Posted on October 11, 2012 by Margot
Bhutan is becoming a bit of a Mecca for well heeled trekkers – routes with names like Snowmans Trek and the Dragons Teeth Path adorn the tourist map, and the best thing is that you have to actually take a guide; walk a path with porters and actually cook! We do need to leave a few other places on the bucket list so we will be saving that for another trip.
Nevertheless, we have managed to cram a few day and half day hikes into our jam packed two week program. The first one was a relatively gentle uphill stroll through pine forests to a high point overlooking Thimpu valley and town, and, eventually, looking down on the Big Bhudda, a massive statue being constructed high above the town on what is apparently an extremely auspicious location – so auspicious in fact that is being financed by donations from overseas Bhuddist communities, especially Hong Kong.
This was our first close up encounter with the ubiquitous prayer flags which so characterise this country; it was also the first close up encounter with the cows that roam freely, calmly and happily all around the countryside.
This gentle stroll was just a warm up for the hike we took the next day up to the Tango temple, which I talked about in an earlier post, so I won’t go on about it here. Our next hike after that, miraculously, was all down hill at the Royal Botanic park beneath Dochu La – Dochu La being the first of the high passes that we crossed over as we made our way eastwards cross the country. Geographically/geologically speaking Bhutan is in the unfortunate position of having most of its rivers and many of its mountain ranges running north south, so that traversing the country means a succession of winding roads up, up, up and then down, down, down again, having crossed over a high pass marked with a chorten or stupa and a million prayer flags.
So, we got right royal treatment at the Royal Botanical Park, due to Pat and Dave’s connections through the National Park network. Pat actually worked with the Bhutanese park staff in developing signage and educational programs amongst other things, and there has been a fair bit of support of the Bhutanese national park system in a range of ways. As a result we had a talk from the foremost flora and fauna authority in the country (laughingly, but respectfully referred to by one and all as The Specialist).
Back at Park HQ we passed through an archway which had carved heads of the various animals that frequent the park and were treated to a marvellous lunch complete with tasselled marquee which unfortunately I neglected to photograph!
Later we strolled round a beautiful lake – a holy, spiritual place which emanates a sort of aura of peace and tranquility. A fitting end to another great hike
Our next walk was also quite gentle, but through an entirely different landscape. We had spent the morning doing over an important Dzong (more of which later); this had been followed by a leisurely lunch at a picturesque restaurant set amidst the rice paddies.
Chimmi Lhakang Temple / Rice Fields
Having filled our bellies it was time to take off and visit one of the most popular temples in the country – Chimmi Lhakang, better known as the fertility temple. This temple was built in 1499 to honour “the divine madman” – Lama Drupka Kunley, about whom we had already heard quite a lot. This very popular saint was born and trained in Tibet, then travelled throughout Bhutan and Tibet “using songs, humour and outrageous behaviour to dramatise his teachings to the common man.
His outrageous, often obscene and sexual antics were a deliberate method of provoking people to discard their preconceptions…His sexual exploits are legendary …and his conquests included even the wives of his hosts and sponsors. On one occasion when he received a blessing thread to hang around his neck he wound it around his penis instead, saying he hoped it would bring him luck with the ladies.” (Thank you Lonely Planet). The flying phalluses that we saw in a number of places – but mostly around this area, are both a tribute to the Divine Madman and a way of invoking good fortune (aka many children) on the household.
Being reasonably pragmatic the Bhutanese have recognised the potential for tacky tourist souvenir trade in phallic items of all descriptions, with entire shops being given over to the sale of such items and even restaurants and bars getting in on the act!
Once we had passed through the village and out into the paddy fields, we recovered from seeing a phallus every direction and actually started to see and enjoy the surrounding countryside. It was rice harvest time in what is basically a subsistence agriculture area where the landholders work co-operatively, harvesting and stacking one family’s crop before moving on to the next. It is hard, back breaking work, but the local people always seemed happy enough to stop while you took a photo/ Some even posed and grinned …..
The temple at the end of the walk was small and beautiful and full of significance to the local people – but that is another story to be revealed later!