Paro to Bumthang

Saturday – We woke up, checked out and had breakfast, then it was off to the airport for a short flight to Jakar (2800m/9186ft) in the Bumthang region. Since it was a one-night trip, we left most of our luggage and took off with just day packs. Kutira had driven the road with another group the previous week – that trip took over 17 hours because of construction. The Indian government is widening it in conjunction with new hydroelectric development, so they were delayed for hours and we didn’t want to repeat that.

The flight in a small prop plane, was less than 30 minutes – flying was clearly a good choice. After arrival at the airport three guides met us in three cars, led by Kuenzang, the son of Kaila, the proprietor of the Kaila Guest House where we checked in. It was a beautiful wooden building the the traditional style surrounding a central courtyard, near the middle of town. The town burned in a big 2010 fire, so nearly all the buildings were new. After a welcoming tea, we began our tour.

The first stop was Jampey Lhakhang, a small complex near town built in the seventh century.  We entered the meditation hall, where a group of monks were chanting. Afterwards we circled the building, which had a comfortable, ancient feel to it.

Next we moved on to Kurjey Lhakhang, a larger temple complex. The entrance was beside a group of chortens, with inscriptions on nearby rock, built into the hillside. Kutira had arranged special access to the far temple built the mother of the fourth king for incarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche – this is not normally viewable by the public. She said in ten years of visiting Bhutan she had not been able to enter here until now.

Of course it is respectful (and not allowed) to take photos inside. We understood, yet this was a truly fantastic room filled with Buddha statues and paintings. I knew it had to be enough to simply have the memory of this place – being inside was the most incredible experience. To one side was a Kalachakra Temple, off limits to all except Buddhist men. Artwork depicted demons from the 49 days of bardo between life and death. All in all, this room was the most elaborate we had seen so far.

The second building we entered was the Guru Lhakhang, heading to the upper sanctuary containing 1000 statues of Guru Rimpoche. Its window gave a great view of the valley. The room adjoins a cave in which Guru Rimpoche had meditated, leaving behind an imprint of his body. Again, the paintings and statuary in this room left us at a loss for words.

Finishing the visit, we drove a short distance downhill, through a gate opened specially for us, to the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang. There we found a reception room for the royal family, with their photographs displayed throughout. Its centerpiece was an incredible “3D mandala” three stories tall. A recently created depiction of paradise, it was a colorful artistic rendition including floral, elaborate artwork. Kutira asked the monk a spiritual question about how to reach paradise, and not quite understanding, he pointed to the stairs – which unfortunately were quite steep and not available to us westerners! To the side of the room were pedestals with seats for the king and queen, and for high lamas.

On the way back to town for lunch we passed a hazelnut farm under development. Our guide said the valley has felt the effects of global warming; now snows are infrequent. The government is working to expand organic agriculture – even considering planting rice here.  Further on we passed the royal family’s compound where they stay during their visits.

Lunch once again was fantastic, with carrots, cauliflower, rice and meat. I had not expected the food to be so good on this trip! The restaurant owner had created his own recipes, more fusion cuisine mixing Indian, Chinese and traditional Bhutanese influences. And of course the penis statue on the bar was a nice touch. These penises (including another one over the front door) bring luck!

Next we visited the Tamshing Goemba, a monastery on the west side of the valley. We arrived at the car park, next to a solar powered bathhouse and kitchen!  There was a ceremony taking place inside for a grandmother who had recently passed away, with monks chanting in a ritual for the family. We entered the temple and each of us tried on the historic chain mail vest; it gives great merit if you circle the temple while wearing it! There must an odd number of cycles – some of our group did three circuits but I didn’t have all the many things to release (hey, I’m on vacation in Bhutan!) so I circled just once.

And finally we visited the Swiss Farm, the cheese factory that Fritz Maurer from Switzerland had established. It included the Red Panda brewery and the Yoser Lhamo Shop. We bought Bhutanese whisky and herbal/apple brandy. And after yet another great meal at the hotel, it was off to bed, tired but happy!