Dramatic Entrance to a Dramatic Land

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September 22nd 2006
Published: October 8th 2006
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21/09/06 Paro, Bhutan

With 30 minutes before landing, the pilot announced the time and expected weather conditions in Bhuta, before adding

For those of you who are flying to Bhutan for the first time and not used to seeing mountains in such close proximity, please don't be alarmed as this is the standard procedure.

The plane proceeded to bank left and right around the mountains, with the wing tips seemingly a few meters away and then banked one more time even moments before landing as it rounded one final curve into the Paro valley and straightened up perfectly to touch down on the runway.

It was a dramatic start to a dramatic Land - Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon.

2005 saw a record number of tourists to Bhutan - 13,650 - of all our planned travels, we had always felt that this would be special.

The first 2 noticeable things about Bhutan(apart from the obvious landscape) are the architecture of the buildings and the dress of the people.

The women wear Kiras a large square piece of woven material, wrapped around to form a skirt and fastened at the top with a broach. They wear a short silk jacket, a Toego over the top with the sleeves folded back forming coloured cuffs.Men wear a gho which is large piece of woven cloth wrapped around to form a knee length skirt and jacket with long sleeves that also roll back to form large white cuffs. They commonly wear knee length socks and smart leather shoes. When visitng Dzongs or fortresses with Government offices or temples they also don their kabney which is a white sash, worn from left shoulder to opposite hip. This is the Bhutanese equivalent of wearing a tie. Ladies also wear a sash for ceremonial occasions, the rachu which is a narrow piece of cloth, beautifully embroidered and simply draped over their left shoulder.

The first building we spotted, the airport terminal was beautiful and like most other buildings was primarily painted white with hand painted ornate decorations. Paintings are often small scenes featuring deer, tigers, and flowers and are used to decorate both interiors and exteriors.

Faded and tattered white, red, blue, green and yellow prayer flags flap in the wind on mountainsides, bridges, in fields... Once put in place, they are never removed until completely shredded so new and very tattered lines of flags often hang side by side.

After checking into the Gangtey Palace Hotel (recommended!) and finding electricity sockets which no world adapter would fit (3 wide round circles) we spent the afternoon visiting the National Museum and Dzong in Paro. Our guide Gelay from Keys to Bhutan led us around the museum explaining about the history of Buddhism in the Land and the Thangka art.

Unlike the saffron orange robes of monks in the South Eastern Asia countries, monks and nuns in Bhutan wear deep red burgundy robes. Coloured prayer wheels line walls in temple grounds and on the streets of the town. Either rows of wheels turned easily buy hand or giant wheels 6, 7, 8 ft high that need to be pushed with all your strength. Bhutanese people will often spin every prayer wheel that they pass, obtaining Buddhist merit and sending prayers out on the wind to the benefit of all beings.

We strolled down from the Dzong to cross an old wooden cantilever bridge adorned with prayer flags. School children in their elegant uniforms eagerly posed for group photos. We stopped to watch some men practicing their archery - the national sport, and number one cause for divorce, according to Gelay! Arrows are fired 200m at tiny targets, alternating from one end of the range to the other. The 'bar' is
Paro ValleyParo ValleyParo Valley

View over the Paro Valley from Gangtey Palace Hotel
in the middle of the range, allowing the men to top up their alcohol intake every time that they change ends! Traditional equipment is now being replaced by carbon graphite bows imported from the U.S. but the skill and accuracy is still remarkable.

We finished the day in the perfect way with a bottle of Red Panda beer - the only beer brewed in Bhutan, a refreshing Weiss beer.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Man crosses Dzong CourtyardMan crosses Dzong Courtyard
Man crosses Dzong Courtyard

Waring the traditional Gho and Kabney
Young MonksYoung Monks
Young Monks

Often with mischievous grins
School ChildrenSchool Children
School Children

Eagerly pose for group photos

8th October 2006

Hey Matt, Really nice going through the blog. Will be reading your future enteries religiously.

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