Bhutanese Buddhism, Bows and Arrows

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Dec 22, 2010

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Flag of Bhutan  , Thimphu,
Sunday, November 7, 2010

Today we had a very full day of sightseeing and we were very tired by the time we finished. We had to meet our guide at 8:30am and before we left Paro for the capitol of Bhutan, Thimpu, we made two stops.  The first was at the weekend market in Paro, which was like a local farmers market full of fresh produce.  The amount of chillies for sale was phenomenal.  These people obviously like it hot!!  Other delicacies we saw included dried cheese, betel nuts (which the natives like to chew on, causing their teeth to go red), intestine salami's and various types of incense as well as your more normal vegetable varieties.  Being a food enthusiast, I love a market, so I was very happy to see this.

Following the market we went across the street to watch an archery competition.  Archery is the national sport in Bhutan and they take it very seriously.  We were told there are two types, one with a modern bow and arrow and one with the traditional bamboo bow and arrows.  We were watching the modern one which is played by the wealthy as they are the only ones who can afford the expensive equipment.  A bow may cost around $1500 US dollars, which is out of reach of the average Bhutanese.  Anyone, however, can play the traditional version.  The length of the archery field is 140 metres, which seems impossibly long.  The target at the other end is very small and very far away.  We noticed that the spectators like to get very close to the action, and I can’t say I was overly comfortable being that close to flying arrows at high speeds.  However, the archers were very good and there were no strays that we saw.  The fun part about this sport is that if the arrow hits the target or the bulls eye the fellows team mates will do a song and dance, literally, for him.  They sing about what a great guy he is and what an excellent archer he is and that they hope he continues to hit the target.  Very funny and interesting to watch.  Apparently it is mostly for the entertainment of the audience and we certainly found it entertaining, even though we couldn’t understand what they were singing.  We were also told that in big tournaments during the final rounds, there is a lot of sledging of opponents.  The girls go along as cheerleaders and will try to distract the opposition’s archer by saying terrible things about his manhood etc.  We didn’t get to see that today, but it sounds highly entertaining.

Next we drove the hour and a half to the capitol city of Bhutan, Thimpu.  This was a lot different from Paro in that 100, 000 people live here, so it is more busy and more modern.  The buildings are still in Bhutanese style but instead of being predominantly made of wood, they are made of concrete.  You still get the traditional vibe though, so it is very interesting and still keeps the cultural flavour of the town alive.  No glass skyscrapers here.  As this is the capitol this is also where the royal palace is, as well as the Thimpu Dzong.  The Dzong acts as both government house and monastery.  The king has his office here, but is currently not in town.  We also got some very in depth explanations from our guide about the various paintings, which was very interesting.  We also went to the biggest Buddhist stupa in Thimpu and again were given some more in depth information about Buddhism in Bhutan.  At many of the stupas and temples in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, the people will walk around the base in a clockwise direction, often spinning a prayer wheel as they do so.  At this particular stupa we were told that the minimum number of rounds is three, so we walked around the stupa three times with our guide whilst he told us about the various symbols and statues adorning the stupa.  There were also heaps and heaps of pigeons here as people seem to feed them.  I thought we were going to be knocked out a few times by the kamikaze pigeons at this place.

You would think by this time it would be late afternoon, but no, we were only at lunchtime.  We were taken to a local restaurant where we again had a buffet lunch and it was very nice.  I enjoyed my chilli cheese again, so I was happy.  Following lunch we drove up into the hills a bit to go to another temple where we received a blessing from one of the monks inside.  This temple was close to a good lookout over the town where we went for a nice walk amongst the prayer flags on the top of the hill.  The weather was very nice and sunny and warm today, so we enjoyed being out in the sunshine.  On the way back down the hill we first stopped at the Takin reserve to have a look at Bhutans national animal, the Takin.  I was expecting something much smaller, but these animals were quite large and looked almost prehistoric.  Kind of like a goat crossed with a buffalo.  Very strange but interesting to see.  We also saw some women weaving fabric here, as well as the tradition of drying chillies on the roof.

Further on down the hill and we stopped at a nunnery, the first we have seen.  I guess when I think of a nunnery I think of the Christian ones, so I was a bit surprised to see these women looking almost exactly like the monks.  It makes sense of course, but I didn’t realize they would have shaven heads like the men and where a similar kind of red robe.  We couldn’t take pictures here of course, but inside the temple the nuns were chanting scripture and listening to it was quite mesmerizing.  Probably even more so because we can’t understand what they were saying.  Apparently they do this for hours at a time, even for a whole day.  I kept thinking how thirsty I would get, but I suppose they are used to living such a dedicated and spiritual life

We finally got back into the town and stopped at the Thimpu weekend market, which was much bigger than the Paro market and also inside in a two story building.  The produce was similar however, so there was nothing really new here to see.  It was still interesting to have a look though and then after we saw the produce we crossed the river to see the craft and jewelry market where they sold all sorts of souvenir type things.

Our last stop for the day was Buddha point, which is where they are building a giant Buddha statue.  This has been under works since 2005 and they think it will still take another couple of years to finish.  It has a nice location on top of the mountain overlooking the town and you can see it from just about everywhere in Thimpu.

Next we went to our hotel to check in and relax for a little bit before dinner.  We were exhausted from such a full on day of sightseeing, but everything has been very interesting to see.  Our guide and driver are both super nice people and our guide is very knowledgeable about all things Bhutan.  He also like to talk and speaks very good English, so we have found out a lot about this amazing place.  
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John on

Nice travelling Rich (and Brook)!

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