A short half hour drive bought us to the entrance to Chimi Lhakhang (abode of fertility). This temple, built in 1499, is dedicated to the Divine Madman who used humor, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings.
We followed the path beside some house decorated with phallic images, said to represent wisdom and fertility. The path continued through the rice paddies and up a small hill to the temple. Legend has it that childless couples who pray at the temple are blessed with children.
More recently, there is a story about a Japanese couple, who had been trying to have a baby for 10 years, who visited the temple area for a few days. One night after seeing the lama, the woman had a dream of a dog leaving her body, the dog representing an evil spirit. The lama told her that she would become pregnant with a daughter, and sure enough it happened. The couple have been returning every year wit their daughter to the area to help with its ongoing upkeep.
The next stop was Punakha, about an hours drive away up another valley. The main site here is the Dzong or Fortress which today serves as the administrative center of the district and the main monastic center in the area.
We stopped at a park across the river from the Dzong for one of the best views of a Dzong in Bhutan. There were some high school students there studying for an exam. We chatted with some of them for about 10 minutes until they had to return to class.
The Bhutanese education system is based on an Indian curriculum but taught entirely in English, except for the study of the local language Dzongkha. Formal education was started in the 1960s and was initially in Hindi. However, a fear of takeover by India in a manner similar to Sikkim, resulted in English being made the medium of instruction (“so the outsiders could understand us crying for help in case of an invasion by India!”)
Punakha Dzong was completed in 1638. Further improvements and additions were carried out over the next century. The dzong sits at the confluence of two rivers, and was a strategic location in case of invasion from outside forces.
This was the most picturesque of any dzong that we saw on the trip. The white washed walls with red flowers gave it a Mediterranean feel. The saffron red robes of the monks contrasted with the surrounding buildings and landscape to provide many excellent photographs.
We had lunch near the river near an area that one of the king’s uncles was visiting. We were allowed to stay there while he was not there, but would have to move if he returned. He never did return when we were there, and so we missed our chance to see Bhutanese Royalty.
Our last excursion for the day was a 300m climb up a hill to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten (Stupa). This was a 30m high stupa dedicated to the crown prince (now the present king) when built in 1999. The spectacular view of the river valley and surrounding mountains was a great reward for the effort taken to make the climb. Some affable monks provided excellent subject matter for more photographs of the area.
We returned to Wangdi and the Dragon’s Nest for the evening where we had another sumptuous buffet meal and Bhutanese beer.