WHY do we travel? 🙂
Not everyday do you wake up to such a view:
Multiple times during the trip, I found myself being completely overwhelmed by Bhutan’s beauty: it was an ethereal world, a page out of a fantasy.
Having got through a lazy morning, we stepped out into this generously lit world only by 11:30. Stuck between breakfast and lunch time, food was hard to find. We were heading for the taxi stand, to get to the main market area of Thimphu.
Most, if not all, of the Bhutanese people are truly warm and hospitable. It’s very common to exchange pleasantries, or to smile at strangers. So we only looked at it as an act of kindness, when Sonam, a Bhutanese lady, with whom we’d struck up a conversation at the stand, offered us a lift to town. She was awaiting her husband, and when Karma arrived, they quickly cleared the backseat for us. Sonam had studied in Pune, and had very pleasant memories to recall from her time in India. When we asked her what it was that she loved most about Bhutan, she said “Bhutan is a very free country.” She spoke of the increasing prevalence of love marriages, the almost diminishing and invisible divisive lines between communities and the broadminded older generation, which embraces the rapidly changing terrain of Bhutan.
The three most popular vegetarian Indian restaurants in Thimphu are: Shanti Deva, Hotel Ghasel and New Grand (sorry, with all three of us being vegetarians, we only cared for the best vegetarian hotels). Also recommended by Sonam, we headed to Shanti Deva for lunch. Unlucky for us, the hotel wasn’t yet open. Famished, we hurriedly made our way to Hotel Ghasel. We didn’t experiment much and went with regular Indian food. First meal of the day: Roti, Dal Fry, Navaratna Kurma, Masala Chai and Hot Chocolate.
We headed out to Norzin Lam, the busiest street in town (Lam, in Dzongkha, means road). Manned by a police officer, Norzin Lam houses the only traffic post in Thimphu.
Right next to Norzin Lam is the Clock Tower. It’s a cool, hangout place surrounded by cafés and art stores. We also saw a couple of kids playing football around the tower.
From the Clock Tower, we walked to our first stop for the day: National Memorial Chorten. It is a stupa built in 1974 in memory of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk by his mother Queen Phuntsho Choden Wangchuk. It is considered a religious landmark in Thimphu, erected to fulfill Jigme Dorji Wangchuk’s wish to build ‘a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha’.
White-washed with golden spires, the chorten is at the centre of the garden. People circle around it in clockwise direction ritualistically, chanting prayers. You would find a couple of old-timers sitting around and meditating.
Also, on that side of the garden are large, golden prayer wheels, whirled around as people walk past it. I found a woman sitting amongst the elderly. I guess she was at her jokes, because they were laughing out loud. Anyway, we spent over an hour at the chorten, breathing in the aura, the colours and the chants.
From Memorial Chorten, we drove 7 kms to the top of the hill to get to Buddha Dordenma: the statue that had dumbfounded us the previous night.
At 169 feet, the Great Buddha Dordenma is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It’s covered in gold and houses 125,000 smaller Buddha statues within itself. The Buddha is seated on a throne which is a meditation hall. From the Buddha point, you get a spectacular view of the entire city of Thimphu.
The place was crowded by tourists. I spotted the pretty woman again, this time posing for pictures as Buddha on a concrete slab. Crazy about getting the right pictures, Meghana loved the pose, ran to the woman and we ended up carbon-copying her pose. Later, we introduced ourselves to Monika, the very pretty make-up artist from Delhi.
We also met a Bhutanese man, who worked with the Druk Green Power Corporation. He was there with his son, a lil shy with a funky hairstyle. When in school, he had been taught by a number of Malayali (native of Kerala) teachers. Being one of their pet students, they also taught him Malayalam words and film songs. Right then, I thought it was the right time to break to him that I was from Kerala. I requested a song, and this followed:
We walked around the statue and up two floors to the meditation hall. There were offerings made in money and food (Yeah. Fruits, cakes, biscuits, Lays packets).
We’d decided to brave the street dogs and the cold, and walk our way back to the city. So we quickly started down the hill. The trail was scenic with either sides of the road adorned by prayer flags.
How do you sweat it in Bhutan? At the public outdoor gymnasium! There are two such gyms constructed by the government on the way down.
After the workout, we continued on our way down. A random passerby wished us a happy new year. It took us a couple of seconds to realize the huge responsibility he had passed on to us. We began wishing every man, woman and kid who walked past us. (In the process, we also made friends with two Indian army men, who were on their evening walk. Nice ice-breaker eh?)
It was dark by the time we’d reached the city floor and we were heading for Ambient café, a well-reviewed place in Norzin Lam. Street dogs in Bhutan aren’t even close to being as friendly as the people there. So when we had to take a deserted street and heard a couple of dogs barking from the other side, we were frankly, for the first time, lost. We stood at the turn, wondering if we should take the plunge, or the 3km detour. While we were still making up our minds, there came an angel in the form of a grey-haired man with a walking stick in hand. In spite of the howls, he walked into the street like he owned it, and we quietly followed behind him. After two minutes of his silent, unaware escort, we thought we should let him know of our existence. Ensued from that, was one of the most memorable conversations of my life. I can’t begin to describe the scene, because nothing would do justice to that moment and the man’s words. I guess it would suffice to say that there are such hidden pleasures to be discovered everywhere around you.
Rishikesh uncle bid goodbye after he dropped us back into the hullabaloo of Norzin Lam. We calmly made our way to Ambient café, trying to make sense of all that that had happened.
At the cosy café:
We drove back to a very cold hotel Home in Kinley’s taxi. Once in the room, Madhuri built us a warm and comfy tent. Yeah, nothing’s impossible for her.
To welcome the New Year, we had two places in mind: Viva City and Mojo Café. We got dressed and our very sweet host, Drowa took us to town, showed us around Hotel Singye, her restaurant in Norzin Lam. Around 23:30, we skipped our plan and chose Hotel Galingkha, right in the centre of the town, from where Bollywood music was blaring out into the streets. To describe the long night,
To an incredible 2017!