Bhutan 2012 Trip

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Bhutan 2012 Trip

Thimphu

Friday 19 October 2012

A monk carries a 50 kg bag of rice for an hour up a dirt track to the Tango Monastery.

Fifty kilograms. Doesn't sound like a lot until you have it on your back, climbing the steep, steep trail that leads to the Tango Monastery, an hour out of Thimphu. Today, the monastery is a working university offering courses in Buddhist philosophy and there are some 70 student monks in attendance. They look great in their bright red robes.

The original monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in the 13th century, but reconstructed in 1688 by Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler. It was restored in the mid 1990s and for a traveller's eyes, it is an amazing structure perched on the side of a mountain.

And that's where we were climbing, but fortunately for me, I didn't have the 50 kilograms on my back. That was being shouldered by a young monk and we saw several monks on the trail similarly burdened. They passed us, of course, even with their heavy loads of rice and supplies. Water up the top in the monastery seems to be plentiful, but food for the residents is man-handled up. I saw a broken flying fox (a cargo basket on a length of cable stretching down to the valley below) on the hillside near the top and wondered how long it had been broken, and if there was some way we could help to have it fixed. However, the monks would probably say there were higher priorities than saving their backs from a little manual labour!

A monk carrying 50 kilograms of rice, perhaps for lunch,nears his destination. It takes around an hour to walk up the hill to the Tango Monastery.

The white walled monastery angles inward, a design to help survive earthquakes, thick at the base and tapered towards the top. An ornately carved entrance is flanked by two huge prayer wheels and then opens out into a small courtyard. We spent an hour or so wandering around, photographing the monks when we had a chance. Inside a living room, the natural light was a portrait photographer's dream, the backdrop highly coloured walls festooned with paintings and photographs. Tea was served and we were then invited into the temple for a blessing by one of the head monks.

A monk leaves the sleeping quarter that lie in the thick monastery walls. Tango Monastery, Bhutan.

Just outside the entrance to the temple in the Tango monastery were hanging these prayer flags - a little more substantial than the lightweight versions left outside to the elements.

Beautifully carved and highly intricate entrance to Tango Monastery, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

No photography is allowed inside and the rule essentially is that if you take your shoes off to go inside somewhere, you can't take photos. Which is a pity. The polished wooden floorboards are each half a metre wide with square wooden columns supporting an ornate roof. Behind a locked door is an altar surrounded by gold Buddhist statues representing gods and deities, plus two large elephant tusks. We all stood in the confined space and enjoyed the silence. It had the feeling of a very spiritual place.

The blessing was with a large metal key and lock which had great historical and spiritual significance. Using both hands, we each bowed our heads and the monk lightly touched our noggins with the lock.

Donkeys heading up the trail to Tango Monastery, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

Lunch was back down in the valley next to a stupa and a charming river. The Bhutanese had organised a picnic. Foldable chairs, trestle tables and sustenance were quickly provided.

Prayer flags near a river below Tango Monastery, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

That evening back in Thimphu, we attended an annual ritual where people walked around a large stupa in the centre of town. There were thousands of people walking clockwise around the building, enjoying the carnival atmosphere. The sound of chanting and bells, delivered through loudspeakers, was enthralling.

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