Showing posts with label Taktshang. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taktshang. Show all posts

27 November 2014

One Horsewoman of Taktshang

In these few years if you have visited Paro Taktshang you must have noticed that there are plenty of horses waiting at the base like taxis at Lungtenzanpa, and as you hike up the hill you would see many more horses plying tourists up to the monastery. It must be a very recent development because I haven't seen horses during my four initial visits from 1997 to 2006.

My late stepfather's sister is now one of the many horsewomen waiting at the base of Taktshang. I am so happy to see that she has finally made a easier choice in life, though climbing Taktshang more than once every days is by no means easy but comparing to what she has gone through Taktshang should be a cup of tea.
Horsewoman Dawa Bidha. Photo by Sonam Peljor
She was a brave lady who refused to accept any stereotypical notions of the rural society she lived in. As a beautiful young widow she could have accepted another proposal and made her life easy and nobody would have bothered after a while but she made the harder choice. She had to bring up two daughters and care for her old mother inlaw, and therefore remained single throughout.

I have heard of men travelling to Tibet in the dead of night, crossing mountains after mountains, through snow and sometimes blizzards, but my aunty was the only woman who did that all her life, and mostly all by herself because she didn't find likes of her in the company of men. She and her horses took that terrible journey thrice a year and then she carried her goods on her back and travelled the width of the country going from door to door and seeking shelter wherever the day ended. She has reached every Dzongkhag and she told me that she entered every Dzong to offer butter lamp and sell her posters (of Buddhist masters) and pocket knifes.

Now it's been some years since the route to Tibet has become very dangerous for poster traders like my aunty after some people started using it for smuggling sandalwood. She now gave up on Tibet. She is in her late 50s and it's time she hung the saddles but because she still has to care for the old mother inlaw, and her two daughters still lean on her with their children she can't sell her horses as yet.

So here she is at the base of Taktshang with her horses, still sweating and still panting yet happily doing her duty as daughter inlaw, as mother and as grandmother by being a horsewoman of Taktshang. Her name is Dawa Bidha.

P:S: Though I will never ride a horse especially to Taktshang but for the longest time I romanticised the idea of riding on a horse to Taktshang after seeing a 1971 picture of Aung San Suu Kyi. It was said that Michael Aris proposed Aung on the same day after reaching Taktshang. What they have achieved in their lives after that will be remembered by history. I personally am so grateful to late Aris for all the books he wrote on Bhutan.
During my fifth visit to Taktshang in 2012, my wife, daughter and sister inlaw took what-I-call the "Aung San Suu Kyi Ride" to Taktshang. Somewhere in the middle one horse ran downhill carrying my wife and if it wasn't for my brother Samtay who caught the horse the memory would have been ugly. While it's nice to ride horses to Taktshang always know that it's risky.

Aung riding to Taktshang, 1971

05 May 2012

Shanghai to Paro Taktshang

Three friends from Shanghai were on holiday in Bhutan last week. A man and two ladies were walking their way to Paro Taktshang when we met last Sunday. There were people from across the world that day, but these three came into focus because of what happened to them then. My family and these three friends made it to the place, where the uphill climb ends, almost at the same time, of course we rode horses. We took a long rest there, the spot where Je Gaden Rinchen was born.
The three Chinese seemed to be in hurry, with their guide panting after them. Just then the man slipped and fell, almost falling down the hill. He lay flat on the muletrack crying in pain- his left ankle was twisted. His two lady friends were shocked and screaming. Their guide was loaded with their cameras to do anything. Another ten minutes walk would have taken them to Paro Taktshang.
They immediately attracted lots of attention but they needed help more than mere attention. That's when I ran to them with my sister in-law, who was once a doctor in China and therefore carries whole set of first aid in her handbag. She assessed the injury and massaged it with balm. The huge man was still crying in pain but my sister in-law had pain killer with her. She even gave him a few more tablets for the evening. The man was shivering and his faced looked scary. We wrapped him in our kabney and I used my teacherly skill to calm him, " It's a very lucky sign that you fell right here where a great saint was born- Je Gaden Rinchen. We consider it very lucky." The magic worked on the two ladies. They were nodding and even smiling. My brothers carried the man to a comfortable spot and ask him to rest while we sort out what to do next. It was confirmed that the man cannot walk anymore, and his journey from Shanghai to Paro Taktshang ends here.
I asked the guide to call his office for backup, but I was only talking to the office himself. Like many tour operators his was one man army- he is the guide, the agent, the office and the final backup. He was funnily blaming the man for not walking carefully, instead of worrying. I didn't want our guest to feel helpless, so I told him to wait for my family to return so that we could carry him down.
The two ladies were biting their nails, seemingly not wanting to go back without completing their journey but their guide was even more perplexed. Then I decided to guide the two ladies with my family so that the guide could stay back with the injured. They happily agreed, even the injured.
It was my fourth visit to Taktshang and I can comfortably be a good guide but I had with me seven members of my family who were there for the first time. It took me over an hour to explain everything to the nine of them with special attention to my sister in-law and the two ladies, knowing that they can never make it back for second time. Because I agreed to be their guide I couldn't help see them struggle with their heavy cameras- so I carried them as well. As if nine of them weren't enough a group from Bangkok asked me to explain to them a lot of things.
I then met two senior guides to who I explained about the injured man and the indecisive guide, and requested them for help. By the time we walked out of the monastery I got a call from the guide saying he got assistance from the senior guides and that they were carrying him down. I told him not to worry about his guests who were with me.
In one of the Goenkhangs I was explaining about the prophecies of Guru Rinpochee, and knowing my two guests were Chinese I asked if they were a big fan of Chairman Mao Zedong. They excitedly replied yes. I sorrily told them that "about 1300 years ago Guru Rinpochee prophecised that a man call Mao will come one day and become the greatest threat to Buddhism". Two ladies looked at me in disbelief, "1300 years ago?" "Did all his prophecies come true?" By the time they walked out, they told me I have changed their mind.
I had to carry my daughter and walk slowly with my wife and sister in-law, so I let my brothers deliver the two ladies to the base where the guide and the injured where waiting in the car. By the time we reached the base they were gone. The guide didn't call me after that. But I am happy that the Chinese will remember fondly about Bhutan and Bhutanese despite the unfortunate journey.

My Team-Eight of them including my daughter

03 May 2012

A Cup of Tea at Taktshang

I was talking about a cup of tea in the cafe halfway to Paro Taktshang on my Facebook wall and the few comments there inspired me to write it in my blog.
The Cafe is beautifully located, facing the gigantic cliff and the breathtaking Taktshang Monastery. The benches are strategically setup that one could just sit there and lose oneself. Who won't like to sit there and enjoy a cup of tea? If only a cup of tea was just a cup of tea! The cafe belongs to BTCL and they only had tourist in their list of costumers. In their description tourist means someone who earns in dollar, and therefore no Bhutanese can be tourist. A cup of tea cost Nu.84 and there is no concession for Bhutanese who could buy a whole meal with so much.
Bhutanese are expected to bring their own packed lunch and tea, and it is written in bold: "No picnic Lunch allowed here", which also goes out to Bhutanese. So I say, there is a beautiful Bhutanese Cafe half way to Taktshang that is only meant for tourist. And this is one among many beautiful and luxurious facilities in Bhutan catering to just foreign tourists, because there are some people up there who think Bhutanese don't deserve to have fun.

My Family Drinking Golden Tea
But the twist in the story was that I always wanted to visit that cafe, and coincidentally we were hungry and tired so we had to sit on those beautiful benches and drink funny tea- it didn't even taste good, we had to ask for more tea bags. Lesson learnt is that, there is no gold in that tea therefore don't forget your packed lunch and tea if you are head to Taktshang.