Tag Archive: Bhutan

A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 

In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why 🙄) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!

Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive 😊 Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 

Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileño lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 

Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family 😘

In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences 😜 

In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 

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It’s been a while since December 2011. I have longed to write about this but a few trips and blogposts got in the way.






Mini-monks. That’s what I call them. Without those robes though, they’re just kids goofing around!







And there were the young school boys. Don’t they look adorable wearing the “gho”?







We walked through some villages and met many young boys. More boys than girls, actually. This one’s a charmer. Took many shots of him as he willingly posed for the cam.







Met a few girls. Just a few….. Cuties. Now, why do little girls love wearing pink?






Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. – Miriam Beard



Four months. Four Countries. November 2011 through February 2012. Extended till May 2012. Vietnam. Thailand . Bhutan. Spain. Each country a delight to visit. Each country with its own distinct, unique cuisine. The languages compete with the culinary delights to render you “tongue-twisted”.






It lasted about a week each in Vietnam and Bhutan. And some 4 nights in Bangkok, Thailand. Then all of 10 weeks in Spain. My taste buds were never as confused as they were in the last 4-6 months. But if this is what confusion means, I wouldn’t mind being in that state for a prolonged period. 😊😍😘






Vietnamese cuisine tastes “clean” and subtle. Happily combining Asian flavors with French mastery of the kitchen, the dishes are beautifully plated even if purchased off a corner stall in the market. Besides, Vietnamese dishes are more veggies than meats which lessen one’s guilt but not the pleasure. The same aesthetic value can be said of Thai dishes. The vibrant colors combine so well in every single plate or tray whether they are vegetables, fruits or meats. And the sauces! Each single dish presents a variety of options by way of sauces. Major decisions!






The food in Bhutan is an altogether different story. There isn’t much by way of meat choices unless you are craving for yak burgers. Vegetarians would have a field day here in this Himalayan kingdom but the spices are just too much for my liking. But I like their mountain rice and the simplicity of their vegetable dumplings and soups.






Aroused by the flavors of the Orient , my taste buds were ready to be assaulted by the varied, meaty, cheesy, olive-oily dishes of Spain. From the very beginning, I knew 10 weeks won’t be long enough to try all 500 or so bacalao dishes. But really, I can’t complain.






We tried and compared the churros con chocolate from Chocolateria De San Gines and Valor, we sampled the croquetas and quezos in Mercado de San Miguel, we dined in 101 Tapas in Andalucia, traveled to Valencia for their authentic and original paella, ate not once but twice in Segovia for that cochinillo we’ve dreamed about, relished the morcilla from Burgos and the Leche flan and crema de Catalan of Barcelona.



So, after 4-6 months….. What do you think am I craving for? Sure I miss those Vietnamese rolls, the pad Thai, momos, Jamon y Quezos . But nothing beats food from home. I shamelessly requested a good friend to cook my favorite pancit, ordered halo-halo in the middle of a board meeting, drove all the way to Binondo for my lumpia and quikiam fix, waited mornings for the taho vendor, emptied my dish of dinuguan and puto in record time, and to this day, still dreaming of bibingka with kesong Puti and my favorite seagrapes (Lato) salad. Pinoy food rocks! 😝




Just an hour away from Thimpu. We passed this site and drove another 1 .5 hours to reach Punakha just a couple of days before. No chance to get off the car to count the stupas. But you can bet your bottom ngultrum (Bhutanese currency) that they do number 108. No more, No less.



There you go. All 108 Chortens.



Dochula Pass sits right along the road on the way to Punakha from Thimpu. It was built to honor the casualties of a recent war resulting from a conflict with rebels from the South who wanted to secede. The King himself personally led an army of about 7,000 volunteers to drive out tens of thousands of rebels. Not one to glorify war nor their victory, the King had this monument built instead to honor both the dead soldiers and dead rebels from the conflict.



I can sit here all day. But do throw me a blanket!



At 3,150 meters above sea level, you can ID a number of mountains from the Himalayan Range on a clear day. But I’m telling you……… even on a cloudy day, it is still a worthwhile trip to make it high up here. Just a short walk from the Pass, have a cup of steaming coffee or tea at the Dochula Cafeteria. In our case, we had lunch. I am not exactly a big fan of Bhutanese cuisine, but one thing’s for sure. They grow their vegetables and grains organically. The mountain rice tastes better. The dumplings filled with cabbage and cheese dipped in some spicy sauce called MOMOS are so simply made, and tastes “healthy”. I passed on the fish, knowing that Bhutan is landlocked and assuming that the fish must have been transported all the way from India. The vegetables were cooked just as simply. Nothing fancy, really. But no worries. Altitude has a way of making you feel funny. It also affects one’s appetite, so I hardly complained.



Just a short walk to watch a cultural performance.



Just a few hundred meters from the Pass, we walked along a dirt path lined with prayer flags to watch a cultural performance. Since the dance routines have not been watched by the King yet, no photographs were allowed. Such is the rule in this land. Seated in an open-air site in 6 Celsius temp, we watched in amazement how some half-naked dancers can stand the cold. Mind you, the performance lasted well over an hour! I am borrowing some photographs here to give you an idea of Bhutanese dance routines.







Where's the BLANKET????



Zilukha is the “biggest nunnery” in Bhutan, yet I would never consider it huge by any standards.  But it may have the best  location.  It is perched on a promontory overlooking the Tashichhoedzong or Thimpu Dzong and its surrounding golf course. From the roadside,  we walked up a wide dirt path to reach this nunnery with no gates, no doorbells, no guards.  Just sleeping dogs.  



The Path to Female Monkhood?



Female Monks?   Yes, many women — some young girls, even toddlers — from poor families enter the nunnery.  The ones I saw at Zilukha Nunnery in the Drubthob Goemba  were likely as old as 70 and as young as 4.  I was honestly surprised to find the young ones, and initially thought they were orphans under the care of the nuns.



Zilukha Nunnery



Our tour guide explained that some of these children were left behind by their poor parents.  A refuge from extreme poverty.  Yet I wasn’t exactly sure it is a refuge.  The nuns we found here can certainly do with some comforts.  Having seen the magnificence of the Dzongs in Paro, Thimpu and Punakha,  the Zilukha Nunnery appears almost like a disheveled garage or storage room in one of these dzongs.  The shrine is very small, and the nuns pray and chant their mantra in a narrow space where a giant prayer wheel occupies easily a tenth of the entire room.  The nearby one-storey building serves as their sleeping quarters and I can imagine these nuns must sleep in cramped quarters there.  



The Living/Sleeping Quarters of the Zilukha Nunnery

Entrance To The Prayer Room



Once we stepped inside the Prayer Room,  we felt almost guilty barging in as the nuns were busy praying and chanting.  The elder of the nuns allowed 2 photos of them doing their spiritual chores — chanting mantras and spinning prayer wheels.  The area is a bit cramped.  Two lines of nuns face each other while a giant prayer wheel is spun by one of the younger, stronger nuns.  The 4 year old happily , yet quietly sat on the lap of the grey-haired nun.   This nun with greying hair, looking so undecided between chanting and chewing her betel nut, while caring for the toddler-nun.  I spotted red-stained teeth,  and some chewed bits threatening to drip on the sides of the older nun’s mouth.  



Just Two Photos Inside the Prayer Room.

Two Lines of Nuns Facing Each Other in This Narrow Corridor.



I wish I was able to take a better shot of the grey-haired nun and the toddler nun.  I dared not appeal for a 3rd shot, guilty as we were to have arrived at a sacred hour.   As young girls enter the nunnery to escape poverty as well as to gain education,   I wonder if some of them feel “forced” to take this option.  Sure, they are here to seek “enlightenment” but I am more inclined to think they are here or were sent here  to escape from the harshness of  a difficult, deprived life.  



This Is The View From Zilukha Nunnery. Not Bad!

As with the monks,  people seek spiritual guidance from these nuns.   As such,  they spend their time gaining spiritual knowledge to prepare them for this religious work.  Some of them may have felt deprived in their early life, but they all look forward and appreciate the newfound social status to be gained from being a nun.  In a country like Bhutan where Buddhism seamlessly blend with everyday life and the national character,  monkhood has its place.  



Please do check my other blogs and photos on Bhutan  here in WordPress. Or try my blog series on Bhutan in TravelBlog. Here is the link :  http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606

Excuse me…… Did you just say THAT PHALLUS belonged to one of your saints?




Yes, THAT is the phallus of one of Bhutan's Favorite Saints. I kid u NOT!



Flanked by hundreds of prayer flags, Chimi Lakhang is a good half hour leisurely walk across fertile rice fields. We passed farmers harvesting their rice and traipsed paddy fields cutting across a village where houses are painted with…..errr, phalluses of one of Bhutan’s favorite saints.  Either that, or you find hanging phalluses swinging by house corners, intended to drive away demons.  



Do You See That Hanging Phallus? It's Meant To Drive Away The Demons.

Chimi Lakhang. A Modest Shrine to Bhutan's Favorite Saint & Divine Madman



Chimi Lhakhang is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley or Drukpa Kunleg (1455 – 1529) also known as ‘The Divine Madman’He “distinguished” himself for his outrageous behavior and teaching style. Legend goes that the saint used to hit the evil forces with his penis (or cohabited with them) to distract, subdue, and eventually turn them into protective deities. Trust me, this is serious stuff in Bhutan. My own guide claims the Divine Madman “took away the shame” —- i interpret this to mean “malice”—– from them. In many Thangka paintings, the saint is shown holding a “wooden stick with penis head”.




The Power of the Phallus. He is also the Fertility Saint. Guess Why!

Gho-clad Boys Coming Home From School

In Bhutan, I Saw Many Men Caring For Their Babes. Nice.



The Lhakang is just a small pilgrimage site in a rather rural setting. We passed old, modest houses and children posing for photos,  hopping, running around, and playing “kitchen” like many other children in the world. Makes you think children are the same all over UNTIL society/culture imposes itself on them. We were welcomed in a small kitchen where the women were frying rice grains much like our local “pinipig” or rice crisps. The young monks we met at the Lhakang were likewise playing — running and jumping around, swinging by the window sill, or up above munching an apple while seated on a branch of the Buddha tree.




Children Are The Same All Over the World.


I Was Right Underneath This Mini-Monk


Those Are Not Just Rice Crisps. They're MOUNTAIN Rice Crisps.



This is also a pilgrimage site for childless couples. Well, that “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” (as they call the saint’s phallus) ain’t called that for nothing. As fertility saint, he is perhaps the only saint in all religions of the world excused for his sexual exploits and inclinations, for which his phallus is identified with its creative power and ability to distract and subdue demons. Think about that!




Just A Half Hour Walk To Get Here, Past Paddy Fields


Walked past many of these houses with painted phalluses!

This Rural Village Gave Us A Glimpse of How Ordinary Bhutanese Live.

Please do check my other blogs and photos on Bhutan  here in WordPress. Or try my blog series on Bhutan in TravelBlog. Here is the link :  http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606



And by the way,  with all we’ve seen and experienced in Bhutan, we missed something big time.  Not sure if we could have mustered the nerve to watch, but here’s one interesting read for all of you.  Tell me what you think 😉


From Druk Hotel in Thimpu, we drove a good 2 1/2 hours just to get here.  On our way, we passed Dochula Pass with a grand view of the Himalayan mountain range at over 3,000 meters elevation. Then we weaved around the mountains going down, passing cherry blossoms, poinsettia and magnolia trees.  We made a brief stop at Chimi Lakhang and took our lunch in a lovely cafe overlooking paddy fields animated by men and women harvesting rice and gho-clad school boys gingerly walking around the rice fields.  


Punakha Dzong. Where Kings are crowned. Site of the recent wedding of the world’s youngest monarch.



Punakha Dzong Where 2 Rivers Merge



The fortress cum monastery is home to 600 monks, and sits at the confluence of two rivers with the lovely mountains as backdrop. You need a few minutes to savor this view, pinch yourself and get reminded this ain’t a dream, before crossing the bridge adorned with prayer flags.



Then the 2 rivers merge, bubble and froth as ONE RIVER.


As we crossed the bridge, we had our first glimpse of Punakha Dzong’s first courtyard. Climate here is milder, elevation not as steep as in Paro. The wooden staircase leading to the second courtyard is steep though. The same stairway can be pulled up in case of an invasion. Some security feature for this 17th century monolith.




The Approach Via the Lovely Bridge Crossing A "Lively" River


The Wooden Staircase Can Be "Pulled Up" In Case of An Invasion



As we climbed past cherry blossoms, we heard the faint chant and shuffling of hands and fingers from a small group of monks. Nearby, logs crackle from a bonfire set up in the middle of the vast courtyard. What a lovely, nearly surreal sight! This experience is so dreamlike it is deeply embedded in my memory.




Logs Crackle in A Bonfire Set Up in the Middle of the Courtyard


Monks Chanting " Oh Mani Peme Hummmmm"


Buddhism is NOT a religion, according to our guide. He claims it is a philosophy, a lifestyle, where Buddhists firmly believe that KARMA rules, among others. Where much of sufferings in life are rooted in wordly desires and material attachments. I certainly have no problems with these. The universe can definitely do with less hostility, and more compassion, more caring for each living creature.




Two Playful Monks Running Around the Courtyard


What A Lovely Sight!

Do check out my other blogs on Bhutan here in WordPress. Or my blog series in TravelBlog: Mystique of Bhutan. Here’s the link: http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606

It is the first Dzong we have visited in Bhutan.Trashichodzong or Thimpu Dzong literally translates to Fortress of Glorious Religion. Buddhism truly makes its mark on Bhutanese culture. But nowhere else have I witnessed Church and State work so in harmony. No quarrel between the Church and State in this tiny Kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas.

Trashichodzong or Fortress of the Glorious Religion in Thimpu, Bhutan

From the time the country’s capital was moved from Punakha to Thimpu, 3 kings have held office here. The present King was crowned at age 27, making Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck the youngest monarch in the world. His father, the good if not better-looking Jigme Singye is still very much visible, and still young (and hot) at 55. The local folks simply love them and speak adoringly of the royal family.

The Hunk. I mean the 4th King: Daddy Oh of the Present (5th) King

The Fortress houses the State offices including the King’s office and Throne Room, as well as the monastery where the Chief Abbot shares the same rank and place as the King. In Bhutan, this does not seem to be a problem.

Bhutanese Art in The Beams, Ceilings, Walls, Windows, Eaves, Doors, etc.

I remember walking down a path of willow trees and rose gardens which must have had their last full bloom a month or so earlier. A pity this trip was pushed down towards yearend as hotels were fully booked for the King’s wedding last October 13, and the festivals in October-November made it impossible to book a trip earlier. Truth is my other friends gave up on Bhutan, leaving just me and another travel companion. Thank God I refused to give up on this chance to see Shangrila. Yes, no less. Even at minus one degree to 6 degree Celsius!


We passed some guards (few, actually, considering that they are guarding the King and Chief Abbot) as we climbed the stairs to get into the courtyard. What spilled before our eyes was nearly unreal. We “owned” the courtyard exclusively but for a couple of monks and a single photographer, who like us, seemed mesmerized by the beauty of the Dzong. Om Mani Peme Hum. That’s the oldest and most well-known Tibetan Buddhist mantra taught by our guide, Sonam Norbu. You hear the monks chant it, as I often heard Norbu recite it as he paid his respects to their Buddha of Compassion. It took awhile for me to remember the mantra, strange language that it is. Until I managed to link the mantra to “Oh, money, penge (meaning to ask) hmmmm”. My apologies. They sure sound so irreverent and so contrary to Buddhist teachings, but the “joke” made it easy for me to remember. (Forgive this old lady. Peace xoxoxo)

Resident Pigeons Rule the Courtyard!

Elizabeth In Ecstacy!

I forgot to ask Norbu, but all Dzongs here are painted like white monoliths adorned with intricate woodcarvings and handpaintings on beams, pillars, eaves and window frames. The colors — dominated by golden yellow, rusty orange (saffron, according to my friend Elizabeth) and black, tinged with red, blue, black and green — are almost standard. There also seems to be a standard Bhutanese architecture and layout, but for the size and number of dochey (courtyard) and lhakangs (temples). What makes it even more amazing is that these palace-like structures were built without written plans or blueprints. Everything is committed to memory. Say what? Amazing, indeed.

Bhutan: Where Nature and Culture Reign

Inside the temple, my friend Elizabeth was almost ecstatic to find the thousand mini buddhas she has been reading about. Those, and the thangkas (silk painting with embroidery) which left her drooling in its beauty. Have to admit I do not share the same appreciation, not knowing much about Buddhism nor the art of thangka-making.

Thangkas Found In A Store. For Sale. Not Cheap.

As we made our way back to the courtyard, we basked once more in the peace and quiet within the courtyard. The tranquility was not disturbed but was instead enhanced by the now familiar dong dong chimes of the prayer wheels and the fluttering of wings by the resident pigeons. And I thought this only happened in the movies! Truly, today is one AWE-spicious day!

[Do check out my other blogs on Bhutan here in WordPress, as well as my series on TravelBlog : Mystique of Bhutan . Here’s the link……….. http://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/liliram/Trips/17606 ]

A Bad Shot of An Illuminated Thimpu Dzong 😦

The Bhutanese Men Wear Gho. The Women Wear Longer Skirts Called Kira.

To contact my tour guide Sonam Norbu, send an email to ubron_11@yahoo. com

Definitely ONE OFF MY BUCKET LIST. I am still feeling OLD and TIRED, having just arrived from this dream trip to Bhutan. Not up to writing up my adventures yet. But this I must say. The flight into Bhutan is one for the books. What introduction to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, home of the concept of Gross National Happiness. As they say, HAPPINESS IS A PLACE. And that place is called Bhutan.



How many times have I been on a plane? A helicopter? A train? A boat? I didn’t give much thought about flying into Bhutan. But I sure know that this little Kingdom lies in the Eastern Himalayas right there above India, near Tibet. Snow-capped mountains shining like a jewel filled my plane’s window as we made the approach on our Airbus A319.



I imagined a small airport, and it was. After all, it is a small country. That explains why I found the US$756 round trip fare from Bangkok too pricey. And I was even told Druk Airlines — the only airline allowed to fly in and out of Paro Airport — gave us a hefty discount! Well, discount my foot I thought! From Bangkok, it took 2 hours to land in Dhaka, Bangladesh for a brief stopover. A few passengers got off, with just as few joining us on the 1 hour trip to Paro.



From my window seat, I saw how rugged the landscape is. Those lines down below must be the roads zigzagging around mountains. From a distance, I saw mountains in different hues of blue, even near-green, capped by the white snow shining like a golden tiara under the glare of the sun.



Then the plane made its approach. I could almost feel the pine trees brushing the soles of my feet as one of the highly-trained 8 Druk airlines pilots maneuvered the plane between 2 mountains ………… then actually leaned, veered to the left, turning really, really left, and landing in this short airstrip with a Dzhong or Monastery right there at the end of the runway!



Phew! What a flight. Leaning and swerving around mountain peaks and into the valleys was just insane!! And I have just landed. How exciting can that be? Well, more excitement follows as I begin my series of blogs on Bhutan starting with this and this.  And don’t forget to check out my most awesome hike ever. The hike to Taktshang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery is NOT for the faint-hearted, but I’m mighty proud to say I survived it! 

Btw, did I tell you that Druk pilots land VISUALLY (no radar), and literally lands the plane on a wing and a prayer? Oh yes, AND I KID YOU NOT!!!


This piece was written in a record time of 10 minutes to join this year’s final month’s blog carnival “The Journey is the Destination” hosted by one of the bloggers whom I deeply admire, Kara Santos of TravelingUp.


Do check out subsequent blogs on this happy place.  I have been on a roll. And for good reason!