Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wedding Bells

There may be no stretch of road in all of Bhutan that is straight for more than 100 feet at a time. More than altitude sickness, I suspect that carsickness might fell more visitors to this kingdom, especially if they decide to cross a mountain via semi-paved switchbacks from Thimphu to Punakha in the back seat of a Hyundai.

Luckily, we were not terribly affected by the motion. We were, however, affected by the landscape and how quickly it changes as you ascend from Thimphu up to the peak of this road, Dochula, along a ridge at the very top (from where you can see India to the west and Tibet to the east), and then down to Punakha, where King Jigme and his bride Jetsun finally tied the knot at the Dzong (fort) in Punakha, one of the most important sites in all of Bhutan. The Dzong sits at the confluence of two rivers, the Mo (mother) and Po (father). Our guide told us "the mother is slow, the father is fast," and that "the mother drowns many people." One is a dark blue, the other a glacially-shaded grayish blue, making the confluence swirly and colorful, like many things here.

The most sacred part of the ceremony takes place in the very top of this structure, attended only by a few family members and the Ke Jenpo (the religious head of Bhutan). Several hundred others wait below for the festivities. And riff-raff like us get this close:

Not wanting to do our best Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn impersonations, we took a few photos and headed on. Diwash was beside himself with joy, however, to have been this close to the King and Queen. Here's Diwash on the right, with Sonam, our driver:

Lest you think Diwash's excitement was not shared, trust me--people here were giddy all day, as this typical sign indicates:

We drove from Punakha to a nearby village called Lobesa where we stopped for tea and lunch. Though the teahouse had a lovely upper deck overlooking the monastery, Chimi Lakkhang, that we were going to hike to afterwards, Diwash and Sonam disappeared inside to watch the live coverage of the ceremony on TV. Not happy being left outside, Betsy and I picked up our tea and followed them, where we enjoyed watching the TV, and watching our hosts watch the TV. In this photo, the King and Queen have emerged from the temple. I could hear the sound of hearts bursting all over Bhutan, but most loudly in the room, where Diwash was over the moon with excitement:

Our hike to Chimi Lakkhang took us through two small villages full of rice fields, cows and small children who greeted us with bright hellos. The afternoon was warm, and the view along the river and into the Himalayans was appropriately spectacular, given the importance of this monastery, which you can see in the middle of this picture.

The monastery is said to be built on a site sacred to the memory of Drukpa Kunley, the "Divine Madman," a saint and religious leader of great importance. The villages around the Lakkhang have successful farms because of Drukpa Kunley's emphasis on fertility. He is perhaps the most storied of all Buddhist saints, apparently with great comic timing. He was revered for his teachings, many of which had heavy sexual overtones, and is credited with starting the tradition of the phallus-painting on houses.

Though our destination was not far from where we were standing, I still stopped to ask directions:

She said, "20 minutes more in that direction," and then asked for the Luna Bar that was in my pocket. At first I said no. She then reminded me where I was, and I relented. It was Blueberry Bliss--my favorite, and, it turns out, hers too. I hope she enjoyed it.

Childless couples make pilgrimages to Chimi Lakkhang and will supposedly be blessed with a child soon after. It requires a blessing, however, provided by one of the monks there, most of whom were young boys--9, 10, 11 years old.

While several were busy in the temple blessing visitors, others played badminton and one took advantage of his break to nap on the lawn, oblivious to visitors.

The temple itself is beautiful, full of prayer wheels and flags that constantly move because of the wind that is ubiquitous on this hill above the river.

Betsy and I received blessings from a young monk, which entailed bowing and letting him place two relics, an iron bow and a penis bone from Drukpa Kunley, on our heads. Afterwards, Betsy pondered what her life will be like with another child to be named later (by the monks here--that's part of the deal):

As we hiked down, we had wonderful views of the surrounding valley which does indeed look fertile.

We found ourselves in the middle of a herd of cows on the way down, making their way to tea, and had a pleasant exchange with the cow herder who offered us another blessing. She did not, fortunately, ask for a Luna Bar:

In all, I think we spent six hours in the car, an hour at lunch, half an hour gazing at the Punakha Dzong, and an hour hiking to and visiting Chimi Lakkhang. We returned to Thimphu wobbly from the drive, blessed by a monk that in America would spend much of his time playing with Leg-os, and pondering how much fun Betsy's going to have taking care of a new infant. It was indeed an auspicious day!

Today, Friday, we will go into town to write our felicitations on behalf of Wheaton College in a book being prepared for the King and Queen, and then...GOLF! Dasho Tenzing has kindly offered to host me for a round at the Royal Thimphu Golf Course. I'm trying not to have pre-round jitters, but I suspect Dasho is an excellent golfer. I will do my best, and try to not let my inadequate driving overtake my awe. The course is, after all, at over 8000 feet, overlooking the Tashicho Dzong (the Royal Palace and offices of the King). I will not even care if I drive my tee shot off the mountain.

Stay tuned for a report on this particular adventure. Tee-off is at 1 pm, Bhutan time.


1 comment:

  1. So I thought you said you both got the blessing from the come only Betsy is pondering life with an infant? Lee still in denial? What's one more when you're already mothering hundreds of Wheaton students? Oh, yes, this one would REALLY not like the food in the dining hall!