Saturday, January 14

Thimphu to Paro and hiking the Tiger’s Nest

A bracing wind gushed into the narrow recess carved out of rocks, muddling the prayer flags, which had joined hands to cross the adjacent gorge. A cliff stood tall in front, cradling a monastery on its lap. A wave of chants cascaded from a distance soothing the mind into a trance. An artist’s fingers captured the stunning vista with the strike of a pencil, sketching the Taktsang Goempa, one of the holiest places in Bhutan, which every Bhutanese wants to visit at least once in his life.

Last night was a night of dreams, yet we woke up to the chirpy birds behind our hotel at Norzin Lam, earlier than expected. The thought of riding back on those silky smooth highways, threw us to our saddles quickly and we were ready to hit the road again. The exit from the city was a cake walk along with the ripples of Wang Chu River as our company on the left. In no time we were on the runway, ready to fly on the two wheels of our mean machines. The 32 km stretch from Thimphu to Chuzom check post is a rider’s paradise; you can easily touch your knees on the tarmac while leaning on the curves!

The shacks at Chuzom were put up by nomadic tribes, who had travelled all the way from Haa Valley. We feasted on the well-prepared kokas (spicy noodles) and eggs, while chatting up a conversation with the head of one such nomadic family. Their stories of traversing for miles in search of solace and greener pastures struck a chord with our spirits. Haa sounded desirous, but wasn’t the destination for our day. With bellies full and contented hearts we went ahead to catch a glimpse of the abode of Gods: Mt Jhomolhari and kept a “next time” for Haa. We had already covered half of our distance till Chuzom and Paro looked nearer than ever as the “runway” continued. The only difference was in the company: Paro Chu replacing Wang Chu.

These roads weren’t the testimony of a typical mountain ride: “going round and round ascending and then descending to cross mountain passes”, rather it was an example of a cliff hugging throughway neatly chiseled out of the slopes. The mountains were semi barren with a characteristic brownish tinge about them all through until we went closer to Paro, which being on a valley had loads of green to offer. Just before entering Paro town, an insignificant viewpoint caught my eye and off went the ignition. The monotony of the engine had given way to the symphony of the songbirds and the murmur of the river. The blue meandering waters rolling down leaves and pebbles, cleaving the distant town, ornamented with a mélange of checkered dwellings, took my breath away! A painter would have done justice to the awe-inspiring frame of nature that stood in front of me.

After storing the scenes in my senses, it was time to move on towards the town and guess what; we took the wrong way which took us to the airport. But we didn’t lose too much as we were gifted with first sight of the divine, Mt Jhomolhari. Incidentally, Paro hosts the only airport in this nation and there aren’t too many pilots on earth who holds a permit to fly to this air strip. We kept the ascend and descend of the dragon painted Druk Air jets on our right and proceeded on a picturesque road, that had carefully cured bushes on its edges. The artificiality gave way as soon as we left the premises of the airport and road became narrower with frequent blind curves. At one point it simply ceased to exist and we knew we had reached our next destination: Drugyel Dzong.

Drugyel was built about 450 years ago to commemorate the victory over a Tibet invasion and was destroyed by a major fire in and around 1950.There isn’t too many things to see here, apart from the dilapidated fortress that looks a mystery in itself. This is also the starting point to one of the most popular treks in Bhutan: The Jhomolhari trek. We added the trek to our bucket lists and moved on to strike off another one from it: The Taktsang Goempa, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest.

My first acquaintance with the Tiger’s Nest dates way back to the nineties, when a relative gifted me a postcard of the same after his return from a bragged foreign trip. As a young boy, I was baffled to see a monastery chiseled into a ferocious looking steep rock and tried to figure out in awe, how they could have possibly constructed it. After twenty years, I am living my dream of seeing it someday and while standing at half a distance from the base, drooling at it, my bafflement continues. The trail leading to the monastery is a decent one with occasional steep climbs. Pine trees envelopes the surroundings making it a scenic trek and another sight of Jhomolhari was a gift to us, thanks to the clear day.

Dechen, a college girl sat on the sides with paraphernalia of Bhutanese handicrafts, which included colorful thangkas (silk painting of Buddhist deities) and miniature idols. She said she was fitting in for her sister who was ill and was yet to make a sale for the day. In our short conversation she let me know of her desires to become a doctor and how she loved Bollywood songs. She befriended me in no time and gave me a small chit containing her address. Her spirit and enthusiasm spun a different story for me; it was not of a remote country stuck in conservatism, but a country of empowered and independent women and of happiness, gross national happiness. The track kept getting narrower and the end it was just a few feet wide with stairs carved out of rocks signaling a dive into the adjoining gorge, on the slightest of error. After another ascent, we finally reached the holy place from where Buddhism was brought to Bhutan. Popular folklore says this is where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for 3 months after riding on the back of a tigress from Tibet. The Tsechu festival is held every year in his honor. A narrow passage leads to the main cave where one can admire the images of Bodhisattvas, in the flicker of lamps. The main shrine, Phaphug Lakhang is a cave temple, where the head lama resides. We took a walk around the balconies of the buildings, offering stunning views of the adjoining Paro valley. I captured the view in my mind as photography was prohibited and decided to make a move.

By the time we came down to the base, the sun had already trudged past the horizon. We made a futile attempt to see the Paro Dzong in the golden light, but it was closed an hour back. The next hour was spent in a night ride back to Thimphu, following the road marks and two dimensional vision of darkness. As soon as we reached the hotel, I crashed on the bed realizing trekking and motorcycling together can have an enormous impact on the energy levels of the highly energetic. As sleep was pulling down the curtains for the day, my thought took me to the enterprising nomads, the mysticism and remoteness of the Taktsang and then the letter I need to write to Dechen about what I saw in her country and how I felt. I am sure it will take me a year to write that letter only since my recollection of all the wonderful things in her country might well need a book to compile.

<--- Day 3

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