Jul 132017

Westward ho. It’s July 6th, and we leave Bumthang valley in the morning to climb the 11,000-foot pass back toward Trongsa. The pass is, of course, marked by a stupa and many prayer flags. It is still rainy, and the roads are still muddy and slippery. We take a break before our driver skillfully pilots us back to the Trongsa Dzong.

It’s not an ideal day for visiting Trongsa, as the clouds and rain and fog are persistent. Yet our troop happily explores, and I’ll again let the photos do the talking.

Another six hours of driving on muddy roads, and we pass back through Wangdue Phodrang, where we spend the night. The next day we drive about five more hours to reach Thimphu.

This is the largest city in Bhutan, the location of the only traffic signal, and the center of commerce. I’ve never stayed here before. Almost everyone wears western-style clothing, and there are enough vehicles that traffic is a problem.

We spend time hiking up in the hills south of town to a small monastery, then go shopping the next day. Wandering around the town is a pleasure, there is much going on. Of course, we have to walk past the traffic signal.

The next day, we are treated to a Chöd ceremony, led by a monk with a group of local women. I have been exposed to Chöd in my own studies, however I am totally surprised to find out that it is widely practiced in Bhutan by lay people, mostly women. Transmitted by Machig Labdrön in the 11th century, it has apparently become an important personal puja (prayer) ritual for many Bhutanese.

It’s a beautiful experience, conducted in a large room in what might be someone’s home or perhaps a less formal practice space, in an otherwise unassuming part of town. They have created a lovely altar, with many offerings of fruit and flowers. We’re enraptured to sit in their space and feel the ritual flow through us. I’ve written more about it separately.

That afternoon, we’re back on the bus for the 2-hour drive to Paro, where we arrived nearly two weeks ago. I and my backpack settle in to another nice hotel. I have to say, accommodations in Bhutan are far more comfortable on this trip than they were in 2004, when there were few hotels and resorts in the country. Now, we get treated to nice mattresses, central heat, linens, hot water and really good food everywhere we have gone.

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