first glimpse of Mount Everest
The Hotel Yak and Yeti in Kathmandu provided all the western comforts, and we were delighted to be insulated from the chaos of the city. After a warm shower, catching up with laundry, and a nap, we joined our Tantric Pilgrimage group in the lobby. We opened our space together with a fun and group building puja in a beautiful room in an old palace next door, followed by dinner in the hotel. It was great to connect with the cast of characters embarking on our Bhutan adventure.
By 7am, we were en route to Kathmandu airport. Our main guide, Mutribo, an english expate living in India and friend of our group organizers, did a magnificent job of sheparding us through the departure red tape. After 3 plus weeks of shepharding ourselves, we're delighted to be able to relax into his capable hands.
We lucked out on our Druk Air (Dragon's Tail- the Bhutanese airline) flight, getting seats on the left side of the plane, affording us fabulous views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. It was wild to be above the clouds along with the top of Everest, and several other of the highest peaks, and then to
see below the clouds, as well, to the lower mountains and valleys. Truly awesome!
We caught our landing in Paro airport on video which was very exciting with the maneuvering the plane must do as it weaves through the valley to the short landing strip. Stepping off the plane, we knew we were in a special place, surrounded by beautiful mountains, clean air, a lovely airport, and all very clean. The main concern in immigration is the importing of tobacco products as they are illegal in Bhutan.
Outside the airport, our Toyota Pradas were awaiting us, and before long, we were en route to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, a little more than an hour from the nation's only airport. The road wound along the Paro river through exquisite countryside of mountains, spring blossoms, occasional cows, goats and dogs, houses all designed in the characteristic Bhutanese style, and hardly any litter. What a change from the last 3 plus weeks!
Our Hotel Kisa in Thimphu was also excellent with all western comforts. It has the usual beautiful wide board floors made from lupine used in Bhutanese building. After some rest and lunch, we visited the National
Institute of Arts and Crafts where young people are trained over a 4-5 year curriculum in the traditional arts of woodcarving, sculpture, painting, weaving and embroidery. The students' energy felt upbeat and confident. Just a bunch of kids in school having fun and preparing for adult life with a valued trade in the arts. Wow!
We had an amazing experience meeting a young man at the school. He has completed his initial training and is doing advanced work in woodcarving and painting. What makes his work especially amazing is that he has what is probably cerebral palsy. He works entirely with his feet. We were able to video him working on a piece. Not only is his work exquisite, he seems to be the happiest person on the planet! Beautiful energy!
After the arts school, we visited a hand-made paper factory and were led through the entire process. Apparently, the Japanese are major importers of Bhutanese hand-made paper. Bhutan seems to be highly successful in cultivating foreign markets for their traditional crafts.
We also stopped at the most attended gompa (temple) in Thimphu which was built in 1974 to honor and acknowledge the 3rd king of Bhutan
Gompa in Thimphu
built in honor of the third king
who died in 1972. He is credited with the beginning of modernization in the country. Many elderly men and women sit by a collection of enormous prayer wheels, repeating mantras and counting their malla beads. One of our Bhutanese guides, Tobgay, shared that they are dropped off at the gompa each morning by their children, brought lunch at mid-day, and picked up when their children finish work. In essence, the elderly have the "job" of praying for all living, sentient being, and they seem quite cheerful with their responsibilities. It is an example of the priority the government places on everyone being valued and having the opportunity to contribute to society.
Leaving the gompa, we climbed quite a bit into the mountains above Thimphu to see an enormous Buddha of brass and copper. This magnificent Buddha sits atop a yet to be completed monastery, due to be finished in 2013. An equivalently sized statue of the beloved Guru Rinpoche (or Padmasambhava, the 8th century teacher who brought Buddhism to Bhutan and is believed to be the second incarnation of the Buddha) is being built in the eastern part of the country. Both of these projects are the result of
Gompa in Thimphu
Elderly at work praying
astrological recommendations and calculations, believed to bring protection to the country in response to an earthquake, a severe fire that destroyed many homes, and severe wind damage in recent years.
The food here is the best food we've had since our journey began weeks ago. Bhutan only farms organically, placing great emphasis on environmental; practices. Most of the land is under environmental protection. We continue our conservative practices of only eating cooked food, but the 2 meals we've had already have raised the bar.
Tomorrow morning, we're off for our first hike to visit Tango Gompa...
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