Paro has doubled in size over the last 13 years, just like Thimphu. Since it is the home of the only international airport in the country, western amenities abound, and the shopping is delightful.
(By the way, Paro is one of the most challenging airports in the world, the pilot basically has to fly down a narrow valley, then hang a turn just before putting the plane down on a short, narrow runway. Check out this YouTube video for an idea of the experience. I remember looking out the window at the steep, terraced hillsides in 2004, and seeing people wave at the plane 🙂
I’m looking for thangkas and art. I am not disappointed. I find a local thangka painter, and spend a few hours in his studio, buying some beautiful work and admiring others in progress.
We not only get to tour Paro Dzong, but we drive up into the mountains to Ugyen Guru Lhakhang, a monastery that preserves a number of sacred magical items that are many hundreds of years old. The Rinpoche at the monastery brings some of them out for us, and we get to see a rock weep water, and other objects. There seem to be many stories about this place, although in honesty, there seem to be many stories about all of the dzongs and monasteries we have visited.
Now it’s my birthday, July 12th, and we set off for the Haa valley in the western part of the country. Again, this is new territory for me. The roads takes us over the highest pass I’ve traversed, and we descend into a lovely valley that seems pretty much untouched by western influence. Although there is electricity here and there, and we see transmission lines carrying hydro power westward into India.
On the 13th, we adventure to a cave/retreat spot where Machig Labdrön apparently lived. It’s over a ridge from a monastery, and the path is steep up and down to reach it. Spectacular views, basically perched on the side of a cliff. Unfortunately, it’s locked so we cannot enter.
However, our young guide, a monk perhaps 11 year old, tells us there is a shorter way back to the monastery. All we have to do is follow this path along the cliff. Oh, my god.
Alas, the trip is coming to a close. We return the next day to Paro, with just enough time for a last round of shopping. On July 15th, we climb into the plane for our return to Bangkok. 18 glorious days.
Now that I’m back in the lap of luxury, and I’m left with some longing to spend more time in Bhutan. There are opportunities to teach, and one monk told me his monastery would be happy to sponsor me for six months, if I would come live with them and speak English. I would learn a lot about Vajrayana practice, that’s for sure. Every school child is learning English, and most people have cell phones now (it’s oddly amusing to see an ancient Lama peering at his phone).
The country is doing well, striking a fine balance between preserving tradition and accepting modern convenience. The ecology is still pretty pristine, the constitutional monarchy is pulling the people slowly towards a fully democratic form of government. My heart stays open, remembering.