Punakha, Bhutan (Chhimi Lhakhang, Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge)


I woke up to a misty morning, when the mountains and the rice fields are all blanketed by fog, but as the sun comes out and then everything clears up, what reveal underneath is one magnificent view.

The warmer climate on a winter season, the majestic Punakha Dzong, the fast flowing river, the golden rice fields, it is easy to fall in love with the town of Punakha.

The town exudes an ambiance of calmness, that feeling that you just arrived in the best place to spend one lazy summer, where all you want to do is run around rice fields , kayak across the Pho Chu River (Father River) and Mo Chu River (Mother River), or maybe hang out at the 160m long Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge, said to be the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan for a spectacular view of both Punakha Dzong and the Pho Chhu Valley.

Apart from the beautiful valley and the impressive dzong, in Punakha there is the famous Chhimi Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to The Divine Madman, Drukpa Kinley.

To reach the temple located uphill, it takes us a half-hour walk from the main road near the village of Sopsokha, passing by local shops, rice-paddies and the small village of Pana where houses are decorated with images of phalluses.

Chhimi Lhakhang is said to be a fertility temple, where childless couples pray to the fertility goddess, while parents to-be go to select their future baby’s name from a collection of bamboo slips.

With rows of prayer wheels, the temple, though small in size has such a festive atmosphere. There are monks playing football in the small field while some are playing musical instruments.

It is believed that the Divine Madman though mentally ill has some divine power. According to legend, Drukpa Kinley wielded his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom”, his penis, as a weapon and managed not only to defeat an ogress but able convert her to Buddhism as well. Odd story, but true and his unorthodox way of Buddhism somehow led to the use of phalluses as a protection symbol, thus explain the drawings at the homes not only across Puna village but across the country.

We often start our day visiting places in Bhutan quite early and often times we do finish our daily activities quite early too, so with more spare time, my guide Namgay recommended for us to visit a nunnery, the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup.

The central ground of the complex with a stupa similar to the one in Nepal, with a scenic hilltop location, the view of the valley below and the surrounding mountains, I think if I ever decided to become a Buddhist nun one day I would love to stay in Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup. It is a serene place with friendly nuns who laugh at Namgay joke, when he started telling them to shave my head and dress me with an orange robe as I keep telling him that I don’t want to go home and wanted to live on a place such as this.

But kidding aside , perhaps I really wanted to stay in Bhutan.

Maybe if someone told me that there will be no flights leaving Bhutan for the next six months or one year or two or more, I would be completely fine with it. I wanted to stay longer in a place where smiles are genuine, where education is free, where food is organic, where happiness is not a myth, where the sky, the land, the air, you are enough, more than enough.

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