I chose not to read about life in Bhutan outside general tourist information to breathe in all the country has to offer upon arrival. Instead, I wanted to savor the newness of my experience firsthand. And I am ever so grateful for my intuition because, as you might expect, Bhutan has not disappointed, happily providing a proper space for time to fall away.
I went so far as to leave my wristwatch behind so I could be present in each moment. And thus far, every moment has been rich with texture, color, and contemplation. My expectations of what this trip might reveal disappear as I open myself to the quiet retreat.
Tuesday began with daily yoga practice and breakfast, followed by a hike to Tango Monastery, located on the mountainside of northern Thimpu. Our guides at Bhutan Tours and Travel have introduced us to the Himalayan altitude daily, preparing for our hike to Tiger’s Nest. The walk to Tango included a steep trail and wide switchbacks, enveloping us in a canopy of walnut and pine trees, flowers, and fern. All along the way, mantras and Buddhist sayings are painted on guideposts to encourage the traveler.
Dangspa explains how the circuitous trail represents the spiritual path to enlightenment. One interpretation is depicted in this mural of an elephant on his journey to paradise. With each step closer to purification, the color of his hide turns from gray to white.
About halfway to Tango, we discover a hermitage built into the mountain. We scale a narrow stairway carved out of stone and wood to reach the meditation room. The expansive view is breathtaking. Dangspa leads the group in meditation as mosquitoes hang in the air before us, battling one another, and a ginger cat settles in the sun. (No photography is allowed within the temples, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)
Afterward, we returned to Thimpu for our first official Bhutanese lunch: a spread of local dishes that started with roasted rice and butter tea. Followed by red rice, mushroom soup, pork and chicken specialties, spinach, sautéed vegetables, and the country’s delicacy Ema Tadashi (also known as chili cheese).
We visit a weaving arts center and observe artisans as they craft fabric for traditional Bhutanese clothing.
Later in the evening, we visit the Choden family at their home in downtown Thimpu. It is a whole house with Thinley, Pasa, their mother, sister, niece, and nephew, together with our tour group of nine. They so graciously pose for a family photo.