5/23/15 — Punakha, Bhutan
Traveling to a new place is like stepping into a storybook. You’re immediately surrounded by a new plot, new characters, and a brand new world to temporarily play a part in. While you may not be the protagonist of the story, you have a unique role: getting to observe and explore things from the outside in. Lucky for you, what you assimilate in this story will enrich your own narrative in ways you never thought possible.
This certainly has held true for the first few “pages” of a little country called Bhutan. Nicknamed the “Gem of the Himalayas,” this beautiful and little known kingdom is unlike anything I’ver ever experienced. For one thing, as our plane prepared for its descent, the land appeared almost out of thin air, gently emerging from clouds of white mist unveiling the greenest and most elegant mountains decorated in towering firs and juniper trees. After landing in Paro, it was off to the capital city of Thimpu, the only capital in the world without a stoplight. The drive there was stunning, winding above miles and miles of valley with humble villages strewn about.
Our next few days consisted of various sightseeing, visiting the second largest Buddha statue in the world as well as several dzongs, temples, and monasteries home to Buddhist monks of all ages who have devoted their life to prayer. One monastery in particular was perched up high in the foothills of the Himalayas. Here we were fortunate to meet the lama and his 40 students, and be a part of a blessing ceremony by the head monk. After a delicious and spicy meal of traditional Bhutanese foods and tea, we grabbed our hiking poles and shoes and began a 10,000-foot trek to another monastery up the ridge. When we finally reached the top, it was honestly what I imagine walking through the gates of heaven would be like. The building practically floated on the clouds surrounding it, and the only sounds you could hear were chirping birds and a soft wind whistling through the trees below. Peeking through the clouds were the majesties themselves, the Himalayas. Come to think of it, maybe the whole thing was a dream… After a nice tea picnic following our descent, it was off to the charming countryside of Punakha.
Arriving late at night, we had no idea what to expect. Then in the morning we opened our curtains to this…
We were absolutely blown away. While we could have stayed in bed all day blissing out to the view, we had a big day of exploring ahead of us. It started at the most beautiful dzong we had seen so far on our trip, where our guide shared various Buddhist teachings and real-life stories of reincarnations that had taken place in recent years. Later on, we took a hike through emerald rice paddies stopping to witness the locals in their day-to-day, and after a visit to Bhutan’s famous fertility temple and a delicious lunch, we began our biggest hike of the day up to a temple that was built to honor the current king. The views were breathtaking, overlooking the entire valley of rice paddies, overlapping mountains, and a large, glowing river meandering at the base of it all. At one point, the sky opened up giving way to the most brilliant rays of gold beaming down. It was then that I had the most overwhelming feeling that it was the work of my favorite, mountain-loving angel. Thanks Jakers.
All in all this chapter so far has opened my eyes to some amazing things, all in a storybook world I’m still not entirely convinced actually exists here on earth. And to think we haven’t even reached the finale…