Thimphu and Paro, Bhutan
Day 165: Country #19
The weather was absolutely perfect with a scattering of clouds to accentuate the blue skies, which further contrast with Bhutan’s unique architectural style and color palettes.
The guide arrived and waited for the driver as I ate breakfast, then we set off to Tashichho Dzong, one of a handful of monastery fortresses that also serve as centers of government. There aren’t many Theocracy style governments nowadays.
It was a very quiet morning as I observed a changing of the guards, then entered the Dzong and explored around, occasionally seeing military personnel and monks walk about. The structures were massive.
On the way down the hill I got a glimpse of some more modern branches of government, which formed when the Monarchy adopted a modern Constitution in 2007. They seemed to utilize the same Dzong fortress style designs.
Next was a stop to observe unique Bhutanese art and some crafts. The artisans would train for a lifetime and work with the finest details and highest levels of mastery. Almost everyone painted religious works, but one woman showed a flare for more contemporary abstractions.
We had lunch again around clock tower square in the city center, then set off on the long drive to Paro, a nearby city. The lush green countryside nestled between mountains made for a beautiful ride.
I asked to make a slight detour to the Royal Thimphu College, but there was nobody around. I walked around briefly but we did not want to get in trouble, so we continued to the National Museum of Bhutan in Paro.
Some roads were closed so we had to drive around. With no clear route for the vehicle to the National Museum, I opted to take a hiking trail up, but the guide was not able to keep pace. I ended up going to the relatively small museum, learning about rituals, traditions, geography and political history. I came back down a different route to rendezvous with her so we could visit the nearby Rinpung Dzong, which overlooked Paro and the surrounding valley.
The Dzong was just as grande as the other, but I had more freedom to wander about. Nearby a balcony which overlooked the city, I saw a door marked for the Dalai Lama. Although, I didn’t get a chance to go to Tibet, I speculate that this is likely a close equivalent. The cute child monks running up steps to the monastery dorms reinforced the comparison.
Then we headed into Paro, a small town built around one main road. It was a quick drive through before we arrived at the hotel, which was located on top of a hill outside of town. I wasn’t sure if the guide wanted to keep me from wandering around after I told her about my new friend from the street food stand, or if the hotel was chosen ahead of time.
I told them to drop me off in the town and I would walk back up the hill later, but instead, we ended up getting a Bhutanese attempt at pizza in a nearby restaurant, then they drove me back because they didn’t want me to get attacked by the dogs that were out and about.
Even though borders can create dramatic divides between countries, especially in economic development and wealth, cultural practices and ways of life tend to not be as stark. Culture tends to change more gradually from one region to another, so neighboring countries will share a lot in common. This relationship allows me to sense how Tibet, a highly religious state, is a combination of Bhutanese/Mongolian Buddhism, and Bhutanese/Nepalese business practices.