Monday, January 18, 2016


  Taktshang Goemba (which translates as Tigers Nest Monastery)

Every day here has elements of adventure, but the past  weekend has presented true adventure as we have travelled to Paro to hike the Tigers Nest Monastery.  Simply getting anywhere in this country is a challenge. The roads are mostly partially sealed, bordered by steep drop offs, hair pin corners, no center line markings and pot holes that look more like craters. Seat belts are not part of the equation as it is safer to not wear, just in case a quick exit from car the car is needed before it plunges over the edge. Yikes.. I have learned to just look out across the horizon as we are driving, never down. Thankfully we never exceeded 50 km, as I don't think my nerves could of taken  high speeds as well. The first weekend we travelled to the iconic Tigers Nest Monastry, which is the most famous and sacred site  of all Bhutans monasteries. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew  to the site of the monastery on the back of a tigress to subdue a local demon and then mediated in a cave for 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. It is also said that the orginial building was anchored to the cliff face by the hairs of a female celestail being. At an elevation of 3140 metres it is an architecutal feat, and hiking up to it was a considerable feat as well. Sadly, we had no tigress to fly us up the top so we had to rely on our hiking boots .It is well worth the effort. Altough well visited, it does not feel touristy. The place invokes a sense of wonder, as to how this ancient building was built back in the 16h century. Tigers Nest is a very majestic and spiritual place to visit, and I suspect that the celestial forces will have it sitting there for a millennia to come.
Locals  selling their goods at the start of the hike.

Horses are available to ride to the top 

Another beautiful prayer wheel we passed on our way up

tea break on the way up

This is the Tashi Tashi Café high up on the trail, it is a converted old farmhouse .We stopped here on the way up for tea and then again on the way down for lunch, with its sweeping views of the Paro Valley down below, and overlooking Tigers Nest it was ideal lunch spot. 
Glimpses of Taktshang like this spurred us on to our final destination

Machig-phu Lhakhang which is where Bhutanese pilgrims come to pray for children

The short hike down before it was up the other side to complete the 700 steps to get to the entrance of the monastery. 

This is the beautiful waterfall that spins the prayer wheel right below  which then sounds a bell every time the prayer wheel spins. SO as we are hiking we hear the sounds of the wind, water, creaking of the prayer wheel, and the bell. Truly magical in not only visual but auditory as well. 
Prayer wheel

entrance  to monastery. No cameras allowed  past this point

Love this sign on the trail
Two characters ejoying the day

We stopped at the cafe for some lunch

A yummy vegetarian buffet of  bhutanese food, red rice, ema  datse ( large green VERY HOT chillies) lentil soup, and buckwheat noodles.  

A great lunch spot, one we will always remember not only for the location but  also the conversation. Owen about made the Europeans choke on their food next to us as he so inocently confused the word "virgin" for "vegan", as he loudly  exclaimed to us that that "he was very happy that he was NOT a virgin"!! 

Our guide, Lekey, who took care of us on the weekends by sharing his beautiful buddhist religión with us and showing us his country

Khuru is a popular darts game played on a field about 20m long. The darts are homemade from a block of wood, and a nail, and maybe some chicken feathers for flight. These guys were playing a game on our way down from the hike so we had to stop and watch.

Notice the VERY small target in the middle of the picture

The colorful scarves around their waist represent the number of times they have hit the target.  In this photo they are doing a song and dance  to celebrate the success of a throw. 

                                                                    Drukgyel Dzong (fort)
Dzongs are like fortresses, but they also house a monástic section and the local district adminstration. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, known as Shabdrung or the unifier of Bhutan brought the whole country under one rule for the first time back in the 17h century. He is worshipped as a diety all over the country. Most of the Dzongs were built by him.
This Dzong was built in 1649  in a location chosen for its control of the route to Tíbet. This is the location where the trail from Tíbet enters the Paro Valley. Once the Tibetan invasiones ceased, this became a major trade route. The Bhutanese traded rice with the Tibetans for salt and bricks of tea. Maybe took a week to cross the border after treking up and over the mountain pass to get to Tíbet with heavy bags of rice strapped to their backs. 

Mt. Jhomolhari

                                                           PARO DZONG 
This massive forttress is a great example of Bhutanese architecture

We couldn't resist....

The fine details of these massive Dzongs is awe-inspiring.  Bhutans secluded nature means it has one of the most unique cultural traditions in the world. However, this distinctiveness is under threat from globalalisation.  The Choki Traditional Art School in Thimphu is dedicated in preserving the traditional and cultural arts of Bhutan. Weaving, painting, and wood carving is taught to the students for 6 years. After that the students typically go back to their villages and work on temples with painting masters.  

Iron chain bridges are everywhere. They are festooned with brightly colored prayer flags. They are quite flexible, acts almost like a trampoline. There are often big gaping holes, throughout from the wear and tear of use. Looking down you can clearly see the river below, flowiníg with gusto, clear and cold. Staying dry depends on the 600 year old chains!!

This is the national animal of Bhutan, the Takin. They are kept in a reserve a few kilometres outside of  Thimphu . These strange looking creatures look to be a cross between a bison, goat, yak, and rhinoceros.