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Bhutan Punakha to Paro

Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chöten; Semtokha (Simtokha) Dzong


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September 22nd Punakha, Bhutan

We were told to wear walking shoes, so we knew a short trek was happening and were not surprised to drive down to the river. We crossed the river on one of Steve’s belovéd wibbly- wobbly bridges. The iron bed and steel cable look new, but the towers look old; no one knows exactly how old. The first iron suspension bridges in Bhutan were built over 500 years ago c 1440 and 5 of those are known to be still in use! Then we walked along the banks of the Mo Chhu for a short while before heading up through the wet rice paddies. Soon we left the rice fields and went steeply up a sandy track. Half way up was a big prayer wheel in its little shelter, which we turned and chanted ‘om mani padme hum’. Then climbing up the hill through the pine trees, with nice views up and down the valley, though was getting hot. At the top tourists can see a lovely Body tree, well tended gardens, two large prayer wheels in their special shelter, and the gorgeous little temple.
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This was Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chöten (aka Nyizergang Chöten/ Punakha Zangdopelri), a chörten in the Punakha district. It is unique as it was not designed for community worship or for monastic retreat like other Buddhist Institute Colleges, but as a magical tool to ward off negative influences and bring harmony to the valley. This chöten (stupa) was built in 2004 by the queen mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, in Nyizergang, roughly a half hr walk from he footbridge in Yepaisa Village. It was built in accordance with the instructions of Lopon Sonam Zangpo, with the intention of bringing peace in the world, and to clear obstacles for the country of Bhutan in particular. Its exterior is in the form of a pagoda-like stupa while the interior consists of 4 stories containing images of the deities of mandalas of Vajarakilaya. Bartsham Lama Kunzang Wangdi, popularly known as Lama Nyingkula, a close disciple of HH Dudjom Rinpoche was in charge of the construction of this Chöten. In most Buddhist temples, you walk in the front, and there’s an open space to sit and pray or meditate, and a big shrine in the back with (usually) a Sakyamuni Buddha. Here, however, walking in the north door, we were immediately face-to-multiple-face with the multiplex wrath of Vajrakilaya, the most wrathful of protective deities. This huge sculpture, 5.5m high, filled the whole room. It’s too big to grasp as one being; even the main heads are hard to see, being close to the ceiling and obscured by the dizzying detail of the various other manifestations. There are 103 sculptures, each an aspect of the deity, emerging bodily from his main mass, all in brilliant colours. On the 2nd level there is another shrine room, and another wrathful deity statue, not as overwhelming in size and complexity, but still ferociously powerful. In another stair to the third level is a third wrathful female deity, even more ferocious and energetic. She transforms her consort’s wrath, but there is plenty more beyond her reach, so his potency reaches everywhere. Each wall is covered with a series of responding deities. There are of more Yab-Yum figures, peaceful deities of all colours, locked in embrace with their consorts. The sexually-charged energy that starts with wrath at the centre became peaceful enjoyment at the periphery. Finally, take the last stairway, and emerge on the roof! The view is fantastic. And here, at last, is a modestly-sized, classically-posed, golden Sakyamuni Buddha, facing southward toward the sun, peaceful and welcoming. Having survived all the transformational challenges of the wrathful deities, one can truly feel the peace. The outside world should see only this peace: the work of the guardians within can remain hidden. The view from the top was especially attractive. A guard literally followed us all the way up and when I asked what he thought we might do it turned out that he was bored because not many people visited and he fancied a walk!
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After our trip, which took roughly 1.5 hours we drove back to Punakha. On the way our guide pointed out a large 3 storey somewhat dilapidated house and told us it was the scene of Bhutan’s great love story. Galem’s manor is the site of Bhutan’s greatest love story, akin to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet... the doomed love of Gasi Lama Singwe and Changyul Bum Galem. Galem was the beautiful daughter of the richest farmer in Punakha dzonkhang and she lived in the (then glorious) three storied manor. Gasa Lamai Singye was a humble servant to the monastic order in Gasa. They fell in love and nurtured dreams of spending their lives together, but every Deb the Chieftain fell for Galem’s stunning beauty. He told his assistant of his desire to marry Galem. The attendant was aware of the love between Galem and Singye so he pulled some strings to have Singye transferred to the Monastic Body of Gasa many miles away. After an unwilling Singye left, Deb’s proposal was communicated to Galem’s parents.
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Naturally the parents were overjoyed and insisted on Galem accepting the proposal even though she was unwilling. A desperate Galem confessed her love for Singye and admitted she was pregnant, at which her parents threw her out of the house. A distraught Galem sat on the bank of Mo Chhu singing plaintively to passers-by and requesting them to pass on her message to Singye. Galem fell ill due to her pregnancy and poor health and legends say that even the Mo Chuu slowed its pace out of sympathy to the girl. Finally a passerby was moved on seeing Galem’s plight and conveyed her condition to Singye who immediately tried to rush back. That very night Singye had a bad dream about his beloved and he knew that something had happened to her. When he finally reached Galem she had perished and he was confronted with the sight of her funeral pyre. Struck by despair, Singye jumped into the flames of the pyre, shouting they would be united in their next incarnation.

Peoples od Bhutan
Ngalop people (also known as Bhote) and indigenious Sharchop people 50%- Tibetan antecedents; Lhotsampas (also o a There are numerous ethnic groups in Bhutan, and no one group constitutes a majority. The Bhutanese are of four main ethnic groups: the politically and culturally dominant Ngalop of western and northern Bhutan; the Sharchop of of eastern Bhutan; the Lhotshampa concentrated in southern Bhutan; and Bhutanese tribal and aboriginal peoples living viillages scattered throughout Bhutan. The Ngalop (earliest risen/first converted) are people of Tibetan origin who migrated to Bhutan early in the 9th century. They introduced Tibetan culture and Buddhism to Bhutan and are the dominant political and cultural element in modern Bhutan. Their language, Dzongkha, is the national language and is descended from Old Tibetan. The term Ngalop subsumes several related linguistic and cultural groups, such as the Kheng people and speakers of Bumthang language (mutually intelligible languages). The Sharchop (easterner), are populations of mixed Tibetan, South Asian and Southeast Asian descent that mostly live in the east of Bhutan. The Sharchop and closely related aboriginal Monpa (Menba) are descendants of the principal pre-Tibetan (pre- Dzongkha) people of Bhutan. The Sharchop account for most of the population of eastern Bhutan. Although the biggest single ethnic group in Bhutan, the Sharchop have been largely assimilated into the Tibetan-Ngalop culture. Most Sharchop speak Tshangla, a Tibeto-Burman language, although those in the south, due to their proximity to India, speak Assamese or Hindi. Small aboriginal or indigenous tribal people live in scattered villages throughout Bhutan. Culturally and linguistically part of the populations of West Bengal or Assam, they embrace the Hindu system of endogamous groups ranked by hierarchy. They include the Brokpa, Lepcha, and Doya tribes as well as the descendants of slaves. The remaining population are the Lhotshampa (southerners), a culture with historical links to Nepal, and speaking the same language as the Gorkha people. They were often referred to as Nepalese by the government of Bhutan. Officially, the government stated that 28% of the population was Nepalese in the late 1980s, but unofficial estimates ran as high as 30-40%, and Nepalese were constitute a majority in southern Bhutan. The Lhotshampa are generally classified as Hindus, but this is an oversimplification as many groups, including the Tamang and Gurung are largely Buddhist, while the Kiranti groups that include the Rai and Limbu are mainly animist followers of Mundhum. Bhutan had a sizable modern Tibetan refugee population, c10,000 in 1987, in the wake of the 1959 Tibetan Rebellion. The Tibetan expatriates became only partially integrated into Bhutanese society. When the King fell sick, there was a problem of who would inherit the monarchy; the son of the Tibetan or Bhutanese Queen. He chose Bhutan and the Tibetans in Bhutan had to suffer the consequence. Some Tibetans were secretly taken from their home and sent to prison or to remote places for many years. The general Tibetan public in Bhutan only heard about it later on. So, the Tibetans in Bhutan requested leave to go to India where their beloved spiritual leader was. Perceiving a lack of allegiance to the state on the part of Tibetans, the government decided in 1979 to expel to India those who refused residency. The first two groups of Tibetans were sent to India and founded their own community, but a third group is still in Bhutan. They don’t have a Bhutanese passport because they were a group that wanted to leave Bhutan. Other Tibetans have Bhutanese residency because they accepted the offer to live in Bhutan instead of going to India. Although Bhutan traditionally welcomed refugees government policy in the late 1980s was to refuse more Tibetan refugees.
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We set off back towards Thimphu. Passing back over Dochula Pass we went into the important Semtokha (Simtokha) Dzong (5 km S of Thimphu) aka Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras. A legend has that it was built to encase in stone an evil female spirit (Simmo= demoness; do= stone) that was harassing travellers, and was the first of its kind in Bhutan. It has survived in its original form. The dzong, built by Rinpoche Ngawang Namgyal in 1629 was modelled after the Gyal Gyad Tshel Institute of Ralung (Tibet) and is quite distinctive as its Utse (central tower) has 12 sides. Namgyal brought into vogue, for the first time in Bhutan, this concept of the "dzong" as castle monastery with administrative and monastic functions. An attack on the dzong was made by 5 disgruntled lamas in collaboration with an invading army of Tibetans who were against the Buddhist practices of the dzong under the control of Zhabdrung. They were defeated and Palden Lama (Tibetan leader) died in the battle. Another attack on the dzong in 1630 by the Tibetans was successful until part of the dzong caught fire and the roof collapsed, killing all the invaders.
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The dzong, covering an area of about 60 m2, has only one entry gate from the south while in the past it was on the west. Built over 3 floors it is covered on the exterior with prayer wheels and 300 slate carvings of saints and philosophers. A large statue of Yeshay Gonpo (Mahakala), the chief protective deity of Bhutan, is housed inside the Utse. Another interesting aspect of the dzong is that it contains the bed chambers of both Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and Jigme Namgyel, two of the most important figures in Bhutanese history. The dzong houses statues and
paintings of various Buddhas, deities and religious figures including The Eight Manifestations of Guru Rimpoche, Jampelyang the Bodhisattava of Wisdom, Shakya Gyalpo the Buddha of Compassion and many more all carved and painted in exquisite detail. The main lhakhang (chapel) has a large image of the Sakyamuni (Buddha), with images of 8 bodhisattvas. There are dark mural paintings, said to be the oldest in Bhutan. The chapel to the west of the main Lhakahan has images of Chenresig, green and white Taras, and an old painting of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of the dzong. On the pillars of the eastern goenkhang are tiger's tails and guns. Chapels here are dedicated to Yeshe Goennpo (Mahakala) and Pelden Lhamo, the protector deities of Bhutan. In the genre of Himalayan mural painting, the cosmic mandala in the dzong is considered unique. It is a circle that is painted on the ceiling in the assembly hall or Tshogdu, within a square in the form of mountain ranges with yellow concentric squares. The circles within it are painted in several colours, making it distinctive, represents the twelve months of the year. The path of the course of sun's movement is painted as a line in the form of an ellipse in brick red colour; moons are also represented. The first renovation and extension works on the dzong was completed in 1670 by Mingyur Tenpa, the third Druk Desi (regent) and has undergone many renovations in subsequent years. The four harmonious animals are figures in Buddhist mythology, and can often be found as subject in Bhutanese and Tibetan art. It is the most common theme in Bhutanese art, featuring on many temple murals, stupas, and even on utensils. It is the best-known national folktale of Bhutan and is popular in Tibet and Mongolia. A popular theme has an elephant standing under a fruit tree carrying a monkey, a hare and a bird (usually a partridge, sometimes a grouse, and in Bhutan a hornbill) on top of each other. The scene refers to a legend which tells that four animals were trying to find out who was the oldest. The elephant said that the tree was already fully grown when he was young, the monkey that the tree was small when he was young, the hare that he saw the tree as a sapling when he was young and the bird claimed that he had excreted the seed from which the tree grew. So the bird was recognised the other animals as the oldest, and the four animals lived in cooperation, helping each other to enjoy the fruits of the tree. After the story is finished, it is revealed the partridge was the Buddha in a previous life. The story was meant as an illustration of cooperation and respect. The four animals represent the different habitats of the animal world, sky, trees, ground, and underground. The image of the animals standing on each other’s shoulders portrays social and environmental harmony: the bird finds a seed and plants it, the rabbit waters it, and the monkey fertilises it. Once the seed sprouts and begins to grow, the elephant protects it. The small plant grows into a big, beautiful tree full of fruit. By working together and using their individual talents, the four friends are able to reach and enjoy the fruit. Surprisingly similar to the 4 Musicians of Bremen.
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On the route our guide was keen to talk about various Bhutan legends, the most interesting relating to yetis. Now, apparently, there is a Yeti Park in Bhutan and our guide wasn’t entirely convinced they weren’t real. A popular story goes that female yetis are very keen on mating with human males (women don’t have to worry about male yetis; they aren’t interested). Anyway, as yetis are stronger than men if you are alone in the mountain and meet a yeti it will take you, mate with you and then probably eat you! Only one famous local was able to escape and he did this as he was the fastest man in Bhutan!
Another thing we noticed was the houses; pretty much everyone had red chillies drying on the roof. Our guide said that the Bhutanese LOVED their chilli. Then it was to Thimphu for lunch. An interesting restaurant with slightly better buffet ended with us chatting to a group of South Koreans who insisted they were related to the Bhutanese, which is remotely possible in the far east of Bhutan (though unlikely), but definitely not the case here in the west. We filled up at 1 of its 2 petrol stations (lucky as Punakha had only one) and after 142km arrived in Paro.

Paro
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Paro in Paro Valley is a historic town with many sacred sites and historical buildings scattered throughout the area. It is home to Bhutan's sole international airport. A 16-km road passes up the valley to the ruins of another fortress-monastery, Drukyel Dzong, partly destroyed by fire in 1951. Paro is also home to Bhutan's tallest building, the Ta-Dzhong, 22m high (built in 1649). We drove up the valley towards the Dzong, but apparently it was not worth visiting. Rinpung (Paro) Dzong is a fortress-monastery overlooking Paro valley. A monastery was first built here by Padma Sambhava in the early 10th century and in 1644 Ngawang Namgyal built a larger one on the old foundations; for centuries this imposing 5-storey building served as an effective defence against invasions by Tibetans. Built with stone instead of clay, the Dzong was named Rinpung, meaning "heaps of jewels" but Rinpung and its treasures were destroyed by fire in 1907. Only one thangka, Thongdel, was saved. On the hill above the Dzong stands an ancient watchtower, Ta Dzong, now the National Museum of Bhutan. Housed within its walls is a collection of sacred masks and costumes dating back several centuries, along with several rooms devoted to Bhutan’s flora and fauna. Across a medieval bridge Nyamai Zampa, below the Dzong is Ugyen Pelri Palace, a royal residence constructed by penlop Tshering Penjor. Dungtse Lhakhang is a 15th-c temple near the new bridge, and Ugyen Perli Palace is visible through the fence. Members of royal family lodge in the palace when passing. Nearby is the old bridge, close to Rinpung Dzong. We entered the museum (having put all our things and apparently especially our phones) in a locker. The Cham Mask exhibits were interesting enough, though not well displayed (rows and rows, but at least labelled), but the natural history sections were much better done, organised by geography/ terrain with flora/fauna in each. A large 3D map showed clearly the different parks. Once there had been road passes joining Bhutan and Tibet, but strangely (irony) they were destroyed in landslides from earthquakes and never repaired (the Bhutanese were quite happy with this).
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There are over two dozen main languages of Bhutan, all members of the Tibeto-Burman language family except for Nepali, which is an Indo-Aryan language. Dzongkha, the national language, is the only language with a native literary tradition in Bhutan, though Lepcha and Nepali have literary languages in other countries. Other non-Bhutanese minority languages are spoken along Bhutan's borders and among the primarily Nepali- speaking Lhotshampa community in South and East Bhutan. The 6 Central Bodish languages are a group descended from Old Tibetan (Chöke). Most Bhutanese varieties of Central Bodish languages are of the Southern subgroup. Dzongkha is a Central Bodish language, the dominant language in Western Bhutan, and the language of government and education in Bhutan since 1971. The Chocangaca language, a "sister language" to Dzongkha, is spoken in the Kurichu Valley of Eastern Bhutan. The Laya dialect, closely related to Dzongkha, is spoken by Layaps, an indigenous nomadic/ semi-nomadic people who traditionally herd yaks and dzos. Khams Tibetan is spoken in Eastern Bhutan. 8 languages are East Bodish languages, not members of the closely related Tibetic group but still descended from Old Tibetan. The Bumthang language is the dominant language in Central Bhutan, with Kheng and Kurtöp languages closely related. Dzala language, Nyen language, and 'Ole language ("Black Mountain language" or "Mönkha") are spoken in the Black Mountains of Central Bhutan by the remnant of the primordial population of the Black Mountains before the southward expansion of the ancient East Bodish tribes. Other Tibeto-Burman languages in Bhutan are more distantly related to the Bodish languages. The Tshangla language, a subfamily of its own, is the mother tongue of the Sharchops and the dominant language in Eastern Bhutan. Gongduk language is an endangered language in isolated villages along the Kuri Chhu river in Eastern Bhutan. It appears to be the sole representative of a unique branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family and retains the complex verbal agreement system of Proto-Tibeto-Burman. Lepcha language has approximately 2,000 ethnic Lepcha people in Bhutan and its own highly stylized Lepcha script. The Lhokpu language of the Lhop people has approx 2,500 speakers. It is one of the autochthonous languages of Bhutan and is yet unclassified within Tibeto-Burmese. Nepali is the only Indo-Aryan language spoken by native Bhutanese. Inside Bhutan, it is spoken primarily in the south by the approximately 265,000 Lhotshampa. The Lhotshampa include many smaller non-Indo-Aryan groups such as the Tamang and Gurung in Southern Bhutan, and the Kiranti groups including the Rai (our guide’s ethnicity) and Limbu peoples found in Eastern Bhutan. Among these minorities are speakers of Chamling, Limbu, and Nepal Bhasa. Quite a number of these people have productive farms in the south, which they farm during the year, supplementing their income by acting as guides during quieter farm times (like our guide).

Natural history of Bhutan
Today 70% of the kingdom’s total area has been designated as protected nature preserves and contains over 60% of the common plant species of the Eastern Himalayas. There are 4 climate areas: in the south a borderline tropical forest (c200m), moist, occasional monsoon, low and warm; in the centre sub-tropical forests, becoming temperate with large forest areas (c1000m); and in the alpine north (c4000m) cold and mountainous with patches of trees in lower areas. Bhutan boasts 46 species of rhododendrons and 300 types of medicinal plants. Junipers, magnolias, carnivorous plants, orchids, Blue Poppies (the national flower), edelweiss, gentian, various medicinal herbs, daphne, Giant Rhubarb, pine and oak trees are among the plants commonly found. One of Bhutan's ancient names given by Tibet was Menjong yul (land of Medicinal Herbs).
" Clouded leopards, elephants, one horned Rhinoceros, water buffalo, golden langur, gaur, hispid hare, sloth bear, swamp deer, hog deer, horn bills. live in the lush tropical lowland and hardwood forests in the south.
" Temperate zone fauna include Tigers, leopards, goral, grey langur, serow, Himalayan black bear, red panda (left), squirrels, sambar, wild pig, and barking deer in mixed conifer, broadleaf and pine forests. Fruit bearing trees and bamboo provide habitat.
! High altitude is home to the Snow leopard, blue sheep, red panda, tiger, takin, marmot and musk deer. Bhutan is home to the highest altitude inhabiting Tigers in the world and they are commonly found throughout the country. The alpine habitats of the great Himalayan range in the north also have Tibetan wolves, antelope and Himalayan musk deer.

Tropical/ Sub-tropical
Clouded leopards are two species of wild cat that live throughout the forests of Southeast Asia. The smallest of the big cats, they are secretive and rare in the wild, preferring to remain alone and hidden from view. Studying them is a unique challenge, and they remain elusive and poorly understood. Clouded leopards are a member of the Pantherinae that also includes lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, and snow leopards. While they are known as clouded leopards, cloudies are not directly related to normal leopards. Until 2006, there was thought to be a single clouded leopard species but, recent research has shown two distinct species, one in mainland Asia and Taiwan (Neofelis nebulosa), another Borneo/Sumatra (Neofelis diardi). The two diverged 1.5 million years ago due to geographic isolation. In fact, although they look similar, genetically a clouded leopard is more different to its sister species than a lion is to a tiger. A distinctive feature is the long canine teeth, the longest for skull size of any modern carnivore, causing a comparison with the extinct sabre- toothed cat (studies reveal connections between the two eg. both have an enormous gape, around 100o, compared to a lion of 65o). Sabre-toothed cats would bite prey through the neck, using their elongated teeth to sever nerves and
blood vessels and strangle the windpipe, to instantly kill, a very different hunting technique from living big cats, which use a throat grip to suffocate. It is possible that clouded leopards use a similar technique but little is known about clouded leopard hunting strategies.
Gee's golden langur is an Old World monkey found in a small region of western Assam and the foothills of the Black Mountains of Bhutan. It is one of the most endangered primate species of India. Long considered sacred by Himalayan people, the golden langur was first brought to the attention of the western world in the 1950s. In Bhutan, it has hybridised with the capped langur.
The gaur (Bos gaurus) or Indian bison, is the largest extant bovine. It has been listed as Vulnerable but population trends are rebuilding. The gaur is the tallest of wild cattle species. Both sexes carry horns, which grow from the sides of the head, curving upwards. The Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus filchneri) is a subspecies of the grey wolf native to the Tibetan Plateau. It is sometimes referred to by its previous classification of Canis lupus laniger, and incorrectly as Canis lupus chanco (Mongolian wolf). The White-bellied or Himalayan musk deer is a musk deer species in the Himalayas of Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and China listed as endangered because of overexploitation. White-bellied musk deer are well adapted to high altitudes; they demonstrate adaptations like well-developed dew claws, broad toes to provide increased stability on steep slopes, and a dense coat of coarse hairs with air-filled cells to insulate against the extreme temperature. While they lack antlers, like all musk deer, they do possess a pair of enlarged and easily broken canines that grow continuously. The maximum length of the tusks is 10 cm. Their hind legs are significantly longer and more muscular than their shorter, thinner forelimbs. In place of running or leaping, this species tends to "bound." The white-bellied musk deer has a waxy substance called musk that the male secrets from a gland in the abdomen to mark territories and attract females. This is used in the manufacture of perfumes and medicines.
Temperate
Gorals are four species in the genus Nemorhaedus or Naemorhedus. They are small ungulates with a goat- or antelope-like appearance. Until recently, this genus also contained the serow species (now in genus Capricornis). The name "goral" comes from an eastern Indian word for the Himalayan goral.
Serow is 6 species, until recently classified as Naemorhedus, which now only contains the gorals. Like their smaller relatives the gorals, serows are found grazing on rocky hills, though typically at a lower elevation when the two types of animal share territory. Serows are slower and less agile than gorals, but they nevertheless can climb slopes to escape predation and to take shelter during cold winters/ hot summers. Serows, unlike gorals, make use of their preorbital glands in scent marking. Colour varies by species, region, and individual. Both sexes have beards and small horns which are often shorter than their ears. Fossils of serow-like animals date to the late Pliocene, 2-7 million years ago. The common ancestor species of the Caprinae subfamily may have been very similar to modern serows.
Alpine 3-6,000m
Known throughout the world for its beautiful fur and elusive behaviour, the endangered Snow leopard (Panthera uncia, previously Uncia Uncia) is found in the rugged mountains (c3/4,000m) of Central Asia. Snow leopards are perfectly adapted to the cold, barren landscape of their high-altitude home, but human threats have created an uncertain future for the cats. Despite a range of over 2 million km2, scientists estimate that there may only be 4-6,000 snow leopards left in the wild. The snow leopard is solitary and highly elusive with home ranges of up to 1,000 sq km. For about 18 months, females raise their cubs alone. The snow leopard primarily lives in arid, barren mountain areas and are not known to be aggressive toward humans. The cat’s main prey are ibex, argali and blue sheep. The genus name, Uncia, is derived from the Old French word once, which was originally used for the European lynx. The snow leopard is still occasionally called ounce. The snow leopard shows adaptations for living in a cold, mountainous environment. Its body is stocky, its fur thick, and its ears small and rounded, to minimize heat loss. Its broad paws distribute the body weight for walking on snow, and fur on their undersides increase their grip on steep and unstable surfaces as well as helping to minimize heat loss. Its long flexible tail helps maintain balance in the rocky terrain. The tail is also very thick due to fat storage, and is thickly covered with fur, which allows the cat to use it like a blanket to protect its face when asleep. The snow leopard cannot roar, despite possessing partial ossification of the hyoid bone. Snow leopard vocalizations include hisses, chuffing, mews, growls, and wailing. Its main food source is The bharal (Pseudois nayaur), aka Himalayan blue sheep or naur, a caprid found in the high Himalayas 1-4000m. The red panda (Ailurus fulgens), aka lesser panda, red bear-cat/ cat-bear is a mammal native to the eastern Himalayas with reddish-brown fur, a long, shaggy tail, and a waddling gait due to its shorter front legs; it is roughly the size of a domestic cat, though with a longer body and somewhat heavier. It is arboreal, feeds mainly on bamboo, but also eats eggs, birds, and insects. It is classified as endangered because its wild population is estimated at less than 10,000 mature individuals, even though red pandas are protected by national laws in their range countries. The red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. Previously placed in the raccoon and bear families, the results of phylogenetic analysis provide strong support for its taxonomic classification in its own family, Ailuridae, which is part of the superfamily Musteloidea, along with the weasel, raccoon and skunk families. It is not closely related to the giant panda.

The Black necked crane, Green-backed tit, Plumbeous Water Redstart and Oriental Turtle Dove, White-bellied Heron, Chestnut-breasted Hill Partridge, White-rumped vulture, Beautiful Nuthatch, Blyth’s Tragopan, and Satyr tragopan are some of the more famous (and endangered) birds found in Bhutan. The national bird of Bhutan is Raven. A black-necked crane festival is held every year in the premises of the Gangteng Monastery on 11 November to welcome the cranes from Tibet, which start arriving in late October. Only some 9000 are left, due to hunting. The Plumbeous Redstart likes streams and rivers with shaded boulders and vegetation near riverbanks where mayflies appear. They are typically found at relatively high elevations, with ones in the Himalayas seen between 2,000- 4,100 metres. The plumbeous water redstart has been placed on the Least Concern category. The Oriental or rufous turtle dove is a member of the bird family Columbidae. The species is has a wide distribution from Europe, east across Asia to Japan. The populations show variations in the patterning of plumage and have been designated into at least 6 subspecies. The White-bellied or Imperial Heron is found mostly in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas. It is mostly dark grey with a white throat and underparts. This heron is mostly solitary and found on riverside or wetland habitats. The global population has declines and the species is threatened by habitat degradation and currently listed as Critically Endangered. The Chestnut-Breasted partridge is a species of partridge endemic to the eastern Himalayas north of the Brahmaputra (Bhutan, West Bengal, south-east Tibet). It is a distinctive partridge with chestnut breast and grey belly. This bird has been classified as Vulnerable. The Beautiful Nuthatch is a large nuthatch, 16.5cm long. Its colour and markings are dramatic, the upper parts being black and azure, streaked with white and pale and throat are ochre. An irregular, dark eyestripe highlights its eye. It feeds on small insects and larvae found on the trunks and epiphyte-covered branches of trees in its range. Its habitat is threatened by deforestation and the species has been classified as vulnerable.
Tragopan is in the Phasianidae family, commonly called horned pheasant as males have two brightly coloured, fleshy horns on their head that are erected in courtship displays. The scientific name refers to the horn, being a composite of tragos (billy goat) and the half-goat deity Pan. There are five tragopan species. Blyths’ Tragopan is believed to be decreasing at a rapid rate, except in Bhutan. Tragopan blythii normallly flocks to wooded areas as it prefers the undergrowth of evergreen oak and rhododendron forests, and other dark, quiet places. This bird has a higher elevation than most birds. The Satyr tragopan or crimson horned pheasant, is a pheasant found in the Himalayas of India, Nepal and Bhutan in moist oak and rhododendron forests with dense undergrowth and bamboo clumps. When it is mating, the male grows blue horns and a wattle. When ready to display they will inflate their horns, hide behind a rock and wait for females to pass by. The Great hornbill is one of the larger members of the hornbill family. Its impressive size and colour have made it important in many tribal cultures and rituals. The great hornbill is long-lived, living for nearly 50 years in captivity. It is predominantly frugivorous, but will prey on small mammals, reptiles and birds. The great hornbill is 100 cm, with a 152 cm wingspan. Females are smaller than males and have bluish- white instead of red eyes. Like other hornbills, they have prominent "eyelashes". The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque is hollow and serves no known purpose, although it is believed to be the result of sexual selection. Male hornbills have been known to be involved in aerial casque butting, with birds striking each other in flight. The male spreads the preen secretion gland, which is yellow, onto the primary feathers and bill to give them the bright yellow colour. The flight involves stiff flaps followed by glides with the fingers upcurled and splayed. They sometimes fly at great height over forests.
There are at least 600 butterflies in Bhutan (Europe was less than 500). Their National Butterfly is the pretty, and extremely rare Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory Swallowtail (left below) found only in Tobrang, a remote part of the Bumdelling Wildlife Sanctuary, Trashiyangtse, Bhutan. Whilst we saw quite a lot of butterflies, the large and beautiful Azure Sapphire (Heliophorus moorei) stood out for us. This huge neon blue butterfly lives around the rivers in warm Paro, flitting from bush to bush (right below).

It was surprisingly late by the time we finished and headed back down to Paro town. Initially we wanted to use the ATM to take out money for souvenirs, but this turned into a fruitless quest to find a working ATM and further one that took CIRRUS. Instead we went for a walk in the food market. A large portion was given to different types of chilli, at least 15 different varieties. Other areas had mountain herbs (mainly used for traditional medicine) and rice (including a flaked one you could eat straight away). Flattened rice, commonly known as chura, is rice flattened into flat, light, dry flakes. These swell when added to liquid, whether hot or cold, as they absorb water, milk or any other liquids. The thickness of the flakes varies between almost translucently thin (more expensive) to nearly four times thinner than a normal rice grain.
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Then it was to our hotel, an attractive one on a hillside (annoyingly we were miles up, but the view from our balcony was great). This was the Hotel Khangkhu Resort http://khangkhuresort.com/
Our guide announced that we had “passed” the trek test and we’re going to walk to Taktsang Monastery in the morning. Steve and I headed to dinner (yep, a buffet, though the Bhutanese wine was surprisingly quaffable). The Royal Bhutanese Army is involved with the production of wine and whiskey. First, the profits help support the army; second, the controlled quality of this alcohol is better for the people of Bhutan (rather than the previous moonshine). The program is known as AWP, which stands for Army Welfare Projects, and was founded in 1976. There are now a few commercially produced wines in the country. One wine is made from peaches, and others from grapes. Most, but not all grapes are procured outside the country. Vintria Shiraz Dry Wine has great fruit flavours of dark berry fruits, hints of oak pairing and vanilla aroma with long-lasting fruit palate aftertaste. This wine was made in Bhutan, but some other ‘Bhutanese’ wines are actually produced in India and imported. Bhutanese beers are good- Red Panda, Druk (both 5% alcohol) and Druk 11000 (8% alcohol). Then we enjoyed the night view from our balcony; the dzong and watchtower were beautifully lit. Across was an interesting temple, Jangtsa Dumgtseg Lhakhang. This Buddhist temple in Jangtsa, Paro, is notable as it is in the form of a chorten, which is rare in Bhutan. It is located across the bridge from Paro on the edge of a hill between the Paro valley and the Dopchari valley. The Buddhist iconography depicted in the Chorten is a unique repository of the Drukpa Kagyu school. According to a local legend, the Lhakhang was built by the saint Thangtong Gyalpo to subdue a of a demoness. According to a Bhutanese source it was built "on the nose of a hill that looks like a frog in order to counteract Sadag (an earth-owning spirit) and Lunyen (a powerful naga spirit). It is said that the hill on which the temple is built, is a black vicious snake moving downwards.
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History of Bhutan part 3
In the 17th century, a theocratic government independent of Tibetan political influence was established, and pre-modern Bhutan emerged. The theocratic government was founded by an expatriate Drukpa monk, Ngawang Namgyal, who arrived in Bhutan in 1616 seeking freedom from the domination of the Gelugpa subsect led by the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. After a series of victories over rival subsect leaders and Tibetan invaders, Ngawang Namgyal took the title the Zhabdrung (At Whose Feet One Submits, or Dharma Raja), becoming the temporal and spiritual leader of Bhutan. Considered the first great historical figure of Bhutan, he united the leaders of powerful Bhutanese families in a land called Drukyul. He promulgated a code of law and built a network of impregnable dzong, a system that helped bring local lords under central control and strengthened the country against Tibetan invasions. Tibetan armies invaded Bhutan 1629, 1631, and 1639, hoping to stop Ngawang Namgyal. In 1634 Ngawang Namgyal defeated Karma Tenkyong's army in the Battle of Five Lamas. The invasions were thwarted, and the Drukpa subsect developed a strong presence in western/ central Bhutan, leaving Ngawang Namgyal supreme. Missions were sent to Bhutan from Cooch Behar in the Duars (present-day West Bengal), Nepal, and Ladakh (western Tibet). In 1643, a joint Mongol-Tibetan force sought to destroy Nyingmapa refugees who had fled to Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal. The Mongols had seized control of religious and civil power in Tibet in the 1630s and established Gelugpa Buddhism as the state religion. Bhutanese rivals of Ngawang Namgyal encouraged the Mongol intrusion, but the Mongol force was easily defeated in southern Bhutan. Another Tibetan invasion in 1647 also failed. Under Ngawang Namgyal, administration comprised a state monastic body with an elected head, the Je Khenpo (lord abbot), and a theocratic civil government headed by the Druk Desi (regent of Bhutan, aka Deb Raja in Western sources). The Druk Desi was either a monk or a member of the laity (by the 19th c, usually the latter) elected for a 3-year term, initially by a monastic council and later by the State Council (Lhengye Tshokdu). The State Council was a central administrative organ that included regional rulers, the Zhabdrung's chamberlains, and the Druk Desi. The Zhabdrung was the head of state and ultimate authority in religious and civil matters. The seat of government was at Thimphu, the site of a 13th-century dzong, in the spring, summer, and fall, and Punakha Dzong in winter, a dzong established in 1527. The kingdom was divided into three regions (east, central, and west), each with an appointed ponlop (governor), holding a seat in a major dzong. Districts were headed by dzongpon (district officers), who had their headquarters in lesser dzong. The ponlop were tax collectors, judges, military commanders, and procurement agents for the central government. Their major revenues came from the trade between Tibet and India and from land taxes. Ngawang Namgyal's regime was bound by a legal code called the Tsa Yig, which described the spiritual and civil regime and provided laws for government administration and for social and moral conduct. The duties and virtues inherent in the Buddhist dharma (religious law) played a large role in the new legal code, which remained in force until the 1960s.
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Buddhism and history meet
Ngawang Namgyal (later granted the honorific Zhabdrung/ Shabdrung Rinpoche) 1594-1651 and known colloquially as the Bearded Lama was a Tibetan lama and unifier of Bhutan as a nation-state. In addition to unifying the various warring fiefdoms for the first time in the 1630s, he also sought to create a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity separate from the Tibetan culture from which it derived. Ngawang Namgyalwas born at Railung Monastery, Tibet, the son of the Drukpa lineage-holder (usually simply Drukpa, Dugpa or Red Hat sect, a branch of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism) Mipham Tenpa'i Nyima (1567–1619), and Sönam Pelgyi Butri, daughter of the ruler of Kyishö in Tibet. On his father's side Ngawang Namgyal descended from the family line of Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), the founder of the Drukpa School. In his youth Ngawang Namgyal was enthroned as the 18th Drukpa (throne-holder/ prince) of the traditional Drukpa seat and estate of Ralung and recognized there as the immediate reincarnation of the 4th Drukchen, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (1527–1592). His recognition and enthronement at Ralung as the Drukpa incarnation was opposed by Lhatsewa Ngawang Zangpo, an influential follower of Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, who promoted the recognition of a rival candidate, Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo (illegitimate son of Ngawang Sönam Dragpa, the Chongje Depa) as the Gyalwang Drukpa incarnation. Lhatsewa and Sönam Dragpa conducted an enthronement ceremony of Pagsam Wangpo as the incarnation of Künkhyen Pema Karpo and Gyalwang Drukpa at Tashi Thongmen monastery. Sönam Dragpa then persuaded the Tsang Desi (Depa Tsangpa), the most powerful ruler in Tibet and patron of the rival Karma Kagyu sect, to recognise Pagsam Wangpo as the Gyalwang Drukpa and incarnation of Künkhyen Pema Karpo. By 1612 the Tsang Desi, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal had gained control over all of Ü-Tsang, the heart of Tibet. For a time Ngawang Namgyal continued to live at the main Drukpa seat of Ralung, as irrespective of who was considered the true incarnation of Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, Ngawang Namgyal was the main Drukpa hereditary lineage–holder, and legitimate throne-holder at Ralung Monastery, the traditional seat of the Drukpa Lineage/School. However following a misunderstanding with the important Karma Kagyu lama, Pawo Tsugla Gyatsho (1568–1630), the Tsang Desi demanded Ngawang Namgyal pay compensation and that the sacred religious relics of Ralung (the Rangjung Kharsapani) should be given to the rival Gyalwang Drukpa incarnate Gyalwa Pagsam Wangpo. The Tsang Desi prepared to send armed guards to arrest Ngawang Namgyal and enforce his demands. In 1616 facing arrest, and following visions (in which it is said that the chief guardian deities of Bhutan offered him a home) Shabdrung Ngawang Namgayal left Tibet to establish a new base in western Bhutan, founding Cheri Monastery at the head of Thimphu valley. In 1629 he built Simtokha Dzong at the entrance to Thimphu valley to control traffic between the powerful Paro and Trongsa vallies. He consolidated control over western Bhutan subduing rivals belonging to the Lhapa (a sub-sect of the Drikung Kagyu sect which had built the original dzongs in Bhutan, including Punakha Dzong in 1637-38). The Buddhist Schools of Drukpa Kagyu, Lhapa Kagyu and Nenyingpa had all controlled parts of western Bhutan since the 12th century. As he conquered and unified Bhutan, he only allowed the ancient Nyingma sect to continue in Bhutan (today the Nyingma comprise approx 30% of Bhutan's monks even though privately funded; while the Southern Drukpa Kagyu is supported as the established state religion of Bhutan). In
1634, in the Battle of Five Lamas Ngawang Namgyal prevailed over the Tibetan and Bhutanese forces allied against him and united Bhutan into a single country. He established the distinctive dual system of government under the Tsa Yig legal code, by which control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader (the Je Khenpo) to preside over the religious institutions and an administrative leader (the Druk Desi) as head of secular affairs, a policy which exists in modified form to this day. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal died in 1651, and power effectively passed to the penlops (local governors) instead of to a successor Shabdrung. In order to forestall a dynastic struggle and a return to warlordism, the death of the Zhabdrung was kept secret for 54 years. Eventually, the ruling authorities in Bhutan were faced with the problem of succession. To neutralize the power of future Zhabdrung incarnations, the Druk Desi, Je Khenpo and penlops conspired to recognise not a single person but rather 3 separate persons — a body incarnation (Ku tulku), mind incarnation (Thu tulku or Thugtrul), and speech incarnation (Sung tulku or Sungtrul). In spite of their efforts to consolidate the power established by the original Zhabdrung, the country sank into warring factionalism for the next 200 years. The body incarnation lineage died out in the mid-18th century, while the mind and speech incarnations of the Zhabdrung continued into the 20th century. The mind incarnation was the one generally recognized as the Zhabdrung. Besides the mind incarnation, there was also a line of claimants for the speech incarnation. At the time the monarchy was founded with British help by Ugyen Wangchuck, the penlop of Trongsa in 1907, Choley Yeshe Ngodub was the speech incarnation and served as the last Druk Desi. The royal family suffered from questions of legitimacy in its early years, with the reincarnations of the various Zhabdrungs posing a threat. The 7th Zhabdrung, Jigme Dorji was "retired" to Talo Monastery and died in 1931, the last Zhabdrung recognized by Bhutan.After his death in 1917, he was succeeded by Chogley Jigme Tenzin (1919–1949). The next claimant, Jigme Ngawang Namgyal (known as Zhabdrung Rinpoche to his followers) fled Bhutan for India in 1962 where he spent the rest of his life. His successor, Jigdrel Ngawang Namgyal, was born in 2003. Another line of claimants of the mind incarnations of Ngawang Namgyal existed in Tibet, and is now represented by Namkhai Norbu, who lives in Italy.

Bhutan’s History to date
To keep Bhutan from disintegrating, Ngawang Namgyal's death in 1651 was kept a carefully guarded secret for 54 years and he was said to have entered into a religious retreat. During the period, appointments of officials were issued in his name, and food was left in front of his locked door. Ngawang Namgyal's son and stepbrother, in 1651 and 1680, respectively, succeeded him. They started their reigns as minors under the control of religious and civil regents and rarely exercised authority in their own names. For further continuity, the concept of multiple reincarnations of the first Zhabdrung, in the form of either his body, speech, or mind, was invoked by the Je Khenpo and the Druk Desi, both of whom wanted to retain the power they had accrued through the dual system of government. The last person recognized as the bodily reincarnation of Ngawang Namgyal died in the mid-18th century, but speech and mind reincarnations, embodied by individuals who acceded to the position of Zhabdrung Rinpoche, were recognised into the early 20th century. The power of the state religion increased with a new monastic code that remained in effect in the early 1990s. The compulsory admission to monastic life of at least one son from any family of 3 or more sons was instituted in the late 17th century. However, the State Council became increasingly secular as did the successive Druk Desi, ponlop, and dzongpon, and rivalries developed among the ponlop of Tongsa and Paro and the dzongpon of Punakha, Thimphu, and Wangdue Phodrang. During the first period of succession and further internal consolidation under the Druk Desi government, there was conflict with Tibet and Sikkim. In the 1680s, Bhutan invaded Sikkim in pursuit of a rebellious local lord. In 1700, Bhutan again invaded Sikkim, and in 1714 Tibetan forces, aided by Mongolia, invaded Bhutan but were unable to gain control. Regional rivalries contributed to the gradual disintegration of Bhutan at the time the British arrived. In the early 18th century, Bhutan developed control over the principality of Cooch Behar. The raja of Cooch Behar had sought assistance from Bhutan against the Indian Mughals in 1730, and Bhutanese political influence was not long in following. By the mid-1760s, Thimphu considered Cooch Behar its dependency, stationing a garrison force there and directing its civil administration. When the Druk Desi invaded Sikkim in 1770, Cooch Behari forces joined their Bhutanese counterparts in the offensive. In a succession dispute in Cooch Behar two years later, however, the Druk Desi's nominee for the throne was opposed by a rival who invited British troops, and, in effect, Cooch Behar became a dependency of the British East India Company. Under the Cooch Behari agreement with the British, a British expeditionary force drove the Bhutanese garrison out of Cooch Behar and invaded Bhutan in 1772–73. The Druk Desi petitioned Lhasa for assistance from the Panchen Lama, who was serving as regent for the youthful Dalai Lama. In correspondence with the British governor general of India, however, the Panchen Lama instead punished the Druk Desi and invoked Tibet's claim of suzerainty over Bhutan.
Failing to receive help from Tibet, the Druk Desi signed a Treaty of Peace with the British East India Company, 1774. Bhutan agreed to return to its pre-1730 boundaries, paid a symbolic tribute of 5 horses to Britain, and in subsequent missions to Bhutan by the British commerce was opened between British India and Bhutan, and, for a short time, Tibet. Boundary disputes plagued Bhutanese–British relations. To reconcile their differences, Bhutan sent an emissary to Calcutta in 1787, and the British sent missions to Thimphu in 1815 and 1838. The 1815 mission was inconclusive. The 1838 mission offered a treaty providing for extradition of Bhutanese officials responsible for incursions into Assam, free and unrestricted commerce between India and Bhutan, and settlement of Bhutan's debt to the British. In an attempt to protect its independence, Bhutan rejected the British offer. Despite increasing internal disorder, Bhutan had maintained its control over a portion of the Assam Duars more or less since its reduction of Cooch Behar to a dependency in the 1760s. Tension began to rise as Britain exerted its strength. Bhutanese payments of annual tribute to the British for the Assam Duars gradually fell into arrears. British demands for payment led to military incursions into Bhutan in 1834, resulting in defeat for Bhutan's forces and a temporary loss of territory. The British annexed the formerly Bhutanese-controlled Assam Duars. Charges and counter-charges of border incursions and protection of fugitives led to an unsuccessful Bhutanese mission to Calcutta in 1852. Among other demands, the mission sought increased compensation for its former Duars territories; instead the British deducted nearly 3,000 rupees from the annual compensation and demanded an apology for alleged plundering of British-protected lands by members of the mission. The Sepoy Rebellion in India in 1857-58 and the demise of the British East India Company's rule prevented immediate British action. Bhutanese armed forces raided Sikkim and Cooch Behar in 1862, seizing people, property, and money. Britain sent a peace mission to Bhutan in early 1864, in the wake of the recent conclusion of a civil war there. The dzongpon of Punakha, who had emerged victorious, had broken with the central government and set up a rival Druk Desi, while the legitimate Druk Desi sought the protection of the ponlop of Paro and was later deposed. The British mission dealt alternately with the rival ponlop of Paro and the ponlop of Tongsa (acting on behalf of the Druk Desi), but Bhutan rejected the peace treaty. Britain declared war in 1864. Bhutan had no regular army, and what forces existed were composed of dzong guards armed with matchlocks, bows and arrows, swords, knives, and catapults. Some of these dzong guards, carrying shields and wearing chainmail armor, engaged the well-equipped British forces. The Duar War (1864/5) lasted 5 months and Bhutan’s defeat. Under the terms of the Treaty of Sinchula, November 11, 1865, Bhutan ceded Assam Duars, Bengal Duars, and Dewangiri in return for an annual subsidy of 50,000 rupees. In the 1870s and 1880s, renewed competition among regional rivals, primarily the pro-British ponlop of Tongsa and the anti-British, pro-Tibetan ponlop of Paro, resulted in the ascendancy of Ugyen Wangchuck, the Ponlop of Tongsa. Ugyen Wangchuck defeated his political enemies and united the country following several civil wars and rebellions in 1882-85. After 1,000 years of close ties with Tibet, Bhutan faced the threat of British military power and was forced to make geo-political decisions. The British, seeking to offset Russian advances in Lhasa, wanted to open trade relations with Tibet. Ugyen Wangchuck, on the advice of his closest adviser Ugyen Dorji, saw the opportunity to assist the British and in 1903-4 volunteered to accompany a British mission to Lhasa as a mediator. For his services in securing the Anglo-Tibetan Convention of 1904, Ugyen Wangchuck was knighted. Ugyen Wangchuck's emergence as the national leader coincided with the realisation that the dual political system was obsolete and ineffective. He had removed his chief rival, the ponlop of Paro, and installed a supporter and relative, a member of the pro-British Dorji family, in his place. When the last Zhabdrung died in 1903 and a reincarnation had not appeared by 1906, civil administration came under the control of Ugyen Wangchuck. Finally, in 1907, the 54th and last Druk Desi was forced to retire, and despite recognitions of subsequent reincarnations of Ngawang Namgyal, the Zhabdrung system came to an end.

Posted by PetersF 14:45 Archived in Bhutan Tagged bhutan paro punakha Comments (0)

Bhutan Tiger’s Nest

Paro Taktshang

September 23rd Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

We left fairly promptly after breakfast to drive 10km to the car park at the bottom of the trek to Tiger’s Nest. From here we were recommended to hire some horses to take us half way. They didn’t mind what currency we paid in, although I think their exchange rates were a little inventive! The horses went along a wooded path initially and past a pretty stone hut on a stream, before heading quite steeply up the sandy paths. This hut housed a water-powered prayer wheel, set in motion by the flowing stream. Luckily the horse knew exactly where they were headed and simply got on with it. We arrived at a viewpoint with a hut, which looked over to the monastery on the other side of the ravine, which is known by the name “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambhava”. This small hut marked a Lhakhang (village temple). This is the view point for visitors and there is a cafeteria to provide refreshments. Here we left our horses and walked a short way to the cafe and temple of Urgyan Tsemo which, like the main monastery, is located on a rocky plateau with a precipitous projection of several hundred feet over the valley, to go to the toilet and pick up some water.

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As it was 3,100m here we took a Diamox to be sensible. Interestingly mountaineering is forbidden in Bhutan, as is any ascent of a peak above 6000m (a hangover from pre-Buddhist days when mountains were, and still are, considered sacred places for the gods). Then we headed up the sandstone path towards the forest. Along the trek blue pine trees, prayer flags, small waterfalls and overhangs containing butter lamps (for the dead) were seen. Drubchus (Holy Water) are believed to have been created miraculously by saints. There are five drubchus on the route to Taktshang. These are Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye Drubchu, Gurui Drubchu, Machig Phug Drubchu, Shelkarchu and one founded by Phadampa Sangye near the Zangtopelri Lhakhang. The rocky plateau is known as “Hundred Thousand Fairies” or Bumda (hBum-brag). Tshoyal Pangchung Before reaching Shelkarchu waterfall we crossed Tshogyal Pangchung, “the lawn of Khandro Yeshe Tshogyal”, where Guru Rinpoche bequeathed teachings to his wife Yeshe. After a while we reached the steps that wound us down into the ravine, with small temple stops on the way. At the bottom was a large waterfall, which continued on down (as we were halfway up the gorge. The waterfall fell 60m into a sacred pool which had the bridge to the opposite side. We wet our heads in the sacred pool for good karma, before heading on up the steps the other side. The waterfall, known as Shelkar Zar is believed to be the Drupchu (holy water) of one hundred thousand dakinis. Beside the waterfall is the main seat of Guru Rinpoche on a rock where he preached to his consort Khando Yeshey Tshogyal. As a blessing, he gave his crystal rosaries to Khando Yeshey Tshogyal and thereafter the area came to be known as Shelkar Zar. On the left side of Shelkar Zar is a small meditation cave in which Khando Yeshey Tshogyal and Guru Rinpoche meditated. The stone seems to resembles a snow lion’s face and therefore the cave is known as Shengye Phug (Lion’s Cave), see pic left. Machig phug (cave), located above the waterfall’s ravine is where Machig Labdron, the incarnation of Khandro Yesho Tsogyal mediated. Her footprint can be seen inside. Above that there is a cave where the stream flows over the waterfall called Sengye Phug where Guru Rinpoche mediated on Vajrakeli, the deity of the magic dagger.
Phurpa Lhatsho is the Spirit-lake created by the waterfall. It is believed that those who disturbs the Tsho faces divine retaliation. The track terminated at the main monastery where colourful paintings were displayed. We could see the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated but it is only open for public viewing once a year. We stowed out backpacks (no cameras allowed) in a locker and took the free tea and sweets on offer (too sickly for me, but Steve was keen). Some students were fundraising for the temple, so we bought some more karma before heading into the complex.
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PS I counted the steps on the way back and it was 700 each side.

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Tsatsas (wax or butter candles to remember the dead; Old Man’s or Spanish Beard
History of Taktsang In 853, Langchen Pelkyi Singye came to the cave to meditate and gave the name Pelphug to the cave, "Pelkyi's cave". From the 11th century, Tibetan lamas came to Taktsang to meditate, inc Milarepa (1040–1123), Pha Dampa Sangye (d1117), yogi Machig Labdrön (1055–1145), Thangton Gyelpo (1385–1464). The complex is, well, complex, with a variety of different rooms, temples, etc. Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Hermitage on the face of a sheer 1000m cliff, is sacred to the Bhutanese as they believe Guru Rinpoche, the father of Bhutanese Buddhism came here on the back of a tigress. In the late 12th century, the Lapa School (sect) was established in Paro and between 12-17th century, many Tibetan Lamas established monasteries in Bhutan. The first sanctuary here dates to the 14th century when Sonam Gyeltshen, a Nyingmapa lama of the Kathogpa branch arrived. The 1408 paintings he brought can still be faintly discerned on a rock above the main building, the Taktsang Ugyen Tsemo. Taktsang remained under the authority of the Kathogpa lamas until the mid 17th century. Paro Taktsang Goemba (Dzongkha: ) Taktsang Palphug Monastery, Tiger's Nest) was first built in 1692, around Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava (Rinpoche) is said to have meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and 3 hours in 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary saint of the country. Paro Taktsang is the best known of 13 taktsang (tiger lair caves) in which he meditated. The temple to Padmasambhava (Guru mTshanbrgyad Lhakhang= Temple of the Guru with 8 Names) is an elegant structure built around the cave in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. According to legend Padmasambhava flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong. This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon. An alternative legend says Yeshe Tsogyal, the wife of an emperor, became a disciple of Rinpoche in Tibet, transformed herself into a tigress and carried him on her back to Taktsang. Tenzin Rabgye was believed to be Rinpoche reincarnated. Ngawang Namgyal of the Drukpa subsect, fled Tibet to Bhutan to escape persecution by the opposing sect of the Gelugpa order (which dominated Tibet under the Dalai Lamas). The monastery is located 10 km north of Paro and hangs on a precarious cliff at 3,120 m. The rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical) and the monastery buildings built into the rock face.
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Padmasambhava on Paro Bridge
Odsel (Yoesel) Phug (cave) located to the left of the entrance main monastic complex is where the self-created Buddha Amitayus and pagsam-shing (wish-fulfilling tree) can be seen.

Guru Rinpoche
Ngawang Namgyal (later granted the honorific Zhabdrung Rinpoche 1594–1651) and known colloquially as Bearded Lama, was a Tibetan Buddhist lama and unifier of Bhutan as a nation-state. As well as unifying the various warring fiefdoms for the first time in the 1630s, he sought to create a Bhutanese cultural identity separate from Tibetan culture from which it was derived. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was born at Ralung Monastery, Tibet as the son of the Drukpa lineage-holder Mipham Tenpa'i Nyima. On his father's side Ngawang Namgyal descended from the family line of Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), the founder of the Drukpa Lineage. In his youth Ngawang Namgyal was enthroned as the 18th Drukpa or throne-holder and "hereditary prince" of the traditional Drukpa seat and estate of Ralung and recognized there as the immediate reincarnation of the 4th Drukchen, the "Omniscient" Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (1527–92), himself the 4th reincarnation of Gyalwang Drukpa. His recognition and enthronement as the Drukpa incarnation was opposed by Lhatsewa Ngawang Zangpo, an influential follower of Drukpa Pema Karpo, who promoted the recognition of a rival candidate, Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, an illegitimate son of the Chongje Depa, Ngawang Sönam Dragpa, as the Gyalwang Drukpa incarnation. Lhatsewa and supporters of the Chongje Depa conducted an enthronement ceremony of Pagsam Wangpo as the incarnation of Künkhyen Pema Karpo/ Gyalwang Drukpa. The Chongje Depa then persuaded the Tsang Desi (or Depa Tsangpa), the most powerful ruler in Tibet and patron of the rival Karma Kagyu sect, to recognise Pagsam Wangpo as Gyalwang Drukpa/ Künkhyen Pema Karpo. By 1612 the Tsang Desi, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal had gained control. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal continued to live at the main Drukpa seat of Ralung, as the main Drukpa hereditary lineage– holder, and legitimate throne-holder at Ralung Monastery, the traditional seat of the Drukpa Lineage. However following a misunderstanding Shabdrung (Zhabdrung) Rinpoche and his party had with an important Karma Kagyu lama, Pawo Tsugla Gyatsho [1568–1630], the Tsang Desi demanded compensation and that the sacred religious relics of Ralung (such as the Rangjung Kharsapani) should be surrendered to him so he could give them to the rival Gyalwang Drukpa incarnate Gyalwa Pagsam Wangpo. The Tsang Desi prepared to send armed guards to arrest Shabdrung Rinpoche and enforce his demands. In 1616 facing arrest, and following visions (in which it is said that the chief guardian deities of Bhutan offered him a home) Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal left Tibet to establish a new base in western Bhutan, founding Chagri/Cheri Monastery at the head of Thimphu valley. In 1629 he built Simtokha Dzong at the entrance to Thimphu valley. From this dzong he could exert control over traffic between the powerful Paro valley to the west and Trongsa valley to the east. He consolidated control over western Bhutan subduing rivals belonging to the Lhapa, a branch of the Drikung Kagyu sect which had built some of the original dzongs in Bhutan, including Punakha Dzong in 1637-38. The Drukpa Kagyu, the Lhapa Kagyu and the Nenyingpa had all controlled parts of western Bhutan since the 12th century. Later he conquered and unified all Bhutan, but allowed the ancient Nyingma sect to continue in central/ eastern Bhutan. In 1627, the first European visitors to Bhutan (the Portuguese Jesuits Estevao Cacella and João Cabral) found the Shabdrung to be a compassionate and intelligent host, of high energy and fond of art and writing. In 1634, in the Battle of Five Lamas Ngawang Namgyal prevailed over the Tibetan and Bhutanese forces allied against him and was the first to unite Bhutan into a single country. Zhabdrung also established the distinctive dual system of government under the Tsa Yig legal code, by which control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader (the Je Khenpo) to preside over the religious institutions and an administrative leader (the Druk Desi) as head of secular affairs, a policy which exists in modified form to this day. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal died in 1651, and power effectively passed to the penlops (local governors) instead of to a successor Shabdrung. In order to forestall a dynastic struggle and a return to warlordism, they conspired to keep the death of the Zhabdrung secret for 54 years. During this time they issued orders in his name, explaining that he was on an extended silent retreat.
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Paro Taktsang consists of 8 caves, 4 main temples and a group of residential shelters designed by adapting to the rock ledges and rocky terrain. Each building has a balcony with views over the deep valley. The buildings are interconnected through stone steps along with several wooden bridges. The temple at the highest level has a frieze of Buddha. Of the 8 caves, 4 are relatively easy to access. The entrance to the main cave is through a narrow passage. It holds 12 images of Bodhisattvas with butter lamps burning in front of these idols. Paintings can be found on the walls of the monastery along with a sacred scripture kept in an adjoining small cell. The scripture is so important it has been printed with gold dust and crushed bone powder of a divine Lama. We went up the steps and through the first small temple, turning quickly to the right and into a small egg-shaped courtyard with a retaining wall. Here in a small passage to the drubkhang was the famous rock “Do Nyinda Marmo”. It bears the sun and moon’s imprints and is said to be the mouth of the treasure (in Bhutan this is revealed wisdoms, not gold and silver) of Gondue. The legend is that you stand a length away (further than you can touch the rock), then close your eyes, fall forward and try to land with your thumb on the black spot. If you land on the spot within 3 goes you will have good luck and a wish. I was really close, but Steve managed it on his 3rd go. The monastic complex contains Ten Lhakhangs (temples) :
➔ Drubkhang
➔ Sungjonma Lhakhang,
➔ Kudung Chorten and Chorten Lhakhang
➔ Guru Tshangyad Lhakhang
➔ Droloe Lhakhang
➔ Namsey Lhakhang
➔ Tshemaped Lhakhang
➔ Neykhang Lhakhang
➔ Marmey Dag Sum Lhakhang
➔ Sengye Phug Lhakhang
and 9 sacred caves (phug) :
! Machig Phug
! Sengye Phug
! Pel Phug
! Droloe Phug
! Odsel (Yoesel) Phug
! Gedig Phug
! Chogyal (Choegyal) Phug
! Kapali Phug
! Phagmoi Phug
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Then a few pace into the small courtyard to take off your shoes. To our left was the first staircase (taken afterwards) and the entrance to the first level of temples, of which the main one, straight in, was the room where guru Rinpoche meditated. Drubkhang, to the lower right of the entrance stairway is the cave where Guru Rinpoche and Langchen Pelgyi Sengye meditated.
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It contains a statue of Guru Dorje Drolo, one of the 8 Manifestations of Rinpoche, in wrathful form riding upon a tigress with which he flew to Taktshang, and several statues of Phurpai Kyilkhor, said to have been erected by Niwari artisan Pentsa Dewa during the reign of Desi Tenzin Rabgye. The cave holds the phurbu (ritual dagger) of the guru. This cave is Taktshang’s inner sanctum. Holy water flows from the cave stone surface even on the driest days when pilgrims pray before it. It contained a huge image of Guru Dorje Drolo and was moderately busy, too much for meditation anyway. The attached cave was where Padmasmabhava first came, riding the Tiger, and is known as Tholu Phug and next cave where he meditated is known as Pel Phug. He directed the spiritually enlightened monks to build the monastery here. Guru Rinpoche mediated here for three months over the deities of the magic dagger and today the set of magic daggers (Phurpai Ethram) are preserved here. The monastery is so precariously perched that it is said: "it clings to the side of the mountain like a gecko". The main cave is entered through a narrow passage. The dark cave houses a dozen images of Bodhisattvas and an elegant image of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara). In an adjoining small cave, the sacred scripture is placed; the importance of this scripture is that it has been scripted with gold dust and the crushed bone powder of a divine Lama. Coming back out we picked up our shoes (you leave a different way) and ascended the wood over stone staircase to the middle level. At the top of the staircase was a covered wooden passage leading to an even small courtyard where we could leave our shoes again. On our right we entered into the temple of Guru Sungjoen, the “speaking” guru whose statue reputedly spoke (or sang) while being transported (to say who would be able to carry him). Sungjonma Lhakhang contains Guru Sungjonma’s statue sculptured by Pentsa Deva.
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The most skilled artisans from Nepal, Pentsa Dewa, Dharma and Dharmashri erected the statue of Guru Sungjoen. This temple contains other beautiful paintings of the eight manifestation of Guru, the cycle of Lama Gongdue and Tshepamed, the god of longevity. Guru Sungjonma Lhakhang has a central image of Pema Jungme, another of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava. There are shrines to Guru Tshengyad (Rinpoche) and Naypoi. On the inner left corner is the Dorlo Lhakhang, the temple dedicated to Guru Dorji Dorlo, which had been installed by Late Lama Sonam Zangpo. In the main building, there are three temples.
We came out and followed the sign “Temples” with an arrow to some stone steps (upper level), which gave access to a large room (temple), which contained the Eight Manifestations of Rinpoche. This large temple was to Guru Tshangyad Lhakhang. The upper temple “The Temple of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche" was built under the auspices of Myangmed Chungpo from Paro and contains other interesting mural paintings. One of them depicts vividly how Zhabdung Ngawang Namgyel vanquished his Tibetan enemies. Located on top of the main building, the lhakhang is dedicated to Guru Tshangyad. It contains Guru Rinpoche’s idol flanked by his two principal consorts: Khandro Yeshi Tshogyal and Mandarawa. Outside was a courtyard/ balcony which gave amazing views of the valley.
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A second temple here was Droloe Lhakhang (aka Hall of 1000 Buddhas) and it contained a life sized statue of Tshemaped, flanked by Gongdue and Guru on the right and Dorje Drolo and Phurpa on the left. It derives its name from the fact that Dorje Drolo used to be the main image in it before the fire that broke out in 1998. We could see into the Tiger’s Lair, a cave between Droloe lhakhang and Sengye Samdrup Lhakhang where that Yeshi Tshogyal lived as a tigress. A large statue of a tigeress is located here.
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To the left side of this room we took some very steep stones steps to access 2 temples on 2 levels. The uppermost, to the right, Neykhang Lhakhang/ Senge (Singye) Samgrup lhakhang contained a huge image of Buddha with Rinpoche on his right and Singye Samdrup, the protective deity of Taktsang, on the left. She was standing on a tiger with many heads. This room was quieter and we were able to take some time to sit and meditate. Attached (behind) were two caves, Gedig Phug where virtuous and non-virtuous actions are separated and Chogyal (Choegyel) Phug where Chenrizig (Lord of Compassion) resides in the form of Lord of Death. Further away (and not accessible) was Droloe Phug, shaped like Dorje Droloe. The second temple, a bit lower to the right, contained the two Taras. Above this was Marmey Dag Sum Lhakhang on top of the Neykhang, and dedicated to the Kagyud lamas. It contained the images of 3 prominent Kagyud masters; Marpa, Milarepa and Dagpo Lhaje (photo).
Namsey Lhakhang is dedicated to the God of Wealth (Namthoesey/Kubera/Vaisravana) whose principal image in the room is surrounded by his attendants. Another temple a little lower was Tshemaped Lhakhang, dedicated to Tshemaped, the god of longevity. On the right of Tshemaped’s image is Drolma (Tara) while on the left is Namyalma (Vijaya). The trio is called “Tshelha Namsum”. On going down we passed the butter lamp building and Kunrey (Assembly Hall), then back to the Middle Courtyard where, to the right, we entered another temple, Kudung Chorten with
room Chorten Lhakhang.
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This lhakhang contains Langchen Pelgyi Sengye’s kudung chorten. In the entrance was a roped off area. We looked down to see a crevasse, Phagmoi Phug at the centre of the cliff, and said to look like a skull. The hall also contained a rock believed to be Dorje Phagmo’s (incarnation of Dolma and a reincarnation in Tibet) skull and a drubche believed to be founded by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. Past this was the entrance to a cave behind the temple, which we took clockwise. Inside was the was the Kundung stupa which contained the remains of Langchen Pelgyri Singye. It is still believed that on auspicious days a visit to Taktshang and the chorten which contains his remains will fulfil ones wishes. Although most of the temples were decorated on the walls by paintings or embroidery, this was particularly fine and our guide explained the symbolism. The “Copper-Coloured Mountain Paradise of Padmasambhava” (Zangdopari) was vividly displayed in a heart shape on every thangka and painted on the walls of the monastery as a reminder of the legend. The paintings represents the realm of the King of Nagas amidst Dakinis, and the pinnacle in the painting denotes the domain of Brahma. The paintings also depict Klu (Naga) demigods with human heads and serpents bodies, said to reside in lakes (guarding the hidden treasures). Allegorically, they represent holy writings. The paintings also show “Walkers in the Sky”. The holy hill is drawn in the back with four faces painted different colours; the east face is crystal white, the south face is yellow, the west is red and the north green. The palace is depicted with four sides and eight corners and its lower and upper tiers adorned with jewels. The courtyard with four enclosures is said to represent four kinds of conduct. The walls are brick, and balconies are bejewelled with religious symbols. The ambience is shown in the form of wishing trees, fountains of the water of life, rainbows in five colours with cloud formations and light emanating from lotus flowers. The palace is shown with a bejewelled throne of eight corners. Padmasambhava is shown sitting on a pure stalk of lotus emitting divine energy appearing “divine, charitable, powerful, or fierce”. Further details show five kinds of Buddhas suppressing vicious demons (performing four pious deeds) and placed on thrones mounted over the stooping demons. The demons and Khadoms are depicted adorned and seated on four petalled/ four faced thrones enjoying a good time; the Khadoms are seen on the four-sided courtyard of the palace and on all side walls. The scene is embellished around a Guru Rinpoche (Padmashambahava) image and gods/ goddesses in the heavens. Gate keepers at the four gates have an army trying to crush the demons to dust. The supporting staff shown are said to represent the Himalayan tribes of pre-Buddhist periods.
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This was our last temple and we found our shoes once more, collected our belongings and set off back to the steps. Looking up just to the right we saw the higher, smaller temples of Taktshang Zangdo Pari and Urgyan Tsemo. Zangdopelri is the place where Padmasmbahava’s wife, the “Fairy of Wisdom”, Yeshe Tsogyal (Ye-shes mtsho- rgyal), founded Mon-Taktshang convent. Urgyan Tsemo, the “Peak of Urgyan” has a small Mani Lakhang. The prayer wheel, turned by an old monk, resounds with chimes heard every day at 4 am. Above the Urgyan is the holy cave 'Phaphug Lhakhang' (dPal-phug IHa-khang), with the main shrine of the Taktshang and the residence of the Head Lama, Karma Thupden Chokyi Nyenci.

FIRE The monastery first burnt down in 1951 when a woman preparing her land by burning the old stalks, let the fire get out of control. King Jigme Wangchuck ordered the entire population of Tsento village to rebuild the four temples of Taktshang as they did not help in controlling the fire. Above Taktshang two smaller temples in the group known as Shama, Zangdopelri and Ugyen Tsemo were built. Kapali Phug near Shama Lhakhang, has an oral traditions that it can subjugate demons and spirits. On April 19, 1998, a fire, probably caused by butter lamps, broke out in the main building of the monastery complex, which contained valuable paintings, artefacts and statues. Most of the buildings were burned down and a monk was killed during the blaze. Since the temple is difficult to access, emergency assistance was impossible. However, the monastery has since been meticulously rebuilt to its original form in 2005 by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan and the Government of Bhutan at a cost of 135 million ngultrum (£1.8 million). Our guide’s brother was one of the wood carvers involved, a fact of which he was very proud.

A note of terma treasures
Terma are spiritual treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal in the earth and in the minds of disciples to be revealed at the appropriate time by ‘treasure revealers’ or tertöns. Many of these ter were collected by Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo into more than 60 volumes, the Rinchen Terdzö, or Treasury of Precious Termas. The Terma lineage, together with the Nyingma Kama, are the two modes of transmission of the teachings of the Nyingma School. Terma are divided into two categories, according to the manner in which they were concealed/ discovered:
" earth terma- physical objects
" mind terma- discovered within the mindstream of the tertön.
To discover earth termas, earthly materials such as symbolic script written on yellow scroll are used to awaken the terma in the mind of the tertön. For mind termas, no external objects are needed. In many instances, seeing or hearing symbolic words or sounds in visions causes the discovery of the terma.
" Another type of terma in the Nyingma tradition are pure vision teachings
The Terma tradition originally comes from Tibet, where it is still commonly believed, and was enthusiastically adopted in Bhutan, where most Bhutanese believe each generation is waiting for their treasures to be discovered. In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition of concealment and revelation of teachings and materials of religious value through the mystical power of enlightened beings is most prevalent by far. This tradition of mystical discovery is known in Tibet and Bhutan as Ter ('Treasures'), Terma ('Treasured Ones'), or Terchö ('Dharma Treasures' or 'Treasured Teachings'). The main source of the Terma tradition of the Nyingma school is Guru Padmasambhava. While transmitting esoteric teachings to his disciples in Tibet, Guru Padmasambhava concealed many teachings with his enlightened mind stream in the intrinsic awareness of the minds of his disciples through the power of “mind-mandated transmission”; thereby master and disciple became united as one in the teachings and realisation. However, the master also concealed some teachings, blessings, and esoteric attainments, as ter in the pure nature of the minds of his disciples with the aspiration that the ter may be discovered for the sake of people when the appropriate time comes. In propagating the Buddha’s teachings amid the shamanistic society that dominated Tibet at that time, Padmasambhava saw clearly that some teachings would have to wait for a more appropriate time to take root. He concealed them until certain great practitioners could reveal them and bring them to fruition.

HISTORY
The area has a lot of caves where many Buddhist masters came to spend time in meditation. The foremost of these was Langchen Pelgi Sengye (Singye), in 853 AD, one of the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche, so his cave was named Pel-phug (cave/phug of Pelgi). Langchen Pelgi Sengye went to Nepal after this spell of meditation in Taktshang and died there. However, Damchen Dorji Legpa (a Tibetan demon subjugated by Padmasambhava and oath bound as a dharma protector and safeguarder of the Revealed Treasure texts (Terma) of the Nyingma Tradition of Buddhism) is said to have brought back his kudung (bone relic), and hidden it as a terma (treasure). It was later revealed (discovered) and is preserved today in Kundung Chorten. The site was later used by many other Buddhist saints and masters including Milarepa (1040=1123), Thangthong Gyalpo (1385-1464) “Iron bridge builder” who discovered a terma treasure text here, and Phajo Dugom Zhigpo.
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Khuru player
Taktsang (lit Tak = ‘tiger’ and Tshang = ‘nest’) was under the charge of the Kathogpa lama since 14th century. Kathogpa lam Yeshi Bum (1245-1311) visited Taktsang where he intended to build a temple, but his wish remained unfulfilled until 1508 when his nephew and disciple, Sonam Gyaltshen built the temple of Ugyen Tsemo above Taktsang. In 1646, Zhabdrung invited Lopon Rigzin Nyingpo, the descendent of Terton Sangye Lingpa (1340-1396) from Kongpo in Tibet. They visited Taktsang and took control of Taktsang including Ugyen Tsemo from Kathogpa Lama. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who conducted Monlam Chenmo/ Phurpai Kyikhor (the great prayer ceremony), and Drubchen (consecration ceremony) for a week in honour of Tshepamed - Amitayus and formally took charge of Taktshang. He appointed Jinpa Gyeltshen, the brother of 4th Druk Tenzin Rabgye, as the Taktshang Lama, which was then still a small shrine. Zhabdrung wished to build a temple at the site where the Taktsang now stands, but had to wait as the construction of Paro Rinpung Dzong was underway. Soon after Tenzin Rabgye (architect) laid the foundations of Taktsang Monastery and construction began on the 10th day of the Water Monkey Year 1692. The two storey monastery was completed in the Wood Dog Year 1694. The first Lama installed was Sakya Tenzin.

On finishing our visit, we collected our belonging and set off back down the mountain. Surprisingly quick, our guide announced we had taken 6 hours to go up, look around and return. A respectable time, a little faster than average on the walking section (good for us!) We then drove back towards Paro. On the way we stopped first at Kichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang was originally a small structure, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in the 7th C by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The story goes that a giant demoness lay across Tibet, so he pinned her down. Over the years the temple was visited and blessed by many famous Buddhist saints including Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, Lam Kha Nga and Phajo Dugom Zhigpo to list few. Many expanded the temple. One such was Je Sherub Gyeltshen who lived in the 18th century. He extended the Jowo Lhakhang and added many new statues. The latest extension was carried out in 1965 under the initiative of the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck. She added a new structure to the temple known as Guru Lhakhang. As one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, the temple has many relics. The inner hall of the main Jowo Lhakhang conceals the valley’s greatest treasure, an original 7th century statue of Jowo Shakyamuni, believed to be cast at the same time as its famous counterpart in Lhasa. Guru Lhakhang temple contains 5m high statues of Guru Rinpoche and Red Tara (Kurukulla) with bow and arrows. Also in here is the chorten containing the ashes of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a revered Nyingma Buddhist teacher who was cremated nearby in 1992. As you enter the inner courtyard you'll see a mural to the right of the doorway of King Gesar of Ling, the popular Tibetan warrior-king, whose epic poem is said to be the world's longest. The ornately carved wooden pillars are superb, as are the snow lions that support the flower pots.
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Kyichu Lhakhang

Then it was only a short trip to the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong monastery. Drukgyel Dzong (Fortress of the Victorious Bhutanese) was constructed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over marauding Tibetan armies. Though the fortress was destroyed by fire in 1951, the ruins remain an impressive and imposing sight. Interestingly there was a game of Khuru, a national game that involved two teams through darts into a target approximately 20m away. If your dart hit the target you added a coloured scarf to your belt, making some men quite multi-coloured. We stayed for a while admiring their skill before heading back to hotel http://khangkhuresort.com/ for a rest.
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That night Mr Rai offered to take us to some relatives to taste a proper Bhutanese meal. We drove out over Nyamai Zampa bridge (traditional cantilever and covered with ancient wall paintings) into the countryside, before literally leaving the road and driving through rice fields to arrive at a farmhouse. This was the traditional 3 storey house (by law houses are not allowed to be over 3 storeys, and their design in a traditional fashion is strictly controlled) and we took off our shoes and walked up the ladder to the second floor, which is where you traditionally eat. We sat cross legged on mats on the floor (the proper way) as our hosts brought us the local starting drinks. First up was ara, a Bhutanese rice wine and very potent. This was followed by Bhutanese tea (very sweet, like condensed milk had been added) and butter tea (suja, yummy, and that is literally what is was). Then the food arrived in large pots which were placed centrally on the floor for us to take directly from. We used a fork, but our hosts just used their hands to eat. The dishes included
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  • Ema Datshi (chilies and cheese) like a stew or curry, made of green, yellow or red chilies, yak or cow’s milk, cheese, onions and tomatoes. Taste VERY carefully; the chilies of Bhutan are high up on the Scoville Heat Scale and meant to make you warm enough to sweat. Steve loved this, but it was too hot for me.
  • Jasha Maroo or Maru (spicy chicken), A mix of chilies, onion, tomato, garlic, coriander leaves and ginger with finely diced chicken. Though often called stew, there’s actually a hefty portion of liquid (chicken broth) in the finished dish. Like most Bhutanese food, chicken comes with bones intact.
  • Phaksha Paa (Pork with Red Chilies), a classic Bhutanese stew of strips of boneless pork shoulder simmered slowly until tender with mooli (daikon radish), ginger, bok choy, and chili powder, topped with dried pork and fresh green chilli strips.
  • Red Rice, is to Bhutanese food as bread is to us, but the rice is probably healthier. The rice paddies of Paro Valley where red rice is grown are irrigated with mineral-rich glacier water. Just one serving gives 80% of your daily requirement for manganese and 20% of your need for phosphorus. The red colour of the uncooked rice comes from the cancer-fighting antioxidant, the flavonoid anthocyanin. As it cooks, it fades to a pale pink and the texture becomes soft and sticky.

❖ Interestingly no one in Bhutan (or Tibet, but for a different reason) eats fish. Fishing has been prohibited and the only person in Bhutan you will EVER see with a rod is the king, who has exempted himself.
All delicious, and certainly up Steve’s street. We chatted for a while, before thanking our hosts and going back down to the ground floor which are the living quarters (kitchen, larder and what would have been called the front room in old days as it was for family gatherings and ceremonies, which is why it had photos of the royal family who are really loved in Bhutan). Then, back to the hotel and bed.
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Constitution of Bhutan
The Druk Desi (Deva Raja) was the title of the secular (administrative) rulers of Bhutan under the dual system of government between 17th-19th centuries. Under this system, government authority was divided among secular and religious administrations, unified under the nominal authority of the Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Druk, meaning "thunder dragon", refers symbolically to Bhutan, whose most ancient name is Druk-yul. Desi, meaning "regent", was the chief secular office in realms under this system of government. The office of Druk Desi was established by the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century under the dual system of government. Having fled sectarian persecution in Tibet, Ngawang Namgyal established the Drukpa Lineage as the state religion. Under the Bhutanese system, the powers of the government were split between the religious branch headed by the Je Khenpo of the Drukpa Lineage and the civil administrative branch headed by the Druk Desi. Both the Je Khenpo and Druk Desi were under the nominal authority of the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, a reincarnation of Ngawang Namgyal. The Druk Desi was either a monk or a member of the laity—by the 19th century, usually the latter; he was elected for a 3-year term, initially by a monastic council and later by the State Council (Lhengye Tshokdu). The State Council was a central administrative organ that included regional rulers, the Zhabdrung's chamberlains, and the Druk Desi. In time, the Druk Desi came under the political control of the State Council's most powerful faction of regional administrators. The
Zhabdrung was the head of state and the ultimate authority in religious and civil matters. The seat of central government was at Thimphu, the site of a 13th century dzong spring-autumn. The winter capital was at Punakha. The kingdom was divided into three regions (east, central, west), each with an appointed penlop (governor), holding a seat in a major dzong. Districts were headed by dzongpens (district officers), who had their head-quarters in lesser dzongs. The penlops were a combination of tax collector, judge, military commander, and procurement agent for the central government. Their major revenues came from the trade between Tibet and India and from land taxes. It is believed that the death of Ngawang Namgyal in 1651 was concealed for 50 years as authorities sought his reincarnated successor. At first the system persisted, however the Druk Desi gradually gained political power and civil wars ensued. Once a reincarnation was found, the Druk Desi was unwilling to part with his acquired power, and the power of the Zhabdrung gradually declined. Similarly, the Druk Desi also lost control over the local rulers and penlops (governors). The country devolved into several semi-independent regions under the control of penlops. In practice, the Zhabdrung was often a child under the control of the Druk Desi, and regional penlops administered their districts in defiance of the Druk Desi. The Constitution of Bhutan, 2008, confirms Bhutan's commitment to the dual system of government, but the title "Druk Desi" never appears, and all administrative powers are vested in the Druk Gyalpo and civilian offices directly. The Druk Gyalpo appoints the Je Khenpo on advice of the Five Lopons (learned masters), and the democratic Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land, as opposed to a Zhabdrung figurehead.
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Posted by PetersF 15:47 Archived in Bhutan Tagged bhutan paro tiger's_nest taktshang Comments (0)

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