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Published: October 28th 2012
Bird's eye view
Passing thoughts on two weeks in Shangril – La:
At some point, your mind sends you the message that the repository is full. It’s not unlike a memory chip where you’ve maxed out the storage space. Our minds are saturated with knowledge and stories concerning Buddhism, Buddha, the second Buddha, The Tibeten Master, the Tantric Master, the Crazy monk and various other deities. Turns out they have about one thousand, but frankly we’re not sure anyone’s got a tote board on exactly how many. Each valley or mountainside seems to have at least one. Buddhism is much more complex than meets the heathen eye. And of course just when you think you’ve got a toe hold on some of the most basic knowledge….you don’t.
It’s been a great gig being here these past two weeks. We’ve experienced a morning prayer with the monks, where there was chanting and banging on their funky drums along with the gutteral sound of their long horns. Timing is everything sometimes and we found ourselves in Bumthang where we attended a festival where the monks do mask dances and we’ve learned about many of the festivals and rituals practiced in
this country and in this religion.
We’ve experienced the mountain roads, driven the valleys, all while enjoying the cows, horse and yaks as they walk down the roads. Our driver Kumar, had a tendency to talk to them out the car window. I think he was taunting them, but we’ll never know. You’ve got to be a bit cautious when addressing animals in a country where reincarnation is taken somewhat seriously.
We’ve looked at as many Dzongs, temples and monasteries as we could find along the way and found them to be wonderfully unique while also possessing many similarities. Most of this is due to the complexity of the local deities and which particular Buddha was being honored within the temple. You find them in some outstanding locations, view wise, and most are quite old, having been built in the 17th
century or earlier.
There was the discovery that the number 7 and the number 108 are good numbers. Not lucky like in Las Vegas, but good. If you buy the prayer beads you will find there are 108 beads. At the top of the mountain pass between Thimpu and Punakha
is a hill with 108 stupas, courtesy of the queen.
What is left to see you may ask? Well the iconic photo of Bhutan in most travel publications is a picture of the Tiger’s Nest temple hugging the side of a cliff. When in Bhutan…one must at least consider climbing up to take a good look at a temple that was placed in a very unique place, all due to a famous Tibetan master who just happened to come here many millennia ago and hang out in a cave for three years, three months, three days and three hours. Seems this is the appropriate amount of time for a period of self-reflection in these parts. Monks today still do this from time to time. That is a serious amount of time to reflect if you ask us.
But, back to the ascent of the Tiger’s Nest. For us there were several problems with this scenario. As if we have not had enough health problems recently, both of us got head colds and minor chest colds. This takes a toll on your respiratory function. Throw in the fact that you are now going to be
Ready to ride
Tiger's Nest here we come!
hiking at quite the elevation and this presents a pulmonary challenge. Not to mention the fact that we’re not that young to begin with and don’t exercise enough. We started taking antibiotics in case the cold was bacterial and consumed decongestants and cough drops. We lost a few hours of sleep, but the day before we returned to Paro we were both starting to feel better. With MJ still suffering with a cough and a low energy level we decided to follow in the footsteps of our fellow travel blogger Liliram and rent horses. No sense trying to be some kind of hiking heroes here.
We had done our research and had an idea how difficult the climb to the top of the Tiger’s Nest would be. Neither of us are in good enough shape to climb mountains but we thought if we went slow we could make it. Once you have taken your horse up as far as you can, there are over 700 steps to negotiate to get there. We won’t string you along--- we made the trip to the top and back and it was far more strenuous than we anticipated. Ah to be
young and in shape……not.
Our guide knew we wanted an early start so we would not have to deal with the heat of the day. He picked us up at 700am and we were heading up the mountain by 745am. For the physically fit we are told it is a two-hour hike to the top and just less than a two hour hike back down. The path is well traveled and worn. The path is dirt, a little sand and many more rocks than we were anticipating. I would not want to make this trek when it is raining.
As we mentioned earlier we decided to ride up. Please keep in mind neither of us has been on a horse since 1995. A quick look at the saddle was a bit of a disappointment. It was not as wide as we would have liked or as padded. Dave’s saddle went up higher in the back, which is really important for this ride as we learned fairly quickly. Merry Jo’s horse was Tinka and Dave’s horse was Tresinga.
Dave and Tresinga were in the lead and MJ and Tinka followed along. Remember the incline
is rather steep and the horses use a lot of energy and jerking movements climbing on the rocks. Fortunately in many places the horses over time have worn down a nice path. The down side to this is that the horses seem to enjoy walking on the outside of the path. One can only imagine they are enjoying the view. MJ was having trouble staying on her saddle. At one point she slid completely off the saddle onto the horses cheeks, was holding on with hands and feet in stirrups while squeezing the stuffing out of the side of the horse. She was growing tired of the instructions on how to ride a horse.
At the halfway point, being a good husband, Dave offered to change horses. She jumped at the chance! It only took the first hill for Dave to understand all the issues with Tinka, his gate, his personality and his crappy saddle. MJ was smiling the rest of the ride. Dave took one for the team. Travel tip #108:
It cost $15 to rent the horse to the half waypoint and $20 total to take the horse to the top. Spend
the extra 5 bucks! It was money well spent.
Once you get to the top of the mountain, whether you walk or ride a horse the views are amazing and the temple is lovely and serene. You can visit three temples while there and they are quite nice. Seems there was a bad fire about 14 years ago, but restoration is complete.
We would also mention that there were many more people riding horses to the top than we expected. We thought we would be a small minority. We can assure you that there were many, many more people who wish that they had ridden a horse to the top. As we walked down we took a good look at all of those we passed on our way going up and down. It is our belief that only about 6 of those people were fit enough to hike up without a horse. We saw some perfectly miserable people, and they had not even gone halfway up at that point. Vindication was ours!
All people hike down the mountain even if they take ride the horse. This was a bit
working the fields
tricky, but we made it down safe and sound…..and really tired.
In Bhutan you will see phallic symbols painted on many buildings. Questionable and almost lude in the western hemisphere but a sign of fertility in Bhutan. There are several tales providing more detail but you will have to travel to Bhutan to hear them!
Our last night in town we had dinner with our guide and driver. We were having a bit of a birthday celebration for MJ. Her birthday is on the 28th
but they wanted to celebrate a bit early since we fly out on the 28th
. They took us to a restaurant in town where we had a nice traditional dinner. They bought a chocolate cake and sang happy birthday. She received cards and a bag with Bhutan written on it. A nice celebration was had by all.
On her birthday MJ will have breakfast in Paro, Bhutan, lunch in Kathmandu, Nepal – ok , not leaving the airport but we are counting it anyway, dinner on the flight to Delhi, India and dessert in Delhi at our B&B. Three meals, three countries. Travel
tip #7: Bhutan has many dogs roaming free. They love to gather together at night to bark and howl. If you are a light sleeper bring some earplugs. Places we stayed:
Hotel Olathang- Paro
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