Friday, November 09, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Thimphu

Day Twenty-Two

On our first full day in Bhutan we toured the capital city of Thimphu.  First of many stops for the day was a stupa built in the Tibetan style.  The Bhutanese stupas are square pillars.  Nepalese stupas are square on top on a round base with eyes (representing Buddha) on the four sides.  Tibetan stupas are rounded.

Our car took us up the valley wall to the largest statue of Buddha I've ever seen.  Parts of it were still under construction but the Buddha itself was complete and looked out over the Thimphu valley.  The Buddha is 169 feet (51.5 m) tall an is actually the 17th tallest Buddha in the world - I have a few more to see.

A large statue of Buddha overlooking Thimphu.
As we walked around and looked at the huge statue we were followed by dogs.  Bhutan was full of wild dogs.  Every one we saw was well fed though they could have used some grooming.  Bhutan, being an Buddhist nation, does not kill animals except for food.  Dogs are not eaten.  Over the next few days we would run into too many dogs to count.

On the way down the hill we stopped at an overlook where we could see most of Thimphu.  The city looked more like a large town and I kind of liked that after the sprawl of Kathmandu.  On the sides of the valley you could see strings of prayer flags.  Colored flags are for religious purposes.  White flags are strung up in memory of a loved one who had passed on.  The prayer flags were everywhere.

The city of Thimphu from an overlook.
Back down into the city, we made our way to Changangkha Lhakhang, a twelfth century temple.  It was interesting to see our guide observe her religious tradition - every temple, including this one, she would do the ritual prostration, ask the attending monk for a blessing, and make an offering of money.  None of our other guides were practitioners of their religion while they were taking us around.

Prayer wheels at Changangkha Lhakhang. (The hand is our guide's)
Next stop was the Motithang Bhutan Takin Preserve.  The takin is the national animal of Bhutan.  It looks like a cross between a goat and a cow.  The story goes that a monk known as the Divine Madman was asked to perform a miracle.  He said he would show them one but he needed a goat and a cow.  When they brought them he ate them both.  He then gathered the bones together, gave a command, and the Takin came to life.  Normally the takin run wild but, being afraid they would be hit by vehicles if they wondered into town, they were rounded up and placed in a very large and comfortable looking pen where they are fed and taken care of.  This was my second new animal I saw this trip, the first being the Panda in China.

The Takin - the Bhutanese national animal.
The next two stops were a convent and a monastery   It was refreshing to see all the young nuns and monks. In Tibet, where becoming a monk or nun is restricted and controlled by the Chinese government, we saw very few young monks and nuns.  In Bhutan they were very common.

Young Buddhist monks.
Next on the busy schedule was a visit to the national library where we saw art and a large collection of Buddhist texts.  In the collection is the largest published book in the world (5' x 7', 133 lbs), "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom" - yes, it is listed on Amazon for a mere $249.85 for a used copy.

After the Library we went to a typical traditional Bhutanese home that had been converted into a museum.  We toured the three story house.  The first story was for animals.  The second floor was for food/grain storage.  The third story was the living area of the house and included a small Buddhist shrine.  The house was similar to some of teh rural homes we passed in Nepal.  One shocking detail that we saw at the museum, and all over Bhutan, were the phallic symbols either hanging from the corner of the eaves or painted on the corners of the house. The phallic symbol is a way of saying "keep away, this house is mine."   It was all over the place in Bhutan and was a little shocking at first.

We walked to a nearby store and did some shopping before eating lunch.  Bhutanese food was generally good.  Spices had to be toned down a bit for us and there were a lot of vegetarian dishes.  I was well fed in Bhutan.

After lunch we went to the first of two shopping stops on our itinerary - a paper factory.   We toured the little handmade paper factory learning how fibers are turned into paper.  The Wife has made paper before and much of what they did was similar to what she used to do just at a larger scale.  I bought a cool dragon hanging and a couple postcards made on the paper.

It was too early for our next stop so we took a detour and stopped at an archery range.  Archery is Bhutan's national sport.  We sat, out of the drizzle that had started to fall, with the small group of spectators and watched two teams at either end of the archery range.  Half of each team was at each end.  After an archer shot an arrow the members of his team at the other end would let him know how close his shot was.  This usually consisted of his team members doing a little dance around the target and singing after each shot.  It was fun.  While this could have been touristy, this felt like a bunch of guys shooting arrows over their lunch break.

The very clean food market in Thimphu.
From the archery range we went to a food market.  It reminded me of food markets of my youth in Guatemala except that it was very clean.  Most of the food was fruits and vegetables but there was meat as well.  Next to the food market was the spice and incense market.

Incense.  Found in every temple.  Made it hard to breath in places.
Last stop of the day was a textile museum where we learned about the national costume and the intricate woven fabrics of Bhutan.  The outfits, almost a uniform for the Bhutanese service sector, are not cheap.  This museum, like every one I've been to, exited through a store.

We were dropped off at the hotel late afternoon.  We crossed the street from the hotel to some stores to look at the Bhutanese crafts.  One thing the Wife had had her eye on all day were the Buddhist horns.  The horns, used during Buddhist ceremonies, are around six foot long.  Fortunately for us the horns collapse like a telescope down to a manageable two feet.  (The Wife was good to her word and carried all her bigger items, the horn and the terracotta soldiers, most of the way home in her carry-on.)

We had dinner in the hotel that night and watched a slightly different folkloric dance.  This day had felt more like our China tour days.  It was full of interesting things and we were tired at the end of the day, exactly what I want on a good travel day.

Pictures from day twenty-two (07/13/2012) can be found in my 2012-07 Bhutan Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

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