In November 2008 Audra & I went to the secretive little Himalayan country of Bhutan. It was an incredible time to be there as we were lucky enough to see the celebrations for the 5th Kings Coronation which was an amazing thing to share with these beautiful and gentle local people who love their royal family so much.
Here is some of the diary that I wrote about it:
On the flight back there was none of the excitement and anticipation that was present on the way in. There was just a quiet introspective mood with everyone reflecting on the incredible experiences through this magical kingdom of Bhutan that we had all taken part in. As I sat on the plane writing this account of our trip and we plunged further back into modern civilisation, I couldn’t help wondering whether this amazing journey was just a dream.
We were again treated to clear skies as we wake up early for breakfast where we meet a group of film makers from National Geographic, who are in town for the Coronation celebrations. After a quick breakfast, we drove west out of town to view the massive white peak of Mt Jhomolari (7314m) which is almost always shrouded by cloud, but luckily in full view in the brilliant sunshine. Like all Bhutanese peaks, it has never been climbed by any human out of superstition and respect by the locals. It’s stark white unadulterated peak, rises from behind several heavily forested hills in the foreground, creating an unforgettable sight. We stop in a small village to take photo’s of the peak & even more interesting shots of the local people going about their daily lives.
We then travelled through various quaint little villages to the carpark at the start of our two hour hike up to Taktshang Goemba, most commonly known as “The Tigers Nest”. Taktshang is easily the most famous of Bhutans monasteries, as it incredibly sits perched on a 900m high cliff at an altitude of 3140m. The Bhutanese believe it was attached with the help of angel hairs. The trail up is very steep and rocky, with many people taking the easier option of a ride on a mule up the mountain, which after a short time seems like a really good idea as we were all suffering from the change in altitude. The hike starts in lush forest with crystal clear streams flowing under bridges and tinkling through small bells mounted in shrines or “Stupors” which are found in every corner of Bhutan.
As we continued up the mountain and the terrain grows steeper and more rugged, we passed numerous groups of mules & donkeys on their way back down after dropping their passengers off. My nerves started to grow as I think of how and where I am going to pop the question to Audra after all these years together. Between panting & puffing I decide I’ll just see what happens and trust myself to know the right time when I see it.
Halfway up we were greeted by the welcome sight of the teahouse, which served us a banquet of lovely Bhutanese food, much of it containing their favourite vegetable, the chilli. We sit, rest, eat and marvel at the panoramic views of The Tigers Nest on the cliffside across the deep ravine. After eating way too much, we continued up the mountain, past springs where we were told by Rinchin to bless ourselves for good luck and past a cave which marks the birth of the previous Je Khenpho, where Rinchin stopped and told us his story. A short distance from here bring us to a spectacular lookout and small guesthouse where bhuddist groups sometimes stay. We all lighted a butter lamp in the adjoining butter lamp room, which is very hot from the hundreds of candles flickering in there. After hanging some long prayer flags across the trail, helped by a friendly young Bhutanese girl staying there. We started the descent down the very steep 800 steps carved out of the cliff, down past a bridge & waterfall covered with hundreds of colourful prayer flags, past the Snow Lion Cave meditation retreat, jammed into a rock crevice which is used by monks, Lama’s & Gurus, before we climbed back up to the monastery entrance. I was starting to get really nervous now.
We arrived to be greeted by two army soldiers guarding the temple, and we had to take off our shoes & leave our cameras & bags with them downstairs before starting our tour of the monastery. We were very fortunate that we arrived late in the day due to our tour groups tendency for procrastination, as there were no other tourists in the monastery now, so the head Lama could show us around personally, as he normally doesn’t have the time to spend with foreigners. Inside, monks dart around sweeping & cleaning amongst the gothic architecture as the sun casts long shadows in the late afternoon light.
We headed up to the most holy place in the monastery, the Dubkhang, a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated for three months after flying on the back of a tigress back to this very place where he is said to have subdued the local demon Singey Samdrup. Outside the cave in a small room is a statue & shrine of
Dorje Drolo, the manefestation that the guru assumed to fly on the tigress. It is here that after we prostrated three times to the shrine, the head Lama gave us each a Bhutanese name and joked around with us as our guide translated the meanings of each name for us.
It was at this time with the late afternoon sun streaming through the cliffside window that I thought, well there’s never going to be a better time than this, so I quietly slipped the box containing a ring I had brought over from Audra’s favourite shop in Fremantle, out of my pocket and summoned all my courage to speak up through building tears and said, “ I’d just like to say something.” I turned to Audra and said “ Boody, will you marry me?” She was in total shock, so I said it again and she hugged me and said “Yeah of course I will”. There were tears everywhere with everyone’s faces showing disbelief, joy and happiness all at the same time. The Lama summoned us over through our guide Rinchin and proceeded to tie a knot in a white scarf that had been on the shrine to Guru Rinpoche and put it around both our necks. He then took the gold ring which sparkled in the late afternoon sun and placed it on Audras finger before closing his eyes and chanting for about half a minute. Little did we know, but he was marrying us according to Bhutanese tradition and before we knew it, after the shortest engagement in history, we were married in front of seven special witnesses who we were privileged to share this magical experience with, including Audra’s best friend Michelle and my best mate Dave.
We were to learn later that night that this was the first wedding of foreigners and possibly the first ever wedding within one of the most holy shrines in Bhutan. To top it all off, on the way back down the mountain, past the lookout, we were summoned into the small guesthouse to meet a great Lama who had just came off a long meditation of several weeks there. Sitting cross legged in a room overlooking the Tigers Nest with his laptop & mobile phone next to him was none other but the Lama who is said to be the 16th re-incarnation of Guru Rimpoche. No one else knew he was here and our guide Rinchin was so excited as he had wanted to meet him his entire life all all Bhutanese do. He placed another knotted white scarf around our necks and said to us in perfect English, “ have a wonderful life together” before throwing rice over us. It only dawned on us several days later how important he is in Bhutan as next to Buddha in every temple was a large statue of Guru Rimpoche himself.
On the way back down the mountain in fading light our guide Rinchin, came up to me and put his arm around me and said
” I think, what just happened…was a miracle…”
… stay tuned for the documentary