H&B crossing the valley along the Nature Trail
Friday morning, we took a beautiful hike through Phobjika Valley which is very wide, and where the cows and the one black necked crane graze together. The expanse of the valley is unusual as most valleys are narrow and steep. The idea was considered to build an airport in the valley which is understandable beacuse of its flat width. But, true to Bhutanese sensibilities, once it was realized that this valley is vital to the endangered black necked cranes, the idea was canned.
After crossing the valley floor, the trail rose into the far mountains and continued up the valley through a lovely woodland with great views of the valley. The walking was cool and easy for Bhutan. Eventually, we arrived at the top of the valley and began a steep ascent up a high hill upon which sits Gantay Gompa, the 3rd oldest gompa in the country.
At Gantey Gompa, we were priviledged to participate in a puja specifically for our group. We each wrote the name of a beloved, with birthdate, on papers that were given to the monks. Inside yet another glorious temple, about 50 monks offered prayers on behalf of all of our beloveds, as
Protective phallus in village near Gantey Gompa
well as all sentient beings. There were chants, drums, bells, big horns, small horns, the whole kit and kaboodle that we had witnessed at Tango Gompa, only this ritual included the more personal element. It was quite an experience.
After the puja, we were all invited to tea in the home of our monk guide, Rinchen's aunt. Gantey Gompa village is where Rinchen grew up, and it was fantastic to be welcomed into a Bhutanese home where we were served either milk tea or the traditional butter tea, along with rice and crackers. Apparently, familes live, essentially, in one room: a kitchen, living area, as well as a sleeping area though there were no signs of beds. Rinchen's aunt was charming and so friendly, just as we experience all Bhutanese we meet.
After tea, we hit the road again for a couple of hours along the constant mountain hair-pin roads. The beauty is so spectacular that any possibility of motion sickness dissolves. Deep gorges with clear running streams can be seen below (no guardrails to obstruct the view!), and rock overhangs give just enough clearance to the occasional truck. The terrain seems a mix of the Rockies, Vermont,
and Switzerland with houses dotted on the occasional open green as well as high up on slopes. We passed the sacred roadside spot that can be seen in the film, "Travelers and Magicians" (available on Netflix). A shallow cave, filled with tiny chortens (offerings to the dead) showed ancient likenesses of the Buddha and Padmasambhava, painted on the rock wall.
We stopped for lunch en route, by the impressive Chendebji Chorten dating from the 14th century, that was modeled after the important Boudanath Stupa in Kathmandu. The story goes that a famous guru walked for months from Bhutan to Kathmandu and carved a model of the Nepali chorten into a radish. By the time he made it back to Bhutan, the radish had shriveled, so this chorten looks a little different from the one in Kathmandu!
Another couple of hours driving brought us to Trongsa, the former power center of Bhutan where the 1st king set up his base, as it is located right in the center of the country. Our hotel was situated directly across the valley from Trongsa Dzong, a most spectacular view. A dzong includes an administrative center, as part of their history as strategic
Rinchen's aunt making butter tea
fortresses. A monastary typically occupies the structure as well. In the morning, we visit Trongsa Dzong as well as the old watchtower high above, from which invaders could be detected and repelled. Another amazing day...
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