Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bodhnath Stupa - Again

Sunday, 20 November 2017

We had about six hours at the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu before we had to leave for the airport and our return flights to Washington Dulles via Dubai. Since the Bodhnath Stupa is only about 600 m from the hotel, most of us decided to make a return visit.

The lowest gallery around the stupa was open, so we climbed the steps and circumnavigated the stupa on the first level. The ornate incense burner at the entrance was definitely in use.
The area around the stupa was considerably less crowded than the last time, and the stupa was being refreshed with new prayer flags and paint.
We were able to watch the painters fling buckets of paint to repaint the lotus petals at the base of the stupa.
A niche filled with old "cupcake stupas".
A final view of the Bodhnath Stupa.

Return to Kathmandu

Monday, 20 November 2017

We had an early morning flight from Paro to Kathmandu. This time we were on a turbo prop, so it took almost an hour and a half. I had a window seat on the left side -- looking south into India.

The mountains as we left Paro. The smog from the Gangetic plain is barely visible in the upper left.
Here the smog from India is clearly visible along the horizon. The smog is particularly notorious this year -- a mixture of fog, agricultural burning, industrial pollution, and vehicle emissions that has made a toxic atmosphere.
As we approached Kathmandu, the mountain tops turned a bright green.
Kathmandu -- the layer of smog over the city is quite visible.
A meat shop in a lane near the Bodhnath Stupa.

Paro Dzong (Fortress) & National Museum

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Our first and last stops of the day were the Paro Dzong.

The old watchtower sits above the Paro Dzong (fortress that combines governmental offices and a monastery).
The National Museum was located in the old watchtower until an earthquake in 2011 damaged the building and closed it to the public. Most of the museum exhibits have moved across a lane to a nondescript administrative building. The museum had four interesting galleries, but photography is not permitted.
Inside the dzong.
A set of windows in the dzong.
The cantilever bridge leading to the dzong.
The bridge, dzong, and watchtower at night.
Dzong and watchtower.

Around Paro

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Our last day in Bhutan -- we visited a number of interesting sights in the Paro area. The Paro Dzong and National Museum are the topic of the next post.

Rice has been harvested, and cattle are turned out into the fields to eat the stubble and provide fertilizer.
A view of Paro town from the Paro Dzong.
In the afternoon we watched a plane (yellow arrow) land at the Paro airport. The plane comes down the valley and makes a sharp turn before landing, and is well below the mountains before it comes into sight.

Pena Lhakhang (Temple)

The Pena Temple is perhaps the oldest temple in Bhutan. We made an offering of snacks, lit butter lamps, and received a blessing from the temple master.
The orange tree in the temple courtyard reportedly bears fruit year-round.
A line of prayer wheels at the temple.
Cat in the temple courtyard.

Tiger's Nest (Taktshang Goemba)

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The highlight of the trip was our hike up to the Tiger's Nest monastery. While a short hike (about 6 miles round trip), it's one of the most physically challenging ones I've taken. Disclaimer: While I can hike forever on flat ground, I need a T-shirt that says "I don't do hills". Uphill has always been a challenge, and downhill is hard on the knees. A steady 20% uphill grade for a 2500 ft (760 m) elevation gain, starting at 7800 ft (2375 m) was tough. I know that doesn't sound like much to mountain climbers, but the oxygen available at 10,000 ft is much less than at sea level! It also didn't help that the dust and exertion triggered a mild asthma that I hadn't dealt with for more than 10 years.

You can ride a pony up the first half of the trail. Here Sonam, our bus driver, walks up the trail with three of our tour members on ponies.
In the morning, the Tiger's Nest is mostly in shade. The tea room rest stop at the half-way point is in the foreground.
Our first glimpse of the Tiger's Nest.
The ponies stop here, just a hundred meters-or-so from the tea room. (Don't get fooled by this brief level spot in the trail!)
We're getting higher. My trip to the monastery took 3 hours. Most people take 1.5 to 2 hours. (Like I said, I'm S-L-O-W going uphill.) Sonam (bus driver), Hutch (VMFA tour leader), and Lon generously stayed with me.
Fellow hikers passing us on the trail.
Along the trail are many prayer flags, cairns, and impromptu stupas.
Rocky nooks and crannies are filled with "cupcake stupas" -- small clay stupas made in molds and usually brightly painted.
As we get closer, it's still difficult to see the approach to the monastery.
The views of the Paro valley are also magnificent.
A brief rest stop at the top of the trail. From here it's about 600 stone steps down into the ravine, then another 200 back up to the monastery gate. It's at least another 100 steps up to the top of the temple complex. No photos are allowed in the temple complex itself.
The Tiger's Nest temple complex.
The trail crosses a waterfall at the dip between the observation point and the Tiger's Nest.
A small portion of the stairs that lead down from the observation point into the ravine. On the return trip, you (obviously) have to climb back up 600 stairs to the top before returning down the trail to the start.
One last look at the Tiger's Nest.
How does it sit up there on the cliff side?
Some people say they see a demon face in the mountain above the Tiger's Nest. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to a cave on this site on the back of a tigress to subdue the local demon.

Monday, December 4, 2017

More Thimphu

Friday, 17 November 2017

After leaving the Dochu La, we went to Thimphu for lunch and to see a nunnery and a monastery before driving to Paro.

Another distant view of Buddha Point (while waiting to get around a traffic accident).
One last view of the giant Buddha.
We visited the Dechan Phodrang, the state monastery school.
On the grounds of the monastery.
We gave out about two dozen new robes for financially needy student monks.

Dochu La Redux

Friday, 17 November 2017

On our way back to Thimphu and Paro, we once again went over the Dochu La. The view was even more spectacular than it was on Wednesday.

Across the road from the 108 stupas (see next photo) is a small modern temple. We had only a short break, so we did not go into the temple, just admired the views from it's terraces.
Another view of the 108 stupas.
Snow blowing off high peaks in the Himalayas.
Possibly Masagang? (7165 m, 23,500 ft)
Possibly Jelekangphu Gang? (7300 m, 23,950 ft)
A panoramic view of the Great Himalayas.