On 1st of August, 15 students of class 8 left for Bhutan. We were given the wonderful opportunity to participate in a cultural exchange programme with the people of Bhutan. My first impression, when I reached the beautiful country of Bhutan, was that the people are very warm, simple and welcoming. The Bhutanese are very proud of their culture and their religious belief. Bhutan is one of the countries which have adopted the philosophy of GNH, that is Gross National Happiness. Bhutan is a country that does not believe in materialistic wealth but the happiness and overall well being of its citizens. Through this programme we learnt a lot about the small lacunas that our country has and that there is a lot of scope for improvement.
On the first day, we checked in the Wangchuk Hotel at Thimpu, which faced the hills and provided us with a panoramic view of the lush green hills surrounding the capital city.
The following day, we trekked up to the Wangdeze monastery where we saw a statue of a Buddha that was made in the early 15th century. We also visited the National arts and crafts center where we saw children working on some intricately carved wooden articles and some traditional paintings and statues. At night, we attended a talk by Mr. Pavan K .Verma, the Indian Commissioner to Bhutan. His talk mainly focused on how the youth, in their own ways can change the system and make India corruption free. Mr. Verma’s talk really motivated us and we went back encouraged.
The next day started early, as we were supposed to visit many places. We visited the Buddha Point where we saw the biggest Buddha statue ( called Buddha Dordenma) in the world measuring 51.3 meters in height. Unfortunately, we could not go inside as the area around it being renovated. Then we attended a cultural exchange programme, hosted by the Motithang High School, one of the best educational institutions in Bhutan. There, we proudly sang our school song and then attended a short performance by the students of Motithang. After that we got the opportunity to attend classes with the students and interacted with them. The students were very friendly and nice to talk to. We had lunch at the Swiss bakery, the oldest and the only bakery and confectionery store in Bhutan. We shortly departed from the bakery and visited the Khamsum Yuelley Chorten monastery, which took eight years to build and was made to protect the royal family. The monastery has more than 54 idols of deities who are believed to protect the people of Bhutan. Then we attended a performance organized by the secretary of the king Hon’ble Agay UgenDorji Trongsa Drongyer. The performance was held in the palace gardens. There we got to see some dragon and traditional welcome dances. In the end, we danced on the beats of a traditional welcome song and we really enjoyed dancing!
The following day we visited Punakha Dzong also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong (meaning the palace of great happiness or bliss) which was built in 1637-38. It is the second oldest and largest majestic Dzong in Bhutan. The palace is also the site of coronation of Udyen Wangchuck as the first king of Bhutan. It was largely damaged by four fires and earthquakes in the past but has been restored to its originally glory, thanks to the efforts of present king of Bhutan. The Dzong was originally connected through a wooden cantilever suspension bridge over the river Mochhu (Mo-river), which was washed away in floods in 1958. The new bridge that has been built in 2008 with increased span of 55 meters is for use of persons and cattle only.
The Phobjikha Valley was another unforgettable site; a vast U-shaped glacial valley opens up before you after steep track thru hill forest. It is also known as Gangteng Valley named after famous Gangteng Monastery.
It was told to us that on onset of summer the Black-necked Cranes circle the Gangteng monastery three times and repeat the process while returning to Tibet. It is also a protected sanctuary for globally threatened Black-necked cranes Grus nigricollis.
On 8th of August all of 41 students from Vasant Valley, Mayo Girls School and Whelham Girls School visited Utpal Academy. It is the only Girl’s high school in Bhutan and is located in Paro. The day began with morning prayers and national anthem of both the countries followed by cultural programme and a friendly basketball match between exchange students. Thereafter we visited the classes for interaction.
Taktsang Monastery, Paro also known as The Tiger’s Nest is prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex, situated alongside a cliff in the upper Paro valley. It was a cluster of 8th century meditation cave
which was later built into a monastery in 1962. The upward climb to the monastery was really steep, tiring and long. It took us one and half hour to reach the temple site. It really tested our strength and faith. The legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated here for three months in the 8th century. He is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is tutelary deity of the country. Today Paro Taktsang is best known of the thirteen taktsang or “tiger lair” caves in which he meditated.
We also visited the famous archery ground of Paro which falls between Paro airport (Bhutan’s only airport) and the city close to the mighty dzong (or fortress monastery) that looks down over the town. Almost every town or village in Bhutan has an archery ground and the one in Paro is an important one since Paro is the second biggest city. It was nothing fancy – just a long strip of more or less flat land with a few seats either side and a club house set amidst green landscape.
To sum up it was a memorable trip to one of the most peaceful country of the world endowed with untouched natural beauty and wonderful weather throughout the year.
By Aryan Verma 8C