In the last post, Mary talked about the serendipitous nature of events in Bhutan. We were completely unaware the first day of our Class IV+ trip coincided with Buddha’s descension, his birthday. For Buddhists worldwide, the celebration of Buddha Shakyamuni’s returned to earth, in the lifetime he at last reached enlightenment, is the most sacred of days.
From the Paro airport (in the western part of Bhutan) we made our way into the heart of town. We could see people everywhere were dressed in their finest, women in kiras and men in ghos. The traditional dress is required for Bhutanese when visiting religious sites and government offices. So began our day! We were treated to a visual feast of decoration and colorful Bhutanese in pilgrimage to holy temples and dzongs. This celebration and worship was being played out throughout Bhutan, and by Buddhists the globe over.
Over the course of the 2-week trip we made our way east from Paro to the capital of Thimphu, to the terraced rice fields of Punakha, to the lush slopes of Trongsa, and south to the former winter palace of the 1st King.
First we warmed-up on stretches of the of the Paro Chu and Thimphu Chu (river). We relaxed in the beauty of our base camp along the banks of the Mo Chu and spent time tackling the bigger volume rapids of both the Mo and Po Chu. We took time to wander along fields of rice in mid-harvest to visit the hillside temple overlooking camp. We toured the massive Punakha Dzong at the auspicious confluence of the Mo and Po. We then drove east over the 10,000 + ft Pele La (pass), winding through the rugged Black Mountains to arrive in Trongsa. Our lodging overlooked the impressive Trongsa Dzong, strategically built along a ridge in the 1600’s. During that time Trongsa was the seat of government and this fortress protected Bhutan from invasions from Tibet.
Not too far upsteam we hiked our boats downhill through a forested wonderland to paddle the delightful rapids of the Upper Mangde Chu. Later that afternoon, under the skillful care of our driver Santah, we arrived downstream near the put-in of Emma Datsi Canyon of the Mangde Chu. This stretch is named after the national dish of chilis and cheese. It is a spicy run, the hardest of the trip. We camped in luxury on the grounds of the Endochuling Palace with it’s commanding down-valley view of the river. Monks scurried to and from their morning and evening prayers. We could hear their chanting float down from the palace windows. The granddaughter of the 1st king, Princess Ashi, hosted a dinner in our honor, and arranged a traditional dance in the central courtyard for our entertainment.
Emma Datsi Canyon is big, pushy and technical. Although it lived up to it’s spicy reputation, everyone rose to the challenge and we paddled it two days. After our final morning run we drove to Trongsa for the night. The following day en route to Thimpu we paddled the Dang Chu. Small, technical and continuous, it made a perfect finale to the kayak portion of our trip. We ran it twice.
Our last day we rose early and drove to the base of the trail leading to Thakstang Monastery, better known to outsiders as Tiger’s Nest. Overlooking the Paro valley, this ancient and sacred site is perched at over 10,000 feet on a sheer-wall cliffs. We hiked up 2000 vertical feet, surrounded by countless strings of prayer flags stretched 100’s of feet between the monastery and the surrounding mountain face. The thin air and steep walk, combined with the spectacular setting made the success of our journey all the more rewarding and powerful.
As you can see, Bhutan is a magical place. You don’t have to be Buhddhist to be awed by it’s beauty and feel it’s spiritual draw. Come check it out for yourself.
Phil and Mary
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