A Historical Picnic

Today was election day in Bhutan and everything was closed. My Bhutanese friends organized a day hike to two amazing monasteries: Cheri and Tango.

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For the lunch picnic, I executed my one Bhutanese recipe (mentioned in a previous post):

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and packed it in my backpack with some oranges and bread.

After a short car ride (about 30 mins), passed Bhutan’s only golf club and the construction sight of the new high court, we got to the head of the Thimphu valley and parked beside a beautiful bridge over a flowing river.

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We had some hot delicious milk tea here and I managed to dip my toes in the water. In a nearby chortren I spotted some mini-chortern’s that I had seen before. My friends explained that sometimes when people have a wish, they have to built several of these and place them in a sacred place for their wish to be fulfilled. I find this externalization of inner wishes and beliefs present in many objects from the prayer wheel to prayer flags fascinating.

At the head of the mountain trail up to Cheri monastery, I couldn’t help notice a very prominent painting of a phallus on the wall of a hut. This symbol is associated with the Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), a saint known as the bearer of crazy wisdom who combined his outrageous actions with miracles, and is believed to ward off evil:

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After walking for about half an hour through beautiful pine forest scenery, we got to Cheri Monastery. Tame mountain goats greeted us as we reached the monastery:

ImageCheri Monastery is Bhutan’s first monastery and was built in 1620. It’s fort like structure is simply breathtaking:ImageOnce there, we had a short break, where my friends proceeded to change into the national dress as a sign of respect. Once inside, we climbed unto a serene temple where a monk was playing drums and bells quietly and chanting. The amazing thing about Bhutan is that if this was anywhere else, visitors would have climbed on each other’s back to take pictures and see things, whereas here, we were among a handful of visitors and it really felt like we had stepped back in time.

Surrounded in this sacred temple with detailed psychedelic images, my friends consulted a monk by throwing three big dice and having him read from a sacred text. The main shrine contained a sacred statue and on the two sides were two small elephant tusks. My friend told me that the tusks were only collected from elephants who were already dead.

There was a small room next to the temple that the monk told us contained the body of a Tibetan warrior who had come and was trapped in the room. No body has ever checked to see what is in that room (not even the highest lamas) but many people have had visions of people being taken in there by the spirit of the warrior. Hearing this story inside the room with the small locked door had a chilling effect.

There are many sacred sights in Bhutan and the belief is that if these places are disrespected, they can turn on visitors and harm them. An example is the Burning Lake, a faraway sight where the water looks like it is on fire. There must be no drinking, smoking or throwing of garbage in this area and there’s a story that some visitors did not follow these rules and throw garbage in the lake. The lake proceeded to rise up and swallow them.

Next to the temple, there is a steep stairway that is believed that if climbed without resting can fulfill your wish.

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At the top of the stairs, we met a group of monks who took a picture with us: Image

and then climbed more stairs to (I think) their residence:

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After a delicious potluck lunch close to the monastery, we climbed down to the car. Next, we decided to visit another monastery called Tango (or Ta Go, meaning “horse head”, named after a stone that resembles a horse’s head).

At the base of the walk, I saw a burning station with chimney that reminded me of our local Harvest Festival’s site:

ImageTango Monastery is also breathtaking and is home to the Tango University of Buddhist Studies:

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Here is a sacred water well, where there is pure and tasty water coming from mountain streams. After the walk up, the cool water was a miracle:

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After walking around the Monastery, we headed down, taking in the beautiful mountain sights as we did. We ended this amazing day with tea and chocolate. Thanks team 🙂

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