The day started in Thimpu with a visit to the renowned Arts school, which offers a 5 and a half year degree course in traditional Bhutanese art. The sheer dedication, sincerity and science that went into the art being churned out at the school served as an eye-opener. It’s amazing how the Bhutanese have managed to preserve their traditions and culture in the modern world. The Arts school embodied everything that the country stood for: Happiness over Progress, Culture over Modernisation.
The drive back to Paro had a few stopovers, thanks again to the repair work being carried out on the roads. This time around, it allowed us to pluck some apples (albeit illegally) from the expansive apple orchards in the valley. The taste of apples plucked freshly from the tress was refreshingly different from the chemically treated ones available in the market.
Rema resort in Paro was our residence for the next three nights. Perched on the top of a small hill, the resort overlooked the Paro Chu (the river), the riverbank, the valley and the mountains beyond. The silence in the resort was drowned out by the roaring waters of the Paro Chu and the sweet chirpy sounds of birds at its bank. We fell in love with the place instantly.
The day was spent lazying around, soaking in the sights and sounds around the resort and honing our skills at Archery, the national sport and Bhutan’s favourite pastime. The resort had its own shooting range where we practiced all evening without much success.
This was the day of reckoning! The day we had to climb upto the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s nest) after being dropped off by the vehicle to the starting point. The climb wasn’t going to be an easy one. A steep uphill climb, with slopes ranging between 45-70 degrees, the sun shining down on our heads and the roads strewn with stones and dust. The only good news was that it was only a five kilometre distance.
The Taktsang monastery was a work of art. Perched on the side of the mountain, some distance from its top, it was an architectural marvel. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the one credited for introducing Buddhism in Bhutan, flew into the cave, where the monastery lies, on the back of a tigress. Subsequently, a monastery was built at the location in his honour.
The end of the climb did not lead us to the monastery, but to a flight of atleast a thousand steps, winding around the sides of the mountain and leading to the monastery. The steps served as a great vantage point for photographs. Waterfalls adorned the way to the monastery, providing us with fresh water to keep us fresh for the journey that followed.
The monastery itself was splendid. Not often in my life had something taken my breath away, as the monastery had. The layout was not unlike the other monastery’s, but this one was grander. Our adventurous sides were also satiated with an almost chimney climb to the original site of the Tiger’s nest in the cave, one which overlooked most of the city. (No photographs of that as cameras weren’t allowed inside)
The sun was setting as we climbed down the hill to the parking lot. Taking a detour, we explored the other sites on the mountains, including the residence of the Monks.
Tired, yet satisfied, we went back to the resort for a much deserved rest. The night was spent along the river bank, with great conversations and even better alcohol.
The penultimate day in Bhutan was essentially a day to wind down. Visits to the museum and yet another dzong was followed by lunch at the Marketplace and some shopping. Managing to reach the resort before sunset, we tried our luck at Archery again. This time around we were more successful, with two of us hitting the target.
The night was spent reliving the trip and dreading to go back to the routine of our day to day lives.
The flight back to Mumbai was right on time and as it took off it gave us glimpses of some of the majestic peaks of the Himalayan ranges, Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu, some of the tallest peaks in the world.