Our next stay was in Bhumthang. Reached after a seven hours drive (200 km) over a bumpy road. We visited temples and monasteries. Monasteries are a vital part of the Bhutanese culture. The monks (and nuns) busy themselves with reading, memorising the daily prayers, learning dharma dances, drawing mandala’s, learning the melodies of sacred rituals, learning the use of ceremonial instruments, the art of making sacrificial objects,studying grammar and poetry. They meditate for hours each day.
We visited Dochula Pass at 3116 metres (10,223 feet). The pass is topped with 108 whitewashed Chortens (stupa’s). Inside each chorten are images of Buddhist gods made of clay stuffed with papers inscribed with prayers. A bit further away I saw the temple, Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, perched high up on a hillock. Let’s go up, then. Being halfway I saw this group of colourfully dressed people coming down the hill. I took my iPad to shoot a picture, but out of the blue came this man who put a hand over my iPad and shook his head solemnly: no pics.
So the group passed me and went down. I shot my pic from their backsides. Up, in front of the temple, I found a red carpet covered with rice decorations. Later I showed our guide Jigme my pics, who were these people? That is our queen and her entourage. Look, this is her back, in front of the group.
Later we went to another temple, Tamshing Joemba (Temple of the Good Message). We gazed at original paintings by the ancient Pema Lingpa (early 15th century). In the inner chapel lay a cloak of chainmail. Would we like to try it? And Jigme and Karma hoisted the cloak around my shoulders, I clung my thumbs in the chains and hop, a walk had to be made around the kora. The bloody thing weighs 25 kg! By each step it became heavier. So, I was very pleased to see the fourth corner, almost done. But no, there was another corner, and another… See it as a metaphor. You’re supposed to carry your sins around. Well, my sins were heavy, that’s for sure. Would I like to do another round? Uhm no, thank you. Then it was Kate’s turn. She wore the cloak with dignity. Pics were not allowed.
The second day of our stay in Bumthang I had installed myself in the dining room, next to the woodburner. A cup of coffee, and my kindle. People around me were busy doing their jobs. Kate was still in our room and would join me later. Dinner would be served soon. All was good.
Then they started to chirp and chat and decorate one of the chairs. A beautiful woven cloth over it, with frills and ties. You could feel the atmosphere change. Then, suddenly, the door flew open wide and in came this big man, dressed in red robes, striding and smiling. Everyone was bowing. He took his seat. And in they came, from everywhere, chambermaids, the cook, kitchen aids, drivers, people from around, they all went on their knees and kissed his stretched hand. The official blessed them all. A group of Chinese tourists entered and yelped with excitement. Would he please? Would he? A picture? The authority consented. Group pics were taken. And I took mine, pretending I was reading my kindle.
When all the commotion had died down a bit, he noticed me. “Hello! Where are you from?” “I’m from the Netherlands and I live in England”, I answered. “Oh, the Netherlands! Hoe maak je het? (which is ‘how do you do’ in Dutch)” And we had a pleasant little chat. He knew about Amsterdam. “And are you here on a holiday?” I asked the man, innocently. No no, he was just visiting a temple and a friend.
That was fun. Later I asked the waiter, Who is this man? Khenpo Rinpoche! Wow. (it means an honorific term used to refer to a religious person recognised as a lama or an abbot of a monastery.)
Well, I had seen the Queen and a Rinpoche within a day, not bad.