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INTERNATIONALPriya Ahluwalia visits the quietest part of the subcontinent, and never wants to leave                       ...
INTERNATIONAL                                                                                                             ...
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Druk yul diaries- Holidays in Bhutam


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Druk yul diaries- Holidays in Bhutam

  1. 1. INTERNATIONALPriya Ahluwalia visits the quietest part of the subcontinent, and never wants to leave TRIBHUVAN TIWARI PHOTOGRAPHS BY SWAPAN NAYAK druk-yul diariesT he best way to travel is to jump in unprepared”. sonal G(N)H on the rise thanks to the extreme courteous- Next on the agenda was the Motithang Takin Preserve. An old mountain saying. Eyes wide open, senses ness of the crew, I already knew that landlocked Bhutan Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, is a strange looking tingling and the mind primed for every new experi- had a population of approximately 7 lakh people, perhaps creature, resembling the offspring of a furry cow and aence. Rucksack on the back, a good local guide, and less populated than Delhi’s Najafgarh or Mumbai’s Bandra! large goat. Stranger than its appearance is the myth sur-wanderlust for a travel companion. And that this newest democracy was a Buddhist country rounding the takin. Legend has it that once Lama Drukpa I had cheated already. The subject was too tempting. complete with lamas, chanting and its prized GNH (Gross Kuenley (fondly know as the Divine Madman) was asked toAnd I buried myself into the pile of books lying on my National Happiness, as opposed to our GDP). demonstrate his magical prowess. Ignoring the request, hefoldout table on the airplane from Delhi. Bring on the I had to tell myself to stop grinning incessantly. I was instead asked to be fed a whole cow and a whole goat. Ainformation! Lonely Planet, Driving Holidays in the finally truly here, in Bhutan. satisfied burp later, placing the goat’s head on the cow’sHimalayas, Zeppas Beyond the Sky and Earth, and a A hand waved out to me from the unknown smiling bones and snapping his fingers, he commanded the beastcouple of other travelogues … The over-prepared trav- faces by the baggage claim. Namgay Tenzin (known as to rise. The animal came to life, clambered up the moun-eller? I think not. The anxious traveller? Nada. The-excit- Nado), my guide and host in Bhutan. Elvis-ish, charming, tainside and proceeded to graze.ed-let-me-max-my-experience traveller? Yes! Guilty, that chivalrous Nado dressed smartly in the traditional gho, and After a stroll in the takin preserve, I wondered when wewas me. A pile of books, two cameras and a left side a pleasing singsong conversation to organise my bags (I would get down to the real things… and soon it was time.window in the 124-seater Airbus skimming the flanks of later recognised the language as Dzongkha), and I was Time for lunch! We had a picnic-style lunch on our way tothe Himalaya and I was soon in Bertolucci’s Little Buddha ready to hit the roads of West Bhutan. Dochu La Pass, amidst blue pines on a quiet hillside, off thecountry… Druk-Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon, or Along with other avid Indian travellers, I piled into a road along an ice cold gurgling brook that we were warnedwhat the Bhutanese call their country in Dzongkha. comfortable Hyundai Santa Fe and drove out towards not to drink from. A thermos full of hot suja (butter tea), Bhutan. So here I was, in the last Shangri La. A Thimphu. As we crossed Thimphu town — even the capi- steamed momos with the grainiest and most lethal lookingcountry hidden away from the world, almost as if time tal ‘city’ is just a town — and drove uphill towards crushed chilli accompaniment, a delightful chicken prepara-had overlooked this tiny mountainous corner with its Kuensel Phodrang, driver Dorji explained that we were tion jasha maroo, a delicious beef and mushroom tshoemsoaring snowcapped peaks, alpine meadows and heading towards the Windy Buddha. That drew a blank (curry), a spicy ema datsi (ema chillies; datsi cheese), reddensely forested hills and ravines. with me. None of the books mentioned a Windy Buddha. rice, and a bunch of tiny bananas. Dorji was apologetic. The The books came in handy. As I stepped off the plane Lo and behold! There it was, looking down at us benevo- Bhutanese don’t eat dessert, he explained. This was such a SANDIPAN CHATTERJEEonto a tiny airstrip in the valley that was Paro, my per- lently as we took turn upon windy turn, a magnificient feast! Dessert wasn’t even on my mind. 169 feet statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. Our guide was Lunch made it obvious that chillies weren’t just a spiceMonks (top) and prayer wheel in Thimpu’s Tashichhoe Dzong; quick to stop at the appropriate turns where the Buddha in this country, but the whole dish. In fact ema datsi isPunakha Dzong atop the Pho and Mo confluence (facing page) gave us his best profiles as he looked over Thimphu. something I continued to eat for every meal in Bhutan, but42 OUTLOOK LOUNGE OUTLOOK LOUNGE 43
  2. 2. INTERNATIONAL FACT FILE Getting There Indian tourists can travel by road into Bhutan upon arrival at the Immigration office, on presenting their from Assam to Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu and from passport/citizenship identity card or voters registration card. West Bengal to Phuentsholing. The nearest airport to Sam- Where to Stay In Thimphu: Taj Tashi. Well, its a Taj Hotel … drup Jongkhar is Guwahati and the nearest to Phuentsholing warm, comfortable and expensive. Terma Linca by the is Bagdogra. The major train stations closest to Phuentsholing Wangchhu River is where I stayed and loved it. In Paro: are New Jalpaiguri and Hasimara. Bhutan’s national carrier Zhiwaling, a Bhutanese-owned traditional hotel. Hotel Drukair has 11 weekly flights from New Delhi, Kolkata, Gantye Palace, a 100-year-old Bhutanese palace converted Guwahati and Bagdogra into Paro International Airport. into a heritage hotel. Nak Sel, where I stayed. a promising has tied up with TCB (Tourism Council of property that is still to get its act together. Bhutan) and Druk Air to offer innovative and affordable holi- Who to travel with Three good Bhutan-based companies day packages to Bhutan. Moreover, unlike international visi- include the state-run Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited tors, visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives do not (, Yangphel Adventure Travel (yang- require a visa to enter Bhutan. They can get a visitor permit and Keys to Bhutan ( Our hosts were kind enough to treat us one evening to a local song and dance show. Music from the monasteries and dances to celebrate seasons, festivals, gods and the beautiful black-necked cranes — the national bird of Bhutan. Among the most vivid manifestations were the Chham, a sacred mask dance performed at local temples and monasteries during the annual Tsechu festival, and the folk song and dance Zhabdro. My personal favourite was the Zhungdra (oldest traditional Bhutanese song) with its‘Apple-cheeked young ones’ set off for school in Punakha; Dzong is about 375 years old and was meant to be the lilting rise and fall of voice. Delicate and wavering.Practising the national sport in Thimpu (facing page) winter home for the Bhutanese monastic body. Walking Over the next few days, a whirlwind romance unfolded. over the wooden suspension bridge over the Mo Chu, the There is no other way to negotiate this country but to fall inwith delicious variations, with potatoes, mushrooms, and Dzong cuts a striking picture with its imposing walls rising love. The pretty streets of small town Paro looked as if abeans. Be warned: ema datsi is not for the faint-hearted. up from the clear waters and reaching for the skies. Once film set had been constructed carefully and meticulously. Onwards, we drove onto Dochu La that lies at 3,100 m inside the Dzong, I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful Traditional architecture is preserved in every building, be it aand on a clear day offers a stunning view of the Eastern geometric poem that our guides said was painted in praise home, a restaurant or an office building. Friendly locals,Himalayas. The road forms a large island on top that houses of King Zhabdrung. almost seeming like a part of a film cast, smiled as they108 chortens (stupas) in three tiers, circumscribing a single We travelled on to the Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery walked across the streets, a flock of children with a skip inlarger one. Known as the Druk Wangyel Chortens, this dedicated to the Divine Madman, Lama Drukpa Kuenley, their step, old ladies with prayer wheels and parchments ofgroup of striking chortens draws upon three different archi- an unconventional saint. Legend has it that Lama Drukpa wrinkles on their faces, apple-cheeked young ones with dia-tectural styles — Bhutanese, Tibetan and Nepali. If one did- Kuenley was known for his sexual prowess and is consid- per padded bottoms, and beautiful dogs that looked at youn’t have too much time on their hands, I would recommend ered in these parts to be the saint of fertility. It’s a lovely solemnly as they trotted about with their thick fur coats.skipping Dochu La. uphill stroll to the temple of fertility for those seeking his Every country has its share of history, architecture, mon- Two places that I would highly recommend in West blessings. Locals here say that the fields and farms of this uments and culture to offer to the discerning tourist.Bhutan are the Wangdue Dzong (fortress) and the Punakha region are the most fertile in Bhutan. Decorative phalluses Bhutan’s culture is a living, breathing culture, evident inDzong. What was delightful about the Wangdue Phodrang are painted on the exteriors of traditional Bhutanses hous- your every interaction with the locals.Dzong, besides it being a dramatic example of Bhutanese es in this area. These, I was told, are not just symbols of I didn’t want to leave, I thought, as we sat through ourarchitecture, was that it was a living, breathing monastery, fertility but also a mark of respect for the Buddhist saint. last dinner with the local guides, friends now. This would bewith young monks chanting in their inner sanctums, while The evenings took us to Paro and Thimpu to shop for my last meal in this chilly air, my last ema datsi, my lastlittle children played football in the courtyard outside, sur- local handicrafts, music, the lovely Bhutanese whiskey K5, glass of ara. As I raised a toast to Nado and Dorji and all therounded by pigeons that were too tame to fly and would ara (home-brewed local wine), and best of all, traditional others who had made Bhutan come alive for me, I kneweven walk up to the ball to investigate. clothes — the gho for men and the kira for women. We that this was just the beginning of this love affair. I would The Punakha Dzong is the most stunning dzong of were told that the law in Bhutan requires both men and be back. Back to explore and feel and travel the lengths ofWest Bhutan. Situated on an island at the confluence of women to dress traditionally in public, especially for work this beautiful country. This little country that had such largethe Pho (male) Chu and Mo (female) Chu rivers, Punakha and on formal occasions. lessons to teach us. One last toast… to Druk-Yul.44 OUTLOOK LOUNGE OUTLOOK LOUNGE 45