2007/08 Asia Trip Itinerary | Home Page 1 of 2 | Page Down
Soon after our Druk airliner climbed out of Kathmandu we saw our first snow capped Himalayan peak pierce the clouds, quickly followed by hundreds of others.   They seemed to be floating on the clouds and I blessed the person who told me to be sure to be on the left hand side  of the cabin for what must be one of the most scenic scheduled flights in the world.  Everest at eye level, amazing and our pilot made sure nobody on board missed it

To ensure these much prized seats we were at the airline desk to check in for our flight before they opened, and had to stand our ground against a determined leader of a tour group to ensure the first come first served 'rule' applied.  We had the first three window seats on the left and this was our reward  

At the time I noted in my diary that the landing at Paro has been described as "white knuckle" but it wasn't that dramatic, interesting but not scary I have since learned that the landing is so dangerous that there are only eight pilots licensed to land on the 6,500 foot long runway
It is one of very few in the world shorter than their elevation.  "Ignorance is bliss" comes to mind
Our guide Bhim and driver Kinley were waiting for us with welcoming white silk scarves, they would be our constant guides and companions for the trip
Our first sight of the The Paro Ringpung (Heap of Jewels) Dzong built in the 16th century on the foundation of a monastery built by Guru Rinpoche who also founded the Samye Monastery in Tibet.   Bhutanese monasteries and government offices share the space in the Dzong (fort) for mutual security

Ringpung Dzong and Hillside Watchtower

Since the 17th century the Bhutanese have worn a very distinctive national dress. For women this consists of the Kira,  a full length rectangle of cloth  worn over a wonju (blouse) and a topped off with a toego (short jacket)

Young monks accept donations on entry

Photography is not allowed inside the buildings
The white Utse in Ringpung Dzong is the most beautiful in Bhutan, it has very elaborate woodwork and is for monastic rather than administrative purposes. The windows often get larger on the higher floor where the risk from intruders was less.

The Ta Dzong (watchtower) was built in 1651 in the auspicious shape of a conch shell.  It sat high above Ringpung Dzong to warn of invasion.
It now houses the National Museum rather than captured invaders.  There are 11 galleries over five floors.  Of all the wonderful things inside I liked the stamps best, really beautiful and unexpected which is probably why they caught my eye 
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and it's only Olympic sport.  In a Buddhist country bows and arrows are used only for sport never for hunting.  The Rinpung Sports Association field is opposite Paro Dzong
That contests are not solemn affairs does not mean they are not taken seriously.  Women are not allowed to touch an archers bow and sex the night before a tournament is a  no no

The traditional bamboo bow has been mostly forsaken in favour of this imported hi tech carbon version.  Targets are at a distance of 140 meters, the Olympic standard is a mere 50m.  So when someone hits the target it seems appropriate for his team mates to engage in a slow song and dance routine.  The jubilant marksman then tucks a scarf with a number appliquéd on it into his sash.  Thus recording his hits on target

The sport is almost as much about putting off your opponents as it is about archery, dirty tricks before the match as well as ribald remarks from  the other team are par for the course.  The Olympics in which they have never done particularly well must seem very boring to them

As requested the men are wearing their national dress, the Gho a long tunic similar to a kimono,  Beneath is worn a white shirt with long sleeves turned back at the cuff.  The robe is lifted from ankle to knee with a sash, the excess fabric in the skirt forms a pleat at the back.  On the very slim it is edge to edge, the bigger the figure the wider the pleat.  This is teamed with knee high socks, plain or Argyle patterned, with dress, athletic or hiking shoes.  Only the King and the senior Abbot wear the Gho below the knee.
Bhutan is the only country I have visited where the men look more distinctive in their national dress (literally) than the women

Lama Drukpa Kunley aka The Divine Madman was a  young Tibetan monk who became disenchanted with the corruption in monastic life and took himself on the road to preach to his neighbours the Bhutanese.  For some reason they took him and his strange ways to their hearts.  He is the peoples saint, and tales of his debauchery, singing of lewd songs, drinking and womanizing are still affectionately remembered at least by the men. 

Stylized flying phallus art work has become wrapped up in the folklore surrounding him.  A woman who would not dream of making a display of affection in a public place seems content to sit on her doorstep beneath them. When a new house is built the owner proudly adds the images to ward off evil spirits and gossip

The Lama's second favourite pastime was archery.  We were to be constantly reminded of his influence as we travelled around Bhutan
2007/08 Asia Trip Itinerary | Home Page 1 of 2 | Page Down