Travelling to the Kingdom of Happiness – A first look

Our tour guide’s name is Karma (I thought it was a girl’s name) and he’s a strong, dark-skinned man with keen round eyes. The sun must have been unkind to his skin, for at 36 he looks older than his age, especially with the wrinkles around his eyes. When he speaks he places a strong accent on every other syllable, making him sound somewhat too keen and serious. He presented me with the white silk scarf called karta, and told me that I had to put it round my neck myself ‘cos he was not a monk. We had to catch up on the itinerary, so almost immediately we were taken to two sights in Paro. First, we went to one of the country’s oldest monasteries – a modest but very peaceful place. There Karma began to educate us on elementary icon recognition, which continued right through the end of the trip.

Then he took us to Paro Dzong, a very important 17th-century administration cum monastic fortress complex. We were told the guardian deities of the four cardinal points, which we subsequently found in almost all religious and administrative architectures in Bhutan. There’s also a painting of the Old Man of Longevity as well as the Four Friends on both sides of the vestibule – both repetitive motifs of Bhutanese architecture. I will talk more about these paintings in detail in a later post. The Dzong was quite grand, but it failed to invoke the sort of awe one experiences in face of immortal architecture.

All three of us were exhausted so, although I tried very hard to be polite and converse with Karma during the drive to Thimphu, I just couldn’t help but fell asleep. By the time we reached our hotel in the capital city it was sunset hour. The hotel is located on the extension of the main road in Thimphu – a six-storey purposely built structure of timber and stone façade. There is a very nice front area for parking, which is decorated with lots of potted plants (seems to be a common feature in Bhutan), and the reception is small but comfortable. We were possibly too tired to accept their tea reception upon arrival and went straight to our rooms. Took a nice hot shower, and caught up on some sleep before dinner with our hostess – Karma’s wife.

Thimphu’s centre comprises of two parallel main streets that stretch for about one kilometer. An expressway leads to the city centre, the arrival of which is marked by a traffic control station at the entrance. There is no traffic light in Bhutan, and its capital is no exception. So all traffic affairs are directed by policemen, and they should be glad that Bhutanese drivers are generally very polite and the traffic is not as busy as it gets in other capital cities.

Dinner was at possibly the most fancy place in town, as we rubbed shoulders with Indian film stars and Bhutanese celebrities. Tshering, Karma’s wife reserved a table at the place and we had some rather decent buffet, together with a few groups of elderly tourists from Europe. Karma was keen on talking politics, and we spent half the dinner telling him that China is communist in ideology and capitalist in reality. After dinner I wanted to take a walk but our hosts insisted on driving us back. It was a cold night so we gladly accepted.Before taking us back to the hotel, we took a brief look at the lit-up Tashichho Dzong, which look like a shopping mall from a distance.

Tashichho Dzong at night

Tashichho Dzong at night

Back in the hotel room, I discovered an extra radiator placed there while I was away. It’s a nice gesture but sleeping in an oven is not my idea of comfort. Boiled some water for my herbal medicine tea. Took it and fell asleep almost immediately.

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