Sunday morning saw a greatly improved weather day with sunshine and partly cloudy skies. I had some breakfast and met my guide and driver by 9:00 a.m. First up was a visit to the National Memorial Chorten or Stupa that was constructed in 1974 as a memorial to Bhutan’s third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died at the early age of 44.
When we arrived there were a number of elderly people circumventing the Stupa. Apparently, this is a favourite pass time of Thimphu’s senior citizens who consider the circumvention of the stupa as a religious duty and a social activity.
We followed the faithful once around and then moved on to the next site, the Buddha Dordenma, which is a 51.5 meter bronze Shakyamuni Buddha statue gilded in gold and can be seen all over the Thimphu valley. ( I can even see it from my hotel room.)
The drive took approximately 20 minutes up, up, up the hillside. Once we arrived, may guide told me that there was a special festival going on for approximately two months where pilgrims come to the site and spend days praying, listening to teachings and circumventing the statute. I never did understand why this was going on at this site since the Buddah had only been completed in 2015 so its not like it was a significant historical site.
Anyway, when we arrived, there were thousands of pilgrims at the site walking the circumference of the Buddha and sitting under tents at the foot of the Buddah listening to a lecture by Bhutan’s chief religious minister. So for my entire visit at the site the background sound was the never ending reading of Buddah teachings in a low monotonous tone. Quite frankly, it sounded like the guy never took a breath.
We took a quick tour inside the Buddah which has space for 125,000 small Buddah statutes, multiple murals telling the story of Buddha’s enlightenment and “work areas” where monks sat and practiced their writing of Buddah’s teachings. We then walked outside and wandered around the entire circumference of the Buddah, which took about 15 minutes.
As we walked by the tents where pilgrims were seated, I saw a number of men holding a strand of beads smacking the beads against their robes and yelling at pilgrims. I soon learned that these men were the “disciplinarians” who were there to ensure that no pilgrim disrupted the lecture. Every now and then, one of the these guys would yell at someone and get up close and personal to them with the threat of the “beads”. Yikes. Who knew that Buddhism had a masochistic side …
Anyway, after the walk around the Buddah we hiked down the staircase (all 277 steps) and then drove back along the windey road towards town. However, instead of heading all the way to town, we cut back up another road and headed into the hills to visit the Motithang Takin Preserve.
Now I had seen takin while I was in Myanmar. The animal is the strangest looking creature with tiny goat like head and the body of a cow. The takin is the national animal of Bhutan and at one time, the fourth king of Bhutan ordered all takin to be released into the wild because keeping the animal penned up was not in line with Bhutan’s religious beliefs and environmental policies. However, the takin had become so domesticated that they wandered the hills and streets looking for food. As a result, the government created a preserve where the takin can wander around behind a large fenced enclosure.
I was really looking forward to seeing the takin and the trip did no disappoint. We wandered the entire permiter of the enclosure, which took about 30 minutes. The walk took us up the hillside and around the backside of the enclosure before descending back down. As we wandered around the enclosure, we encountered deer and lots and lots of butterflies, but no takin. Finally, we saw the crazy creatures who were all gathered on the backside of the preserve. I took a number of pictures all the while staring at the zany looking animals.
We finally walked down the hill and back towards our vehicle. As I walked, I ran into a couple from the UK who were interested in getting my take on the latest Trump controversy (Puerto Rico). They could not believe what was going on in the U.S. and called it their favourite soap opera. Good grief.
The final stop of the day was to the Bhutan Postal Museum, which houses a beautiful little museum dedicated to the history of communications in Bhutan. The museum was divided into 4 sections. The first section was dedicated to the history of stamps the five kings that have rule Bhutan. The second section was dedicated to the original communication methods in Bhutan (including a man who spent his whole life transporting the mail from village to village by foot. The third section was dedicated to electronic communication methods (i.e. telephone, fax machine, computer). The final section was a mockup of an old historical post office. All in all, the place was incredibly interesting.
We then made a quick stop at my hotel where I changed back into the traditional Bhutan attire I had purchased in Paro so that I would be “dress ready” for our afternoon at the Thimphu Tsechu. We stopped for a lovely lunch up in the hills overlooking Thimphu featuring traditional Bhutanese food (a cheese and spinach dish, chicken, beef, mixed vegetable, rice and yoghurt as well as some tea).
After the lovely lunch, we headed back to the Tsechu stadium in far better weather than the previous day. We reached the stadium shortly before 2 and made our way through security. As we were walking toward the stadium a military officer stopped us and would not let us proceed. There was a rapid fire exchange between my guide and the officer who kept pointing at me and generally creating a scene causing a number of people to stop and stare. I was quickly becoming uncomfortable and had no idea what was going on. I kept asking my guide what was up, but instead of answering me my guide continued to argue with the officer.
After repeatedly demanding to be told what was going on, may guide finally advised me that the officer would not let me in because I was not properly dressed in local attire. I apparently did not have a “sash” over my shoulder. What the heck? First, no one told me I needed a sash, and second, I had been here the day before and no one stopped me.
I immediately turned to this dickhead and told him I had spent a lot of money on the outfit and was not told I needed a sash. I had come all the way around the world to see this festival and as a tourist I was paying $250 per day to the Bhutanese government for the privilege of being in Bhutan, which paid for this moron’s salary.
However, this jackass refused to even speak to me and said in clear English, talk to your guide. By now, there were all sorts of people walking by staring (and oh by the way many, many women walking by without a sash). Clearly this guy decided he was going to pick on a tourist.
I immediately demanded to know his name and his superior’s name, but rather than talking to me he simply stood there and stared at me. So I pulled out my camera and snapped his picture and told him I was going to report him to the Bhutan Tourist Ministry I was pretty sure that the Bhutan Tourist Ministry would not like this kind of publicity where they encourage tourists to buy the local dress for their festivals only to be treated like crap. I was furious and close to tears. The guy simply stood there and refused to let me pass.
I finally turned to my guide and insisted we get the heck out of there. I turned to this little (and I do mean little) man and asked him if he knew what a Napolean complex was. I told him he was the quintessential little man with Napolean complex. I then walked back out the security gate and started crying as I realized I had come all this way to see the festival and was now being denied entry simply because I tried to honour the country by wearing their national dress. I would have been far better off saving my money and simply wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
A group of Indian tourists saw my distress and came running over. One lady kept hugging me, while my guide was on the phone trying to get the tourism ministry on the phone to fix the problem. It was a complete clusterf**k.
As we were standing there, my guide spotted a young woman he knew. After some discussion back and forth, my guide came over and told me that his friend would loan me her sash and then once in the stadium, I could take it off and he could run it back outside to her. I literally wanted to hug the young woman for her generosity. So we made the repeat trek back through security and past the dickhead. I stopped and stared right at him and he refused to look at me. Coward. My poor guide was beside himself and could not stop apologizing on behalf of his “country”. He said that he would be following up with his people. I am not sure if he was just saying this or not, but I assured him that I would be writing to the Bhutan Tourism Ministry.
Anyway, with the “sash” pass, I finally made my way into the stadium 1/2 hour later than planned. By the time we found seats, the Dance of the Rashkas and Judgement was already underway. The dance told the story of what happens when good people and bad people pass from earth. Apparently, according to the story, everyone ends up in “Bardo” a state between heaven and hell where the dead have to appear before the Lord of Death and a myriad of deities who examine your actions during your life and determine whether you take the path to hell or the path to your reward.
The deities all wore animal masks, while evil was portrayed by a man in a black mask and good was portrayed by a man in a white mask. The bad dead person wore a black mask and black outfit and sat on the ground with his hands clasped together pleading for mercy. Eventually, after a series of dances, the unfortunate fellow was lead down the black path to hell.
The good person was clad in white with a white mask and flag. While evil tried to work his magic on the good person and convince the deities that the person should take the black path, evil was eventually defeated and the good person was able to reach his reward.
All of the dances were set to a lot of drums and horns as well as a series of chants and a running dialogue by good and evil. And like the day before, there was a lot of twirling, jumping, dipping and posing by the dancers.
Now the primary difference between today and yesterday (other than the weather) was that the Dance of the Rashkas and Judgment was the only dance of the entire afternoon. The story lasted 3 full hours (although I missed the first 1/2 hour). Now while I would have liked to see some different characters and costumes, the story was actually quite interesting and the dances were really, really good.
As the dance was ending, the deities were the last to leave the stadium and they exited in groups of four with incredible jumps and dips, which I found amazing given that these guys had been dancing for 3 hours. The athleticism was simply incredible.
So with the dance over and dusk setting, we opted to leave. I was sincerely hoping to pass the little man so that I could flip him off as I was leaving, but alas the little coward was nowhere in sight as we left the stadium.
At this point, I was exhausted and told my guide that I wanted to pass on dinner. I was tired, still full from lunch and just wanted to get some sleep before we headed out tomorrow for the long drive to Punakha and the Wangdue valley, which was going to include a drive throug Dochulass Pass at 3,150 meters (a piece of cake after Everest Base Camp) and some hiking through the valley. I was actually looking forward to getting on the road.
So I said goodnight to my guide and driver, put my feet up and was surprised to find that one of the stations on the TV in my room was carrying the President’s Cup. Yay. An evening of golf and an early night. A perfect way to end the day.