Monday, July 4, 2011
Undeniably Bhutan's most famous landmark, this place is even more spectacular than any picture or written description can convey. After what most would consider a fairly strenuous hike, one passes by what is known as the "cafeteria," a rest stop with a wonderful view. Continuing on, an unreal number of stone steps are negotiated up and down to gain access to this monastery. Once there, all cameras, cell phones and bags are left in a store room. You are subjected to a manual pat down search by the Bhutanese authorities to make sure you are not sneaking some contraband inside this holy place. Names and numbers are recorded. The locals are required to wear their national dress, a gho for men and kira for women. My short sleeved, polyester sport shirt met with some unhappy looks and it was requested that I cover it with a jacket which of course I did not have. I thought it was my bare arms which were offensive but when one of the monks loaned me his zip up vest and this made the guards happy, I realized it was something about my shirt that was unacceptable. Being allowed to visit this place, one cannot help but feel deeply honored, for this is no simple tourist attraction. Difficult to put words to it, but there is magic there. I visited a half dozen rooms which were open to visitor's that day, many more closed and locked. Each room was elaborately decorated with paintings, tapestries, flags, statues and alters. Prayers were made in each room and holy water was taken when offered by the monks. Somewhat odd was the fluorescent lighting and the chirping of smoke alarms with low batteries, but understandable given the extensive destruction caused by fire several years ago.