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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Chasing a Madman

We're off to meet a madman today, though the way I'm feeling, I'm not sure if the madman would like to meet with an 'off with the fairies' lady.  It was a hellish night in our hotel at Thimphu with lots of groaning, banging of doors and running in and out of rooms - and that was just in our room.   Outside in the hallway and stairwell it was all yelling, squealing and I'm sure, stair-master time.... judging by all the pounding feet up and down the endless levels of stairs.  My earlier headache and unease back in Haa and Paro had morphed into full blown 'cranial crush', 'gut groan' and butt... well put it this way, I was visiting the little room more times than I cared too.  As the sun rose, I emerged looking like I'd had a heavy night - grog-eyed and stumbly without the enjoyment of indulging in a glass or two. 

Our guide meets us in the foyer and suggests a short hike up a hill then down dale to the Motithang Preserve -  I suggest a lay in the back seat while we drive there - this doesn't impress the guide any and he comments that I need to be doing these little hikes to get fit for Tigers Nest which we are to do at the end of our trip. As much as I could see his point, I was actually flat out seeing anything as my head is pounding and just to open my eyes actually hurts.   I stumble out to the car and lay prone as the usual luggage tug-a-war eventuates between Mal and the hotel girls - they win again.  
First stop for the day is the Motithang Takin Preserve where we are to see the 'handiwork' of the Divine Madman.  The Divine Madman - Lama Drukpa Kunley - is a Bhutan saint of great reverence, but he was also a 'kidder' with outrageous humour and 'crazy wisdom' and it is said that he magically produced the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. After eating a whole cow and a whole goat, he put the bones together to make a single animal. 

The Takin we are visiting were from the original zoo of Bhutan which was dismantled by the Fourth King in keeping with the philosophy of Buddhism and all the animals set free.  The Takin however were so tame they refused to 'run away to the bush' and instead wandered around the city of Thimphu, getting in the way, searching for food, lounging on the roadway and generally causing mayhem, so they were returned to the zoo which was made into a reservation for them... along with some deer.
Just down the road we come across a lively game of darts - Bhutanese style.  Called Khuru, the dart is an enormous timber ball with a long metal bar that looks like a lethal nail and is thrown with great gusto at a target about twenty meters or so away ('stabbed' into the ground very similar to the archery target) while people stand infront of it.  
As in Archery, a lot of intensity and concentration goes into it and just like archery, there's a lot of song and dance too.  And bravado as we watch to spectators jump out of the way of the flung dart...crazy is not the word.

The Wang Chuu falls away are we climb out of the valley that holds Thimphu and drive up towards Dochu La, past a small village and roadside stalls selling baskets and baskets of apples. Dochu La soon comes into viw - a vision of white and red brick shimmering against a 'confettied' blue sky. 
One hundred and white chortens encircled with strands and strands of prayer flags. Built in 2005 as a memorial to those who died in 2003 battle against the Assamese Separatists from India. Dochu La is also a hive of activity with multitudes of cars, busses, and trucks parked in the middle of the road and a throng of bodies milling about, taking photos of each other, of the chortens and of a large building sitting out a hill that looks like a museum.  Last night we had purchased a set of five prayer flags and I'm keen to add to the swathe of flags already covering the woodland and hillside beside the Chortens. Just before I get out of the car, I hand a roll of prayer flags to our driver - had had shared with me earlier as we walked from the Taken enclosure, that his sister-in-law had passed away, just that morning. We are devastated for him and I immediately suggest to him that he go be with his family, and I will ask the tour company for a 'step-in' driver until he returns, but he has declined.  Now I hand him the flags - although a small gesture, I hope it will convey our sincere condolences.  Mal and I follow our guide up the hill, under the strands of glorious colour to where a group of men are chanting around a small fire. "they are saying prayers" our guide tells us and we are just about to move away, when one fellow rises and gestures to us to come over and hang our flags in the wisps of smoke. "How auspicious" I whisper and eagerly unfurl the flags. As I hand one end to Mal, our guide takes it from him and directs me to stand near a tree, he ties the end he's taken, I turn and go to tie mine, but before I have a chance to finish the knot he takes the cord from me and proceeds to tie it. I'm far from impressed and feel a flash of anger - something I would never want associated with such a sacred piece.  The beautiful moment is gone.  Mal has already turned and is heading back to the car park, he too is far from happy. 
Back at the carpark Mal had come across a group of people dressed in bright orange, at first we thing they are defence, but soon learn they are the DeSuung Volunteers (Guardians of Peace and Harmony) and serve the nation and community is times of disasters and community events.     I'm eager to also go up to the building on the other side of the carpark where a lot of people are wondering up to but our guide tells us we need to get moving. We have much to do. 
The bitumen road soon becomes a dirt track and we find ourselves driving along the National Highway in full construction mode.  It's a bumpy dusty ride as well as exceedingly slow and we reach a small village called Sopsokha on the late side of lunchtime.   
As we alight the car our eyes almost jump out of our heads - the whole town is decorated in phalluses of all sizes, colours, and differing dancing stances. I want to explore and photograph the colour and hilarity but we are whisked off the restaurant to eat.  The food is a bland version of Continental done so badly, vegemite on ricecrackers is a tastier choice.   Lunch done I bound out to find the nearest dancing dick, but our guide tells me we have little time and need to take a walk through the rice fields to a temple sitting on a far side of the hillock - Chhimi Lhakhang - the temple that had been blessed by the Divine Madman after he had lulled a demoness with his magic 'thunderbolt' (hmmm, an interesting moniker for it).    We wander through the fields, watching the men thrashing the rice while the women lay the sheafs in rows.  
It's beautiful scenery, pretty green fields dotted with golden hay stacks resembling small stupas with their spire top and waving poles of white remembrance prayer flags. We arrive to the temple and find a crowd of people enjoying the beautiful scenery and a large bohdi tree, it's enormous canopy and stone sitting area offering a cool respite from the afternoon sun. Also there is Colin, having just received a 'bop' on the head from a monk who used  an ivory phallus and the Divine Madman's bow and arrow, along with a name for his soon to be born baby.  He tells us the name and it has a poetic ring. He's already rung his wife with the news.  We all leave the temple together and wander back towards Sopsokha, chatting about babies and parenthood. Our guide calls our names and indicates to us that we are going to walk in another direction through the rice terraces so we bade Colin a farewell and traipse into the fields. To our astonishment we then turn, climb up a terrace and walk almost parallel to the road.  And to Colin.  But we are too far up to continue our conversation.  I cannot believe what has happen - our guide has just isolated us. Again.  Mal and I had noted this on another occasion, in a restaurant when we were directed to sit at the far end of the room, away from all the other tourists.  At the time we thought it a little strange, but this was so obvious.  We returned to the village and the carpark, waved goodbye to Colin and continued on to visit the beautiful Punakha Dzong.  

It's magnificent.  Sitting next to a coursing river of the most vibrant green, it's claimed to be the 'most beautiful' Dzong in Bhutan.  It's definitely got the most beautiful scenery surrounding it. We stop near the fork of the river and I go to get out of the car to photograph the scene. Our guide is at the car door taking my camera as I step out.  I tell him it's right, I can carry it but he insists on taking it - across the road.  Then he raises it and takes the photo.  I'm flabbergasted. 
Inside the Dzong is stunning in every way, incredible artwork, gloriously entwined iron lacework and timber with mother-of-pearl inlay. As we wander through the corridors we turn a corner and come across a wedding being photographed.   I love how every country I stumble through I stumble upon a beautiful bride.  And here she was looking exquisite against the beauty of the magnificent whitewashed walls glinting with gold and red. 
We leave the Dzong and make our way towards an enormous swing bridge.  It's high and long but I get the jellies even thinking of walking across it so I remain at the car while Mal and our guide go for a 'swing'.   
The air is cooling and the afternoon shadows become long.  It's too late to see any of the town of Punakha so we head to our hotel which turns out to be a good half hour drive from Punakha,  or anywhere else we notice,  our hotel overlooks the river and rice fields and is well away from any towns.  It’s very pretty, but isolated. Just as we are following two very tiny woman lug our enormous bags up rows of steps and paths to our room, our guide informs us he has just received a phone call from our previous hotel in Thimphu.   I'm horrified to learn I've left my laptop there. In my earlier groggy state of altitude haze, I'd left it sitting on the table in the hotel's foyer.  Where's a Divine Madman when you need one...

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