Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Stunning sceneries, unspoilt beauty, exotic flora and fauna, its people whose way of life is steeped in culture and traditions, a sense of spirituality in most places and combine that with breathtaking landscapes where you can feel you are on top of the world.
This is Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, a tiny Kingdom nestled deep in the Eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet. It is landlocked, sparsely populated with just over 700,000 inhabitants, a country which is rural, religious and traditional , made up of mountain communities where people don't travel so much and most are devout Buddhists.
Bhutan has so many dimensions, making it one of my most exciting and wonderful escape to explore and get lost in the happiest and most magical place on earth.

Here I share a glimpse into the quirky, only surviving all Buddhist Kingdom of the Himalayan region, so many have dreamed of visiting.  Hopefully, this travelogue will inspire a trip to this unique place where happiness is more than just a nice idea.  It is a way of life.

A day earlier on 23rd November 2012,  I was in Khatmandu Nepal to attend the 80th birthday of our Very Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche at Namo Buddha.
Our Very Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche seated on the brocaded throne.
A Lama dance whereby the Protector clears away all negative forces setting the tone for a blessed new year for Rinpoche to begin with auspiciousness and joy.
Look at the beautifully sculptured butter Tormas used as offerings to Buddha and the guardians of the Dharma.
My offering - a woollen robe for Thrangu Rinpoche to keep him warm for the wintry months.
Thank you Thrangu Rinpoche for your blessings...
With the Lama dancers.
I handed over the donations collected from my friends to support Rinpoche's charity - helping the poor.
Wishing our Venerable  Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche a happy 80th birthday.  May Rinpoche be blessed with good health and long life...
We are blessed to meet Tulku Damcho Rinpoche.....

Thrangu Rinpoche supporting the village kids..... giving food and medication.
The monks loading bags of rice for distribution to the villages for nothing.
The Karuna Medical International Clinic set up by Rinpoche providing free medicines to the poor.

A lovely quarters of the Thranggu Monastery and it overlooks the Himalayan Range.

The next morning, on the 24th of November 2012,  we were on Druk Air headed to Bhutan.  It was only a 40 minutes flight. Druk Air, the national carrier of Bhutan is the only airline that operates in Bhutan, no other airlines fly in. There are flights from India, Bangkok, Nepal and recently from Singapore as well.
Flying in from Khathmandu, what I saw were mountains, snowy peaks, more mountains and mountains again.  The entire earth below us were folds of ridges, gorges and deep winding valleys.  I could not take my eyes away from the window, no not for a second as everything was so breathtaking! We past Mt Everest, unbelievable majestic.  I thought I caught a glimpse of the Tibetan plateau!

Repetition of folds and ridges landscape, yes I studied that in geography lessons!
 Winding narrow valleys......
 Only from aerial view we could see these folds of mountain ridges, so spectacular.
That's Everest, the peak in pyramid shape, on top of the world!

When the pilot said, " we are beginning our descent into Paro", I noticed that the mountains were still far below, plunging into narrow valleys.  My eyes were still glued to the window with spectacular views of the mountains and suddenly the plane dropped a little.  I could feel my adrenaline rushing but to be honest I said a little prayer.  The plane dropped further and it was a jaw dropping sight, the mountain ridges were at same level as our plane as we skimmed passed into one of the few valleys flat enough to land.

Mountains higher than the plane......
Long winding road round the mountains...
Dzongs and houses built on the slopes of mountains...

Due to the geography, high mountains to the north, east and narrow valleys, Druk Air makes one of the most harrowing landings into Paro airport which is situated on a short, high, narrow and deep valley.
Phew!! We landed safe and sound in one piece and with humble respect arrived in Bhutan.
Paro airport is on the banks of the river Paro Chhu at an elevation of 7,300 feet above sea level.

As I stepped out from the plane, I stood in awe of the landscape around the airport, totally forgotten the feeling of any altitude sickness. All I saw were mountains pale brown in the November light.  In the centre sat the valley and at the other end, the mountains turning bluish blackish in the distance.

Woh...couldn't believe I am deep in the Himalayas
 Very exotic airport......preserving Bhutanese architecture
 Mountains stretching far into the distance....
Druk Air... quite an experience!

Sonam Chophyel, Gasey Lhendup and Tej, the guiding team from the travel company Bhutan Journeys, all in their Ghos, the national costume for the Bhutanese men, were there anxiously waiting to welcome and greet us.  I supposed Sonam must have heaved a sigh of relief," finally she makes it to Bhutan," after almost a year of exchanging emails with me but we became friends since then.
With Sonam (right), Gasey(left) and my dearie

It took almost an hour and a half to drive to Thimpu, the capital.  Most of the roads were winding mountain roads with many turns.  Along the way, mountains rising all around, climbing up to peaks, rolling into valleys as we arrived at Thimpu.
Before Thimpu, we did make a stop to visit the Iron Chain Bridge. We had to cross this bridge to reach a monastery called the Tachogang which was built in the 15th Century.
The sides of the hanging bridge are covered with lunta, colourful prayer flags. It is a buddhist belief that the fraying and wear on the flags is a sign that the prayers are being listened to.
 A Bhutanese style chorten
 A smaller chorten and whenever we meet one it is customary to go round it in a clockwise direction.

 Prayer flags by the Iron Chain Bridge, flying in the air, sending prayers to heaven.
 The Tachogang Monastery on the river between Paro and Thimpu...
 Out in the open with the beautiful flora and crystal clear waters, I could feel the thin pristine air, unpolluted and I did more deep breathing, not wanting to lose this precious opportunity of having quality air...
The clear waters, so inviting...
Chortens by river banks.....

It was our first night in Thimpu.  We checked into an International Hotel, the Taj Tashi and were welcomed with an Akata, a white scarf given to each of us to say good luck or congratulations in the Himalayas.
Never have I been to a hotel where authentic blessings were given to us by monks for safe travels while visiting the country.  I truly appreciated that.  It's an unusual practice but surely a friendly gesture of Bhutanese hospitality showing concern for the wellbeing of their foreign guests.
 The Taj Tashi......
The Lobby of Taj Tashi......
The prayer wheels..... at Taj Tashi. In Bhutan prayer wheels are found at every road bend, monasteries and even at hotels etc... They are to be activated clockwise mostly with your hand.  I found that there was something peaceful and completely healing about turning the prayer wheels.  I was sending prayers,  blessings and wishes to all sentient beings.
Thank you very much for the blessings.....

Thimpu valley is narrow with much forest covering the high steep mountains above the town.  In spring and summer months, the mountains will be full of lush green.   Many ancient monasteries sit above it amid prayer flags and stupas.  There among the prayer flags, clouds and stupas, many many monks and nuns pray and perform pujas.  There are surely lots of spiritual power and holy serenity and magic in the mountains.
Mountains more lush green in spring/summer, pale brown at the moment..
Unspoilt natural beauty........
Narrow winding roads leading down to Thimpu valley
A typical Bhutanese roof design....

Certain parts of Thimpu still looked rather old with cracked sidewalks and faded paintwork though there are numerous new buildings and constructions. It is slowly transforming and I believe in another 10 years, Thimpu will surely be different.
There is no traffic lights but dark blue-suited policemen stationed along the main streets directing the traffic with graceful hand gestures.  The capital had its share of cars crowding the narrow streets.  Mostly small cars, lots of jeep to travel the winding mountain roads.  There are many TaTa trucks carrying goods and they are brightly painted with folk art, religious symbols and have eyes above the headlights, very colourful as though they just out from a carnival.  Saw only one BMW parked in front of Taj Tashi Hotel.  Every Sunday of each month there are no cars on the roads.  This act of imposing no car day shows how serious they care for the environment.
Center of Thimpu ......
Walking along Thimpu town....
All the buildings have similar roofs, trefold windows and heavy beams painted with lotus flowers, dragons,clouds etc...  Paintings on the buildings are not only decorative but to bring luck to the household and to drive away evil spirits.  Those symbols like the lotus which represents the perfection of Buddha is a lucky sign and reappear frequently in Bhutanese decorative art.  One storied shops with wooden shuttered windows open onto the street.  The shops sell a very odd assortment of things e.g.. clothings with appliances, food and books.  I do not understand how frugally most Bhutanese live and how could they have so little convenience and so little to choose from.
Paintings with religious symbols.....
What caught my attention are the shop's signboard, all in English.  Never expected that English is widely spoken and Bhutanese speaks relatively good English.  The medium of instruction in schools is surprisingly in English but presently the Government is encouraging its people to speak more Dzongka, the national language.

The word "Happiness" is deeply associated with Bhutan, a country where Gross National Happiness (GNH) has being its major policy and social experiment.  To pursue happiness, the government helps to instill in Bhutanese an immense sense of well being.

Most of us lack balance, we constantly have enormous pressure, too many commitments like credit cards, taxes, fightings etc etc... and as a result there's fear.  Not forgetting,  we live in a country where we do almost  everything to get money and our life is good as well. But what we forget is, we do all this to be happy.
The Bhutanese, whose very foundation is anti materialistic, they are happier.

Being curious and to hear first hand from the locals, I've spoken to various Bhutanese whom I've met like my tour guides, hotel staff and from interviews with village farmers I heard over the TV channels about happiness and what happiness meant to them.

To the farmer, he is happy as his family is living together, there's free health care, free education and if he wants to buy a TV and a ploughing machine, he will work harder.  Basically he is happy as there is the sense of enough.

To the village lady, she is more happy now than her mother's time as current policy and administrative system has improved, more support given by the government.

To the waiter at the hotel, he is happy he has a job and everything else has been taken care off.

Just like my tour guide, he said he is happy and is complacent after years of success in his tour business.  He has no intention to venture into something uncertain, he is happy he can be with his family and this is more imperative and his top priority.

In general, happiness to most Bhutanese is being self sufficient.  They choose to be happy and an easy way to be happy is to appreciate what you already have and that you do not need any more.
The clock tower......
The town square.......
The cinema......

Bhutanese currency, the Ngultrum came in the 1960s prior to that there was much bartering.  There are now several banks, Bank of Bhutan, Bhutan National Bank  and ATMs have sprouted in several places in Thimpu.

There is the local TV stations offering numerous channels and the one I enjoyed viewing every evening is the BBS ( Bhutan Broadcasting Station) which have very informative programmes and are broadcasted in English and in Dzongka as well.

I was exhausted after the whole day's thrill but I could not sleep.  Was it my jet lag or the effects of the high altitude as Thimpu is 7,656 feet above sea level?  From my hotel window I could see the mountains rise to meet the sky and I wondered what was on the other side of the mountains," the lost horizon?"
Gigantic Bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma, Vajra Throne Buddha
This is the world's tallest Buddha statue overlooking the Dragon capital.  It is 169 feet, very impressive and is one of the most religious monument recently built, the compound around has yet to be completed.  In Bhutan there is deep respect for religion, elders and the monarchy.  Bhutan style Buddhism - being and seeming everywhere, embedded in daily life.

In every cafeteria or restaurants big or small, there are pictures of their past and present Kings. The pictures below were taken at one of the cafeteria
 The first King, Ugyen Wangchuck
Second King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuck
Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk

The Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck
The fourth King married 4 sisters, 4 Queens at the same time. These pictures were taken at one of the restaurants where we had lunch.

Polygamy was common all over the Himalayan region.  A man would marry sisters or a woman would marry brothers.  It was an indication of wealth, a good way to ensure that property stayed in the family and the fields stayed full of hands or it could be a reason of their own. These days polygamy is uncommon.

 Until the 1960s Bhutan was relatively unknown to foreigners.  It was the 3rd King who began to modernise  the country by building roads, hospitals and schools with the help of India and set the path of modernisation until today. His Majesty the 4th King abdicated in 2008 forming a democratic monarchy and pass the Raven Crown to his son, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, the 5th King.
The present King, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema

This is the National Memoriali Chorten

The National Memoriali Chorten is centrally located and crowded with elderly devotees, circumambulating and turning their prayer wheels which are inscribed with mantras spun around in a clockwise motion.  Likewise the prayer flags, the printed mantras multiply the prayers being sent out for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Local Bhutanese elderly folks turning the wheels of Dharma.....

I felt curious and wanted so much to look at the devotees prayer beads. They would normally  circumambulate the auspicious 108 times while chanting Om Mani Padme Hom, the prayer to the Compassion Buddha,  with a string of 108 prayer beads, using it to count the  number of times a mantra is recited while meditating. The number 108 is sacred and is the number of volumes in the Buddhist scriptures. I was told these elderly folks will pray for their families and for the monks.
Very nice prayer beads crafted from natural wood, could be sandalwood.
Look at the way the beads are tied.
I offered both of them some money and I could see their beaming faces.  I am happy I have touched their lives.
Visited the mini zoo to see the national animal of Bhutan called Takin.  It's a goat antelope, has the face of a goat but body of a cow and covered with dense long greyish to brownish long hair.  They are found in the Tibetan plateau and Bhutan and feed on grass and is an endangered animal.

These are marijuana leaves.
Never expected to find marijuana plants thriving wild around Thimpu town.  It is illegal to pluck them and they are uprooted annually by the authorities concerned.

What is Bhutanese food......
The Bhutanese preferred food is rice which is their staple food. Bhutan is known for their red rice. It is reddish brown, has an earthy flavour with soft texture and is nutritional.
 Bhutan and Tibet are known for yak butter tea. To make good butter tea, butter must be fresh, tea must be strong and salt must always be used. This beverage called suja is normally served with crispy rice but I did not drink it as I am a non dairy person. Their local rice wine is called 'Ara'.  Every Tuesday is a non alcohol day or a Dry Day in the Kingdom, so do take note.
 Chillies are the national addiction and their chillies are real hot and spicy, be forewarned.
Emadatse which is chilli cooked in melted cheese is the national dish. Usually serve as a side vegetable dish. Its spicy and creamy.
This is the buckwheat pancake. Bhutanese are also fond of dried meat either yak, pork or beef.

Bhutanese men love archery, their national sport.  The players shoot at targets that are at an imposing yards away.  It is remarkable that the archers can see them, much less hit them.
 If they hit the target, the whole team will do the crane dance.....
A visit to  Thimpu is not complete without seeing the majestic Tashichho Dzong, the seat of the Royal Government of Bhutan.  It is a massive Bhutanese  state monastery and fortress located on the West bank of River Wang Chu.
This " fortress of glorious religion" is a grand, whitewashed, red roofed, golden tipped fortress-monasteries built by Shabrung Ngawang Namgyal, founder of Bhutan,  in 1641 to unite and defend the country from Tibetan invasions.  
The King's administrative office
It has a big Courtyard and there is a main Secretarial building which houses the Throne of the King of Bhutan.
A section of the monastery

A huge and majestic tower.....
The architecture of this Dzong is majestic with fine artistic decorations and paintings.
The auspicious Dragon paintings on the roof....
At the entrance to the Dzong, there are several beautiful paintings but there is this one superb large painting as above, " The Wheel Of Life" which signifies Samsara, journeying the eternal cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth.

On the 3rd morning, we drove to Punakha, the old capital and the journey took us 3 hours over the 10,000ft Dochula Pass with its forests and fluttering prayer flags, memorial chortens and if on a clear day sweeping views of snow capped Himalayas laid out for hundred of miles. We stopped when we reached the top, climbed out hoping to have a glimpse of this sight but it was not to be.  On this particular morning the weather was cloudy and the pass was blanketed by a layer of fog and below us the Punakha valley and beyond was dark and full of clouds.  It was cold, our breath made frosty clouds  as we shivered and dived straight for the cafeteria for a hot cuppa.
These are the 108 numbers of stupas built at the top of the Dochula Pass by Sushi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen mother  in honour of the 4th King, her husband.
These white stupas stand about 5 feet tall and their red & gold roofs glisten in the crystal clear mountain air.

From the Dochula pass, we started to wind down the mountain road which led in rushing hairpin bends and as we move along down to the valley, I could see above us on one side of the road cliffs rose up steeply, on the other fell a drop so deep.  It was not possible to see the bottom choked with creepers and trees. We followed the road as it winds down to the fertile Lobesa valley.

We hiked for an hour to Chime Lhakhang, a monastery built in the 15th Century and dedicated to the the famous saint Drukpa Kuenley known as " Divine Madman".
The monastery sits on top a picturesque hill surrounded by rice fields and it has long been a pilgrimage site for childless couples.

Padi harvesting.....
In Bhutan, the phalluses painted on the houses scare off evil spirits
This is the Bodhi tree.  In Buddhism, Buddha sat under a bodhi tree when he attained enlightenment.  The tree became a symbol of Buddha's presence.

We follow the road as it winds down through forest and paddy fields to Punakha, the weather changes from brisk mountain air to semi tropical, not that cold.
Punakha is a beautiful remote Himalayan valley on top of the world with gradually sloping rice fields and farms dotting the countryside above the Pho and Mo Chu, 2 of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan.
Everything is jungly beautiful shining in the pristine air, the glorious winter light and the river greenish
bluish reflecting the sky
The Mo Chu river is wide but shallow with clear water flowing over smooth brown stones.  The sources of these rivers are from the glacial mountains.
Beautiful exotic birds on the stoney waters....

Bhutan is also very precarious.  Along with climatic change in global warming, I was told the glaciers are melting rapidly and threaten to overflow banks of lakes and rivers, bursting out into the valleys where everybody lives.  So along with all this peaceful beauty there's a lot of vulnerability.

The Punakha Dzong was named Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, " Palace of Great Happiness and Bliss" was built by Shabdrung  in 1637 and was the seat of the Government till 1953.
The spectacular Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan
The Punakha Dzong is strategically  located at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers.
It is very picturesque surrounded by trees like a fairy castle.  It is built in the typical Bhutanese style, white with red trim and the red & yellow roof signifying a holy place.
This Dzong is huge and big enough to house a thousand monks. It is also the winter home of the Je Khempo, the head Abbot of Bhutan, along with many many monks.

Main entrance to the incredible Dzong....There is the traditional wooden staircase...
                                                                     At the courtyard....
This is one of the most architectural impressive Dzong in the country.....
Bhutanese paintings, they are exquisitely beautiful and based upon Buddhism.
                                                                    Impressive paintings
Painting of Buddhist Astrology
A monk leaning against the door watching us as we passed by...
Monks at work....
                                                               Giving offerings...
We checked into Uma Punakha,  a lovely boutique style hotel.  I like it here so zen and I never expected to find good spa massages in the Himalayas, that was indeed commendable.
 Main entrance of Uma Punakha hotel....

What a serene, calm and tranquil place...........
What a wonderful place to relax, meditate and heal body, mind & spirit through yoga.                                        
Standing in front of my room.....

Punakha, a place filled with never ending greens and the blue waters from the mountains, makes me feel like I've been transported to a page of the National Geographic.
The hotel lobby so cosy....
The Bhutanese Bukhari fireplace...
The view of the Punakha landscape from the hotel room was just too beautiful, the blue sky, the sound of river water rushing filled the air. Nearby green, red prayer flags on long poles whip gently in the wind, sending prayers off to heaven.

Not wanting to miss the great opportunity of watching the Black necked cranes, considered to be harbingers of good luck, we were prepared to take a long journey about 4 to 5 hours, through winding mountain roads, sometimes the roads are nicely paved but more often with potholes, from Punakha to Wangdue district and straight on to the exquisite Phobjikha Valley, the winter habitat for the cranes migrating from Tibet.
The achingly beautiful valley of Phobjikha in early winter.
The wide, unspoilt glacial valley of Phobjikha is rimmed by deep forest and dwarfed bamboo with vegetable farms encircling the marshland and meandering streams.
A return trip to this valley in spring/summer is in my list of 'must-visit' places. A completely different scene, full of lush green is expected.
Walking down the village.......                                      
Local village houses...
Local products made of wood and clay for sale....
 Shared my candies with the little kid.....
Stopped to say hello and spoke to this lady from the valley. She is 50 years old. Ladies from the village who have spent their whole lives outside in the sun without moisturiser generally are not as old as they look.  She wore gold turquoise earrings and necklace.  She is not poor by village standards and her hair is cut short and black, looked dyed. Her teeth and mouth was stained red from chewing betel leaf and lime, a favourite past time of the locals.  And from a distance her clothes have a smell of wood smoke.
Phobjikha Valley is located at an elevation of 10,000 ft above sea level. We took an eco nature trail walk for 4 kilometres through the beautiful environment of the valley. There's the moo moo cow resting, not bothered with passersby.
Wild berries....
Spanish moss hanging from pine trees like cobwebs.  It is a plant with heavily scaled leaves, can be used to clean the inside of bottles... like a brush.

The dwarfed bamboo
This information we came across provide details of the Spanish moss and dwarfed bamboo but what  I am truly delighted is to be reminded that the air is pristine with no pollution.
The vegetation in this high altitude glacial valley includes mixed forests of pine trees with thick brushy grasslands on the dried valley floor in early winter.
Trekking the Phobjikha valley is considered an intermediary between a trek of difficulty moderate and easy.
Almost down to the valley floor.  There is no electric cables built in the valley for protecting the cranes.
 Crossing the meadows and fields, what a vast expanse of open space......
Cows grazing...
                                                          Marshland and streams...
At this time of the year, it is the nesting ground for the endangered Black necked cranes migrating from Tibet, usually a flock of about 200 to 300 cranes come to this valley to spend the winter foraging for food. To the Bhutanese the cranes are symbols of good luck and have long been respected by the residents of the valley.
 They have become part of Bhutan in their songs, dance and even in temples.
What a graceful bird and we were lucky to see them, at times they don't appear.  However, the number of cranes coming to Bhutan is on the decline due to development and human encroachment. It's existence is being threatened.
The RSPN (Royal Society for Protection of Nature) is looking for ways to protect the habitat of cranes.

It was a long drive back over Lawala Pass and descend to Wangdue and to Punakha, again through the winding roads with many turns.  Occasionally, the road narrows to one lane track. There are still many places in Eastern Bhutan only accessible on foot.
The next day we left for Paro via Thimpu. Paro valley is at an elevation of 2,300 meters above sea level. Padi fields, apple orchards and willow trees line the Pa Chhu river while forests cloak the mountain sides.

 This is the traditional Bhutanese style hotel, the Uma Paro, a cosy place to stay....

At the Lobby.......
Way to the dining room
Waiting for my sumptuous local Bhutanese food.....

From my hotel window I could see Paro town below with roads that curled around the valley. Paro is the Kingdom's 2nd largest after the capital Thimpu and it is presently full of construction sites.

The country now allows changes and developments are accelerating at a frenzied pace. Internets and social networks are easily accessible by the younger generations who are now much exposed to the outside world. These influences of technology and media are rapidly challenging and eroding Bhutan's very foundation.  It would need quickly to adjust to interruptions from the world outside its borders, the world that had been blocked out for so long. As much as they are modernising, it is important that they take great pains to keep their traditions.  It is an ever so delicate balance.
Roofs with wooden slats held down with white stones from rivers, the quiet fields and forests that smells of pine trees in the morning air.

Taking on the Tiger's Nest (Taktsang Monastery) located at Ramthangkha, north of Paro Valley.
The most beautiful yet precariously located monasteries I have seen so far....... breathtaking indeed!
A trip to Bhutan is never complete without climbing to Taktsang Monastery.  It is one of the holiest and most sacred pilgrimage sites of the Himalayan Kingdom, perched on a high granite cliff overlooking to northern Paro Valley.
Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to this location from Eastern Bhutan on the back of a tigress ( flying tiger is the manifestation of the Tibetan Consort called Yeshi Tshogyal) bringing Buddhist teachings and he meditated in the cave at Taktsang.

Sonam planned our visit to the Tiger's Nest on day 6 of our trip, allowing us to acclimatise to the higher altitudes prior to trekking up the trail to Tiger's Nest which is about 10,000 feet above sea level.  The base of the valley is at 8,400feet which means the climb up is about 1,600 feet.

I have never set foot on places with such high altitudes and altitude sickness was my main concern for this trip. Thankfully we had adjusted to it by travelling around Bhutan and had hiked up to Chari Monastery at 9,000feet above sea level a few days earlier.

As I looked up from the foot of the mountain with the monastery partially shrouded by the morning fog, I thought it seemed to be inaccessible and wondered how this monastery ever conceived and built.

There are 2 ways of going up to the Tiger's Nest monastery, by hiking takes about 2 to 4 hours depending on your pace and fitness or on a horseback.  My husband suggested that I should take the horse thinking that I won't last several stretches of climbing with the reducing level of oxygen as the height increases.
Well..being unsure of myself, I sent for the horse, took a test ride, it has been ages I have not sat on a horse.  Oh no...it was not comfortable at all, it must be the saddle!  Think twice before you go for it because the horse will not take you to the monastery, the ride stops at the cafeteria, half way to the top.
And I was being forewarned  the horses tend to walk close to the edge of the cliff, definitely a no no for a person who has phobia of heights.  If the edge were to give way and crumbled and the horse lost its footing and slipped, the horse and I would have fallen down the steep cliff.  This is nerve-wracking!!
I was glad I made the right choice to trek up by foot.  It was challenging with the thin crisp air.
The first part of the hike was deceptively easy.
The way up became steeper and on certain parts of the trail, the path levels out again.
The thin air is clean, fresh and invigorating and the sun shining made the weather not that cold.
Despite the long hike, the trekking up was awesome as I enjoyed the serenity and the beautiful greens along the trail.  The alpine vegetation is different from the ones I see them back home, simply amazing.
Wow! there's the Spanish moss again which looked so soft and cascading down from the trees.
Lovely wild flowers....

Due to the high altitude, you may feel shortness of breath and that's when you have to go slow, stop  and take a rest.
The endless bright colours of the lunta whipping gently in the wind, sending prayers off to heaven...
After 2 hours ascent, we stopped for a break.......
Look at the colourful lungta and the prayer wheels, how not to stop by?   The feelings of peace, loving and compassionate fills your heart and by turning the prayer wheels you will be sending blessings to all sentient beings......
This would be the last station for those who took the horse ride...
Everyone stops for a cuppa or for a snack at the Taktsang cafeteria....
The location at the cafeteria has the best up close view of the monastery.......

The last stage of the trail comprises a long flight of stairs that descends rather steeply that I had to clutch on to the railings for support and then ascends all the way towards the Tiger's Nest Monastery

Knowing that the monastery is within reach, I could not feel any aches or pains but a feeling of recharged energy and went on a faster pace.

The ascent grew steeper............
Long flight of stairs,  uphill climb......  Do watch out for broken pieces of steps....

Although I was huffing and puffing up the stairs, I felt a deep sense of bliss upon arrival at Taktsang, it was a joy, a great achievement of happiness like what the Bhutanese are pursuing all the time.
At the entrance to the Monastery.....
Cameras and mobiles are prohibited inside the monastery. We walked around, offered our prayers and respects and received blessings from the resident monk.  It was indeed a journey that turned into a pilgrimage and truly filled me up with spiritual bliss.
I brought my Lungta or prayer flags inscribed with mantras to hoist on the hill top outside the monastery for happiness, long life, good luck and merit to all sentient beings. I know till today my lungta are still fluttering in the wind, sending prayers up to heaven.....  Make sure you bring along yours and have them raised too.
The trek downhill was easy, took only one hour. We are truly blessed with a great experience of the Taktsang, was a fulfilling, challenging, memorable journey and well rewarded with beautiful and amazing sceneries.  It was indeed a well worth the effort and time.
Our farewell dinner with Sonam, Gasey and Tej.  They have been great hosts, very knowledgeable, friendly and accommodating.  Thank you very much indeed Bhutan Journeys, it was a special, adventurous, spiritual and to sum it all, a fantastic and great journey, completely differently from my other vacations.  I will definitely recommend BHUTAN JOURNEYS to everyone.

I can go on and on about Bhutan but it's something you have to discover for yourself.  Bhutan's myriad holy sites offer an incredible refuge of peace and tranquility.  As magical and strangely wonderful as I found Bhutan, a place I shall revisit in the future, a chance to say  KUZUZANGPOLA again to my friends in the Dragon Country.

We bid farewell to Bhutan on 30th November 2012.

                                      ~  TASHI DELEK  ~