Blessing For Thousands

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Where I stayed
Kyichu Wangdue Resort

Flag of Bhutan  ,
Friday, December 21, 2012

To get  to our next destination in Bhutan, Punakha, we had to do another of those multi hour drives along twisting mountain roads that all too often leave you dangling on the edge of a steep drop because the road is just barely wide enough for one vehicle- and then of course along comes another vehicle heading in the other direction (somebody has to back up to a wider spot in the road!). We even came across a relatively serious accident and apparently in Bhutan, nothing can be moved until the police arrive which would have meant a four hour delay- not wanting to wait, our driver, based on vehicle and space measurements he took by spreading his arms wide, eased by the accident with the wheels on one side just barely holding onto the edge (given their focus on Gross National Happiness, he did allow us to walk to the other side before trying his tightrope trick on his own in the van- we were going to take our backpacks out as well but thought this would show far too little faith in his ability to stay upright). And in one of the finest examples of the blind leading the blind, the road systems in Bhutan are the active responsibility of Indian construction companies (did the Bhutan government ever explore the roads of India before agreeing to this arrangement?).

After the mountain goat adventure, we visited the Punakha Dzong which served as an old capital of Bhutan. This remarkable fortress has survived many floods and fires (as we were finding out, pretty much everything in Bhutan has been burned to the ground at least once). Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the Dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to repel numerous Tibetan invasions. The Dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch and displays the some of the best works of Bhutanese arts and crafts.

While we were in town a massive Buddhist blessing was taking place on the grounds adjacent to the Dzong and this was a sight to behold (although getting across to the grounds involved crossing a crowded old wooden bridge- apparently the pilgrims were very anxious to get to the prayer sessions and we've now discovered that DH has seen one too many news reports of trampling deaths on pilgrimage bridges). Amid the 100,000 devotees seated for the Chakramsamvara blessings were people from all over Bhutan and neighbouring Buddhist countries. There wasn't a tremendous amount to hold our interest with this massive group of people sitting quietly and listening carefully, trying to follow what was being transmitted by His Holiness the Je Khenpo in Dzongkha (as a concession to the modern world, digital screens were placed around the field to ensure that no one missed any of the 'action'). Nowhere in Buddhist countries like Nepal or India, are there huge numbers of devote Drukpa Kagyu practitioners like this. Even in Tibet, the numbers are dwindling because of the Chinese occupation.

One hundred thousand people in a park chanting was eye-catching but so was the abundance of male private parts painted on walls and doors throughout the countryside. As a typically reserved Canadian prude, I wasn't going to document this but Jen N (from San Francisco- need I say more?)was very insistent that I make some mention of it. Bhutan is a place where people believe in magic and mysticism. When a couple cannot conceive, they pray at the temple of fertility, blessed by the 'Divine Madman', in the 1500s. The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hilltop in the centre of the valley, is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who, in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatise his teachings and, due to this, was also known as "Divine Madman".  It is widely believed that if a couple pray at this temple, they will soon be blessed (?) with a child but it was still an odd sight to see a monk anointing the pair with a large wooden penis. To expedite the process, phallic symbols and pretty graphic representations of manhood are painted on homes and places of business. Hopefully the pictures I've included are enough to satisfy the somewhat curious fascination of Jen N??

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Jen N on

Ummmm..... Thanks for the shout-out???? ;)

CarolC on

What a great experience to see a country that most people in the western world have never seen. Thanks for the education!

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