Bhutan ( see Links for Dharamsala and Ladakh below)
Druk Yul- Land of the Thunder Dragon
A Buddhist Kingdom tucked away in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan was at one time, one of the most isolated countries in the world. Reflecting deep cultural roots and Buddhist spiritual values, the Bhutanese treasure their natural environment. Bhutan is also home to some of the most exquisite textiles- a feast for the eyes each day as locals wear their beautiful kiras (for women) and ghos (for men) each day.
Visiting Bhutan is a transforming experience beginning with an unforgettable Druk Air flight descending through the valleys into Paro. Although there are more curves in the roads than anywhere else on earth, the driving (for the passenger!) can also become a meditation passing Dzongs and fluttering prayer flags with prayer wheels chiming their blessings.
A visit to Bumthang and Ogyencholing
Our last Journey to Bhutan brought us to the Bumthang valleys of Central Bhutan where we experienced the festival at Domkhar Lhakhang. The ritual dances at these special festivals are in honor of Guru Rinpoche, or the Padmasambhava meaning the Lotus born Buddha and 8th century saint from India who flew to Bhutan on his tigress to sudue demons and to bring peace. Much of the outside world needs a Guru Rinpoche to come back! Guru Rinpoche came to meditate in Bumthang valley which is home to many other precious temples. A highlight was a visit to Ogyencholing in the Tang Valley – the ancestral manor home of Kunzang Choden Roder, a prolific writer and story teller, author of Tales of the Yeti, Circle of Karma and and new book on Bhutanese food and riutal called Chili and Cheese.
Ogyencholing dates back to the 15th century when Tibetan saint Dorje Lingpa settled here. The ancestral temple houses exquisite mural paintings and mandalas. Chapels are dedicated to Tara and to Dorje Sempa- the Boddhisattva of ultimate reality. Kunzang and her daughter have put a lot of work and love into creating a museum at Ogyencholing where one can learn about traditional Bhutanese life.
There is also a small rustic but very cozy guesthouse.
The Ogyencholing Trust Fund helps support the restoration and maintenance of this special place and also provides financial support to needy and deserving local students to pursue continued education. You can enjoy a further detailed look on an updated website: www.oling.bt
If you may not have time to explore all the way as far as Central Bhutan, a journey to Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha valleys will also be very memorable. All travel arrangements to Bhutan must be secured in advance which will include accomodations, meals, transport and local guide.
More accomodations have been opening allowing for more luxury supplements as well.
But in Paro, a special place is:
Gangtey Palace: www.gangteypalace.net
A highlight of Paro is a trek up to Tiger's Nest which may be best left for the last day before flying out. Visitors on their first day are best to tread gentler while acclimating.
Paro Dzong and the National Museum is an excellent introduction.
In Thimphu, the capital, a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, the Textile Museum and the School of Fine Arts is a must. Beyond Thimphu and the Dochu-la pass, lies Punakha valley. With a warmer climate at 1250m, government administration moved seasonally between Thimphu and Punakha. Now only the monks move to preserve this tradition and a visit to Punakha Dzong is another special highlight. Situated at the auspicious confluence of the Mo and Po rivers, Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who was the great unifier of Bhutan. Following conflicts with other lamas in Tibet, the Shabdrung fled to Bhutan on a pilgrimage bringing with him sacred Buddhist relics now safely tucked away in Punakha. During the tsechu festivals, legends are retold in performances and to witness the unfolding of the sacred thongdrol cloth (a huge thangka) at first light is believed to be one's total purification and liberation. However a visit to Punakha Dzong at any time seeing the life-size statues of Guru Rinpoche, Shabdrung and of Gautama Buddha will fill hearts with respect and peace.
More Bhutan background and travel info on: www.kingdomofbhutan.com
Odyssey Guide Bhutan by Francoise Pommaret is a must for any visitor to Bhutan and can be ordered on amazon.com or www.longitudebooks.com
Bhutan crowned their new King
The coronation of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was in November 2008
Link to some stunning photos:
Home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Exile:
Tushita Meditation Centre
offers a series of courses and retreats: www.tushita.info
Founded by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche along with the Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition. More info on centers worldwide: www.fpmt.org
Glen Svensson: wonderful Tushita teacher who also teaches elsewhere in the world: www.glensvensson.org
Accomodation in Dharamsala:
Pemathang Guesthouse located up on a quiet lane in McCleod Ganj:
Make sure request room with a view! www.pemathang.net
Norbulingka Institute - approx 30min drive from Dharamsala-Cry of the Snow Lion
Dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan arts providing training in the art of sculpture, thangka painting and applique.
The Norling Guesthouse is very comfortable amidst the peaceful gardens. They also manage Chonor House in McCleod Ganj: www.norbulingka.org
Deerpark Institute located in Bir valley approx 2 hours drive from Dharamsala. Founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche: www.deerpark.in
- a beautiful and powerful documentary on the history, culture and struggles of Tibet. The DVD can be ordered on-line or via Amazon.com www.cryofthesnowlion.com
Another inspiring visit to Mahabodhi International Meditation Center: www.mahabodhi-ladakh.org
For a charming family guesthouse in a quiet corner of Leh: www.silvercloudguesthouse.blogspot.com
For Ladakh touring arrangements
Contact Dorjay Phuntsog:
Note Internet and electricity can often be down in Ladakh!