Thimphu, Bhutan. A friend in New York asked us to drop off an envelope to her pen pal in Bhutan. (Yes, there still are such things.) Her friend’s mother works at the post office here in Thimphu – which is gorgeous in the Bhutanese style. We got to pop in for stamps and say hello to her mama.
Originally we thought this encounter would be a casual meet-at-the-post-office event, but we underestimated Bhutanese hospitality. We were invited to dinner and had a wonderful evening meeting the whole family. Dechen (our friend’s pen pal) is a print journalist reporting on health and tourism for the national newspaper.
Her husband is a TV journalist who covers environmental issues and there was a cousin who is an environmental specialist with the government. There were several other aunties, all of whom help take care of an active three-year-old, whose neighbors stopped in to keep celebrating the sixth birthday of one of them. A full house which just seems to work smoothly, especially when it came to preparing a feast of a dinner for us – which we really enjoyed. Plus, we discovered that we like Bhutanese beer, made from red rice.
Delicious and there was great conversation to go with it from very educated and informed people. What a nice evening.
We began our day in a big way. Thimphu is in the process of completing a major Buddha site, which can be seen from all over the valley. Buddha Dordenma celebrates the 60th anniversary of the fourth king (K-4) and houses over thousands of smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Buddha Dordenma itself, are made of bronze and gilded in gold. The completed work is one of the largest Buddhas in the world, at 177 ft, if you’re into competitive Buddha building.
The setting is spectacular and gives a view all over the valley. The inside is a temple and the outside is surrounded by golden angels.
We can even see Buddha from our hotel room, as he perches on the mountain. See him in the center toward the right?
We stopped by to see a weaving center, where the old techniques are still being preserved and practiced. Though I have seen countless demonstrations of weaving in my life, I still think it all happens by magic, and am always astonished at the results accomplished by practitioners of the art – and by their gift shops.
Then we visited the very impressive and very new textile museum. No photographs inside, but the outside was also a work of art.
Though it was a slow day, we headed off to the Farmers’ Market, just to see the variety of foods that are grown and consumed in Bhutan. Having been isolated for centuries, the Bhutanese were not exposed to many foods or cooking methods outside of their own customs that developed over centuries, based on what was able to be grown here. Rice, of course, is the staple item, in a variety of colors and types. What you know is what you love, and – like people everywhere – they are creative with what is available.
We had a delightful lunch in a restaurant that seemed Bhutanese, but was a delicious melange of Asian flavors. Our guide and driver sat on another side of the restaurant, which we saw later had the local buffet. The meal we were served was endless and delicious – and this is me saying that! When we asked at the end what the cuisine was, we were told it was “continental.” Next question: Which continent? Didn’t matter. It was yummy!