Bhutan 2009 Day Three – Thimphu

by Kara on October 1, 2009

Buddhist worshippers walk clockwise around the National Memorial Chorten

We had an extremely busy day today. We started off by visiting the National Memorial Chorten. A chorten is a receptacle for offerings and contain religious artifacts. It was built to honor the memory of the third king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Buddhists walk around the chorten counter-clockwise, at least three times. They even built the road around it so that cars only travel in a counter-clockwise direction. It is a beautiful chorten. We walked around it three times, then headed off to our next stop.

I had asked to visit the post office because Bhutan is known for its beautiful and interesting stamps. Most of them aren’t particularly collectable, but they are really neat, so I wanted to buy some. I bought eight sheets of stamps, including a set commemorating the coronation of the fifth king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck. I also found a stamp featuring compatible lunar animal signs, with rat and monkey. I am a monkey and Stephen is a rat, so it seemed like a good choice. When I get home I will scan some of the stamps and post them.

Crowded Norzin Lam Street in downtown Thimphu

Next, we went to the Textile Museum. We watched a short film about textiles and clothing in Bhutan, then toured the small museum. The film was especially interesting – some of the weaving techniques they use seem pretty amazing to me.

The next stop was the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services. In addition to providing medical services, the institute trainers practitioners of traditional medicine. Some of the techniques they teach include golden needle therapy (acupuncture?), heated oil cauterization, and bloodletting, in addition to the use of traditional medicines. The Pharmaceutical Research Unit manufactures traditional medicines that are distributed around the country. Bhutan also has western medical facilities, which are free to the average citizen. Government workers have to pay a portion of their medical care. Pema said that for very serious ailments, people are transferred to India or Bangkok for treatment. The museum at ITMS was very small, mostly showing many samples of different types of ingredients for traditional medicines. I looked in vain for an ingredient that said it would cure the common cold, because I would be happy to OD on such a thing right now. I hate the travel cold. I don’t get sick that often, but I typically do when we travel.

A weaving class at the Institute for Zorig Chosum

After the ITMS, we went to the National Institute for Zorig Chusum. Zorig Chosum refers to the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. These include weaving, sculpting, painting, embroidery, and carving. The school is for high school age kids who either didn’t make it in a regular academic school, or who prefer vocational training. I am sure that tourist dollars must help keep the school afloat, as we were allowed to wander through the classrooms, take pictures and ask questions. The students seemed very talented. We met Pema’s cousin there in a painting class. He went to the school because he is deaf and mute, but had exceptional aptitude for the traditional arts. They don’t have any sort of standardized sign language in Bhutan, so deaf children and their families just have to develop their own way of communicating. It was difficult to Pema and his cousin to understand each other for that reason. He was a handsome young man and seemed quite talented. They have a store at the school to sell the students’ work to help support the institute. We were especially mesmerized by the paintings and spent way too much time trying to pick one out. We finally settled on one and paid $19 US, which I thought was entirely reasonable. The paintings are not unique. They paint the same subjects over and over, as those are the traditional Buddhist images. I could have easily bought a dozen of them, they were all so lovely. I haven’t found any gifts I liked for my family yet, but we are still at the beginning of our trip, so I have time.

Entrance to the National Library in Thimphu

Next we went to the Folk Heritage Museum. The museum is located in a restored three-story traditional rammed mud and timber farm house. It was fascinating to see how people lived (and still live in some parts of Bhutan). Of course a highlight for me was wood printing blocks. I noticed a roller with some cloth tied around it and asked if it was for applying ink to the blocks. Indeed it was. They had an indoor toilet, but it was only for honored guests such as visiting lamas and monks. The family just went to the bathroom outside in the bushes.

Our last stop of the morning was the national library. They had a huge model of the Punahka Dzong (fortress), which was pretty amazing. Pema said the dzongs were built without blueprints, which is quite impressive for such massive structures. The library houses the world’s largest book, a photographic book of Bhutan. They turn one page a month. That thing must weigh a ton. There is a smaller (though still quite large) version you can buy. Most of the museum is filled with prayer books in beautiful silk wrappings.

Next we went to lunch at the Lingshay restaurant and rested for a bit. After lunch, we went to the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory and watched them making paper using the bark of the daphne papyri plant. Everything was done in one room. When I get home, there will be a link to a longer article about the papermaking factory.

A view of the Thimphu Valley

For the rest of the afternoon, we drove around to some lookout points above Thimphu sp Stephen could take some pictures. We also drove up to the construction site for what will be the world’s largest seated Buddha. The largest is currently in Hong Kong. Right now, only the framework is up, but it is going to be gigantic. We also walked up to a small nunnery and explored a little bit.

We went to dinner and then we went to a Bhutanese karaoke bar to meet a friend of Pema’s. I was having fun, but then started to feel a little nauseated. Finally, I had to go back to the hotel because I just kept feeling worse. Unfortunately, it turned out that I had food poisoning and I was up sick all night. It is hard to know what caused it, but we had spinach with dinner, and I ate by far the most of it. Pema ate a little bit and he apparently got a little bit sick. Stephen didn’t get sick at all. I ended up with another sleepless night. My immune system must be operating at nearly zero.

Check out more of Stephen’s pictures of Bhutan.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: