I saw excitement, sparkling eyes and at the same time a reverent expression in the face of our guide Tenzin, when he spoke to a local monk in a monastery at the entry of the Trongsa Valley. It was joy, but not just joy. Maybe a little similar to a small boy waiting at Christmas Eve to be allowed to see the tree with all the candles and the strong believe that Santa is about to bring some presents…
The big excitement: the blessing
So what was this all about? “A blessing is being held at the Dzong tomorrow.” was the explanation. “Is this blessing something special to the people?” I wanted to know. “Yes, very special! The monk is very famous. There will be a lot of people. It will be difficult to park the car.” Difficulties to park the car seems to be a global topic, even in a remote valley in Bhutan. “No problem at all to walk. Will it still be possible to visit the Dzong then?”. Since the Bhutanese people are very open to visitors, it did not seem to be any problem at all. So we were curious.
The next morning, the atmosphere was somehow busy but at the same time very calm and patient.
We saw the Dzong still from quite far but already a queue with thousands of people. The population in Bhutan is not very dense, so they must have taken a long way to come to the Dzong. Of course, most do not have a car, so they probably walked half the night. Still, in the narrow streets in the steep mountains, there is not a lot of space for cars at all to park.
Thousands of Bhutanese – and two Germans
We did not see any other foreign visitors; they seem to have all left the valley… Tenzin asked someone if we could enter also from the back door since we just want to visit, not queue to get the blessing. Of course! It was somewhat surreal; we entered the fortress through a door in its massive walls which had a nicely painted wooden doorframe. Inside, we saw tables where you could get your blood pressure and blood sugar level measured and consult a doctor if needed. Health services are free to the Bhutanese people but since it is such a remote country, the doctors build up tables at such occasions where many people gather.
Further in, I felt like taken back in time. An ancient horn was blown, everybody (except us) was wearing the colorful national dresses and nothing looked like the twentieth century – except the kids playing with smartphones!
The hungry ghosts
The Dzong is a beautiful place full of history and interesting insights. We spend quite some time at a picture of the realms of rebirth. Buddhist cosmology typically identifies six realms of rebirth and existence. This means you can get reborn as a god, a demi-god, a human, an animal, a hungry ghost or go to hell. The definition of the hungry ghost made me thoughtful since this is someone who is never satisfied with what he/she has. It could be a human, having a nice family, a house, a car, no worries but still is not satisfied. “We have a higher proportion of hungry ghosts in Germany compared to Bhutan” I said. Tenzin’s first thought was that we have more people in Germany, so this is quite a logic thing when he realized a moment later that I said proportion. He made a quite sad face and said he is sorry for them….
Blessing for longevity
We enjoyed the atmosphere in the Dzong when Tenzin suddenly returned with a big smile from the queue right where he was chatting with some people. “Let’s go!” he said “we can join the queue here to get the blessing”. “Are you sure, those people here waited for hours already and also, we are not Buddhists!” we replied. “No problem” was the answer “They don’t mind, since you traveled from so far and the blessing is for longevity!” Although Buddhists believe in rebirth, it is very common to wish for longevity.
In the crowd of Bhutanese, as the only foreigners, we entered the temple. The blessing was a series of prayer murmurs, incense burning, small money donations, blessings with softly touching the head, handing out little eatable balls and a little ribbon, everybody put around the wrist. Nobody seemed to be offended that we joined them, indeed everybody was pointing us what to do or even explained in English. That itself was the most amazing experience for me. The blessing was so special for the people but everybody was extremely welcoming as if this would be the most natural thing on earth that two foreigners with no clue join. If only every religion would be so tolerant…
With these thoughts in mind, maybe it’s a good time for a break…and pay attention to the culinary delights of Bhutan.