Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Temples, Temples and still more Temples

Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist Kingdom.  Sikkim, and Nepal are no longer kingdoms.  So we expected to visit many temples and monasteries.  However I was not prepared for how the sights, sounds, and smells of temples and monasteries would become commonplace and part of our daily lives. I will narrate this sections of the blog chronologically, so please pardon this writer if he repeats himself.

Paro Rigung Dzong

Paro Rigung Dzong

Shortly after landing in Paro (and we had already seen several temples/monasteries perched on mountain sides and ridges during our landing approach) we were driven by our host, Rattu, into Paro town.  On our way we stopped to view our first dzong.  A dzong is a combination building, part administrative and part religious.  The Paro Ripung Dzong sits on a promontory overlooking the town of Paro, the valley, and is visible from almost any point in the valley.  I was to learn that dzongs are always located in key defensive positions, usually with rivers on two sides.  To gain entrance to the Dzong you either walked across a bridge, or as we did, drove around to the back and parked with the rest of the administrative staff.  However, this was a quiet dzong.  We did not hear monks chanting nor did we hear temple horns.  Now while dzongs are magnificent building, build on challenging geography, and build to defend the local warlord (in ancient times) they are not indestructible.  They are subject to earthquakes, and more importantly fires.
Later the same afternoon we went to the burned out Drukgyel dzong.

Tiger's Nest

Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest)

The next day we were challenged physically in our ride/hike to the Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest).  Besides its remote location, it was where the sounds of Tibetan/Bhutanese temple horns first penetrated my ears.  They sound in a low register announcing prayers, opening closing of the monastery, and accompanying services.  Their reverberation mimics the deep throat singing heard in the monasteries.

It was here in the Tiger's Nest that we began to appreciate the smell of butter.  Rattu carried with him several  kg of processed "palm oil" for burning in the butter lamps.  Palm oil is a substitute for the costly cow and yak butter that is used on the altars.  What I noticed were plenty of fire extinguishers and new electrical wiring.  The monks of Bhutan appear to be taking fire prevention safety seriously.  It was here that I began to appreciate the sheer number of monks in monasteries.  We encountered numerous monks while ascending the mountain, and on the long staircase to Tiger's Nest.  Even some of the young monks were breathing as hard as Liz and I.  Each of the individual temple rooms was staffed by at least two monks, and there appeared to be many more behind the scenes.  On our way down the mountain, we met a young woman who was ascending to visit her uncle, a monk, and provide him with food and other supplies.  She said she made the trip at least monthly.

Tsitu Goemba

Tsitu Goemba

The final monastery visited in Paro was the Tsitu Goemba.  A small Goemba just outside of Paro, it sits above rice paddy fields.  The walls surrounding the Goemba are filled with niches containing prayer wheels.  We circled the Goemba spinning each and every wheel.  It was relatively early in the morning and we had to find the monk to open the sanctuary.  Otherwise this was a quiet Goemba, but there are plans on expanding it over the next few years.

Out trip through Thimphu did not include any temple, or monastery visits.  Those would wait until our return 10 days later.

Workers near Dachu La Chorten

Dachu La

Unfortunately I have no pictures from this monument and the vehicles surrounding it.  The monument is comprised of a group of 108 chortens arranged on a small hillock with a road surround it.  As we would find on our way east, many chortens have roadways circling them so drivers can do their turns (sometimes as many as three).  At Dachu La I saw a truck marked Danger Explosives.  Another sign on the drivers door indicated "absolutely no riders", and leaning out the windows were three small children.  I guess family are not considered riders.  This collection of chortens was created to atone for the deaths during the fight against Assamese rebels who were using Bhutan as a refuge from their war in Assam state in India.  On a hill beside the chortens is a new temple commissioned by the 4th King of Bhutan.  The interior is striking with the modern motif murals on the walls.  A mixture of traditional motifs and modern images.  We noted members of the armed forces of Bhutan working on the plaza surrounding the temple.  Below is a royal guest house.

Remains of Wangdue Dzong

Wangdue Dzong

About less than a month prior to our arrival in Bhutan, the Wangdue  Dzong burned to the ground.  The fire raged for several days.  Some of the religious items were saved, but overall it is a major cultural disaster for Bhutan.  A further description of the Wangdue Dzong are contained in an earlier blog.

Khewang Lhakhang

The Khewang Lhakhang is found in the middle of the Phobjikha valley.  This 15th century tsechu is small, but interesting.  A monastery accompanies the tsechu with many young monks (elementary school age) present.  One wonders about the level of education these young men receive.  See our blog on the Black-necked Cranes for further information.

Bhumtang Valley

The bhumtang valley is the cultural/religious heartland of Bhutan.  It has many famous monasteries and tsechus.  Many Bhutanese take pilgrimages to the temples here.  Some tsechus are supported by Royalty and others are built by prosperous Bhutanese merchants.

Kurjey Lhakhang

Kurjey Lhakhang complex is located in the Chakhar Valley on the west side of the river.  Three Lhakhang form the main complex.  The Sanvay Lhakang is a large multistory building.  The second floor sanctuary contains display cases on the exterior walls with 1,000 Buddha statues.  I will leave the counting to contestants in the Amazing Race.  We were able to make three rounds of the three Buddhas.  While there several young monks were cleaning the facility.  Then a group of young monks arrived, several busloads of college students filed in.  We were invited to stay and a "big" Llama presided over a ceremony charging the students with good behavior in their future with the civil service.  Watching the service was interesting. Attached Bhutan Youtube video. Six to eight youthful monks chanted, several additional youthful monks played temple horns (some brass, and some double reed).  One older monk wearing a shell necklace came in and out supervising the young monks.  He occasionally chanted using a deep rattling sound which I assume is throat singing.  We saw this same grouping of young monks, instrumentalists, and supervisor in several different sanctuaries. Attached Bhutan Youtube video.  In some cases the supervisor appeared to be waking the younger monks.

Monks chanting during a ceremony

 In the Sampa Lhundrup Lhakhang, we encountered a ceremony we were told will remove the vows of celibacy.  Several monks who had decided to marry had joined together to pay for the ceremony which would include 1,000 repetitions of a series of prayers.  We decided to leave after 30 minutes or so.

Another significant temple is the Jampey Lhakhang complex.  This temple was build by Guru Rinpoche on the same day as the Tiger's Nest, several hundred km distant.  We took several rounds of the temple, and the interior altar.  Our guide told us that retired people come to the temple early in the morning to take their rounds.

Turning Prayer Wheels while doing rounds in a monastery.  Note the murals on  the left.

Monks at worship.  Note the temple horns.

On the eastern side of the valley we visited the Tamshing Goemba.  Besides the main sanctuary with representations of Guru Rinpoche, there are statues of Maitreya and Sakyamuni.  Surrounding the altar is a rather dark passageway to facilitate the making of rounds.  The murals on the walls are in bad disrepair.  A second level with low ceilings and murals on the walls.  The Tamshing Goemba is also a monastery school.  Literally scores of elementary school aged boys dressed in maroon monk robes live there.  They take part in the services in the main sanctuary.

Lhodrak Kharchhu Lhakhang monastery college dormatories

The Lhodrak Kharchhu Lhakhang monastery college occupies a bluff above Jakar on the eastern side of the valley.  It has large assembly halls, sanctuaries, many dormitories and a beautiful view of Jakar town.

A Monk at the Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong and Tower of Trongsa

Both of these facilities have sanctuaries.  The Trongsa Dzong had numerous sanctuaries deep within the structure in upper courtyards.  In  December or early January a five-day festival held in the Dzong.  The monks perform dances in the courtyards of the Dzong.  On the top floor of the Tower of Trongsa is a small sanctuary.  Although photos are not allowed of the sanctuary, the views of the Dzong below are great.

A Buddha under construction at Buddha Viewpoint Thimphu 

Buddha Viewpoint

The golden Buddha of Thimphu, the Buddha Viewpoint, is high over the city of Thimphu.  It is currently under construction, but can be seen  from any point in Thimphu.  It will be interesting to see what else is developed on the site.

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