue along with staues of Guru Padmasambava, Lord Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, 21 Taras, and Tsepamay. This place oozes serenity. Photography is prohibited inside the sanctum.

The nunnery has a learning center, computer center, library, and meditation center. There were about 40-45 nuns when I visited. The nuns maintain the garden. They were planting new plants, and seemed to enjoy the activity and the sunshine. A few nuns were studying. One nun sat near a prayer wheel, faced the valley, and quietly studied. That was a mesmerizing sight!

I understand that most of the young girls were either abandoned or orphaned. Life hasn't been easy for them but for the nunnery, I guess. We take so much for granted, in our easy lives; create issues for ourselves and others. For a second, if we can visualize the difficulties that these girls would have faced, we will be grateful for living a comfortable life.

Teaching these girls vocational skills along with providing basic education will definitely help them. I had bought a few locally grown apples at the morning market, and offered the fruits at the sanctum. For sure, the fruits would be distributed and consumed. The donation box is inside the sanctum; can drop cash into the box. Best part of monasteries at Bhutan is that they accept not just cash but also anything you are willing to offer. I have offered biscuits, fresh fruits, chocolates, and whatever I had saved for myself. I wish that I had known earlier... Would have purchased some notebooks or other educational books for the girls at the nunnery. Well, there's always a next time!

The beautiful lamp-post

The monastery complex

Close-up of temple

The prayer wheel

Stupa resembling the ones at Nepal

Ring them?

Girls busy gardening

View of the valley

Clouds seem to be exploding from the mountain tops!

River Rafting, Punakha

Continue from "Khamsum Yulley Namgyal"...

What's on my list-of-things-to-do during my next visit to Bhutan? River rafting!

When I saw a group of tourists (Chinese, said our driver) starting their river rafting at the suspension bridge, Khamsum Yulley Namgyal, I too wanted to river raft. I stood like a kid, watching them prepare to raft.

River rafting is available on both Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Pho Chu river's course is about 16 kms with about 15 rapids; while that of Mo Chu is 10 kms with about 10 rapids. Both routes meet at the confluence of the rivers, forming Puna Tsang river. The Punakha Dzong from the raft may look spectacular! For more information, search for White Water Rafting in Bhutan.

The Punakha Valley has an option available for casual raft; contact the rafting agencies, such as Druk Rafting Services. Best time to raft is from March till October. Also ensure that you have a travel insurance that covers adventure sports.

Sharing a few photos...

The Mo Chu

One of the rafting instructors

The group getting ready

All set! Ready, steady, and RAFT

Khamsum Yulley Namgyal, Punakha, Bhutan

Continued from "Chime Lhakhang"...

My first glimpse of the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal - at an altitude, a tiny shiny chorten surrounding by thicket of trees, with a backdrop of clouds garlanding the mountain ranges! Yes, had to trek up the hill, and my temptation to trek was... the wonderful views of the Punakha Valley.

This is a four-storey chorten, constructed over a period of nine years, and built by the Queen Mother to ward off evil forces and to promote peace in the kingdom. It is said that the Queen Mother treks to the chorten and resides at her quarters opposite to the temple.

The trek is approximately an hour or more on a good day. From the parking space, I crossed the suspension bridge and walked through the paddy fields, and then began the trek. The suspension bridge has so many prayer flags tied to it. Our guide was head-deep in the flags (; see the photo!). There are a lot of birds in this region; saw plenty of treepies. Also saw a group of tourists (Chinese?) river rafting. See River Rafting, Punakha.

As I began my trek, rain, the jealous friend, began to pour. I had to struggle with my camera and umbrella and my unfit body. Luckily, I never forgot to carry an umbrella. The rain made the path a little slippery; a hiking stick is always helpful.

After the climb, the vastness of the chorten complex is pleasant. The White miniature chortens surrounding the Namyal are pretty. The White color cuts the monotony of the greenery behind the chortens. I loved the climb to the top of the chorten. A door, leading to the top, was closed due to rain; but the guide opened it, and I climbed up. I stepped on the rain water, wetting my socks; but was worth every trouble. The view of the valley was fantastic! Please remember that photography inside the chorten is prohibited.

Sat till the rain stopped, and then re-traced my steps back to the parking lot. What a fun trek it was!

First glimpse of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal

The suspension bridge

The clouds

Our guide head-deep in prayer flags!

The vast space
Miniature chortens

The top of the chorten
At the top

View from the top

View from the top (Queen Mother's quarters)

Water goddess?