Saturday 20 October 2012
There are 108 chortens on Dochu La, atonement for a military skirmish.
Dochu La, Bhutan.
A civilised start to the day of which much was spent in a car climbing up and over the pass from Thimphu to Punakha. The pass is Dochu La on which 108 chortens were erected by the Bhutan Queen Mother in 2005 as atonement for the deaths that occurred in a conflict with Assamese militants in Southern Bhutan.
The hill behind the monument is covered in prayer flags and provides a good overview of the chortens as well.
The road down the other side is steep, twisty and in disrepair. Although there are road repairs all around Bhutan, and although there aren't that many roads, road travel is slow and careful at all times. It took us at least an hour to descend the 5000 feet to a spot for lunch.
Low cloud over the mound of chortens, Dochu La, Bhutan.
The little village where we had lunch seems to have garnered fame by painting large phalluses on the walls of its buildings, although to be fair, these are painted on buildings around the country. A souvenir shop claiming to have lots of phalluses for sale was, in fact, more of a typical souvenir shop with just a couple of shelves of different sized and coloured objects!
Worker inside the Punakha Dzong.
Motoring along the side of the Pho Chhu (river), we visited Punakha Dzong. Located at the confluence of the Pho (father) and Mo (mother) rivers, you can see the chalky glacial blue waters of the Pho mixing with the more earthy colours of the Mo, the monastery between them.
A covered bridge across the river leads to the base of the dzong, its thick whitewashed walls towering six or seven stories above. Very steep stone steps turn into a wooden ladder. Security guards check my camera bag and we step across the threshold into a large courtyard. At one end is a stupa and a grand old oak tree, at the other an imposing tower with a large white facade and tiny windows up above. A bucket full of water is ejected from a top window and crashes onto the courtyard below - cleaning on a Saturday while the monks are shopping, I'm told.
The giant statue of Buddha commands the valleys leading to Thimphu, the Bhutan capital.
We walk through a series of halls and courtyards until we reach the temple at the far end. It is shoes off and part of me regrets not being able to photograph the three golden sculptures of Buddhas and lamas behind the alter. The central Buddha must be 10 metres high and the ornate presentation is imposing. Around the altar are seats and desks for the monks to study with, positioned between tin-plated columns. The relief carvings have been pressed into the metal, no doubt quicker than hand-carving the wooden column itself. The light is exquisite, entering from a clerestory above and filtering through. It is a space with real presence.
The Punakha Dzong at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (rivers).