We arrived after a 45-minute flight from Bagdogra, and landed at the prettiest airport I’ve ever seen. We have a mandatory guide and a driver for a week here (no foreigners are allowed to wander around alone here), and we got right off on our tour. I should mention here that everyone in Bhutan speaks wonderful English, which is taught in schools modeled on the (historic) British program.
We started by looking at an ancient bridge with quite a history. The Iron-Bridge Builder, Thangtong Gyalpo (1385–1464) was a Tibetan saint and engineer who is believed to be the first to use heavy iron chains in the construction of suspension bridges. He built 108 bridges throughout Tibet and Bhutan, earning himself the nickname Lama Chakzampa (Iron Bridge Lama). Lots are still standing – or swaying.
The King and Queen of this country are as cute as can be, and our guide says it won’t be surprising if we run into them somewhere, as they are often out and about among their 700,000 subjects. “The People’s King” is also known as K-5, as he is the fifth in his dynasty. Charm, charm, charm.
The capital city, Thimphu, is about an hour from the airport in Paro, which is the closest place with enough flat land. Otherwise, it’s gorgeous mountains and hills. Our hotel is in the center of town, with a lovely mountain view.
We got a rest break before heading off to the Cultural Heritage Center for a traditional Bhutanese feast – which certainly was different from any cuisine we’ve experienced, and we had no idea what was going with the rice. Don did fairly well for both of us.
Then it was off to the memorial garden and temple for K-3, who died prematurely. He was the King who began the modernisation of Bhutan, beginning in the 1950’s. When he died in 1972, his widow erected this Chorten, which is the focus of religious worship for many. Prayer is central to their lives, plus the older people are here to make sure they wipe away any evil they may have done in their life, before it’s too late.
Then onto something fun. The national sport and passion here is archery, and we got to watch a match, which was fascinating. I’ve seen archery played, but the version here was astonishing. The distance between the archer and the teeny weeny little target is 120 meters – almost 400 feet. They swap direction after a certain number of players; I couldn’t even see the target on the other end.
When a player – through some miracle – hits the target board – the guys on the side where the board is do a ceremonial dance. I guess it’s to let the other end know the shot was successful, otherwise who could tell? Great fun to watch.
After working hours – at 5:30 – we got to tour the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, the administration center of the country. There is a monastic side and an administrative side, many parts of which date from the 17th century. The architecture is iconic and so graceful. What a pretty place to be a bureaucrat in – or a monk