Well things are winding down here, sadly. I would stay a lot longer if I could. Drove to Ha, the next valley over with a few friends, 2 Bhutanese girls (Sonam and Sonam) and firey Sri Lankan Ashok, giggling most of the day. We brought a big picnic and a camera, and when we arrived at the valley, there was a monastery at the top of the hill where we heard Machig Labdron had left her footprint, so we went. She had spent time in a cliffside retreat house behind the monastery, so we asked a monk to take us. Ashok turned around the minute it started getting steep, and good thing, cause it got steeper each step. When the trail did finally level out, at times it was so thin my foot barely fit on it, and on one side of that thin trail was steep rock wall going up, and on the other side was steep rock wall going down, and down, and down. I have never said my mantra so fervently: OmManiPadmaHumOmManiPadmaHumOmManiPadmaHum, knees shaking, hands sweating, mind trying to convince myself that I have been a good girl and don’t deserve to die on my way to pay respects to a woman of wisdom, Buddhist saint, vajrayana master, fellow pilgrim. And I will admit without shame that yes, I did part of that trail on my hands and knees. Call it bowing to the goddess.
Anyway I am alive and today just back from Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. The Punakha Dzong there reminds me of the scene of the witch’s castle in the wizard of oz – huge, mysterious, easy to get lost in, virtually surrounded by a moat as it is at the confluence of 2 rivers, and filled with roaming masses of men dressed in identical costumes. All their main monasteries are called dzongs, fortresses, because in the old days government administration shared the same building so they could save on building expenditures, and then they would all be safe in the huge and protected building in case of invasion. The Tibetans did in fact invade a few times, but no one ever conquered Bhutan. A fairly amazing accomplishment, given its size and strategic location.
The climate in Punakha is almost tropical – a refreshing treat from dry wintry Paro. Poinsettias as big as houses line the road on both sides entering the village, a flaming red tunnel of Christmas cheer. Oranges and guavas and bananas crowd their respective trees. I am told, thank goodness after the fact, that cobras also crowd these parts. Fortunately I did not learn this firsthand.
Students are few and far between these days; Bangkok’s political problems helped with that. The red rice has all been harvested and winnowed and now you can see great sacks of it in the marketplace on Sundays. A few straggling guests remain at the lodge, the season dwindling down and the staff making arrangements for holidays. Peasants haul huge loads of wood on their backs down the road, step by painstaking step back to their homes, preparing for winter.