It is a breathtaking trip with dramatic sweeps over fertile valleys and also blue pine tree forests. You fly past Mt. Everest, Mt. Kanchenjunga and Mt. Gangkhar Puensum, i beg your pardon is the highest, unclimbed hill in the civilization soaring to practically 7,570 metres. The aircraft wings appear to be almost touching this towering, snow-capped Himalayan mountains.

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Only eight pilots in the human being are trained to manoeuvre an aircraft with this narrow hill terrain as it heads in the direction of Paro global Airport, Bhutan. The single runway airport at Paro is situated in a deep valley and is surrounding by sharp peaks of up to 5,486 metres. The was constructed in 1961 CE close to the bank of the river Paro Chhu. Planes have to weave by the dozens of homes that are scattered across the mountainside - coming within feet of trimming the roofs. It is considered to be the most dangerous landing in the world.


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Tashichho Dzong - Thimphu Bhutan
Kim Martins (CC BY-NC-SA)

The flight into Paro is no for the faint-hearted, yet you will capture a glimpse the the well known Tiger"s nest Monastery constructed in 1692 CE. It is a spiritual Buddhist temple complex that clings come the side of a sheer cliff “like a gecko” together the Bhutanese say.

EARLY HISTORY

The documented history of this geographically isolated nation is said to start in 747 CE as soon as the spiritual leader, Guru Rinpoche, flew indigenous Tibet across the Himalayas on the earlier of a flaming tigress. He come in Paro valley at Tiger"s Nest, which is additionally known together Paro Taktsang or the temple of the Guru v Eight Names.


At Tiger"s Nest, he overcame the local demon, Singye Samdrup, that was was standing in the way of the spread of Buddhism. Return Bhutan"s early background is steeped in buddhist folklore and mythology such together this, Guru Rinpoche was a historic 8th century CE Buddhist grasp who created the Drukpa sect that Buddhism the is still adhered to in Bhutan today.

After disembarking in Paro and walking across the tarmac, the first thing you notice is the crystal sharp air and the white-washed stone buildings v painted hardwood lintels that are a curious mix of old and also new. The most impressive framework is Rinpung Dzong (or “the fortress ~ above a heap that jewels”), i beg your pardon is regarded as among the ideal examples that the distinctive Bhutanese architecture. Dzongs were garrisons built along crucial mountain passes and also roads. Castle were supplied by the Bhutanese military to protect the country when it confronted incursions from neighbouring India and also Tibet. Dzongs likewise served as governmental centres and as dwellings for the clergy.


Bhutan has been recognized by numerous names end the centuries, consisting of Lho Jong (The Valleys the the South); Lho Jong guys Jong (The southern Valleys of medicine Herbs); and also Lho Mon Tsenden Jong (Sandalwood Country).

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Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation with an area of around 38,394 square kilometres v a population of much less than one million. It is slightly bigger than the europe state of Montenegro or the U.S. State of Maryland. It is bordered on the north and east by Tibet and also on the south, west and east by India.


A STUNNING LANDSCAPE

The stunning but really winding drive to the capital of Thimphu native Paro takes around one hour or 45 minutes because that locals that seem to zoom follow me the roads effortlessly. The landscape is dotted through colourful prayer flags fluttering in the breeze. Lock are held on long wooden poles or strung in between trees and also bridges and also are put up for the dead or inscribed v prayers, mantras, and auspicious symbols. Prayer flags space called lung ta, meaning wind horse, due to the fact that the Bhutanese believe that their silent prayers will be spread by the wind at the rate of a horse.

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Buddhist prayer flags come in five colours:

blue represents the skyred is firegreen symbolises wateryellow is because that the soil.

Stone implements and structures suggest that Bhutan was settled as beforehand as 2000 BCE. Unfortunately, lot of early Bhutanese history has to be lost because most historical records were ruined when fire devastated the old capital that Punakha in 1827 CE. So Bhutan"s national history really begins in the 17th century CE with Guru Rinpoche"s flamboyant arrival right into Paro.


One have the right to imagine the the journey into Thimphu is comparable to the route taken by a young British explorer in 1774 CE. Scottish-born George Bogle was the first westerner to go into the mysterious and reclusive realm of Bhootan, together the British described it. Bogle was exclusive secretary to the British eastern India Company"s Warren Hastings, who sent him indigenous Calcutta to undertake a diplomatic and also fact-finding mission.


He was very taken with the Bhutanese people and wrote the “the simplicity that their courtesy and strong sense the religion, maintain the Bhutanese from countless vices come which much more polished countries are addicted." It has actually been said that Bogle"s account of his adventures in Bhutan to be the incentive for James Hilton"s kingdom of Shangri-La in his 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.

Thimphu, which became the funding in 1961 CE and is house to the royal family, is in ~ an altitude the 2,350 metres. This is higher than most human being are offered to, and the first-time traveller might suffer some altitude sickness.

There space a variety of fascinating facts around Thimphu. It is among only two resources cities in Asia without traffic lights. The various other is Pyongyang in north Korea. The main street is Norzim Lam and traffic is regulated by a policeman wearing crisp white gloves. The is a tiny walkable city v Norzim Lam being the only main street.


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Thimphu Bhutan
Kim Martins (CC BY-NC-SA)

Stray dogs space a feature of the capital and are often seen lied lazily in the sunlight along Norzim Lam. Also horses and also cows have actually been seen on the roadway at the top of Norzim Lam where there is a traffic circle. At night, that is not inexplicable to see horses dashing v apartment complexes or galloping down Norzim Lam. Some have actually ribbons threaded with their tails, i beg your pardon locals will tell you indicates it is a command horse. Pets are enabled to roam where they wish due to the fact that Buddhist values dictate that no animal is permitted to be harmed or killed. However it does make for a surreal endure for the unwary traveller.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the reigning king or Dragon King of Bhutan and the royal family"s residence, Dechencholing Palace, is in Thimphu. He involved the throne in 2008 CE as the youngest king at the age of 28. The is revered by the Bhutanese and also has freely given increase his absolute power in favour the democracy, and also the promotion of nationwide happiness. Bhutan is the only nation in the world to official measure national happiness and well-being.

THE nationwide TEXTILE MUSEUM

There are any number of historical sites and also places of interest to visit in Thimphu, however as Bhutan is renowned for its brightly-coloured and intricately woven textiles, a visit to the national Textile Museum in ~ the top of Norzim Lam is a must.


Her Majesty the Queen, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, inaugurated the nationwide Textile Museum in 2001 CE. It displays important Bhutanese historical artefacts such together the pearl robe worn through the buddhist monk Tsamdrak Goenpa; a princess crown worn by the sister the the an initial king Ashi Wangmo; and the very first version that the raven Crown, a hat topped through the head the a raven and also worn by the monarchs of Bhutan.

Hand-woven structure are among the 13 timeless arts and crafts or zorig chosum the Bhutan, which to be formally categorised throughout the regime of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay (1638-1696 CE). Weaving has actually been a growing art because that centuries and cloth is integral to every aspect of Bhutanese history and culture, through motifs and patterns signalling society status, wealth, and political rank. In fact, the creation of fabric is considered a religious act and colour selection a spiritual exercise.

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On the ground floor that the museum, the visitant learns just how crucial the an abilities of weaving and spinning are to the Bhutanese and also their historical memory. Here you will certainly see displays of looms, woven ceremonial blankets, and clothing - including the national dress - and also the species of towel or fibre favoured by each region of Bhutan. Bura or life silk is well-known in Trashigang for example; whereas sesho or good silk is wanted in Kurtoe and also Lhuntse.

Weaving is a woman"s art and generations that Bhutanese women continue to pass down weaving techniques through oral tradition. Locals say that over fifty percent the populace is associated in weaving, and you will often see a group of five or six women sitting for countless hours before pedal looms with a leather backstrap to support the reduced back. The Bhutanese have a one-of-a-kind word to describe this demanding process—hingtham or heart-woven.

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THE national DRESS

The historical importance of Bhutanese textiles and also weaving to be firmly developed in the 17th century CE when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel presented the gho and also the kira - the classic Bhutanese national dress. Known as the bearded Lama, Ngawang Namgyal to be the founder that Bhutan together a country state in 1637 CE and used the nationwide dress as a method of unifying a disparate populace and feuding regions.

The national dress code or driglam namzha is still applied in Bhutan and requires men and women when showing up in public to wear the gho or kira. The gho is a knee-length robe tied in ~ the waist v a belt. The means it is folded produces a pocket in the front for men to store keys and also money. The gho is worn with knee-length socks.

The kira is composed of one ankle-length dress worn over a blouse or wonju. The fabric of the dress is pinned in ~ the shoulder v komas or brooches, and also an open jacket or toego completes the outfit. Individual expression is achieved through a an option of fabric, patterns and also colours.

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So appeal is the national dress, you can even want to purchase a gho or kira. You deserve to do so in ~ the nationwide museum or at the Norzim Lam craft Stalls. In ~ the really least, taking house a vibrantly-coloured Bhutanese textile will be a exorbitant reminder of a visit to a nation that time practically seems to have actually forgotten.

During marriage under Ngawang Namgyal, towel was so highly valued the villagers would certainly fulfil your yearly tax obligations by presenting quantities of cloth. Bhutanese still store woven structure in a yanggam or crate of prosperity. The yanggam could contain cloth such together a ceremonial textile and passed down as a family members heirloom, and it will be kept along with jewellery and contribute come the family"s diversity or locho.

AT THE finish OF her VISIT

After security a few hours in the nationwide Textile Museum, you can be in require of refreshment. Karma"s Coffee in the Zhamling structure on Phendey Lam and also Ambient Cafe, i m sorry is maximum floor in a building opposite Druk PNB bank on Norzim Lam, both serve great coffee.

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No visit to this far Himalayan kingdom is complete without sampling ema datchi - the Bhutanese nationwide dish. The is made from chilli peppers and yak milk cheese and comes through a bowl of momo or hot dumplings stuffed through meat. To wash this all down through some salty Bhutanese butter tea or suja. This is made through yak butter, tea leaves, and also salt and is infused with Bhutanese happiness as is whatever in this wonder Shangri-La - the soil of the Thunder Dragon.

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Kim is a freelance writer based in brand-new Zealand. She has actually a B.A. (Hons) in background and an MA in Chaos & intricacy Science. Her unique interests are fables and mythology, and exploration throughout the ancient world.