Up until Paro, Thimphu and Punakha in Bhutan, you will find yourself amongst fellow travellers. It is only when you venture beyond these 3 ‘tourist’ destinations, will you be able to tear away from the general milieu and go on a soul-searching, self-discovery trip. With Bumthang, you are about to start one such trip in Bhutan.
When in Bumthang, plan to walk. And only walk. A small town, sparsely populated, Bumthang appeared to me as the most religious of towns. We were scheduled to see the three important temples – Jambay Lhakhang, Kurje Lhakhang and Tamshing Lakhang – in the morning. Sonam, our guide, had scheduled a walk from Kurje to Tamshing. But we insisted we walk all the way from Jambay Lhakhang.
Jambay Lhakhang: One of the oldest temples in Bumthang, it was undergoing renovation. Although an important temple, the interiors looked rather poorly maintained. The paintings, all very old, were covered so that they could be preserved. The temple looked to me straight out of a Robert Ludlum book — so full of history and mystery.
Kurje Lhakhang: As I said, we wanted to walk. And despite there being a strong possibility for rains, we egged Soman, and he took us across the muddy roads of farms to Kurje Lhakhang. A 10-15 minute walk, but it did start raining and we took shelter in a small barn till it stopped.
Kurje is an important seat of religious activities in Bumthang. Carrying a lot of history on Guru Rimponche, Kurje has 3 temples. That morning was an important day in their calendar — Followers from all parts of the valley had gathered to offer prayers and chant with the prayer wheels swirling by. Scores of students sat at their assigned rows, chanting, beating the drums, blowing the long trumpets. We sat in one corner, completely transfixed by the beauty of that moment.
Tamshing Lakhang: Tamshing Lakhang was on the other side of the river and about a 20-minute walk away. Built in the 16th century, Tamshing too was undergoing maintenance when we were there. A group of international students, stood in rafts, painstakingly making notes, brushing the walls, applying corrective solutions. We toured the temple in complete admiration for the restoration team, at their work and their passion.
Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery: It was still not lunch time, and so Sonam suggested we go and see Lhodrak Monastry that is perched on the hill just above the town of Bumthang. We hopped into the car, went past the rice fields and the little Bumthang airport, and a short climb later, we were at the Lhodrak Karchhu Monastry. Very similar to the others, here too, the monks were busy with their morning prayers. With the chantings and the drums in the backdrop, we looked out into the Bumthang town from the edge of the monastery, and decided to ignore the car once again. We headed down from the hillock, using the staircase the monks use and reached the Bumthang Market, just in time for lunch!
Jakar Dzong: The administrative seat of Bumthang, you can walk up to the Dzong too. We didn’t, by the way. But when we reached it, it was closed. Apparently, every member had gone to the Kurje Lhakhang for the day’s prayers. All right, we concluded, today must have been really an important day!