To say Saturday was my least favorite day on this trip so far would be a massive understatement. After having spent time with more locals and their helpful corrections to my guidebook, I had chosen a few dzongs and other holy places I wanted to visit this weekend. I figured I would do this on Saturday and save the laundry and house cleaning for Sunday. My body and immune system apparently had other plans. I had felt a sinus infection coming on and was doing my best to fight it with Vitamin C, warm water, and rest. My need to conserve the few medications I brought with me is quite high.
The cold days, long nights, early mornings, and freezing temperatures of the past seven days at the Festival finally caught up with me and I was down for the count. So instead of walking for hours in the remote villages of Bumthang I was on the floor, in my sleeping bag, next to the heater only moving to get more water to take Sudafed. I slept for 14 hours and went through an entire roll of tissues. Of course this was the first clear day since the snowfall on the 31st. I was not about to waste another day when Sunday morning came with bright sunlight and clear skies.
Thankfully I felt much better and I knew I would be able to manage a short trip. About 45 minutes up the road I found Jamphey Lhakhang; a temple whose main stupa was constructed in 659. Believed to be the oldest temple in Bhutan, it is considered a sacred site and the most celebrated of Bhutan’s festivals is held here in October. I circumambulated the temple three times (maintaining the Buddhist tradition) and oddly followed three elderly women. The morning had leant itself already to be a day that I would need guidance, since I was following memorized directions and my propensity for getting lost is higher than most. On my way out the front gate I passed three elderly monks repairing prayer wheels... again I saw this may be some kind of special day.
I took a dirt trail farther into the village and after crossing a half frozen stream, I came upon a huge white monastery and newly constructed temple. I later learned this houses one of the many body prints Guru Rinpoche is believed to have left in Bumthang during his periods of meditation. On my way home I decided I wasn’t quite ready to be done walking. I thought a stop in the Handicrafts Emporium would make a good diversion and only added another 30 minutes to the walk anyway.
I came upon some men playing archery on a pitch in the Wangdechholing Dzong’s entryway. Some young men were perched on a stonewall on the road above the game enjoying the festivities so I sat to join them. I had brought an apple with me and picked up a bottle of water along the way and this seemed as good a place as any to stop and take a breather. The players were much better than most I had seen before so I went down closer to take some photos and videos of the fun celebrations the teams do when an arrow hits the target.
Once I had my fill I turned to go back up the road home. Chorten (a man I knew as a friend of Administrative Assistant at the office) asked me if I would please stay for lunch as a guest of the Dasho playing in match. I said sure, assuming the Dasho was the local gup of Chakhar. Turned out it was the former governor of Bumthang and now works closely with the King on development projects for the destitute of Bhutan. I ended up spending six hours watching the match, chatting with the players, and just soaking up the experience. They even managed to drag me up to join them in their closing ceremony dances!
I have been told many times the Bhutanese are a happy people and sitting around a fire with them on a bright Sunday afternoon, enjoying their food, sipping their finest whiskey (which is ever present) I couldn’t help but be awed by them. No picture or video would do any of it justice. For this reason I fear my favorite and most cherished moments of Bhutan will not be adequately shared with others. They will reside within my heart and become memories I can’t ever forget.
His companion for the day was another Dasho (Karma) who worked for the Wellness Center (similar to the US’s welfare system) running the census programs. This gentleman formerly worked for the National Parks system and is based in Bumthang currently! What luck! Chorten works for Karma and I now have two people dedicated to seeing that I get to experience all I can in Bumthang before I depart. We are heading for Thrumshingla National Park on Saturday for a day trek!
I can only look back on the weekend and wonder… if I hadn’t gotten so sick on Saturday, I would never have stumbled upon this game. I would have missed this opportunity. Perhaps that one day of misery was a right of passage to earn a day basking in the joyous nature of Bhutanese life and the opening of the door for all my other adventures on weekends in Bhutan? Maybe I’m reading too much Thoreau… maybe I’m looking too deep in things… but maybe I’m just reconnecting with the inner part of me that allows one to be guided along a path. To take each day as it is and live in the moment is truly what the core of the culture is about.
One conversation was had beneath an old tree with Dasho Dorji. Explaining what was at the heart of Buddhism he told me something I have come to take to heart… “The moment we stop to ask ourselves if we are happy, we cease to be so.” Be happy in the moment that is now, for what else is there?