Today we were given the option to do a short walk to the Temple of Fertility near Punakha which of course we said yes to. Our driver dropped us off at the beginning of the route and as we set out we noticed that many of the buildings had dicks painted on them and the shops were selling penis statues. The phallus is a sign of fertility and helps to keep away evil spirits in Bhutanese culture so this is a popular thing to have adorning your house. The walk took us through the middle of some paddy fields where the end of the harvest was taking place. The temple is visited by those trying to conceive but may not have had much luck so far and there is a book of photos showing people with their babies after their visit- let’s just hope it doesn’t work for those not interested in babies! There are many young monks training there and as we walked past they were all outside practising playing their instruments for ceremonies they would take part in. After a quick look around the temple we hiked the same route back to the car. The hike was only about 20 mins each way on gentle gradients so was pretty easy, although we did still see one group getting driven across.
The next thing we had to do was drive back over the Dochula Pass with a quick stop to use the toilet and admire the view one more time, then it was back down into Thimpu to see a couple of things that we had missed the day before. The first of these was a giant bronze Buddha overlooking the city. It is still under construction but that didn’t prevent it from being used for a huge Buddhist festival that week. There were so many monks and lots of people there to be blessed and receive food. It reminded me of my visit to the Big Buddha in Phuket, Thailand, but the festival added a whole new dimension to our visit.
Following a quick lunch we visited the National Art School. This is a working school where teenagers who either don’t get the grades to carry on their education or whose parents can’t afford to start paying (it is free up until their Year 11) can go to learn a trade. The students pick one art form to study from painting to carving, sculpture to embroidery. The painting course takes 7 years!! Others are not quite so long. There is no creativity in Bhutanese art, the students have to learn the approved blueprints for each piece whilst they are there. It was slightly strange to be walking into classrooms where they were doing their workshops but the ability and skill levels of the students was amazing to see.
From here we left Thimpu and made our way back to Paro. The idea had been to visit Paro Dzong but the opening hours had just changed to the winter times so it was closed by the time we arrived. Instead we wandered into a stadium to watch an archery match. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan but their rules are different from the Olympic game. The target is 170m away; you get 3 points for a bullseye, 2 for hitting the target and 1 if you get it nearby the target. I don’t know how they ever hit it at all, I could barely see the target in the distance.
Next to the archery was the local “high street” which had loads of souvenir shops and a couple of cafes. We ended up getting a small painting and one of the embroidered decorations we had been admiring in the temples which represents the body of Buddha. Then it was time to go back to the resort for their first ever happy hour, dinner and bed ready for a busy day the next day.
Have you been to a big Buddha somewhere, are there loads all over the place? Do you think you could stick with a 7 year painting course?