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Buddha 101


View India 2016 on Flemings2's travel map.

Today we had a day trip to Sarnath, the spot where Buddha gave his first sermons after enlightenment. It was a very nice place with a very spiritual feel. So much incredible history. We particularly enjoyed the Bodhi tree apparently related to the one under which he sat. The place was adorned with colourful Buddhist prayer flags and prayer wheels that devotees sent spinning. Just a taste of what is to come in Bhutan!

It's off to Delhi tomorrow for a short stop near the airport in preparation for an early morning flight to Bhutan. That means it might be a couple of days before further posts. Stay tuned!

At Sarnath:
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Ganges view:
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Don in the Running of the Bulls in Varanasi 🙃 (Definitely have to keep out of their way....)
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Posted by Flemings2 07:54 Comments (0)

The Road to Bhutan

Yeah! We made it! The map above shows the routing to our next stop. Up EARLY this morning to catch a Drukair flight (the Royal Bhutanese airline) from Delhi to Paro, Bhutan. A short stop in Kathmandu and we were off again flying over Everest. Quite a sight. A while ago I read that only 8 pilots are trained to fly into Paro because of the difficult terrain. We hoped that their training has been ongoing! The planes come so close to the hills that the pilot makes the announcement that we are not to worry, this is normal to have the hillside on your wingtip... Thankfully they're good at what they do.

Posted by Flemings2 04:57 Comments (0)

Thimphu - A Very Good Beginning

Wow! This TRULY IS a breath of fresh air.

Upon arrival in Paro we were met by our guide for the week, Wangdi (aka Porb) and driver Dophu.

They drove us onward to Thimphu, the capital, with some beautiful stops along the way. In Thimphu we visited a temple/stupa/chorten that was absolutely fascinating. A photographer's paradise were Don's words. So far, we are very impressed. The people have friendly and welcoming smiles, no honking horns disturbing the peace, cleaner air and environment than India, and everything seems very orderly. Would love to have been here longer. 😩

The following map shows our route for the week. It's a little off with Punakha, but close enough....

Wangdi made me 😁 cross this very old iron chain/chain link bridge, a common style pedestrian bridge.
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Such beautiful faces!
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Huge prayer wheels at a beautiful Buddhist temple - spin clockwise.
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Posted by Flemings2 05:12 Comments (0)

Procession of Warriors

The day started with a visit to the giant golden Buddha, 169 feet high! Although work at the base is still going on, once complete it will be one of the largest in the world.

After a bumpy, winding, 3 hour drive we arrived in Punakha, with a stopover at Dochu La pass, a summit of 3100 meters. Unfortunately the clouds came in so we couldn't see the mountains. Awesome anyway.

In Punakha we arrived just in time for the special celebrations commemorating the warriors who fought back Tibetan invaders using imaginative trickery in 1639. The day was only marred by a crush of people as the procession filed through a gate which became a pinch point and I was almost caught in the middle of it. But otherwise a grand day....

The Golden Buddha of Thimphu:
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Some of the 108 stupas of Dochu La Pass:
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Interesting part of the procession at the Punakha festival:
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Posted by Flemings2 06:25 Comments (0)

Punakha - Full of Surprises

The annual Tsechu festival began today, immediately following the one that ended yesterday. The colours are stunning. So many photos to pick from.

Some of the performers at the festival:

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Then on to an historic nunnery on the hill with a nice Nepalese stupa.

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We followed this with a visit to a very interesting village with an unusual claim to fame. Above the village is a monastery built for a 15th-16th century much-loved saint, affectionately called The Divine Madman (aka the "fertility saint" as women used to seek out his blessing through sex). He thought the clergy was too stuffy so decided to shake them up a bit. He was known as a womanizing alcoholic yet strong in his Buddhist teachings. Even today women from near and far come to the monastery to improve fertility. SO... The village is covered with a symbol of this Madman that is used not only for fertility but to ward off evil spirits. As such you see replicas painted on walls, hanging from doorways, etc.

This one even has teeth...what???

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Posted by Flemings2 06:09 Comments (0)

Punakha Finale

Kuzuzangpola (that's "hello" in the Bhutanese language). Not an easy language!

Another great day. Wish the sky wasn't so hazy - apparently due to lots of forest fires.

Started out with a short hike up to a monastery, crossing a suspension bridge covered with fluttering prayer flags. Beautiful.

Don and Wangdi arriving at the monastery.
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Lunch at a new hotel. The food has been great - obviously toned down on the chilies to suit the blander western palates. Some dishes pictured here are fried fiddlehead ferns, roasted tofu and cabbage, roasted veg, spinach, cheese cauliflower, rice, and my personal favourites - momos! Some of you may be familiar with these. They are delicious little dumplings filled with minced veg and cheese, among other things. Only problem is I shouldn't really have them because of the wheat flour - but I had to try!!
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Later we returned to the festival one last time. Tomorrow will be a long day on the road, travelling back the same way we came (basically a one lane road with lots of bumps and hairpin turns) to Paro.

Performers at the festival:
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The Punakha Dzong in which the festival is held. These dzongs used to be defensive forts, but now are monasteries.
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Posted by Flemings2 06:26 Comments (0)

Travel Day Back to Paro

Another travel day back over the crazy road (a trip that would take 1 hour at home taking 3 or 4 at least). Along the road the highways department has posted some interesting signs showing philosophical jingles, such as:
"First is always first but don't be fast"
"Self-trust is the essence of heroism"
"Driving and drinking is a fatal cock-tail"
And my personal favourite..."If you are married, divorce speed" - maybe one for the Malahat?

Things I'd love to show pictures of but can't because they are found in monasteries where photography is forbidden, are what they call "butter cakes". These are elaborate sculptures done in butter. Using disks about the size of a Ritz cracker, they build up layers in a variety of pastel colours and make intricate designs. These are put together to form a tree shape and placed on a buttered base and background. The ones we've seen are about 3 feet high and apparently some are even bigger and better. I found the ones we saw breathtaking and was completely intrigued with the psychedelic designs and colours. They can last about a year. Gorgeous!

Arriving in Paro we checked out the serene Paro Dzong, not as big as the one in Punakha, but equally as beautiful.
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Then we enjoyed wandering the old part of Paro with its array of shops:
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How to make you feel special!.....
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Great room with a great view.
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Posted by Flemings2 07:18 Comments (0)

Goodbye Shangri La

Our final day in Bhutan and we saved the best for last. With an early morning start we headed up the steep and gruelling trail to the Taktsang (or Tiger's Nest) Monastery. This is the jewel of Bhutan, its most revered monastery. It is a fairly strenuous 4-5 hour hike round trip, with a path winding up the hill to where the monastery is nestled into the rock. What adds to the difficulty is the altitude - a rise of 3,000 feet (900 metres) above the valley floor at an overall elevation of 10,240 feet (3,120 metres) above sea level. We definitely felt the elevation and it was a bit of a slog, but we made it, to be rewarded with the most awesome views of this imposing structure. The climb was made more difficult for us as we are both getting over a bad cold.

Guru Rinpoche arrived here in the 8th century flying from Tibet on the back of a tigress. Here he subdued the local demon then spent 3 months meditating in the cave that is still there today. He is credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The monastery itself was originally built in 1692. In 1998 it was destroyed by fire, but through a remarkable reconstruction has been brought back to its former glory.

Along the trail:
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The Taktsang Monastery/Tiger's Nest:
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Posted by Flemings2 05:27 Comments (0)

Final Days in India

Yesterday being a travel day, there was nothing to blog about 😐

The Drukair flight went well, although we got to the small airport hours in advance to ensure we got a window seat on the right side. You'll see
why below.

So here we are once again in Delhi. Feels like we've been here forever.

Enough temples; time for shopping! I must say that's where Delhi shines. The market we went to could occupy hours for me and my sisters! The clothes, the jewelry, shoes...all at bargain prices. Dangerous.

Also went to the grounds of the Presidential Estate. Lots of heavy fire power around and tensions a bit high. Some high level talks underway - another state to the north undergoing more protests (always something). The current protests have caused water rationing in Delhi, but haven't affected us yet.

A very famous view out the window of the plane...Mt. Everest.
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Shopping Heaven:
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Posted by Flemings2 02:54 Comments (0)

India Wrap Up

Our final day in India today.

It's been a great visit though - never disappoints, always fascinating. India is such an amazing country - always something different and beautiful to see.

To finish off today, we visited the famous Baha'i Lotus Temple. An incredible structure - very simple and elegant. Sitting inside in complete silence was a spiritual experience. We enjoyed learning more about this all-embracing religion.

Tomorrow we're off to Tokyo for a few days on the way home, and will continue to post. Should be quite the contrast! 🙃

Hard to see, but that's me at the Lotus Temple:
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Posted by Flemings2 06:11 Comments (0)

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