The endless driving around the curvy narrowed roads has not only added thrills, it has created many unforgettable moments on my new adventure to this part of world – Bhutan. Daily drive along edgy cliffs and through thick fogs with zero vision on the road placed quotidian challenges – triggering minor heart attacks while trying to reach my destination timely. Nonetheless, its morning charm pleaded for her forgiveness by diverting my attention to her magnificent landscape contained on this land of the Thunder Dragon. Green lawn reflected its first ray from the sun, unshadowing the dark patches and revealing its real beauty to its viewer. We arrived at the largest district of Bhutan known as Trashigang, which was once the main trade route between Bhutan and Tibet.
Being regarded as one of the top travel places in Asia, Bhutan has experienced a significant increase in the number of tourists especially over the last two years. As Bhutanese government strongly believes in the preservation of the country’s culture and environment, a control measure has been put in place to curb with the number of yearly foreign visitors. Any tourists except for Indian, Bangladesh and Maldivian nationals are required to pay a daily package rate of USD 250 (during peak season) per person with one time visa of USD 40; to arrange visa clearance via a tour agency prior to your arrival. This imposition did reduce the number of visitors, acting as a deterrent for an uncontrollable high influx of international tourist; it has also made my visit during the peak season much easier.
The picturesque village houses in Ura detailed an idiosyncratic character of the traditional Bhutan architecture and traditions. The three day festival, namely Ura Yakochoe, enchanted me to wanting to explore this preposterous and yet unassailable belief which derives from various versions of Buddhism – mainly from Vajrayana Buddhism. Phallus worshipping, for instance, plays an indispensable role in Bhutanese belief, which this came from the legendary story of Bhutanese Saint Drukpa Kunley or known as the “Divine madman”. The performer wore a mask with a rope tied to a phallus acting in a playful manner, chasing females as well as males who were attending this annual event. It is believed that ritual using a wooden phallus expels negative spirits; similarly, promotes fertility among couples. I was not spared.
Traditional folk dances were used as short breaks between performances for both audiences and performers. Dancing and spinning in circles accordingly to the rhythm of the Bhutanese music, dancers drowned themselves as if they were possessed by supernatural power from their gods, wearing animalistic marks and brightly coloured costumes; with demonic masks representing the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpocle. It was indeed an amazing finale to end the three day celebration.
A short drive towards the main town of Bhumtang, we arrived at the Jakar Dzong. Jakar Dzong, namely the ‘Fortress of the White Bird’, has sit on the hill top since the mid 1600s (to be exact 1667). Known to be the first place visited by Guru Rinpoche, its popularity spread across Bhutan – declaring it as the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan.
With the immediate need to pin down a demon to the earth forever, the then Tibetan king passed down a decree to build 108 temples across Tibet, Bhutan and other border areas within a day during the 659 CE. The Jambey Lhakhang is the one of the 108 remaining temples survived the history. Situated in Bhumtang, it is also a must to visit this place of interest. Although it has been repaired and rebuilt several times, its history somehow glorified the importance of Buddhism during the early time.
Trees with purple petals lined up parallel along the river and the famous Punakha Dzong, creating an image that one could only imagine from a painting. The river flow cut through its porous stones, forming a curve at an angle dedicated just for this magnificent temple to stand out from its surroundings. This famous Dzong is also known as the palace of great happiness or bliss and was used as the government administrative office until 1955.
Besides the dzongs and uncountable beautiful sceneries, the Bhutanese archery game is also another charm for any tourist. Archery is one of the most popular sports in Bhutan played by usually males; it is also the national sport. Bhutanese believed archery improves individual’s health, strengthen concentration as well as verbal/intellectual skills. During the competition, archers are required to engage in verbal battle against its opponent, demeaning opponent whilst encouraging its own team members – a crucial scoring portion similar to hitting a bullseye.
Last, but not least, the world famous – Taktang Monastery or known as The Tiger Nest is a must stop in Bhutan. The trek through the narrow and uneven paths took me close to 2 hours to reach the peak where the monastery is situated. Carrying additional weight (my cameras) not only slow my speed down significantly, it permitted an approved revenge from my unfit body. This upward trek was indeed a killer for me, requiring a great amount of patience and stamina from my unexpected mind. Hard work indeed got paid off finally with the astonish view of the Taktang Monastery, which was built at the mountain edge about 500 years ago; appraised by many visitors, the Tiger Nest has its own unique and special charm for each individual.
The beauty of this country and their bizarre supernatural belief left me with numerous exclaimed surprises; this adventure to Bhutan acts as a closure to my adventure in the Eastern world for this year.
Tips of travel:
1. Taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions is not permitted.
2. Wear decently and remove your shoes when entering into Dzongs/temples
3. Travel sickness pill (for the road).
4. Try Bhutanese traditional butter tea during their tea ceremony
5. Or, try their locally brewed beer – Red Panda
6. Daily Package Rate – USD 250 (peak season) and USD 200 (non-peak season.
7. Visa: Other than Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian nationals, all visitors to Bhutan are required to obtain a visa prior entry. One time visa fee is USD 40 and takes about 10 days to process. For updated information, please contact local tour operator or visit Bhutan official tourist board website – http://www.tourism.gov.bt/ .
Appreciate and very thankful to have engaged Druk Peaceful Holidays as my tour agency for my Bhutan trip. Tailoring to my travel needs whilst trying to squeeze as many number of festivals during my short trip was indeed remarkable.
Tour agent: http://www.bhutanpeacefulholidays.com/
Camera used: D500 16-80mm/f 2.8-4.
Thank you for reading my blog. All photographs on this blog, Copyrights © 2015-2017 Kimy Chang. All rights reserved.