It feels like a time warp because you seem to travel back in time to an isolated place that is largely unaffected by modern times. For example, there is not a single traffic light in the entire country.  Bhutan is a small (less than one million inhabitants) country located on the southern slopes of the Himalayas east of Nepal, south of Tibet, and north of India. It’s culturally, religiously and ethnically (with small exceptions in the south) a homogeneous nation ruled by a benevolent king. The religion is tantric Mahayana Buddhism which is similar to the Buddhism in Tibet. The rock painting above depicts the most important religious figure, Guru Rinpoche (in Sanskrit Padmasambhava, the “lotus-borne-one”) who visited Bhutan in 746 CE and is worshipped as the second Buddha in Bhutan.

 

 

Just in case someone wonders where Bhutan is, here is a map and a Google Earth picture. It is a Himalayan country that is east of Nepal and south of Tibet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flags are everywhere. Some have religious texts on them and some have prayers. The idea is that the wind detaches the text so it can float away to an appropriate destination or recipient (like a wave detaches from an antenna and propagates to a receiver). A similar concept applies to prayer wheels and their motion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The colors of these flags have special meanings in Buddhism. White symbolizes iron, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes wood, yellow symbolizes earth, and blue symbolizes water,

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is typical architecture and decoration for houses and other buildings in Bhutan. They are beautiful in their colors and meticulous in the execution of details. This particular building is a private temple (Tamchhog Lhakhang).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the confluence of two rivers we found different styles of chortens (all chortens contain religious relics): Nepalese, Tibetan, and Bhutanese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two good looking locals in their traditional outfits. The King is trying to get the people to maintain their culture as well as its dress.

 

 

This is our guide Karma. He obviously chews beetle nuts, something you often find in south-east Asia. Smoking is not allowed in Bhutan.

Yvonne with Karma at the entrance of the new museum in Thimphu, the capital. Note the beautiful colors and craftsmanship of the building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvonne, Karma, and the ubiquitous prayer flags.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the natural setting of the rock painting of Guru Rinpoche shown in the title picture.

 

The little house in the foreground has a bell. The clapper is turned by a stream that runs down the mountain and goes under the little house. There is a constant tinkling sound. To hear this sound is to share merit (the reward for having done something religious or nice).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merit may be achieved by spinning the prayer wheels which contain holy texts or prayers. The wheels are spun in a clockwise manner. Likewise, the person moves to the next wheel in a clockwise manner as a circuit is made around the building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Locals watching us watch them as we walk back down and they walk up. It was rather steep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enchanted forest scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A covered bridge built in 1620 and, yes, flags…They’re always beautiful and wonderful to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These guys are spinning giant prayer wheels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He has his own little prayer wheel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A typical farm house with quite common paintings. Yes, it is an erect, ejaculating penis. Quite shocking to our eyes that are conditioned by a “sex-is-sinful” western religious tradition. Here in Bhutan it’s an expression of power and fertility as it was in Greco-Roman pre-Christian times where similar public displays were common. It also represents the most colorful of their gurus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just in case you wanted to get a closer look. The guy even earned a ribbon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the snow at the top of the Dochu La pass (10000 ft) we saw this forest of prayer flags. It was very cold but we all stayed outside a long time because it was so very beautiful there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the pass there were dozens of little chortens (pagodas) that we were allowed to climb around.

 

 

 

Behind the chortens above, we stopped at the small tea house to get warm. We admired this colorful ceremonial robe which had been made by the family member shown here in the picture. This robe and mask are worn by the lead dancer in a very important festival dance. The dance is used to teach what happens to sinners when they die. He portrays the judge. For example, when a dancer goes by with a deer’s head in a basket (he has obviously killed – against Buddhist rules) an action is taken condemning the killer.

 

The robe and mask were for sale and are now displayed in our house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the middle of nowhere, our bus stopped for this lady and her son from the border with Tibet. They had traveled for three weeks by the time we saw her. She’d come to sell jewelry. That’s a traditional hat from her area and one of our group bought it from her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are more houses with their paintings. Some of the paintings are quite entertaining and funny, like the two guys below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A happy, proud mother and her son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couldn’t resist photographing this little fellow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A monk crossing a very long suspension bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punakha Dzong dates from 1637. Dzongs are buildings for both monastic communities and civilian governments (like county seats).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A magnificent old tree in one of the courtyards of Punakha Dzong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A monk in this monastery. Note the very common decoration in the picture. The same pattern is used in the background for this web page. It depicts a sun with a moon inside and symbolizes the union of two opposites (sun and moon are perceived as opposites, like male and female) achieving non-duality. Non-duality is a very important concept in tantric Buddhism and we’ll see more examples later on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More scenes from the monastery..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An inside look of a worship area in the Punakha Dzong temple. Some details of the photos below: on the right an image of Guru Rinpoche. On the left, a Buddha image shown in a sexual union with a female. Sexual union is considered achieving non-duality for the male-female opposites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were just as much watched as we watched.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we’re visiting Chimi Lakhang, a monastery built in 1499 by the Lama Drukpa Kunley who is also called the Divine Madman. People make a pilgrimage to this place if they want to have children. You get blessed with a wooden penis (we did) and even the door lock (below right) is true to the theme.

 

The picture below on the left is the guardian of the east who the lord of the celestial musicians.

 

The Divine Madman inspires the painting of penises on country homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most famous places in all of Bhutan is Takt Shang Goemba, the so-called Tiger’s Nest. It hangs on an 1800’ cliff. Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown to this site on the back of a tiger before meditating in a cave for 3 months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way up to view the Tiger’s Nest (you can see it through the prayer flags just above the center and a bit to the right in the picture), we found this little building housing a prayer wheel which also rang a little bell). The Tiger’s Nest is a monastery and is not open to the public. Some tele-shots of the Tiger’s Nest are shown below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is another monastery, Paro Dzong, and a picture of the guardian of the west holding a chorten in one hand and a snake in the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the monastic quarters of Paro Dzong live some 200 monks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paintings on the wall of Paro Dzong depict the mandala (tantric cosmic diagram).

 

 

 

 

 

 

A major street and shops in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. To shop, these women stand outside and request items through the open windows as the shops are too small for people (beside the owners) to be inside.

 

There are no stoplights in the entire country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sanga, our driver, plays a Bhutanese string instrument and sings melodic, very gentle and soft songs for our group. He was very nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our flight from Bhutan to India we got this spectacular view of mount Everest. Flying to/from Delhi, India we went along the Himalayas. The weather was perfect and we saw Everest each direction.

 

It’s an amazing sight! Also note it’s at our flight level!