Suitcase and World: Wangdue Phodrang Dzong.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wangdue Phodrang Dzong.

We ended our day of sightseeing in Punakha with a visit to the Wangdue Phodrang dzong.

From the road below, I could see the the dramatic structure of the dzong which is actually three separate narrow structures that follow the contours of the ridge that it's perched on.  At the base of the hill, a river snakes through the landscape.

Built in 1638, the story goes that the dzong was given its name by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who was searching for the best location for a dzong to prevent incursions from the south. At the chosen spot the Shabdrung encountered a boy named Wangdur playing beside the river and hence named the dzong "Wangdue's Palace".

Legend also has it that the dzong was built on this particular spot because as people searched for a site for a dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spreading of religion to the four points of the compass.

The driver first let us off at one of the bridge that spans the river at the base of the dzong.  The bridge was built in 2002 as a joint effort between Bhutan and Switzerland but that's not why we walked across it.

Tenzing wanted us to traverse the bridge on foot so we could take in views of the dzong and the surrounding landscape.  I will take every opportunity to walk in Bhutan.  I don't think I could ever get tired of seeing the pristine translucent green rivers with water so crystal you can see to the bottom.  And the rivers snaking their way through clefts in lush, green hills.  Bright blue skies and fluffy white clouds hanging about.

Prayer flags, tied to both sides of the bridge, were waving in the gentle wind. 

The driver met us at the other end of the bridge and drove a short distance to the town of Wangdue Phodrang.  As we passed through town, Tenzing told us that we would have opportunity to spend some time walking through the place after we visited the dzong.

From there, we would continue on foot.  As we walked, we passed by several groups of school children on their way home.  One group of boys was particularly friendly and for their amusement and ours, we must collectively snapped more than a dozen photos.  Dressed in their ghos, with their lunch pails in hand, backbacks strapped behind and the cutest of faces smiling at us, how could anyone say no to a simple request for a photo?  I know I couldn't. :-)

I don't know how we managed to do it, but we got the boys to all line up for us.

If only every kid could be so amused by seeing their face on a camera screen.

And we couldn't leave out the girls.  These two were walking hand-in friends, I'm guessing.

When we left the kids, they were gleefully scampering on their way home.   We were just a short distance away from the front entrance to the dzong. 

Merle kindly posed for me.

I was prepared to be confronted by a steep set of entry stairs but was relieved to see just a handful.  Happy lungs!

By the time I made it to the front door of the dzong, it was evident that although this dzong is roughly the same vintage as the Punakha Dzong, it's definitely not been as well kept looks a bit more run down or *rustic* if you will.  Even so, I was looking forward to seeing what it looked like at the other side of the door.

The courtyard was on the other side of the entrance doorway.

A long, rectangular courtyard formed the core of the first of three buildings of the dzong.

The courtyard provided a view to the river below, and rice fields an mountains beyond.

A second doorway led to another courtyard.


The second courtyard was far smaller than the first and although less impressive in scale, the buildings were far more interesting in their decoration- a tad creepy was my thought when I first saw them.

The third courtyard and building was the least impressive but what saved it from me just turning around and walking out were the monks.   They were milling around the courtyard and darting in and out of various rooms.  Even though I had seen hundreds of monks over the years, I'm still fascinated by them....don't know why.

In a room, on the second floor of one of the buildings, several young monks were seated on the floor doing their daily studies which included chanting in prayer.  I walked into the room and stood quietly on the side of the room to watch them.  All of a sudden, one of the young monks motioned for me to come over to him.  So, I walked over, sat down next to him and looked at the Tibetan scroll that he was reading off of. Whispering, I tried to ask him what he was studying.  I don't know if it was because he didn't understand what I was asking him or if that was not allowed to speak while praying but he did not reply back.  I only sat beside him for a few minutes as I wasn't sure if I was allowed to be there or not - I glanced around the room and I hadn't seen any other visitors sitting next to a monk.

Back outside, I wandered around the small courtyard and every now and again, I would spot someone looking at me.  This shy young monk was trying to hide his face from me but eventually our eyes locked and we both smiled.  It was a priceless moment!

After our visit to the dzong, we drove back to Wangdue.  The driver left us in the parking and we had 20 minutes to walk around town.....just long enough for Tenzing to replenish our supply of bottled water.  As usual, we attracted a crowd of children.  This time, we left Tenzing to amuse them :-)

There was small row of shops facing the parking lot. I decided to just check those shops out.  I don't think the folks in Wangdue have yet figured out how to cater to tourists so none of the shops had the usual kitschy souvenir ware.  Instead, they sold the goods that the towns folk would need on a daily basis.  It was a refreshing change to not see any tourist ware!

Although I only had 20 minutes, I still managed to buy something....a turquoise colored silk top for a kira that I will wear as a jacket.  I wanted the jacket the moment I laid eyes on it and well, who knows I will be back, if ever, to Wangdue so I had to have the jacket.  With that, Rhonda and I were the last to make it back to the van.  In fact, Tenzing was just on his way to look for us. *sheepish grin*

Back in the van, our day of touring Punakha had come to an end but Tenzing had one more surprise in store for us.  Last night, I had asked him where I could go to eat a traditional meal at a local restaurant and he replied that if enough people in the group were interested, he could arrange for us to go for dinner one night.  Well, tonight was the night so we had to head back to the hotel and get ready.  There was no time to dilly dally in Wangdue :-)

Today was truly a memorable day in Bhutan and the optimist in me is telling me that there are more days ahead like this one.  I can't wait to see what else awaits me!  I'm loving Bhutan!