Trongsa: Buddha Day

Approaching Trongsa

Approaching Trongsa

We spend the next day in Trongsa Castle. Its Buddha’s birthday, so merits are worth a million times their usual value. Kindness pays today! I’m helping little old ladies up stairs, I’m handing out bits of cash at alters here and there, and I’m thinking only benevolent thoughts. I’m banking some serious merits, but it also starts to feel a bit burdensome. Later in the day though, I discover I can dedicate my merits to all sentient beings with the proper incantations. It’s a big relief.

Trongsa 9

Bridge over the moat: it is a castle after all

It’s also my mom’s birthday. Gefeliciteerd moedertje!

Monks inside the Dzong in Trongsa

Monks inside the Dzong in Trongsa


Lower courtyard

We sit in on the monks and their Buddha birthday ceremony, which I record on my phone. Photography is not allowed, but honestly it feels like watching a group of goofy guys eating lunch; except for this one guy in a yellow robe with a whip and a chain of wooden beads who maintains pacing and discipline. In any case, it’s an interesting spectacle, I root for the guys having fun when the disciplinarian steps out, and we finally leave them mid ritual. It can go on for a couple of hours, and we don’t understand a word of it, but it feels like a privilege nonetheless.

This little offering was parked outside the main entrance to the Dzong:

Trongsa 10

Offering outside main entrance

We head to Jakar, another long drive on the same narrow national highway, squeezing past oncoming traffic, dodging cows and dogs, past crenelated precipices and flag festooned chortans, over another fog shrouded pass, until we meet the governor of Bumthang prefecture along the side of the road with his wife, and we stop for a few bowls of arra. It tastes like pine, but pleasantly so, this version slightly pink and poured from a 2 liter Fanta bottle, packing a hefty kick in the pants. A couple of people can’t drink it, but you know I hate to see anything go to waste. It’s a Dutch thing.

Yotang La

Chortan and prayer flags, Yotang La

The governor (actually he’s not elected but appointed, the role similar to a French Prefect) is a partner in Tharpaling Norbu, the company that invited me here to help them plan and design a resort. I leave the group on the bus for the guv’s chauffeured 4×4, and 4 of us now head to the proposed site for the project. Down a rutted dirt road, past farms and farmhouses, we turn off suddenly to an even worse mud logging track, fording several stream crossings until we rise up into a vast clearing surrounded on all sides by pine forest.

It is a damaged site, cleared and farmed once for buckwheat, then converted to a dairy operation and finally left for itinerant grazing. High on the site stand some older trees and vestiges of the original forest, with new growth beginning to fill in the flanks. A healthy stream borders the west edge, a more tepid and marshier flow to the east. The entire slope faces south, towards more distant hills and a distant temple and of course the sun. To use the project to repair this place, to make it whole, feels like a truly worthy intention.

We head to Jakar after dark, the journey quite jarring but only an hour, get lost in the darkness but finally locate the hotel, share a small meal, and call it finally a night.

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