Our first full non-travel day and full tour day in Thimphu, 2623 meters, was on October 22 2011. We had an action packed day and what better way to start then with a wonderful fresh breakfast prepared by Tsewang’s wife-our tour guides sister in fact. Everyone is related in this tour guide business. She uses fresh ingredients from her own garden-yum! It certainly felt fine for my queasy stomach.
During our whirlwind tour we visited the City Hospital (which also serves as the tertiary hospital for the western region of Bhutan), the Institute for 13 (yes count them 13) Art Crafts, the Institute for Traditional Medicine Services Building and Museum, the National Memorial Choeten, Trashi Choe Dzong as well as Changangkha Temple. We could not visit the National Library as it was damaged in an earthquake about 1 month ago. We also found time for lunch in town at the Puma restaurant but I was faithful to my oath of celibacy from all beer- what can I say I am monk material.
A few remembrances from our touring.
It was interesting to see the hospital which was very different from our hospitals but was still impressive considering the development of this country at this stage. There was a floor with 3 physician offices with people patiently lined up to see them in single file. There were also 2 ENT offices as sinusitis is apparently a big problem here. There were multiple signs in the hospital warning people not to spit as a favourite activity here is to chew beetle-nut which when chewed produces a red dyed spit which many men and women wear proudly-it is all over the side-walks in town. It is addictive and does not do pretty things for one’s dentition. We also had some relief supplies for the physiotherapy department and toys brought by Richard,Terry, Lorraine and Jill and the head physiotherapist was very grateful and gave us a tour of his very busy outpatient department.
The Art Institute was also interesting to see with young diligent students working on sculpture, painting, embroidery, and wood carving. Their facility was very beautiful and was representative of the architecture we would see throughout this region.
Our first real exposure to the customs of Buddhism was at the National Memorial Choeten. It is a beautiful white structure in the centre of Thimphu. Worshippers encircle the Choeten clockwise (always clockwise) while praying. We joined in but for some reason I lost the rest of the group and did not realize that they had gone inside which I did not think was possible as none of the locals were doing this. So I proceeded on my own city tour thinking they had gone on ahead but could not find them but I eventually found our tour van and was informed that they had never left the Choeten. It was a great place to take photos and one does become relaxed in the presence of shared prayer and spirituality.
The Trashi Choe Dzong was impressive on so many levels. It houses the government administrative offices as well as a temple for monks. The architecture was outstanding and we had a lesson in the many intricacies of the Buddhist faith. The alter in the temple (you must have your shoes off and your legs and forearms covered) was stunning and filled with ornate paintings and sculptures and statues so the relevance of the Art Institute became clear. The monks are dressed in scarlet robes and most come with that requisite piece of equipment, a cell phone! They were still performing rituals for the recent nuptials of the current king and his bride. There were also hundreds of pigeons in the central square. When they took off all you heard was a swoosh of air so loud you were sure it was a jet and they flew through people in the central square. Amazing to witness. Our final bit of luck as we were leaving was a sighting of King four’s mother who arrived with a military escort. She saw us as she exited her Porsche Cayenne (I am sure this is the only one in Bhutan) and smiled and bowed slightly. Very gracious and lovely.
We also did a tour of the main street of down-town Thimphu. It was fascinating to see all of the vendors and shops may of them squeezed into slots no bigger than a closet with numerous trinkets to sell. The city is not what I would call sanitary with garbage everywhere but there is a vibrancy in the city and it is bustling with life and animated conversation.
Our final activity was to climb up to the Changangkha temple which we found out was a great place to purchase prayer flags for our upcoming trek. A beetle-nut orally stained monk was happy to sell us the flags to assist in the funding of the building of a temple but you could not just buy the flags- you had to give him the date of your birth which would then dictate the number and type of flags to purchase. I was happy that I was born in the year of the water tiger which was a good year so only three flags were required. Bev however was born in the year of the rabbit which was very unlucky for that particular 12 year cycle of animal rotations so she needed to buy an armful! Life can be so cruel.
I will include a slideshow of pictures from this day for you to enjoy. I will not have time to label them all with captions so sorry for that. The above descriptions should give you an idea of where they were taken. Enjoy!