Forty Hours in Thimpu (Concludes)
My co-driver, keen to do a spot of sightseeing, too, joined me as we roared up towards the BBS tower for another spectacular view of the Thimpu Valley. A repeated recommendation we didn’t want to pass up. Except that it was the wrong time of day. Looking east from our vantage perch, our eyes reeled from the blinding glare of an increasingly brightening sun, instead of the promised visual treat.
Some disappointing photos later, we drove to the Motithang Takin Preserve located a short distance away. Only to discover it was their weekly off. We walked around the periphery of the cool, shady environs of the huge wooded enclosure hoping to catch a glimpse of the Himalayan kingdom’s elusive national animal.
The takin, with the looks of a crossed gnu and musk deer, has a curious tale associated with its inception. Besides the fact that the takin is rare, unique and native to Bhutan, it additionally holds mythological significance.
Legend goes that it is the creation of one Lama Drukpa Kuenley, affectionately called the Divine Madman. Asked to prove his credentials by performing a miracle, he proceeded to consume the flesh of an entire goat and an entire cow. Then placing the goat’s skull over the cow’s skeleton he gave the creature life, setting it to graze in the mountains. Et voila, the herbivorous takin was born.
Next on my list was the Dechen Phodrang monastery. This houses the state monastic school and marks the site of Thimpu’s original dzong (administration complex). Half expecting it to be closed, given our luck that day, I had simply tempted fate. The day wasn’t quite turning out as planned! I got a sense of the inside worth by peering at the 12th century paintings through crevices in the door. Also by chatting with young monks on their mid-day break. They would know; they spend a good eight years here imbibing divine knowledge.
Not far from the monastery stood the large Trashi Chhoe Dzong, magnificently proportioned yet exuding the modest demeanour of monastic tradition. The office issuing passes to visitors was on lunch break (naturally!) but a polite request explaining paucity of time found me being escorted around the imposing complex by a police guard in tow (I so believe in silver linings, never mind they carry lethal weapons). Exiting the premises, I walked over a traditional cantilevered foot bridge to take pictures of the dzong from across the river.
The sun was beating down on us as we headed for our last but one stop, the weekly farmers’ mart. Hoping for some bargains on local craft, excitement soon gave way to dismay as I discovered most produce was either Nepalese or Indian in origin. Clothes included. Although I did succumb to temptation and came away with a cotton kira (woven in Assam) and silk undershirt with brocade toega (imported from Sikkim).
A whirlwind round of the National Memorial Choeten built by Queen Phuntsho Choden Wangchuk, in memory of her son King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, wound up the touristy leg of the day. With no time to freshen up, we rushed straight to the Clock Tower Square for the prize distribution ceremony followed by a rock show.
On learning of my shopping spree, Choki offered to kit me out in the traditional dress for an official party at the Kisa Hotel later that night. It was quite a hit, even if I say so myself. Confident at the steel reinforcement (read safety-pins) holding the outfit together, I even managed to shake a leg without any embarrassing malfunctions!
Reluctant goodbyes later, I returned to pack and ready for an early morning departure. I had barely slept when the alarm jolted me awake. My forty hours were over; it was time to leave. The lack of souvenirs notwithstanding, I carried with me indelible memories of a happy, hospitable people. More importantly, I carried friendships…