The land of fabled dragons.
By Rohit Bansal
Bhutan is rich in culture and has high spiritual values. It has the world’s highest gross national happiness index and is a visual feast for nature lovers. It has unchallenged peace and serenity. Ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty, Bhutenese people love their royal king and queen.
A direct Druk Airways flight from Delhi takes you to the international airport at Paro. Snow-capped mountainous peaks emerge like spikes from the vast endless carpet of clouds. If it’s lucky enough to get sunny conditions, one can witness the breathtaking view of Mount Everest, which the pilot gladly announces during the flight. It gives the feeling of actually conquering the highest peak in the world. The airport is situated in a valley surrounded by hills on all sides and the landing itself is a great spectacle.
Takshang, popularly known as Tiger Nest, is their famous shrine. Stories say that Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava meditated here on his return from Tibet on a tigress. Situated amongst high cliffs, it is a must for trekking lovers.
Dzongs are the most revered and picturesque places in Bhutan. Each city has its strategically located dzong. It is a fortress and is the seat of temporal and spiritual administration. The capital city of Thimphu houses all the ministries in it.
In the rest there are government offices, court and a huge lakhang (temple). People elegantly dressed in their traditional embroided attire – kira for ladies and baku for gents, gather here during festivals. Tsechu, in the month of October is a season of sales and discounts. People perform folk dances, wearing very colourful masks.
The dzong of Punakha
The dzong of Punakha sits in all its splendour at the confluence of Phochhu (male) and Mochhu (female) – the two main rivers of Bhutan – surrounded by vast green paddy fields. It is connected via a wooden bridge. The roofs are majestic with artistic use of golden colour and a dragon mouth at each corner. It was seat of government until 1955.
The Chime Lakhang at Paro is said to be very auspicious, especially for childless couples. Buddhist flags of red, green, blue, yellow and white with holy mantras written on them are seen all over the place. These, when fluttering in wind, it is believed release tashi delek – good luck and blessings – for the Bhutenese people.
I encountered several child monks dressed in red robes practising a long musical instrument, a variant of the alphorn and also the very melodious tunes from a slender flute made of a bamboo stick. I also tried my hand at it, but failed miserably.
There is a golden statue of a sitting Buddha, arguably the highest in the world, atop a hill facing Thimphu valley. It is seen from all over Thimphu. The clock tower in the central market reminds one of the Lal Chowk at Srinagar. The currency is the ngultrum and is equal to an Indian rupee. Indian currency is easily accepted at shops. Bargaining is not so much.
Takin, their national animal, can be spotted in Thimphu zoo. Blue poppy, the national flower, is not so easily seen. I saw a raven, their national bird, sitting on grass in Dochula, a mountain pass comprising 108 chortens or stupas built in honour of King Victory. It has a good cafeteria and is a must-do stopover during the journey from Thimphu to Punakha.
Bhutenese are simple people and are famous for red chillis. They love spicy food. Before the setting of winter, they dry a lot of chillis on their sloping rooftops. They even gift each other chillis, like we take sweets on special occasions.
The mushrooms are delicious. Butter tea and red rice are a treat to the palate. The leaves of the plant doma, growing as creepers in Bhutan when chewed as such, give an intense taste of Indian paan with betel nut.
The legendary Jakata tales of ‘Four Harmonious Friends’ – elephant, monkey, rabbit and bird – enjoying the fruits of an overhead tree, gives the moral of each one working to its strength coherently for