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Bhutan - The Living Museum

The young boy Namgay 11 years of age was high in energy and spirit. This is the first time in his life, he’s enjoying freedom.
He was stuck to that wall glass in the Paro airport with his nose flattened, He was seeing the landing of Druk Air flight, national carrier of Bhutan from Calcutta in that narrow valley with those big mountains in the background. He felt grace in that. He wondered when he could become a passenger to see those rooftops of the great Himalayan Mountains partly covered by moving clouds.

Well, he’s actually a monk from Trashigang Dzong, a monastery in the eastern Bhutan, He was donated to the monastery by his parents, In Bhutan, its customary that each family should ‘donate’ a percentage of their siblings’ count to the monasteries… even today! This is required to maintain the required workforce strength in the community as monks are involved in the active administration of the country along with His Majesty The King. But from 2008, the whole set up is going to be restructured. His Majesty The King steps down and Bhutan would become a full fledged democratic nation with the newly drafted constitution. The King has announced this 2 days back and people all over the country were shocked and saddened on hearing the news

He was traveling eastwards from airport towards Thimpu in that turquoise color Toyota Landcruiser along with his 3 new found friends A, B & C (he has tried hard to remember their names but eventually settled to call them as A, B & C – the only English alphabets he knew). The vehicle itself was very rustic and looked like it belonged to those rocky mountains called Black Mountains of the central Bhutan. Though in the monasteries English was taught, he didn’t pick it up. He was a bright student though. His intelligent questions went unnoticed in that otherwise mediocre class. He was good in asking questions.

While observing his new found friends’ discussion with the driver, he came to know that the same vehicle was used by the Director of France Tourism Department, while he was visiting Bhutan as a Royal Guest. well…..couldn’t stop admiring His Majesty The Kings’ marketing strategy. He wanted to become the Director of Tourism Department so that visiting places can be his job…..

He had a great quest for wisdom. After close to 8 years being there, he couldn’t stay anymore within those 4 walls and there’s no way he could pursue his dreams there…
  • his dream of becoming one like that catalyst that’s discovered last year which can initiate molecular reactions leading to atomic level re-grouping for which this year’s Nobel Prize has been given for in Chemistry.
  • his dream of living not in human timescales but celestical timescales as he knows that a stellar evolution takes multi-million years to happen
  • his dream of reading the genetic code found in pairs in all the 23 chromosomes in the human body as fluent as Dzongkpa, his mother tongue.

So there’s no other choice but to RUN…..There are many a petals yet to be opened in this blossoming quest for wisdom!

His second day out of monastery was full of travel. Their association was a perfect fit. The 3 tourists from India freshly entering Bhutan badly needed a good guide. And Namgey wanted a means to travel. It was a perfect match! When his friends told that they intend to travel in Bhutan for 2 weeks, he couldn’t suppress his excitement, though he has been taught exactly that in his monastery!

He was taught in History that the Dzongs (monasteries) were used as a safe place for the privileged ones during the invasion from the Tibetan army. Due to its function, it demands a very strategic location. So, all along the road travel, one can see big Dzongs built in strategic points. The Trongsa Dzong is situated in a ‘T’ junction of valleys.

Early morning at ‘Swiss Hotel’ in Jakkar town was cold. Bumthang valley is one of the beautiful places to be seen in Bhutan. As he stood outside the room in that Apple garden, winds of change were blowing around him as he stood there trying to protect his lamp of conscience. Jakkar is a small town in that valley where physical proximity amongst humans is quite less. The meal they had during that travel from Jakkar to Oora village was very traditional and Bhutanesed in that hotel, which was the only one in the whole area, by the main roadside, a national Highway, one might call as it is the only motor road laid from the western end to the eastern end of the country.

Oora, indeed was a medieval town. It was a beautiful cluster of houses imprinted on that habitable slope with stepped agricultural fields encompassing it all around, as seen from the other side of the slope. There was order in chaos in the way those Bhutanese houses were arranged in that slope. The road across the village was crisscrossing the slope like a snake. There was nobody to be seen. It was more like a museum than a living village. Even before I could come out of the surprise that there’s no ‘shop’ in the whole village – throughout the year, they entered a typical house with the help of the driver, Pema. There as the female members of the family were making ‘Aara’ – a home brewed warm wine from rice & ‘Doma’ – a special kind of betal nuts wrapped by betal leaves which helps one keep warm, the male members has gone for cow rearing in the upper meadows of Himalayas.

Sometimes when the 3 of them got lost amongst themselves in wandering, he was left to be alone. During one of such lonely walks happened in Tang Valley (one of the 3 valleys in Bumthang) Strolling on the banks of that flowing river, he wanted to start a dialogue with the river.

He sat himself down in the middle of a hand tied short wooded bridge and started talking. He ended up talking to everything that was around there. In that mid noon, the low flying little clouds were getting melted in the heat of the Sun in that clear sky blue background. That sloped farmland near to the river in that valley bed must have been harvested quite recently, as it was visited by some community of birds. In Himalayas, you could do nothing but imagine the wonder around you!!! Though the whole slope is divided into individual farm units due to utilitarian need, the way it was done has transformed the slope into a beautiful landscape garden. The quality of the design is more due to the terrain nature than human intent.

Compared to the steep slopes and narrow valleys of Sikkim, Bhutan has shallow slopes and broad valleys fascilitating better living conditions, atleast in the central region. Probably, that’s’ the reason why Bhutanese are more richly civilized than the sikhimese….

When he was told that they are going to stay in a palace perched in that cliff overlooking the Tang Valley, he was excited. That palace was the house of the Tang King, who once ruled this part of the Himalayan Kingdom. It’s a 100 year old structure wherein some fringe rooms being converted into guestrooms. The central block housed a museum! A 4 storied museum without any artificial lighting (well, the whole valley didn’t have electricity…). Beautifully diffused minimal lighting came from just the very small window opening found in those thick walls of that square building, but the exhibits were arranged neatly. It would take some time to appreciate that lighting especially if one’s coming from the bright sunny outside. Some of the things found in the museum:

Literary section:
a copy of Bon – an extended versus of Prajnaparamita sutra
a beautifully designed wooden reading seat with manuscript holders in the front
The wooden piece inscribed with mantras that goes inside those cylindrical barrels found in the street corners, which people rotate as they walk
Wooden block prints of various motifs and mantras
Ink – made of soot with alcohol, glue & water
Rollers – for pressing the paper/cloth even onto the wood blocks

Fibres – raw material for making bow strings. Barks from the mature and thick stems of selected plantations are stripped off and processed in boiling water. The fibres are spun into thread that were twisted together to make strong twines.
Lead tablets – for making bullets
Gun Powder – made of Yak dungs

- Spitoons – The custom of betel chewing was so prevalent that spittoons are an essential household item
- Preserved spaces of Kings Study room, monk room etc…..

Sunsets seems to be more picturesque than Sunrises during this time of the year in Bhutan.

Particularly, that sunset from the western corner of that palace overlooking the entire Tang valley makes the viewer a King!!

He enjoyed their last night’s stay in Pubhjikha valley. The Black necked cranes has made their annual visit to that place since their homes further up north becomes too cold for them. They have been visiting Bhutan during December century after century and have now gained the ‘Royal Guests’ status. He loved their beautiful flight and elegant landing. Bhutanese have even devised a dance form based on their movements.

Life has spoon-fed him for the last 2 weeks. Now, he has to decide. The night was still & chill, as they walked. His mind was in the cross roads. Their walk in the Paro street that night is going to be their last night together. Tomorrow his 3 ‘new found’ friends are returning back to India. Paro, is the second biggest ‘city’ in Bhutan after Thimpu, the capital. Paro valley is very fertile and people over here were very rich. The twinkling electric flourescent lamps seen on the other side of the valley looked like an extension of the milky way spanning from the west horizon to the east in the clear sky above. With the Orion constellation at 45 degrees at 8 PM, he knows that they are walking towards the east. Though he knew lots of astronomical facts, he learnt his first lesson in astronomy that night…to appreciate clear skies!!!

With the milky way as his archway above, he decided to hear north. Tibet is where he wants to go. The stories and legends that he has heard in his monstery has fueled his curiosity. As he started walking north, little did he realize that his relationship with his 3 ‘new found’ friends is gonna continue next year too….in Tibet!

Ageing is a process in which you classify things as your strengths and weakness…..


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