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Happy Spirits in Bhutan

This post will cover the two most spiritual things I have ever experienced. I was deeply moved by both of them. Bhutan is a deeply Buddhist country. I have mentioned before that if I ever decided to convert, as if I were disciplined enough to try, it would be in Bhutan. I found that the Tantrayana sect of Buddhism appeals to me for some reason I cannot fathom. Maybe it is just that it seems unspoiled by outside influences, much like Bhutan itself.

On the longest touring day in our itinerary we drove through beautiful mountains.

Prayer flags for our loved ones.

Our drive took us to a  place called Punakha Dzong located at 3050 meters.

These are the Bhatan version of Stupas called Chortens. They were located on top of a hill at the 3000+ meter elevation.On a clear day, you get a great view of the Himalaya from here, but this was off season, so the weather was off as well. There were 108 (an important number) of these Chortens. They were built by the fourth Queen of Bhutan. Next to them is a temple the current King uses on certain ceremonies.

Each Chorten has an identical portrait of the Buhdda.

I climbed to the top of the hill for the view, and to sneak a smoke. Across the road I noticed acres of prayer flags strung from tree to tree. Prayer flags are just that. Little flags with prayers printed on them that certain sects of Buddhists hang where the wind blows so that the prayers are carried away to be answered.

When I came back down the hill Mary Ann let me know that there was a Monk there who sold strings of prayer flags. That is exactly what I had just wished for. I do not care if I am in a Christian church, a mosque or a temple, I always say a prayer for the sole of my departed son. I really wanted to hang a string of prayer flags for him.

Each string contains flags of multiple colors.The white flag is for the sole of dearly departed. I bought a string, and Mary Ann bought one also. We tied them together, which is cool I guess, the monk did not say otherwise.

The monk and our guide accompanied us up the hill to the spot where the flags get hung. It was over 3000 mtrs high and Mary Ann got a bit winded Not me, I was too excited.

When we got to the top of the hill, the monk and our guide helped us tie up the strings. We said a prayer. I felt more assured that my prayer helped my son Neal more than lighting a candle in St. Peter’s Cathedral.

Hearing the Voice of  Buddha.

From here we drove further until we reached what is called the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas

This is the fascinating valley of Phobjikha.  This is the winter home of black-necked cranes that migrate from the arid plains in the north to pass winter in milder and lower climate. Unfortunately for us the Cranes do not visit during low season. Yet it is easy to see that Bhutan has many unspoiled and beautiful areas. Like I keep saying, the last Shangri-La.

As spiritual as beauty can be sometimes, in Bhutan you just never know what comes next

At the edge of the valley is this magnificent monastery. Because it has a name too long to pronounce it is also called the Gangtey monastery. We went to visit it. I figured, “OK time to take off the shoes again, and see another temple” I was so very wrong.

This is the entrance to Gangtey monastery. No cameras allowed inside.

What we saw inside was a very large court yard surrounded by “dorm” rooms for a considerable amount of Monks. In the middle of the court yard was a temple. It was completely full of both Monks and civilians. They were all intently listening to an elderly Monk speaking a lesson. We peaked in, but did not feel like making a scene and trying to enter the crowded floor space. The man’s voice sounded wonderful, It sounded soothing. People were paying rapt attention.

When we left, our guide said how lucky we were to have heard the voice of Buddha. He could see by the look on my face that he owed me an explanation.

He went on to explain. In the Tantrayana sect of Buddhism, at any time there are three men walking the earth who are Lamas. One carries the spirit of Buddha, one the mind of Buddha, and one the voice of Buddha. That is who we had just been listening to. This was his monastery, these were his Monks. He is in his eighth reincarnation. His first life was in 800 A.D. Apparently he has clear memories from each of his lives. This is basically how they know he is a venerated Lama.

I was feeling very privileged. After seeing something like a million statues of Buddha in the last few years, to magically be transported to a place where I could hear his voice, made me start thinking…”am I destined for Buddhism?”  Probably not, there is no way I could tolerate a mosquito biting me without killing it.

That is it for spirituality for the day. Time to go beat my wife’s cat for scratching the couch. Share with a friend, subscribe, comment, anything. Just let me know you are out there!

 

Bhutan, Happy in Old and New Knowledge

Bhutan Protects the Timeless Knowledge

My wife Mary Ann strolling in the Bhutan National Library. This was not a stop on our itinerary, but being that Mary Ann is a professional Librarian, when we passed the library, we made sure our guide stopped so we could “tour” it.

There were three floors of the “old” library, each with a shrine to the Buddha.

Each of the floors had rack after rack of prayer scrolls which are quite old. Each prayer is contained in a silk bag. They are all cataloged. The cataloging system was not exactly Dewey-Decimal! Each of the prayers were used by monks for specific requests such as more rain, stop the rain, and so on.

The new section of the library was almost all in English. It contained books about the philosophy  and  practice of Buddhism. It even had a business section about how to run a business according to Buddhist principles!. It had a reading and study area. If I ever decide that I have the discipline to be a Buddhist (fat chance 😉 ) this is where I will go and read for a few months before I ever sit down with a monk.

Bhutan Enters the Digital Age!

Just outside of the capital city of Thimpu, there is a brand new IT Park

Almost finished, the government has already declared it open.

Built as a modern IT building, it nonetheless incorporates classic Bhutanese architecture. It is actually an attractive building. It uses a solar/water based system for air conditioning.

Space inside this building has already been leased to Microsoft and other international high tech companies. It will also serve as a start-up bed for Bhutanese entrepreneurs.

Facilities inside are as modern as any I ever worked in during my career in software development. I have high hopes for this place.

The Project Manager for the construction phase is an Australian that goes by the name of Shax. he keeps an interesting blog about the project and life in Bhutan. I suggest you read it, here.

This is Shax inspecting the water powered prayer wheel he incorporated into the landscape plan.

This is something he did NOT put in his plan. This is the most common weed in Bhutan. It grows EVERYWHERE. Gross National Happiness!

Next post, A sacred ceremony Mary Ann and I performed which was the highlight of my five weeks in Asia.

Please  share. Please return. Please comment. Please enjoy.

Worlds’s Smallest Buddha

Our travel style,in case you are a new reader, is to hire a private guide with a comfortable car who is ours for they duration. We do not just show up and say “whatcha got.” We do our own research with every book we can find, and do not forget my wife is a university librarian. We also peruse all the social media sites, the usual suspects and a few that are truly suspect.

Then we start contacting guides using again every source we can find. If we send someone an email and get no response within 48 hours, that person goes on the dung heap never to be recycled.

That is pretty brutal, but pity the ones who get right back to us. We let them make a proposal in the form of an itinerary. Then we hack at it. They come back with changes. What we are really looking for is a bit of creativity and daring on their part. This consumes a lot of their time. Mary Ann leaves it up to me because I have nothing but time. This puts us in a distinct advantage. We may be playing on their field, but I’m Sandy Koufax and I don’t care where I am pitching.

The person who I ended up choosing was a guy named Johan at Noramix Travels available through www.Srilanka.com. I threw him a few curve balls, and he had a great turn at bat.

All that brings me around to this trip to Sri Lanka.

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Sun rise over Sri lanka from our Air Arabia flight, taken with my new IPAD

Our first hotel, The Mt Livinia, was chosen for us by the previously mentioned tour agency because one of the things I said I wanted was a taste of the colonial lifestyle. You can't get much more colonial than having this guy run your bags to your room. I ruined the colonial experince by tipping him.

Now that we were settled into a wonderful room our driver, Farzan, or as he put it “not Tarzan”, started taking us around Colombo. It is pretty port town dating back to the days of spice and tea trade. The Portuguese and English in turn ran the trading businesses through this town. Sri Lnka has been independent since shortly after WWII.

The country suffered through a civil war that just ended a few years ago. The tourism industry is recovering nicely in the south west quarter of the country and a bit slower elsewhere. Colombo shows no signs of the war.

Another thing we saw in Colombo, and everywhere else in Sri Lanka,  is a comfortable co-existence of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian religions. You see it in the temples, mosques and churches and the cultural dress. I wish that were worldwide, alas.

We drove around and saw the city. Nice, but not much to blog about. However we did find one thing I have always wanted to see, a snake charmer.

I can scratch another item from my bucket list!

Then we went to a place that was a combination museum and temple.  This museum is more like a warehouse, but it’s full of valuable and beautiful treasures. Some of the shrines and buddhas were actually made of gold or completely covered in diamonds.  I was busy taking photos of this cute little Buddhist monk…

I just thought it was so cool, but really the monks in the buddhist religion are just normal young men who traditionally become a monk for a few months,or a couple of years, then go back to whatever career is their calling. This guy probably became a surfer.

…when my wife called out, “You gotta see this”. On my bucket list is the worlds largest Buddha statue, which I quess I will need to go to China to see. I had never considered the worlds smallest Buddha but here he was right in front of me .

My photo did not come out so well, so I stole this one from another blogger. This lttle Buddha is in a glass case (This picture makes the case look larger than it is) with a magnifying glass built in (on the right of the photo). If you put one eye up to it and look like a mad scientist into the glass jar you can see a very intricate carving, in gold, of the Buddha. The carving is about the size of a grain of rice, and absolutely beautiful. I do not know where it came from or any other details, but the curator of the museum was proud to tell me it was the world's smallest.

We had been travelling across the coconut all night and day, so we went back to the hotel,  had  our first of many wonderful Sri Lankan meals. We had to get up early in the morning for the trin to Kandeeland!

We were treated to this sunrise while we waited at the train station.

It was worth waiting for! Such a cute train!

Next post, Kandee! A wonderful city in the hill country, gateway to the tea plantations of old Ceylon!

Thanks for reading, tell a friend, pass it along, and remember, I get paid by the comment!

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