Days off

It would have been nice to sleep in this weekend but with my brain still on EDT, I continue to wake up at 0400. No problem. I feel pretty good.

On Saturday, after breakfast and a coffee we headed off for a Buddhist teaching lead by Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Although there is some controversy about his past, he is revered and beloved by the Bhutanese.  His book is a good one.   The session was informative, fun and inspirational. We spent the rest of the day hanging out and reading.

On Sunday we were able to engage a guide and driver to take us to the Tiger’s Lair (aka Tiger’s Nest), probably the most famous Buddhist shrine in Bhutan. Located at 3150 m (10,300 ft) and (apparently) suspended precariously on the edge of a cliff, it is really breathtaking. Although the climb up was challenging for me, it was well worth it.

It is hard to imagine how they built it. The path up is narrow and in some places pretty steep with great exposure.  All the way up we were able to catch glimpses of it from various angles, bathed in sunlight one time and floating on mist another.  The site itself  is on a vertical cliff with not much of a ledge for support. The fact that a good portion of it had to be rebuilt with the aid of some 20th century tools after a 1998 fire in no way detracts from the original feat. I am not aware that the Bhutanese possessed the kind of great technological skills that the Incas had.  Instead, the they have always been about inner exploration.  This shrine is a testament to hard work and devotion to and inspiration of important spiritual icons and events.   Again, Dharmasuri will embellish thinks with her picts.

Western Bhutan, between Thimbu and Paro seems to be relatively prosperous. Outside of Thimphu, agriculture thrives; commerce is developing in the city. The houses reflect the appearance of success. Most are multi-storied with walls built of compacted mud and straw (bricks are more in evidence in newer homes) and floors supported by large beams. They appear to be stoutly constructed.  Windows and doors are framed by solid, wooden trim that is curved rather than horizontal and vertical.  The exposed beam ends, posts and the trim covering the headers that support the roofs are intricately hand painted. The roofs are relatively flat and raised at the base so that there is ventilation space all around the building above the header supporting the roof.  This configuration helps to ventilate and dry produce that is usually stored in the equivalent of an attic.  Oftentimes the roofs, whether metal or long, wooden shingles, are held down, in place by rocks.  Frequently the first floor areas house livestock. To my eye, these structures are an interesting hybrid between Asian buildings (the roofs)  and Swiss alpine homes or structures. 

The food has been surprisingly good for a vegetarian. Most meals consist of rice, beans and a variety roasted or fried vegetables. Most recently we have even been eating a lot of  fiddlehead greens and asparagus. They like hot chilies in their food; I have been surprised by some fairly hot ones that have surprised me in some dishes. In fact, I have felt a bit like a glutton here. In addition to 3 meals/day, we have had tea twice/day complete with fried or baked vegetable hors d’oeuvres, like samosas.

Monday, we head toward Bumthang and Jakar in Central Bhutan. This will require a ten hour drive, up and downhill on curvy, narrow roads. Then we will have 2 days to recon. There are apparently plenty of shrines and sacred places to keep Dharmasuri occupied while we teach.

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