Bhutan, Day 3

Our second morning was just as bright and cheerful as the first. Yoga was again offered at 7 and Anne, my girlfriend and muralist extraordinaire, decided to go. To say that she was leveled by the experience would not be too far amiss and I realized that, sooner or later, I would be in the same boat. Yoga was going to catch up to me and I would probably be turned into jelly from fatigue and, before long, stiff from the lactic acids hardening around and through my muscles. Anne’s spark, something that never seemed to waver, was severely dimmed and to say that I trembled at my fate is under statement.

Our journey to Punakha, our next destination, was over a mountain pass of 11,500 feet. Zach wisely allowed us to go to the Ambient Café to enjoy a latte and some chocolate confections leading us to believe that the drive would not be that extreme. It wasn’t but it was long and it was hairpins or switchbacks that went on and on. All good things come to an end, however, and we reached the pass which had an extraordinary view of snow covered Himalayan mountains about 20 miles across the valley that stand 22,000 feet high, the highest in Bhutan. The beauty of the view cannot be overstated.

Like all prominent locations in Bhutan, there was a monastery at hand for the traveler. This one, and I wish I had stolen Bryan’s notes on this, a man who always had a pen and paper to hand to note names and location, was quite new. Indeed the arms room, for men only, sported a number of automatic rifles and grenades. All the surfaces were painted and decorated with traditional Bhutanese art that included gods surrounded by symbols, the four friends (elephant, hare, monkey and peacock or some variation thereof) were always present. But the presentations were never identical. I realized it would take me years to fully understand the whys and wherefores of such art.

Our descent was not dissimilar to our ascent and, riding in the back, I felt the brakes as they groaned again and again. (You don’t have to be a genius to know that there were lots of brake shops in Bhutan.) Furthermore the roads often narrowed to a single lane and you would occasionally see the odd boulder that had tumbled off the mountain to come to rest in the road. We were often passed by more nimble vehicles which was fine by me, only they often chose what seemed was the most inopportune moment to do so. Ever so slowly, the vegetation reverted away from the alpine to lowland flora and you knew that the ride would shortly be over.

Our intrepid leader wisely understood the value of walking for people who have been on buses for four to five hours and we were given a lovely walk across rice fields to the monastery of the Mad Monk. I am equally unversed in Buddhism as I am in Bhutanese art as applied to Buddhism, but it was very clear that the mad monk was extremely keen on phalluses. We passed house after house with painted phalluses and you could buy penis key chains if you so desired. I was surprised that they were circumcised as Bhupen, one of our guides, said that circumcision was not at all common. Little mysteries are everywhere in Bhutan.

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