Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Images of Bhutan - Leg 4 - Tiger's Nest to the Paro Tsetschu

At the Paro Tsetschu
For more than a year, we planned our trip with Mom around the five day Druk Path trek, during which we spent three days above 13,000 feet in the foothills of the Himalayas.  After successfully finishing the walk and descending back into the relatively thick air of the Thimphu valley, we hardly had time to enjoy our sense of gratitude and satisfaction and reflect on the experience, because our trip had not yet come to an end.  Over the next two days, our itinerary would take us to the Tiger's Nest monastery, a famous holy site that draws people from around the world, as well as one of the annual festivals - the Paro Tesetschu - which often provides the main focus for many tourists who visit Bhutan.  In between, the ladies still managed to squeeze in a bit more shopping, and we stopped in to visit more of the beautiful religious sites in the Paro and Thimphu valleys.  We could sense the end of our journey approaching, but, as with the whole trip, our surroundings helped us to stay focused on the present.   

After finishing the trek, we treated Mom - not to mention Kristin and I - to one night in the luxurious accommodations of the five star Taj Tashi hotel in Thimphu.  Themang pulled our minivan up to the hotel, and we poured out of the door in a cloud of dust and dirt to be greeted by a staff dressed to the nines and prepared to dote on our every need.  A few days make even the simplest of pleasures seem like the finest things in life.  But actual luxury - being treated like royalty - felt decadent.  We highly recommend the end-of-the-trek, one-night cameo at the Tashi. 

I was most stoked on the comb
After a well deserved rest, we spent the next day shopping for friends and family - and maybe for Mom and Kristin too.

Mom navigating a Paro tailor like a local

Along the way, we stopped to see some local archery - the national sport of Bhutan.

Freeze frame!

And then some more of the religious sites.

The Temple of the Iron Bridge Builder

Scenes from one of the oldest temples in the country
That night, we were treated to a program of song and dance put on by local artists who were scheduled to perform at the week long tsetschu, which kicked off the next day.

The following morning, we awoke early for the hike to Tiger's Nest monastery.  Built into the side of a granite cliff at over 10,000 feet, this ancient monastery was built in 1692, and a visit requires a strenuous 11 mile round-trip hike that climbs steeply through numerous switchbacks up through the forest.    
Hanging prayer flags in honor of a lost friend

After climbing for about two hours, the trail traverses a steep cliff under hundreds of prayer flags

The incredible structure is built directly into the surrounding stone architecture

Mom crushed the steep trail
Inside the Tiger's Nest, religious ceremonies were being performed by local monks in conjunction with the week-long tsetschu, which was just getting started in the valley below.  After a brief visit, we started our walk back down the trail on our way to the Paro Dzong to join in the festivities.  Most of the events take place outside the Dzong in the adjoining fields, but the first day of performances are held inside this historic building, which houses the head of the regional monastic body.

On our way into the Paro Dzong
Kristin soaking up the Wheel of Life
Each region of the country holds its own tsetschu once per year, and it's considered good karma to attend and witness the annual events.  The schools close down, and families pack up their lunches and head to the dzong for the party.

Throughout the day, local artists put on shows consisting of folk music, dancing, singing and performance, traditions that have been passed down for generations.  As much as the performers themselves, I was drawn to the faces of all the people - monks, elders, children, tourists, families - who had gathered together to share in the celebration.

After a morning walk to Tiger's Nest and an afternoon visit to the Paro Tsetschu, we finally tore ourselves away, exhausted, and returned to our guest house for our final night in Bhutan.  That evening, we enjoyed a meal with our incredible hosts.

Themang, Kristin, Chris, Chundu and Madge
The next morning, with our bags in hand, we said our goodbyes and boarded our Druk Air flight destined for Bangkok en route to our homes in the Pacific Northwest.

Happy Travelers - We Pulled it Off!
And so concludes our once in a lifetime visit to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan.  What a great trip it was!

If you are thinking about a visit of your own, feel free to drop us a line, and we'll pass on any helpful information we have.  All the tourists pay the same daily rate, and so the most important consideration is which tour company you pick and what type of personal attention you will get.  We used Bridge to Bhutan and would highly recommend them to anyone planning a visit.  Fin and Lotay, brothers from the Haa Valley, both studied in the States and now run a professional, sustainable tourism company.  They'll tailor your trip to meet your individual needs, as they did for us - they're the real deal.  With them, you can't go wrong.

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