One of my first weekends in Bhutan was a very special one. My roommate, Dorji, took me to Wangduesta Dzong and showed me around the Thimphu area. It was quite an amazing experience and it not only taught me a lot about Bhutanese people but it showed me that I was such a lucky person to be placed with such great roommates.
One night while I was busy writing a paper for Professor Owens, Dojri asked me what I was doing for the weekend. I replied that I didn’t have anything special to do, so he asked if I would like to accompany with to a monastery. Being anxious to get know him I replied with an emphatic yes! So it was set and he told me that we would pick me up on Saturday morning and we would go to the monastery.
Friday night rolled around and I was still unsure what time I was to be picked up on Saturday morning until I receive a text later that night that he’ll be at RTC at 9 am. At this point I had already gone out with some friends and was not going to get back till campus till later. It would prove to me an interesting morning. My roommate rolled around bright and early with me only getting a few hours of sleep. It might as well have been at the crack of dawn given the condition I was in. However, I was still excited to be doing something with my roommate. So I quickly got my life together and set off for an adventure with my him.
We got into his Mom’s golden sedan and drove off into Thimphu. First, we stopped at My Mart- the premiere chillup (foreigner) shopping center in the city. We gather up some snacks and waters for the mini-hike up to the dzong and started driving up towards our destination. Before we reached the final destination I got a tour of the city. He showed me where the king’s palace is, the central monastic building, and Thimphu’s grand golf course. Once the tour was complete we stopped at a general store to get the offerings of butter and cheese. Then, it was off to the Jigme Dorji National Park, the place where the National Takin Preserve is held. The takin is the National animal of Bhutan and had recently been on the verge of extinction. It has a brown hide, hooves, and horns; in my opinion it looks like a cross between a deer, goat, and cow (deergoatcow).
Jigme Dorji National Park is a green piece of real estate at the edge of the Thimphu district in an area known as Motithang. The park has a stunning entrance with a small bridge adorned with rhododendron flowers upon a grass backdrop. The newly paved black-top road (a luxury in Bhutan) winds up a fairly large hill that makes it way past a zoo, the Takin preserve, and finally ends at top near the BBS radio tower. The hill nearest the tower is engulfed with prayer flags of every color and shape. They drape the hillside in color and good karma. Once at the end of the road it was time to hike up the hillside and begin our trek through the woods to the monastery.
After we ascended the small hill, the trail began to level out which made for an easy walk. With this opportunity to breath normally I asked my roommate a few questions. We talked about our families and much more. He shared a story with me about his experiences cycling upon this trail and around the national park, where he goes all the time. One time while training on the dirt path during a rainy day his bike slid out from under him, he went off the trail into the bushes, and down the steep drop off. The dirt path follows a steep, thorny, tree filled cliff as many of the trail and roads in Bhutan do. Hearing this story I couldn’t help look over the side of the ledge and wonder how he was still alive. He said that he just pulled himself up and bought a new bike, given that his former bike was completely mangled beyond repair. Hearing this I understood that my roommate was not affected by the pain of sport injuries, something that I could relate to.
After about a fifteen minute walk we made it to the dzong. The path cleared and the small temple emerged through the thick of the woods. There was a small chorten about 20 feet before the temple and we went to the left side of the chorten, being that it’s auspicious that way. First we went around the backside of the temple, making our circumambulation then we curved our way to the entrance. The temple is mostly white with a strip of red running along the top. There is a set of stair with duel entrances that lead up the set of steps before the door, creating a sort of tiered effect. There were roosters and various dogs placed at different corners outside the temple. The door to the entrance was locked, however my roommate spoke with one of the monks and got him to open the temple and shrine room, for our viewing.
Lam Tenzin Dendup built Wangduetse Dzong in 1567 which was later renovated into a one-story temple by Thimphub Kunzang Thinley. Once inside the main image was a large statue of the Buddha accompanied by smaller statues of Jampelyang (Manjushri- Bodhisattva who represents wisdom) and Chenrizi (Avalokitesvara- the bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas). The golden Buddha was adorned with a red and gold scarf that was draped on his shoulders. There was a table small table consumed with butter lamps that served as the place to give your offerings. So we placed the butter and cheese on the table. My roommate showed me the proper way to prostrate, the full body bowing through which you offer your respect and faith. Normally I wouldn’t prostrate however since my roommate was offering, I thought it was the proper time to learn. The cold, gray cement floor was not the easiest surface to learn on but I was grateful for the help and proper technique. Once the offerings and prostrations were done we took time to appreciate the Buddha and we were on our way. I was told that the temple also contains eight huge chortens that are made of red cypress that celebrate the events in the life of the Buddha, however it was off limits to foreigners so I didn’t get to see it.
Outside the temple we walked over to a large pole that held many prayer flags. It stood at the edge of the land before a cliff that acted as a landmark for the temple. The view from the flags was amazing. It was situated of the edge of a ridge above Trashichodzong- overlooking the Thimphu valley. It was the best view I have seen in Bhutan, one for which words will not do justice. I wanted to throw myself off the ridge for not bringing my camera but I should have had my life together earlier that morning.
On the way back to the trail we first heard and then saw a group of guys playing Khuru. Khuru is a Bhutanese dart game with targets approximately twenty meters away. It was played with huge wooden darts that are at least five times larger than an average dart. It has a wooden body about the size of a small pine cone with a ten centimeter long nail at the end of the tip. The large dart is hurled through the air aimed at a small wooden target. The closer you get to the bulls eye carved on the target the more points you get. It is very reminiscent of the American game of horseshoes in terms of objective and scoring. The game is not only about skill and accuracy but it has a psychological aspect of degrading your opponent, which is what all the yelling was about. We stood a little bit back as not to get hit by the giant darts whizzing through the air.
When we had our fill we made the easy walk back to the BBS tower. When we got to the tower it was snack time and we decided to sit underneath the prayer-flag encompassed hillside. Dodging and weaving through the lines of prayer flags required limber movements but we finally found a clear spot to sit. We sat and took in the valley below. Dorji pointed out the queen’s palace, the gulf course that we had just seen from ground level, and many other interesting landmarks. It was a beautiful setting with the sun warming up the ground and the prayer flags blowing in the wind sending good karma off into the valley below.
Once done taking in the sites we headed off to lunch at The Seasons for some much deserved pizza. This was not done before taking a look at the Takin Preserve. We stopped at the outside of the preserve to see if we could spot any takin. We did not have any luck in getting to see one but it was not without much searching. The day was great and seeing the takin would have just been a bonus. Overall, it was a great way to get to know my roommate and seeing areas of Bhutan at the same time. I could not have asked for more and appreciated the experience immensely.
– Nick Emard