Bhutan – Day 7 – The Chamkhar Valley

After the rigours of yesterday’s journey we arrived at this beautiful, comfortable hotel. There was a blazing log fire in the stove and dinner was served in our room as some monks had taken over the dining room as they were celebrating the full moon. We celebrated our safe arrival and had an early night. I awoke about 1.30 to hear something scrabbling in the room. I hoped it wasn’t what I thought it might be, but woke Christine just in case. We scoured the room, but could find nothing, so I turned over and went back to sleep. Poor Christine didn’t, however, for some considerable time!

We woke in the morning and looked out from our bedroom window over the most spectacular view of the Chamkhar Valley. The whole area was bathed in sunlight, and when we went out onto the balcony the air tasted clean and smelt of woodsmoke and pine.

Breakfast was delicious with homemade yoghurt, fried eggs, some tasty bread and homemade strawberry jam and local honey. They also brought us some eggs in a basket with flowers and some scone-like bread. Unfortunately we could not follow what our waitress was saying, but we think it may have been done in recognition of our Easter.

Today was a temple day and very interesting, but I must confess we are getting a bit tempted out! However we are learning a lot about Buddhism which is quite a complex religion with a great number of deities, gurus and manifestations of Buddha.

Our first stop was the Jakar (White Bird) dzong on the hilltop above the town. It was built in 1667 on a site identified as auspicious by lamas in 1549 when a white bird settled on the hilltop. You climb up a steep path and enter a gateway and through into a narrow courtyard where the monastic offices are. Walking through this you come to the temple which unusually is on the east side of the next courtyard. It is very impressive. It being a Sunday we could also visit the administrative offices at the west end of the dzong.

We left there and drove a short distance to Jampey Lhakhang a beautiful temple dating from 659. The Tibetan king who founded it, founded 108 temples on the same day, including one in Paro, to pin down a witch who was causing trouble in the Himalayan region. This temple pinned down her left knee. The inner sanctum is the oldest part of the oldest temple in Bhutan and is very atmospheric.

 

From there we strolled through farmland, past farmhouses and buildings to give shelter to farmers keeping wild animals off their crops. Some of the field# contained cattle or horses, and sometimes they completely failed to contain them and they grazed on the track. The fields are fenced with wooden rails and freshly cut wood is piled up to be seasoned as timber or for firewood. The sun shone and we crossed a gurgling brook that winked in the sunlight.

We were now approaching the large temple complex of Kurjey Lhakhang named after the print (kur) of the body (jey) of Guru Rinpoche which is preserved in a cave inside the oldest of the three temples. Unfortunately it was closed, but we visited the other two. At the first, built in 1994, was a wall pointing of the dharma or wheel of life, so Sunam took the opportunity of explaining it all to us. It was really interesting with some aspects not entirely different from our own faith. Inside the second temple is an enormous statue of Guru Rinpoche, 10 metres high. We could not get into the third temple built in 1652, but noted the carving of the garuda attacking the snow lion near the roof line. This represents the Guru Rinpoche attacking a local demon.

We passed through a gateway and walked down through meadows to the river, over which hung a flag-lined suspension footbridge. We swayed across its planked surface, catching glimpses of the rushing torrent below. The only thing spoiling the tranquility of the scene was the Japanese digger moving boulders in the riverbed to our left as a new road bridge is being constructed. Bhutan is restless with development!

We walked on to another temple, the Tamshing Goemba which was very dark and again dominated by a statue of Guru Rinpoche. The statue was sculpted by the khandromas or female deities. Mr Numgay was there to meet us and whisked us back to our hotel for a much needed lunch.

The afternoon brought yet another temple visit, with stunning views over the town. I won’t go into details about the temple, as to be honest, it has rather blurred with the others, but don’t tell Sunam! As we arrived dark clouds were gathering in the north and large drops of rain spatter3d around us. We walked back down some steep steps to the little town of Chamkhar, Christine enveloped in a large white poncho which made her look like an inflated ghost! We walked through the town, looking at the shops. Sunam was anxious that we should not get wet, but we persevered. We visited the vegetable market and again tried to identify a range of unusual veg. and fruit. Then Christine found a tailor and immediately started negotiating, with Sunam’s help, the making of a jacket within 24 hours. The tailor agreed, so then we had to find some suitable material. The third shop had just the material she wanted at £12 for a jacket’s worth. So it was back to the tailor where we had to spend some time locating his tape measure. Once found he then decided that a jacket he was already making was Christine’s size and indeed it was. Having now got a template he assured us it would be ready in 24 hours for the staggering price of about £2.50!

We walked back through heavy drops of rain to the hotel, pausing briefly to watch some monks playing football. Now we are sitting by our log stove, contemplating a good dinner in an hour’s time. Dusk gathers outside, occasionally the lights go out, and the temperature is falling, but as long as there is nothing else sharing our room we don’t care!

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