Bhutan day 9


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May 5th 2011
Published: May 5th 2011
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Snow-capped peaksSnow-capped peaksSnow-capped peaks

Beauty everywhere in Bhutan!
Wednesday morning, we set out for Kuenzangdak Gompa, reportedly the most challenging of our hikes. Less than half the group elected to go. We had seen the gompa while visiting the nunnery a few days ago. It was across the valley and high above the nunnery, so we had a preview of the vertical climb. Indeed, even those hearty souls, thus far, found this climb to be quite a challenge. We brought up the rear of the group with our now well-practiced "slow and steady" approach, with plenty of stops to recover and drink lots of water.

After about 2 and a half hours with increasingly spectacular views of snow-capped peaks, we caught sight of the gompa clinging to the rock face. Even more impressive than Tharpaling in construction, it seems a miracle that any structure could remain standing on this precarious foundation. The story goes that 1000 dakinis laid the initial stone and bricks. Then, the local deity added another layer. Finally, the rest was built by human hands. Several classically designed buildings hung together, connected by wooden bridges or stone pathways. The classic wooden stairs that feel more like ladders with broad steps led to upper floors in
Potatoe fieldPotatoe fieldPotatoe field

Potatoes are more common than rice in Bumthang
each structure.

Kuenzangdak is not a monastery but a simple gompa (or meditation space). The site is quite sacred and only a handful of monks take care of it. It is dedicated to Pema Lingpa, the guru who found the "terma" in "the lake" during the 15th century. His statue dominates the upper meditation room, while Avalokiteshvara, the god of compassion, dominates the lower meditation room. Pema Lingpa was originally a blacksmith, and it is he who fashioned the chain mail shirt at Tamji Monastery. In front of his altar at Kuenzangdak lies a large stone, easily 100 pounds, upon which he hammered out the chain mail shirt. At some point, he decided he'd had enough of blacksmithing and created his foot's imprint in the same stone. Our guide, Tshering, actually picked it up, showing us a hollowed out underside which is very auspicious to put on your head like a hat. Tshering held the stone while we put our heads into the hollow. He is quite a strong man!

Outside, the interface of building and rock is amazing. Intricately painted lettering of "Om mani padme hum" color many of the rock faces. Beautiful moss grows everywhere. The
First glimpse of Kuenzangdak GompaFirst glimpse of Kuenzangdak GompaFirst glimpse of Kuenzangdak Gompa

How does this gompa stay up there?
steep stone steps are even more challenging than the trail up the mountain. Prayer wheels abounded as we walked the narrow wooden parapets. Yet another Bhutanese magical place!

On the journey down the mountain, we picked up the occasional litter. We were delighted to find lunch awaiting us at the bottom of the mountain. It was gratifying to notice one of our drivers, whom we've observed littering before, pick up a teabag he had just tossed on the ground and placed it in a basket. It's lovely to think we're helping to raise awareness to keep Bhutan the exquisitely beautiful landscape it is.

Back at our hotel, we enjoyed another delicious herbal hot stone bath, just what was needed after our extraordinary exertions. Hmmmmm...


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Palomino grazing near KuenzangdakPalomino grazing near Kuenzangdak
Palomino grazing near Kuenzangdak

All animals in Bhutan look healthy and happy!
Gate leading to gompaGate leading to gompa
Gate leading to gompa

Every detail is exquisite
Prayer wheels along wooden parapetPrayer wheels along wooden parapet
Prayer wheels along wooden parapet

Meditation is easy in this mountaintop retreat
Sleeping hut in rice paddySleeping hut in rice paddy
Sleeping hut in rice paddy

The wild boars need constant surveillance during the growing season


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