Thursday, January 7, 2016

Seven Days Bhutan Trip - A Travelogue - Part III

Day 3 – 23 Nov 15 – Thimphu Local Sights

Today it was to be local sight seeing at Thimphu. We started off around 0900 with first task being to apply for beyond Thimphu permit. We went to this office of immigration at Thimphu where our driver submitted the application for permit and I went in only to sign. The permit was to be ready post Lunch.

Not counting the stop for submitting our permit application, our first stop of the day was at National Institute of Zorig Chusum  or Arts and Crafts institute commonly also referred as Painting School by some. It is a government of Bhutan institute. A board on one of the buildings says “Get Skilled be Somebody. Be useful to Yourself, Be useful to Parents, Be useful to Community, Be useful to Tsa-Na-Sun (I have no clue what Tsa-Na-Sun means)”.
Institute Letterhead
The Motto of "Painting School"
As understood while talking to some students, people peruse their University degree, etc. However, those who can’t make  cut for university education are encouraged to follow training courses in traditional Bhutanese arts.

One of the School Building
There are courses that are offered for four year duration and may be one or two odd courses are of five year duration. It is obvious that these course are in depth and intense. The school offers courses in Painting, Wood Carving, Sculpturing, Embroidery, Weaving, etc. It is a visual treat and a photographer’s delight to watch, keeping silent,  these people going about their training. The eye for details and objective of attaining perfection is worth mentioning. It is a don’t miss place provided one can respect their work and maintain silence. 

Painting Class

They also have a shop selling the students creation. Entry fee to the institute for a visit, if I remember correctly, is Rs 100 per person.

In Their Store
Student's Work on Sale
After this visit we went to some local handicraft shops while walking to Folk Heritage Museum. Bought nothing much as felt the prices beyond our budget though our visit to craft school had educated us about the efforts in creating these handicraft.

Folk Heritage Museum is in a big compound where one enters through a gate, not very ornate but a simple one. After buying tickets (Rs 20 per person as I recollect) a flight of stairs takes us to this Three story country house built in traditional rustic Bhutanese style. As we entered the courtyard, we got to see demonstration  of a traditional Bhutanese snack “Rosted Rice” or Zaw Ngowni. In this, the rice is soaked in water for about 8 hours, pat dried on a cloth and rested on the cloth for about hour and then roasted in a  thick pan till fully crunchy. The roasting can be dry or with oil and Bhutanese seem to be using Mustard oil. It is an all time Bhutanese snack. We tasted it when hot  and fell in love with it.

Having polished some Zaw Ngowni, we proceeded into the house. The ground floor was meant for the animals of the household and it had related items for tending them, etc on display. First floor was mainly the cook house which had the kitchen utensils and gadgets like Noodle maker, Mustard oil extractor (yes they extracted their own mustard oil), etc. Since photography in the house is not allowed, I am placing some photos of the courtyard of this place.
Sitting Area of Folk Heritage Museum

In the Courtyard of Folk Heritage Museum
The top floor was house temple, living area (and the guest stayed in house temple) and a balcony. This floor thus had appropriate items of display related to living room. There is actually a fourth floor which is covered roof top used as a store house. Only issue I see in visiting this place is climbing up to various   stories. Those having problem climbing would feel bad that they can’t visit this place. This place also has a restaurant which serves traditional Bhutanese food for individuals and groups. We had lunch there (after finishing day’s sight seeing). The National Library was next place to visit but since it was only to view its two buildings, we decided to give a skip to it.

After finishing this visit we went to viewing point. As the visit to Thimphu Dzong and Parliament House is not allowed, only way to get glimpse of them is from this view point. The Dzong (from this height and distance also) looked big, decorated and grand. Made in Bhutanese style ( and that is my complaint, all the architecture is generally in one style, Bhutanese) it looks very colourful. The Parliament building right behind is also similar in looks and décor.
Thimphu Dzong from View Point
The main surprise came when our driver pointed very grayish looking single storied buildings in a forested complex right of the Dzong and stated that they are Palace complex of fifth (and current) King. Having been used to Grand Palaces of Rajasthan, we just could not believe him and reconfirmed the fact with a Tour Guide in the vicinity who confirmed it. We were told that the bigger and grander palace is outside the town where the fourth king lives.
Parliament House, See One of the Palace in the right front corner with green roof
Next place on the agenda was visit to a old Buddhist temple called Changangkha Lhakhang, a 15th century temple on a hillock. A highly revered place by people of Thimphu valley. All new born children are brought to this Avalokeshvara Temple (temple of Buddha of Compassion with 11 heads and 1000 arms) for their first outing after birth to either obtain a name from the priest or to have ‘darshans’ of lord Buddha. It is temple built in old style. Not as grand as other Dzongs it has its grandeur in the prayer bells, about 50 of them, along the periphery of the temple building. Though this place is on a height, it has both stairs and ramp to climb and hence is manageable for everyone to climb.

In the Courtyard of the Temple

Prayer Wheels Around the Temple

Another View

Big Prayer Wheel inside

 Another place the list (after we decided to skip Traditional Medicine Instutute) was Buddha Point at  Kuensel  Phodrang.  This place has a big statue of Buddha or Shakyamuni also called Buddha Dordenma Statue. In this over 51 m height statue gilded with gold lie over 125000 smaller Buddha statues (which of course we cannot see). Situated on a ledge of a hill this massive Buddha sits atop a throne placed on a two story platform. Devotees can do Pradakshina of Buddha at both levels of massive platforms. On the second level, right under the throne of mighty Buddha is a temple of Four headed Buddha with gold plated columns and other structure. This place is going to have a massive complex built around but it is still Work in Progress. Both the Buddha and the various sculptures and the temple at level two are worth making a trip.

The Buddha Statue with Aura (Courtesy The Sun Lurking behind the statue) 
Final destination was Memorial Chorten, a stupa like memorial built in memory of third King of Bhutan. This place is regularly visited by members of Royal family. When we visited this place, some kind of nonstop prayers were being rendered and the place had plenty of devotees taking rounds (Pradakshina) of the Chorten. We did visit it but soon left the place and returned to hotel. 

The Memorial Chorten

While my wife and other people choose to stay at Clock tower area to have lunch, me and my son choose to have traditional Bhutanese Lunch at Folk Heritage Museum. The museum has a restaurant which serves only Bhutanese food including Roasted rice and running snack. Their menu has all the typical Bhutan things, Ema Datsey, Potato Cheese, Red rice, Chicken and pork Bhutan style and other such things. The butter tea Suja is a constant companion. The food was good but three days trying out local food finished my enthusiasm after this lunch.

 After the Lunch we both decided to give a look to National Library buildings, to which we had given a skip. It was a good thing that we did. There are two buildings of National Library, the old traditional building and also new modern building but again constructed in Bhutanese style (how else one expects building to be done up in Bhutan). Both building were proportional from center line and very colorful. They were real photographers delight. We photographed them to heart’s satisfaction.

National Library New Building

Painting in the Lobby

National Library Old Block

Post this visit we walked back to hotel Shantideva and relaxed for a while. There was a cultural programme happening at Clock Tower and we could watch it from the room window. We enjoyed the programme but it got over at 1930 in true Bhutan tradition. Post this programme it was dinner and the sleep in anticipation of tomorrow’s trip to Punakha.

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