why Bhutan...
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    west - east...

 Druk Air
 Om Bar

The colorful tapestry that is Bhutan is woven of an opulent nature, rich heritage and history where the main ingredient is the Himalayas.

Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of that lost world called Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon where :

The birds fly without fear and flowers are yet to be named
The songs have not been encumbered with too much music
The prayers are given wings by the ubiquitous prayer flags
The culture and traditions have not been eaten away by gold
Its people still hope to be bestowed the “nectar of immortality”
The music of the cymbals and melodious chants awake your spirit

A stretch of eerie silence is only streaked by the rustling of leaves. Weaving a magic of light and shade are the dzongs (fortresses) entwined with rivers, the mountain tops adorned with solitary monastery, leaf-boats sequined on unwrinkled lakes, a scruffy village varnished in the another miracle of glorious sunrise and chain of mountains fringed with prayer flags.
“Ten miles outside Thimphu you’re still practically in the Middle Ages,” says a New York Times article in 1999. Yet, like any other nation, Bhutan is made of its own distinctive desire and fear; a desire to accomplish Gross National Happiness (country’s ideal of development) and a fear of being overwhelmed by modernisation. Television and Internet came only in 1999.
Innocence is still lingering around, the myths have not been stripped and the people are still nourished by transcendental values.

Thimphu : Seat of the Golden Throne
Thimphu, at an altitude of about 2300 m greets you face to face as if a huge canvas, splashed with houses of red roofs of distinct traditional architecture, is laid right before your feet. Then you cross the Lungtenzampa Bridge (means “bridge of prophecy”) and you are officially in the city.
The city (read town) may not be big for the westerners but, for many Bhutanese, it’s the metropolis where their desires and ambitions take shape. It’s the city of their dreams. It has all the trappings of a capital city in its own humble way. Yet, you don’t have to travel long to take a walk among the trees and stones, into the wild animal’s passage or to catch a glimpse of women carrying muckheaps to the fields.
It’s the only town that can boast of a clock tower (about 30 feet) as if the inhabitants of Thimphu need to be reminded of the importance of time. And (Ripley’s) believe it or not, it’s the only capital city in the world without traffic lights. You will understand why a westerner mistook the policeman directing traffic for “the graceful, unhurried movements of tai-chi.” Anyway, why would you need traffic lights when the names of the roads are redolent of the quiet spirit that pervades the air : Yangke Lam (“Goddess of Euphony Road”), Sherab Lam (“Sublime Understanding Road”), Lhaki Lam (“Divine Peace Road”), Omin Lam (“Road of the Highest Heaven in the Realm of Forms”).
The Trashichho Dzong (Fortress of the Glorious Religion) on the bank of Thim Chhu (river) houses the Golden Throne, the seat of Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and various government offices. The only nine-hole golf course of the country is spread so close to the dzong that Tiger Woods could practically send a shot flying inside the cobble-stoned courtyard where the annual tshechu (festival) is held.
Take a chance to mingle with the residents who buy their weekly vegetables in the Sunday Market where, among others, assorted chillies are laid aplenty, for Bhutanese treat chillies not as a spice but as a vegetable.

Paro : Of Flying Tigress
About 60km west of Thimphu lay Paro one of the most beautiful and prosperous valleys of Bhutan. Set on one of the widest valleys of the country Paro has the only airport. When the Druk Air negotiates its way between the valleys one can almost count every branches of the trees, but, as always the fear vanishes in the overwhelming thought of awaiting grandeur of the mountains.
The Taktshang Monastery, perched on a 3000-foot cliff in the upper Paro valley, is one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan and a well known icon of the Buddhist world. The legend of Taktshang (Tiger’s lair) dates back to 747 AD when Guru Rinpoche is believed to have flown to this site on the back of a tigress and subdued the evil spirits in the region.
The valley is further enriched spiritually by one of the two oldest monasteries of Bhutan built in the seventh century. Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108, built by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, was suppose to pin down the left foot of a demon who had eagle-spread over the areas of Tibet and Bhutan.
One cannot miss the awesome sight of Rinpung Dzong, means the “Fortress of Heap of Jewels”, which translates to everything that its name stands for. The Paro valley cannot open itself better than from Ta Dzong, previously a watch tower now converted into National Museum (among others, there are stamps honouring Donald Duck), which stands as if on the shoulder of the dzong behind on the hill. From Ta Dzong, the valley looks like a gigantic open book that reaping an awesome harvest of visual delight while simultaneously following your private train of thought will not be a problem. You may not just comprehend why a glance is worth more than a thousand kisses. Just take an eyeful of delight.
Paro has the charm to remain in your memories house by house.

Punakha : The Old Capital
After crossing over Dochula pass at about 3400 metres you will gradually start descending to an altitude of 1500 metres reaches you to Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan. A three-hour drive on the winding road could be tiring but you will be refreshed by the gentle lapping of the breeze filled with fragrance of pine trees along the last stretch of few kilometres.
“On the trunk of a mountain that looks like an elephant, a person by the name of Ngawang will appear...”
Eight centuries later, in 1637, this prediction by Guru Rinpoche came true, as one of the most dynamic personalities in Bhutanese history, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, began the construction of the Dechen Phodrang Dzong at the base of a hill which resembles a reclining elephant. The imposing dzong stands on the confluence of two rivers, Pho (male) Chhu and Mo (female) Chhu.
After a devastating fire in 1986, the Punakha Dzong was consecrated recently after the most extensive renovations considered “as a major architectural achievement in the annals of Bhutan’s history.” It was here that one of the most important events in Bhutan’s history took place. On 17 December 1907, Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan.
Punakha Dzong had to be built to its old glory so that it can continue to stand tall as a proud reminder of the important role it has played in Bhutan’s political evolution and rich culture and history.

Trongsa : Link of Monarchy
Leaving Thimphu towards the central and eastern Bhutan, the scales of the past lie serene and intact leaving it for the history and heritage to weave a light of magic and shade. And every town appears to you in whole. It’s not big enough to be seen in parts.
As you approach Trongsa, you reach a point where the formidable Dzong, watching radiantly while standing guard overlooking the valley, seem just a minute away right in front of you. You actually have to further continue for about half an hour. Perhaps, all the houses in Trongsa town fixed together could still be smaller than the dzong.
If every town receives its form by its historical role, then Trongsa would take one of the glorious forms. Trongsa dzong represents Bhutan’s link with its institution of monarchy. It was here that the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, lording as the Trongsa Penlop, became one of the most powerful men in Bhutan and later became the first king. So now, it has become customary to hold the post of Trongsa Penlop before ascending on the Golden Throne of Bhutan.
Trongsa Dzong, built on a ridge about 2000m above sea-level, is the largest dzong in the country. A little stretch of imagination and you see a Bhutanese-style skyscraper placed horizontally on the rim of a mountain ridge.

Bumthang : A Weave of Spirituality and Yathras
As you go further east, you get closer to nature and expect to be woken up by a rooster. The tiny towns and the remoteness will remain etched in your mind. You won’t know whether you are actually seeing it or reading the description of a place in a fiction novel.
It has a transcendent tranquillity. No wonder, one of the first groups of foreign organisation Helvetas of Switzerland chose Bumthang as their base.
After crossing about five rivers and four passes (from Thimphu) you reach Bumthang, the valley swaddled in the lap of legends and myths, the valley made spiritually rich by the visit of Guru Rinpoche.
Jambay Lhakhang is one of the two oldest lhakhangs of the country, apart from Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro, built at the same time in the seventh century. The Jakar dzong was intially built as a monastery in 1549 and was later rebuilt as a dzong by Shabdrung in 1646. It is the office of the district administrator today.
Ever seen a “Burning Lake”? Few kilometres further east lays the Membar Tsho (meaning the burning lake) from where Terton Pema Lingpa, the treasure discoverer, is believed to have taken out religious texts and artefacts coming out of the lake with a burning butter lamp.
Travellers return from Bumthang with one distinctive picture as one cannot escape the display of colourful yathras (traditional woollen fabrics) along the road in Chumey valley. Bargain for a yard of magic.

Trashi Yangtse : For a drop of “Nectar of Immortality”
Trashi Yangtse is one of the places in the north-east of the country where one cannot even escape termites gnawing. The street one could by heart by just going through it once. Nothing interrupts the tranquillity here except probably by a door slam or a muffled laughter.
Its valley of Bumdeling is winter home to the rare black necked cranes. The dance performed by the archers (archery is the national game of Bhutan) in celebration of a hit is believed to have been picked up from this rare cranes who dance hopping obliquely one step side to side flapping their wings.
Besides other holy sites of pilgrimage and temples, Trashi Yangtse has Gomphu Kora, the sacred site of Guru Rinpoche. Around 850 AD, the legend goes that the Guru Rinpoche suppressed an evil spirit who he had chased all the way from Tibet. The body imprints of the Guru and the evil, which came in the form of a snake, are believed to have been left on the rock adjoining the lhakhang. The rock carries another myth. The King Thritsong Deotsen of Tibet, on his death bed, requested Guru Rinpoche to grant him immortality. The Guru sent his disciple to fetch tshebum - a vase containing the nectar of immortality - from Dragphug Maratika in present day Nepal. However, when the vase reached Gomphu Kora, Thritsong Deotsen had died. Today, during the auspicious days when the water trickles out of the small crack at the top of the rock, it is believed to be the holy water of the tshebum which was hidden inside the rock by Guru Rinpoche.
Trashi Yangtse is also known for its textiles. The dzongkhag (district) covers an area of about 1438km sq.

Trashigang : Outside the Gaze of Humanity
After a change of about six languages and two days journey on the east-west highway from Thimphu you reach the most eastern district of Trashigang. You are almost outside the gaze of humanity.
When you enter the territory of Trashigang you will have no inkling of a presence of a town though you can see the Trashigang Dzong erect on a hill top, before taking a steep ascent from Chazam (bridge). The dzong looks as if magically hung in the sky. The dzong, built in 1667, almost looks a part of the hill if not for its paint of bright colours.
As you drive the last bend you are literally in the streets. The houses are strangely clustered, as if by intent, inside a mountain of big bowl as if placed vertically. The whole town can be scooped out like an ice-cream. Though the Trashigang Dzong is just about 200 metres away from the town you can hardly see it, maybe because it is situated just outside the rim of the huge bowl. Stay in any house and lean out of its window and you have seen the whole town. It’s a delightfully strange place.
A traveller if invited to any house will be offered ara, the local spirit (made of barley or wheat) which flow in abundance in the east.