Today was the busiest day so far on our trip. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, is a city full of cultural attractions, textile markets and a Textile museum devoted to the many different types of weaving in Bhutan, plus a Takin Conservation Park, an artists school and the National Library. It is home to the second largest statue of Buddha in the world, as well as the holder of the worlds largest book in the Guinness Book of Records. Our itinerary today included visits to all of these and then some, plus some shopping in one of the many textile outlets in the city. Needless to say our luggage is getting heavier by the day….
Following enjoying a glorious dawn view of the city from our room –
Our first stop was the Memorial Stupa also called the Thimphu Chorten. The Chorten is a popular destination for many of Thimphu’s older population due to its central location and easy accessibility. Food is served every day to all comers. Todays offering was porridge served in the area behind the Stupa.
After a tour of the inside of the Stupa we set off for our next destination shedding jackets as the morning sun began to warm the chill from earlier in the day.
Once underway our transport made its way up a windy road rimmed with prayer flags as we climbed out of the valley (enjoying stunning views of Thimphu and the surrounding hills) to the Buddha Dordenma overlooking the southern approach to Thimphu. Prayer flags, considered sacred and holy – are everywhere here. Tall white prayer flags – called Manidhar – are attached to poles. They are found along road ways and in groups on the hillsides in Bhutan. Manidhar are raised on behalf of a deceased person. They can be raised singly or in batches of 108 (an auspicious number here). Lungdhar are the commonly seen square or rectangular prayer flags, connected along their top edges and hung horizontally or diagonally on a string. They come in 5 colours white, red, yellow, blue and green. White signifying air, good fortune and purifying negative karma; Blue signifying sky/space, health and longevity; Yellow signifying earth, victory over obstacles; Green signifying water, compassion; and Red signifying fire and wish fulfillment.
The Buddha is 169 feet high, constructed of bronze and gilded with gold: its function to bring peace and prosperity to the world. Construction was completed in 2015 at a cost of over $100 million dollars. The interior is breath taking and contains, in addition to some incredible wall paintings and column decorations, 125,000 eight inch and twelve inch tall gilded bronze Buddhas purchased by donations. Unfortunately photography inside the Buddha is not permitted. Hopefully the photos of the exterior will give you some idea of the grandeur of the site.
Following our exploration of the site we followed the road down into the valley, enjoying breathtaking valley views, to the Takin Conservation park where a breeding population of Takin – the National animal of Bhutan – is maintained. Similar in appearance with muskox but more closely related to sheep, this odd looking ungulate is listed as vulnerable in Bhutan and is considered endangered in China. Poaching for horns and habitat destruction are two major threats to the Takin. In addition to Takin, the rescue park contained breeding populations of Sambar deer, barking deer and Himalayan goats. It was an interesting hour or so learning about the animals and the conservation efforts on their behalf.
The Voluntary Artists School was next on the list. This is an institute where young people can obtain an education in traditional mask making, metal work, weaving, painting, wood work, sculpture, tailoring and embroidery. Visiting the various classrooms was fascinating and the calibre of work outstanding.
We finished the day at the Museum for Textiles totally blown away by the intricacies and skill required of the many forms of weaving in Bhutan. More to come tomorrow when we visit the weavers themselves along with a view extra stops before arriving at our next destination Punakha. Stay tuned for more updates!