When my sister and I signed up for the WoW (women of wonderlust) club to travel to the kingdom of Bhutan, little did we know that it would change our lives forever. Before even the idea could sink in, we were meeting and greeting the 12 other women at the Kolkata International airport who would accompany us to the land of the Thunder dragon.
The flight to Paro from Kolkata is one of the most spectacular of all mountain flights. The first gift from Bhutan is the cool, clean fresh air and as we stepped out of the aircraft we were greeted by our travel guide and he quickly briefed us of what lay ahead.
We drove to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. The two hours drive was literally breathtaking, with the mountains heaving into the distance,silhouetted against the deep blue sky, through pristine landscapes. Thimphu is a lively place, an interesting combination of tradition and modern. We started our afternoon by visiting the local school of arts and crafts and a handicraft shop for paintings etc. There we had a chance to speak to the students who explained the 13 different forms of arts. On our way back, we stopped to check the National Library. The sun was setting early so we took a walk around the town & decided to call it a day.
The next day started with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 to memorialize the 3rd King. Then we drove to the Radio Tower Station to enjoy the magnificent view of Thimpu town. We stopped to see the Takin, the national animal at the local zoo and visited a monastery & a nunnery.
My visit to Thimpu would have remained unfinished had I not seen the Tashichoedzong, seat of the Bhutanese government since 1952. Its one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. I had hoped to get a glimpse of the present king who visits the dzong everyday, but we missed him.
The day after, we left for Punakha. The Punakha valley was the capital city till 1961. The road to Punakha traverses through thick forests of blue pine, oak and maple. The valleys between ridges often have small rivulets and occasional waterfalls. Some of the rivulets have been harnessed for the spinning of prayer wheels. Inside this shed-like building is a single large wheel driven by the rivulet. A large chorten and prayer flags greets us at Dochu La, a pass at 10,300 ft. There is a small cafeteria just above the pass, which featured some of the most overpriced goods (running into hundreds of dollars). Punakha Dzong is, in my opinion, Bhutan's most attractive construction. At 600 ft long, the dzong houses as many as 600 monks.The dzong's location is at the confluence of the Mo Chu and the Pho Chu (literally, the mother and father rivers). The way till the Dzong is through a newly inaugurated wooden roofed cantilever bridge over the Mo Chhu river.The dzong has survived 6 fires, 2 glacial lake bursts, and 1 earthquake. The design for the Dzong was never put on paper or sketched, and yet the architecture is breathtaking. It features the same bright exterior and interior artwork seen throughout Bhutan.
We spent the last two nights in the Dragon Kingdom at Paro. The drive back to Paro was 4 hours with two or three occasional stops. As the vehicle sped through the beautiful road I could'nt help but notice the lovely forests of rhododendron. On the way we hiked to Chhimi Lhakang (Temple of fertility) through the beautiful paddy fields. The temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, who was a favorite saint of the Bhutanese people and is known affectionately as "the Divine Madman".
Our visit to Bhutan was concluded with a hike to the magical monastery known as Taktsang (the "Tiger's Nest"). Taktsang is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the Himalayan World. The monastery itself is perched on a granite cliff that drops 2,000 feet to the valley floor. The path takes us through a forest of oak, blue pine and rhododendron, arriving at a small chorten surrounded by prayer flags. We hiked for 4.5 hours to reach all the way up. Little did I know that my dream of witnessing paradise on earth will come true when I stood on the farthest point of the temple and witnessed two rainbows in the horizon. The experience was just out of the world!
Hidden above the clouds and encircled by the rugged mountains, abode to the humming Buddhist monks clasping on to an ancient religious lifestyle and perched on the most superlative mountain range in the world - the Kingdom of Bhutan haunts you days after you have visited it but once you experience it, you become part of it!
(Reposted from one of my earlier publications)