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Bhutan – Catch sight of a real-life mythical creature at Motithang Takin Preserve

Takin-x03bAt Motithang Takin Preserve in Thimphu, you will find an interesting animal with the head of a goat and body of a cow. Its creation is linked to local mythology dating back to the 15th century.

Takin-x01The wildlife preserve is located 15 minutes drive outside of Thimphu city, and about 40 minutes by car from Paro. Motithang was originally a mini-zoo which was closed because the King of Bhutan felt it was improper for a Buddhist country to confine animals. The animals in the zoo were released, but the gentle takin which have long been domesticated, didn’t leave the area and ended up roaming the streets of Thimphu in search of food. The 8.4 acre wildlife reserve was thus set up as a place where the takin can roam safely.

Takin-x02Our furry friend trying to masquerade as the mythical creature. So cute!

Takin-x03The wildlife preserve is mostly fenced up with some openings where visitors can take photos and get a clearer look. Otherwise, the privacy of the takin is highly protected.

Takin-x03aAs I gazed into the far woods where the creatures were peacefully grazing, I was quite sure I would never know how they really looked like in real life.

Takin-x03bSo you can imagine my uber excitement when a curious takin made its way down the woods and came near us. I could feel a tingle going down my spine! What an amazing creature, I had never seen anything like it before. My Bhutanese guide proudly told me, “Because it is so special, that’s why we name it as our national animal. It is unique just like Bhutan. ”

Folklore has it that a Tibetan saint by the name of Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as “The Divine Madman” was requested by the Bhutanese people to conjure a miracle before them during one of his religious lectures. The saint agreed to do so provided he was given a whole cow and a whole goat for lunch. After eating both the cow and goat (what a huge appetite!), the saint put the head of the goat on the skeleton of the cow and with a snap of his fingers, the animal sprang up and came to life. The animal was then given the name dong gyem tsey (takin). Since then this animal has been a common sight in the high hills of Bhutan. Because of this magical creation with highly religious association, the animal was named as the national animal of Bhutan on 25th November 1985.

Takin-x03cIn a more realistic context, the takin (Budorcas taxicolor whitei), also called cattle chamois or gnu goat, is listed as a vulnerable species of goat-antelope native to Bhutan, India, China and Tibet. Adult takin have a golden yellow and brownish coat while calves are black in colour.

Takin are found from forested valleys to rocky, grass-covered alpine zones, at altitudes between 1,000 and 4,500 m above sea level. They are found in small family groups of around 20 individuals, although older males may lead more solitary existences. In the summer months, herds of up to 300 gather high on the mountain slopes. Salt is also an important part of their diet, and groups may stay at a mineral deposit for several days. So you may chance upon a herd of takin licking on rocks, taking in the salt found in the rocks.

Takin-x04Rather than localised scent glands, the takin has an oily, strong-smelling substance secreted over the whole body which keeps them dry. This is likely the reason for the swollen appearance of its face (I must have takin genes too). Due to this feature, biologist George Schaller likened the takin to a “bee-stung moose” although research has found it to be more related to sheep, mehhh.

When in danger, the takin will give an alarm call that resembles a cough and the herd will retreat into thick bamboo thickets and lie on the ground for camouflage.

The only confirmed natural predator of takin is the snow leopard, and opportunistic Asiatic black bears and gray wolves. Humans pose a greater threat to the takin, although poaching is thankfully not common.

Takin-x03dThe preserve is also home to some sambar and barking deer. It takes only about 30mins to walk the small reserve, but it’s also the only place where you can see the takin (unless you are prepared to hike up the mountains and pray to catch sight of one). Coming face to face with the takin was a surreal experience especially when you hear of its mythical origin, so I would recommend dropping by the reserve for a visit.

Motithang Takin Preserve
Opening Hours: 9:00AM to 4:00PM; Tue-Sun
Admission Fee: Bhutanese/SAARC national/adult Nu 10/30/50
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan

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Bhutan, Thimphu – National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial Chorten

The National Memorial Chorten is one of the most prominent religious structures located in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, and a focus of daily worship for many Bhutanese.

National Memorial ChortenElderly ladies at the entrance of the National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenThe Tibetan-style chorten (or ‘stupa’ in Hindi) was built by Her Majesty the late Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck for her son, Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”) and built in 1974, two years after his death. It was the late King’s wish to build such a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha and dedicated to world peace.

National Memorial Chorten

Every day from dawn till dusk old people and young alike circumambulate the chorten turning the large red prayer wheels, or chanting with their mala prayer beads or mini handheld mani prayer wheels. On auspicious days, religious ceremonies and initiations are also conducted at the chorten.

National Memorial ChortenThe Bhutanese are highly pious, and many elderly people come here from dawn and stay for most of the day, chanting.

National Memorial Chorten

National Memorial ChortenMost of the devotees come in a group, and have picnics on the chorten grounds. I would say it’s one of the best form of community bonding for the locals.

National Memorial Chorten

Almost everyone has a mani prayer wheels with them, spinning them in a clockwise direction to release their prayers to heaven. Repeatedly inscribed with Buddhist mantras, these wheels are especially useful for the illiterate since according to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This enables the individual to become awakened and realize the Four Immeasurables of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, thus assisting their journeys to enlightenment.

National Memorial ChortenBoy playing with the many, many birds at the chorten’s little garden

National Memorial ChortenBhutanese child in modern attire. While the adults typically go to religious places in their traditional attire, I spotted many kids in modern wear.

National Memorial Chorten

Devotee with the statue of Goddess Ihamu at the front of the chorten. I wonder what’s on his mind…

National Memorial Chorten

Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and this whitewashed chorten decorated with its richly carved annexes facing the four directions is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings, elaborate mandalas and intricate sculptures. All the four sides of the chorten have different mandalas & statues dedicated to the third king.

Unlike other chortens, the National Memorial Chorten does not enshrine human remains – only Druk Gyalpo’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor.

National Memorial Chorten

The basic structure of a Chorten consists of a square foundation symbolizing the earth, a dome symbolizing water, and thirteen tapering steps of enlightenment symbolizing the element of fire. There are eight different kind stupas, all referring to major events in Buddha Shakyamuni’s life.

National Memorial Chorten

Numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues housed inside reflect both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities, with some 36 of them in erotic poses. The inside of the Chorten opens only once a year for locals & tourists during the Monlam Prayer festival, usually held during the 4th to 11th day of the first Tibetan month when the Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) addresses and gives blessings the people present for the occasion.

National Memorial ChortenAll day long, devotees circle the chorten in a leisurely clockwise direction, praying for blessings. The atmosphere is serene yet relaxed.

National Memorial ChortenStudents and office workers stop by in the morning or during lunch breaks to pray for their respective needs.

National Memorial Chorten
In a reflective mood

National Memorial ChortenElderly man repeatedly prostrating

National Memorial ChortenReligion being highly embedded into the Bhutanese way of life, visiting places of worship like this one is a regular family affair to pray for good fortune, apart from pujas (religious rites).

National Memorial ChortenFor the foreign visitor in me, I enjoyed the serenity and unhurried pace at the National Memorial Chorten, while quietly admiring the architecture of the religious monuments. For a moment, I felt like I was part of the local community. Maybe I should bring some tea and join them on my next visit, I would love to hear their stories :)

National Memorial Chorten
Address: Chhoten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan