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2013 Bhutan – Docu La (Dochula) and Thimpu

Saturday, November 2 ~ Docu La and overnight in the capital city of Thimphu
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The highlight this morning was the Docu La (Dochula). On a clear day this pass at 3,050 meters or 10,000 feet affords superb views of the Himalayan ranges, however we a heavy fog prevented us from this magnificent view. However, the fog did make for some interesting and mysterious photography of the 108 stupas at Dochula. The 108 Buddhist stupas built together on a conch-shaped hill decorated by colorful prayer flags are very impressive. From here it was another 40 minutes drive to Thimphu, the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights and entirely regulated by policemen. Over 15 percent of Bhutan’s population lives in Thimphu, including Hishey and his wife and children.We were treated to a delicious lunch at Hishey’s home where we met his wife, his children, and some of his extended family.

While in Thimphu, we had an opportunity for shopping although most of waited to finalize our shopping in Paro at the shop that Pala’s, our driver, aunt owned.

One of the highlights of Thimpu was the archery contest. Archery is the national sport and we arrived in Thimpu in time to spend an hour or so at the finals of the national archery match. Two teams were left, one of which was the teamof the brother of the King of Bhutan. We watched as the final teams took their aim on a field that is longer than an americal football field. The target was barely visible at the far end! The bows they use are state of the art. Each archer was either harassed or encouraged by the Bhutan version of cheerleaders. We were less than impressed with the lack of safety features on the range itself. Dogs were sleeping anywhere and everywhere, people were criss-crossing the field, dancers were entertaining the VIPs, TV cameras ran up and down the sidelines.. all this with arrows flying back and forth! The prince’s team won!

We visited a paper-making factory and a weaving shop. The weavers, I was surprised to learn, use backstrap looms, just as they do in South America. The weavings are exquisite.

A visit to the local market allowed us a glimpse at how/where the locals buy their produce the farmers sell it.

Thimpu will also be host to won of the largest Buddha statues in the world. The figure itself is complete and dominates the skyline at the end of the valley. The view from the Buddha site down the length of the Thimpu valley is exquisite. The ‘girls’ of our group also had an opportunity to visit a nearby nunnery (where we used the ‘facilities’) in time to see them preparing their daily offerings and to spin our last set of prayer wheels.

We also visited the wildlife park where we finally had a look at the national animal, the Takin.

Sunday – Thimpu to Paro

One of the advantages of being ‘flexible’ is the ability to be at the right place at the right time. We left our hotel on Sunday morning for our final drive to Paro in time to see people lining up along the roadside in the city itself. Hishey realized that this was something special for us to witness.. the monks were on the move! Monks migrate from monastery to monastery depending on the season. Monks in the colder climbs, migrate to warmer monasteries in the south. The monks and the abbot in Thimpu were migrating to a warmer climate. When this happens, the caravan (now motorized but they used to walk!), takes the time to stop and bless anyone who happens to be along the side of the road when they pass. We took advantage of this, got off our bus, and lined up for the abbot’s blessing along with everyone else. Lead monks preceed the abbot on foot, handing out string necklaces (which you wear for 3 days and then burn), and tiny offerings of seedlike black holy bread, which Carolyn was told had to be eaten! The abbot then passes in his vehicle, handing out blessings by touching the top of the supplicant’s head. We all did this. How special can  you get!!

On the way out of Thimpu on the road to Paro, we crossed, on foot,  the suspension bridge at the junction of the rivers. We also stopped at the Monastery of the White Horse at Bardrong where the only remaining iron bridge still stands.

Thangtong Gyalpo (1385–1464 or 1361–1485[1]) also known as Drubthob Chakzampa (lcags zam pa) and Tsundru Zangpo (brtson ‘grus bzang po) was a great Buddhist adept, a yogi, physician, blacksmith, architect, and a pioneering civil engineer.

He is said to have built 58 iron chain suspension bridges around Tibet and Bhutan (8 in Bhutan), several of which are still in use today. He also designed and built several large stupas of unusual design including the great Kumbum Chörten at Chung Riwoche, Tibet; established the monastery of Dege Gonchen (Gongchen Monastery) in Derge; and is considered to be the father of Tibetan opera, which he created to finance the building of the bridges.
Lodging: Hotel Migmar in Thimphu

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