Monday, 29 March 2010

Wednesday 17th March

Up very early for flight to Bhutan; check-in was just about the last desk in the airport. Everyone else in the plane appears to be a) old, and b) wealthy. We saw Kangchenjunga and Everest on the approach to Paro - they were so tall they looked like they were floating on the sky. Landing in Paro was different... airport was tiny and the buildings were cute (wooden frames painted with brightly coloured dragons, tigers and geometric patterns). Bhutanese officials were in national dress (men wear a wooly dressing gown (Gho) with long socks and black shoes and women wear floor-length brightly coloured wrap-around skirts (Kira)).

We were picked up by Tenzin, our guide: young, nervous and painfully polite, who gave us white welcome scarves. Paro lies in a lovely wide valley surrounded by snow-dusted forested peaks, apparently "just local mountains" at 4 - 5,000m. Bhutan is stunningly beautiful; the houses are lovely - white painted walls with wooden tri-partate windows, all external woodwork is patterned in pale blues, reds and yellows. Some houses also have good luck symbols (phallic) and animals painted on the walls. There is very little traffic - the roads are all single lane - and the rivers are beautifully clear. Spring has only just started, most of the trees don't have leaves but the peaches are in blossom and the willows are budding.

After checking into the hotel (only guests again) we visited a museum in a 16th century lookout tower (Ta Dzong). The building was amazing, painted inside and out, with ridiculously thick walls and big wooden beams. Bhutan has a healthy national paranoia of Tibetan / Chinese invasion. Tensin turned out to be an expert on Buddhism and proceeded to confuse us with the seven human Buddhas; past, present and future Buddhas; thousand Buddhas; four guardians; sixteen elders an an indeterminate number of bodhisattvas. Alarmingly there is a test at the end of the trip! N.B. Bhutan is one of the few countries that maintains its traditional 13th century Buddhist practices.
Next stop Kichu Lhakhang - a 7th century monastery where we whirled the prayer wheels (clockwise only) for good weather. Unlike other countries we have visited, Bhutanese temples have retained an aura of sanctity; glorious wall paintings, gloomy interiors, the glint of gold figures and the smell of incense is quite atmospheric.

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