chilling feet

chilling feet

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Bhutan: A Hike to Phajoding

Not all hikes are the same. Some take you to very special places, while others just take you to another beautiful location where a person can stop and wonder in awe of creation. This past weekend one of the other volunteers in Bhutan asked us if we would like to go on a hike up behind Thimphu. After a short description of what to expect, and reading about it in a book, we decided it sounded like a good way to spend our Saturday. We met him Saturday morning, jumped in a taxi to ride up to our starting point, and then started into our trek.

We ventured in search of another monastery for the first hour of our hike as we were told it had a really cool artifact to look at, but when we got there it was under the process of being renovated. We asked a few of the workers if we could try to peek our heads in anywhere but they all gave us a firm no. Too much work to be done I suppose. So we headed on back to find our original path via another route and continued our way up the mountain towards our destination. Along our way we were able to take in some wonderful sights - prayer flags, some small chortens, a man hanging some prayer flags, a monkey making some crazy calls, and a spectacular trail. There were some parts that did make us work, but on the whole the trail does some nice undulating and gave us a few breaks on our way.

We made sure to take a few breaks so that we could eat a few snacks. We brought a giant bar of dark chocolate that became an early lunch snack. Man that thing tasted good. The highlight of our trek up, to me at least, was the tent-like structure we came along that was made entirely out of prayer flags. It looked as though it was set up as a place to break and have tea, though there was no table or chairs or tea. The way the sun was beating down at the moment it seemed like the perfect spot to take a nice respite. Anyway, it was a really wonderful spot to come upon and I took some time to marvel over what it might actually be used for.

The real draw to this particular hike though, is what is at the top. Phajoding Monastery (yes they have a website) has been looming over the city of Thimphu for quite some time. At one point it was well cared for and full of wealth, but then with the change of the times things shifted and it became somewhat dilapidated. Then it was given a new purpose and came under new management, or that's how I am describing what I read about. Not only is the monastery now being taken care of again but it has a spectacular purpose. It has been doubling as an orphanage for young boys with no where else to go. They are welcomed into the monastery and raised as monks, with a place to live and grow. How wonderful is that? Many religious buildings exist for good purposes, but some of them rise above these purposes and become a place where the broken can become whole. Phajoding is one of these such places and it was special to visit it. You can actually visit that website and donate to the orphanage.

When we arrived we were almost immediately asked if we would like some tea. There were some young boys sitting at a table (as pictured) and they were quite excited to offer us some piping hot tea. What a welcome surprise! So we took a much needed break after arriving at the monastery while drinking some delicious tea and taking in the amazing view over Thimphu. What a fantastic gift the monks had given us by being so willing to show hospitality to people who just wander up to their monastery. Such a gift allowed us to relax and enjoy the environment with an optimal level of peace. It is really hard not to be happy when receiving an unexpected gift of kindness from children in monk robes.

We spent a few moments enjoying our tea and the views, and then as if on cue we were greeted by the friendliest of what we were calling monastery dogs. They all had a quiet temperament about them and they loved to come up and then roll around in the grass at our feet. I usually try to keep from playing with too many dogs in other countries but I just could not help myself in this case. These pups were just too adorable to be left alone - seriously just take a peek at the pics of them. I was trying to figure out how to take one home.  We paid attention to the dogs and then we made our way into the monastery itself.

It was really neat seeing a monastery functioning as an orphanage. Everywhere young boys walked around in their robes, not as the monks we have seen in previous monasteries but as boys roaming their home. Names on doors signified which room a boy lived in. Boys wandering around with a sense of belonging and giving us smiles that seemed to say, "Welcome to our house." The feel and existence of the place palpably washed over us as we wandered the facility. I could not get over how much different it felt from every other monastery we have visited, whether in Bhutan or in other countries. It just felt like life. That was the word that kept emanating from everything.

We wanted to take more pictures of the young monks and the monastery but at some point you just have to stop and experience the place you are visiting. We walked around and looked at the parts of the monastery we were allowed to visit. Then we braked for a snack of fresh cut mango, Honey Stinger waffles, and a few other small snacks we brought up with us. While we at our scrumptious snacks the monks took their daily lunch together. They all sat together in a small courtyard just outside of the monastery, sharing a meal together and talking. It was fun to watch their fellowship and see their daily routine of taking a meal together. The entire monastery is a community where the young monks can live, eat, work, play soccer (or futbol as they say round most of the world), walk the mountainside, and do all the other things young men do while training to become monks. It was a joy to share in their lives for a short amount of time.

We spent the rest of our time there investigating the area around the monastery and hiking to a small spot nearby where some locals live. Smiles, greetings, and curious faces always welcome us as we venture through the Bhutanese countryside. It is a joy to spend time here and get to know their way of life and culture. Our hike down was easy and nice. Horses carrying gear went the other way and a few others joined us on the way down going at various paces. If you ever find yourself in Thimphu you should definitely hike up to the Phajoding Monastery. It is worth your time. More pictures below from our time there.       
 Taken inside the tent made of prayer flags. It was super cool to stand inside. 
 Hiking up was a real joy - so many sights to see. 
 It is fun to pass the mules and horses as they carry things down and up. In this group one of them passed so closely he pressed up against me. Close encounter!
 Sarah enjoying her tea and watching the monks.
 Feisty dogs. It was fun to play with them. 
 Too cute to handle.
 Sarah took these super cool shots from inside the monastery entryway back out. 
 Honey Stingers helping give us some nutrition to make it through our hike.
 Gotta hone those mad skills.
 And those skills are no good without a proper field.
 Daily life.
 Doing the job.
 Taking time to pose for a shot.
 Exploring near the monastery.
 Modern life mixed with the traditional.
 After finishing the hike we got to see some Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. Never seen anything quite like it before. We were far off but it was fun. 
 Some tiny Takins too! Till next post. 

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