At the beginning of Buddhist time, Guru
Rinpoche a holy saint flew across The Himalayas on a flying tiger. And in a place of
valleys and mountains full of thunder and lightening, he paused and declared that this was
Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.
And so began The Kingdom In The Clouds.
In 1961 the Himalayan authority Desmond Doig was the first journalist allowed into
Bhutan and in an article for The National Geographic he spoke of a land filled with
spirits and yetis and witch doctors, and archery contests and a King who wears a raven
crown and is, the precious ruler of the dragon people.
As he predicted in his article things have changed.
But only a little.
And what Desmond wrote forty years ago has relevance today and still entices
the adventurous to Bhutan.
Here's what he left.
Mountains meet the clouds in Bhutan,
hermit Kingdom in the heart of the
Himalayas : here the extraordinary is often common place and the unexpected
Bhutan is as outrageously different as it is beautiful. Small as fairytale
kingdom, it plays the role with medieval pageantry, a Dragon King, subjects
dressed like Renaissance pageboys, and castles thrust above indolent clouds.
High mountain ranges and closed doors to foreigners have helped to preserve
the countrys antique ways.
Bhutan is warm and hospitable; it clings to human values and an easy, uninhibited way of
living. Though the people of Bhutan have spent centuries in isolation, they accept with
stolid unconcern the tales of the rare foreigner they meet. If I thought my accounts of
sputniks and television
were going to make me a celebrity, I was soon disillusioned. In a country that happily
minds its own business, an oracles prediction or the birth of a yak are
Dzongs command most Bhutans valleys. In
architectural style they resemble the great Potala, or palace of the Dalai Lamas, at
Lhasa: high white washed walls of earth and stone; deep, richly ornamented windows; and
gold plated pagoda like roofs adorned at the corners with dragon heads. If there are
resident Lamas, no woman may spend the night a rules that applies even to the Queen.
Usually the Dzongs include several chapels,
sometimes as many as thirty each magnificently painted and brooded over by a host of
deities. I have stood enthralled in their perfumed gloom, trying to absorb the myriad
detail of murals, images, and all the paraphernalia of worship.
In some Dzongs the images loom so large that their gilded heads are lost to
sight in the upper shadows. Their hands could seat a man, and the murmured
prayers of monks in the galleries overhead give the impression that the
giants breathe and live.
Hinduism, and Bon, the countrys original cult of sorcery and spirit worship, all
survive in Bhutans religion. Fierce gods and protective deities are born of the
strange alliance. A few merely represent some bandit or sorcerer deified more out of fear
...for sheer pageantry, Bhutans archery meets are unbeatable. They are
explosions of color and excitement, beginning with the archers in vivid
traditional costume; their processions like cascades of jewels down the
...then there are the cheering sections, the dancing girls decked out in vivid
homespun, brocade, and coral jewelry. Each team has its own troupe of girls, whose job is
to praise the home team
and insult competitors.
...traveled north to the Tibetan frontier to see Chomo Lhari, Bhutans most
famous peak, 23,997 feet high.
Part of the mountains is actually in Tibet. We had seen it from a distance,
from a pass between the Ha and Paro valleys, a magnificent fluted pile of
...leaving the border, we visited Taktsang Monastery, Bhutans most famous
cloister, where Buddhist shrines cluster like a colony of swallows nest.
Taktsang actually means 'Tigers Nest' but what a tiger! The settlement
approached by the narrowest of ledges, perches on a sheer granite cliff some
3,000 feet high.
One day the King asked me if I would like to visit Bumthang, far to the east
I jumped at the offer; for it meant seeing such fabled places as Punakha,
the former capital, where the old rajas ruled and which boasts Bhutans
largest Dzong. It meant Tongsa Dzong, which the Queens sister described as a fairy
castle, perched so high on a mountain that the clouds float below,
it meant Wangdi Phodrang, with its magnificent bridge, and Bhumtang itself
in a valley with a reputation for ghosts and beautiful woman.
It took seven days to reach Bumthang, seven magic days for adventure along
track filled with ever changing scenery. On one side of a high pass might
lie tropical forest and on other a world of alpine loveliness: a profusion
of flowers and lush green grass that fattened the Kings handsome cattle.
Mountain streams gurgled through painted shrines that harnessed the power to
turn huge prayer wheels. Legendary giants and their consorts occupied the
mountain tops above us. Mortals below-the apple-cheeked village woman fed us
fresh yak- milk cheese amid the fields of flowers.
The chapels interested me most, and I attended more than one banquet in
them, the gilded deities almost brought to life by the flickering lights of
candles. Murals of heaven and of hell glowed on more than one wall. During
the meal, we would put aside a few grains of rice and some drops of millet
wine for the gods.
Tongsa was all that we hoped for. Its handsome Dzong, visible for miles,
rode like a splendid ship on the waves of distant mountains. Passing through
the Dzongs massive gate illuminated with religious texts, we abruptly
entered another world.
Here were banks of painted galleries, with latticed windows and casements
rising in multicolored tiers. Wooden roofs and gilded spires of the dzong
towered above all and seemed to challenge the mountains themselves.
The endless mummer of monks at prayer, punctuated by the tinkle of bells,
vied with the flutter and swish of pigeons wings. Magenta-robed Lamas
leaned over the carved railings to watch us as we passed. We might have been
walking through the Middle Ages, and in a way we were, for Tongsa has
changed little since its founding centuries ago.
Time has slept in the secluded countryards and countryside of Bhutan.
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