Bhutan | Monasteries & Impermanence

I visited a couple monasteries in Paro. The fun part was always getting to know more about these places from the monks living there. As an Indian, you are allowed to roam around where-ever you'd like; but for a foreigner, the Bhutanese government mandates every visitor to have a personal tour guide - this is probably done in an attempt to increase jobs. There are guides who know French, German and Spanish! If you're lucky, you could ask to tag along with one of these foreign visitors explaining things in English. You'll learn a lot more than just walking about on your own.
Inside one of the monasteries in Paro. I asked a tour guide how the monastery decides whom to admit, and how a monk spends his day. The procedure to get into a monastery is like you'd apply to any school - there is a short interview, and if there are vacancies, you get a free pass to daily meals, a room to stay in, and the companionship of other monks studying along with you. Throughout their life, every monk studies and teaches. Imagine the place as a boarding school where once you graduate, you become a teacher and pass on the knowledge.

I wonder how they came up with this design - Bhutan is full of buildings, big or small, that look exactly like this.

The most famous monastery in Bhutan, The Tiger's Nest. It's the tiny structure you see at the top of the mountain.
To get to The Tiger's Nest, you can either walk, or ride a mule, albeit it's fairly expensive to do so. It's a good two-hour walk, and as most people are lazy, we barely saw any tourists walking up. If you go, I'd recommend the walk! 
The walk to the Tiger's Nest is through paths like these to the top of the mountain.  Some are narrow, some as wide as this.
You'll find many such trash cans along the way with quotes on preserving nature. The anticipation of reading the next one keeps the walk interesting!

Halfway there! Can you spot the monastery through the trees?

The Tiger's Nest! There's an interesting story as to why it's called The Tiger's Nest and not The Tiger's Den. Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche, flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress with wings. Anything is possible in myths, even if they're only 500 years old!
Also, notice the pillar to my left. Uncanny resemblance to something perverted maybe? No! Several of Bhutan's structures are shaped, and the streets very casually grafiti-ed with imagery of the phallus - the penis. These are not questioned against because a "mad saint" taught through unorthodox and very objectionable ways.

I'm glad I took a lot of photos on the way to these monasteries. The walk and the structures are far more beautiful than my pictures might convey. If you go, make sure you visit the Tiger's Nest last. Visit the many more monasteries and get a feel from what you should expect, ask and learn from the other monasteries before you go what's considered their most sacred monastery.

My taking from talking to all the guides and monks is this; Buddhism preaches impermanence. All guides will tell you how every monastery has caught fire and has been reconstructed several times. Mara, a fearsome demon who represents impermanence holds the Buddhist wheel, the Bhavacakra, drawn on walls of every monastery. 
Ironically, Mara is identical to Shiva from Hindu mythology; they both have a third eye, both symbolize destruction and impermanence and are adorned with tiger's skin. The story of every element within the wheel is very interesting - I won't clutter the Internet with already written information - head to Wikipedia for a great summary.

Mara, the representation of Impermanence holding the wheel of cyclic existence.


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