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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 – Buddha Dordenma: Marvel at one of the largest Buddha statues in the world

Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe Buddha Dordenma is an iconic monument sitting atop a forest hill overlooking Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu. Viewable from any part of the city, the massive statue of Shakyamuni is sited amidst Kuensel Phodrang where the palace of Sherab Wangchuck (the thirteenth Desi Druk who ruled the country from 1744 to 1763) once stood. It is one of the largest Buddha Rupas (or statues) in the world measuring at a height of 51.5 metres.  Made of bronze and gilded in gold, the statue alone cost USD$47 million. Manufactured in China, the statue was cut into pieces and then transported to site through Phuentsholing (imagine the awe of wide-eyed Bhutanese villagers seeing the gigantic head of Buddha at the back of a moving lorry, priceless).Bhutan - Buddha Dordenma
This is part of a greater whole, which includes the Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, a 943-acre nature park inaugurated in 2011 to preserve the forests surrounding the statue. The entire project, which took about 10 years to complete on 25 September 2015, cost over USD$100 million. Locals and tourists alike embrace the park, which is popular for weekend family outings and its biking, hiking and nature trails. The park also hosted the Peling Tsechu, a three-day festival held in May 2016 to commemorate the birth of His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe three-storey base houses a large chapel, while the body itself is filled with 125,000 gold statues of Buddha. The statue is expected to be a major pilgrimage centre and a focal point for Buddhists all over the world to converge, practice, meditate, and retreat.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaApart from commemorating the 60th birth anniversary of Bhutan’s fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, it fulfills two prophecies. In the twentieth century, the renowned yogi Sonam Zangpo prophesied that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region to bestow blessings, peace and happiness to the entire world. The statue itself is mentioned in an ancient terma of Guru Padmasambhava himself, said to date from approximately the 8th century, and recovered some 800 years ago by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer).Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaFor me, I am just happy to be blessed with such an amazing view.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThe Buddha Dordenma overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley, and visitors can enjoy a vantage view of Thimphu nestled in the valley below.Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaThimphu being the capital city is the most developed and densely populated area in Bhutan, so this sight of closely-packed buildings is not the norm in other parts of the country which are mostly mountains, forests and farmlands. With urbanization, Bhutanese youths are increasingly migrating to Thimphu in search of white-collar jobs and a better life. I wonder how many dreams these buildings hold?Bhutan - Buddha DordenmaBhutan - Buddha DordenmaOne thing I know for sure, Bhutan is not ready to give up their unique cultural identity for modernization, and the little kingdom is gingerly treading the waters of urbanization, step by step, without compromising on the values which they have held closely for centuries. If there is a country left in the world who can find a delicate balance between culture and economic progress, it would be Bhutan.

Buddha Dordenma

Opening Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM daily
Website: www.buddhadordenma.org
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan


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Bhutan’s got my Stamp of Approval

Making stamps in Bhutan
One of the most interesting things that you can do in Bhutan, is to get your own personalised stamps at the National Post Office in Thimphu. Costing about USD4 for 12 stamps (including the value of the stamp), imagine your friends’ and family’s pleasant surprise when you send home a postcard with your face on the stamp :) Making stamps in BhutanThimphu’s Post Office is right in the city centre.
Source: Wikicommons (cos’ I was too excited, I forgot to take a photo, bleah) 

Making stamps in BhutanYou can have your photo taken on the spot by the friendly post office staff, or bring your own (glamour) photos in a thumbdrive. It takes less than ten minutes to make your very own stamps. Now that’s what I call exclusive edition.Making stamps in BhutanWhile you are there, visit the Bhutan Postal Museum that was recently opened in November 2015 celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of Fourth Druk Gyalpo His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It’s not huge, but the five galleries are full of interesting facts related to Bhutan’s postal history as well as the country’s progress and development told through stamps.

What you see is a statue of their legendary postal runner (known as a garp) who was able to walk from Punakha to Trongsa and back in one day, crossing torrential rivers and dense forests (according to Google Maps, the distance is 135.8km per way and it would take 39 hours to walk. I think they have a real good chance of winning marathons!).

Garps were selected by the King or regional chieftains based on qualities such as speed, power of memory (messages often being verbal), clarity of speech, and being trustworthy. Modern telecommunication was only introduced in Bhutan on 17 November 1991, so these postal runners were an important part of the social system for a long time.Making stamps in BhutanThe modern postal network in Bhutan started in 1962 with the opening of the first post office in Phuentsholing, in addition to Paro and Thimphu in the same year. Making stamps in BhutanBhutan is also known as the Land of Beautiful Stamps – the county has some of the most intricately designed stamps in the world, including the world’s first scented stamps, first steel foil stamps, first silk stamps, first 3-D stamps and first talking stamps(!). For the reclusive country, stamps were regarded as “little ambassadors of their country”. Bhutanese stamps are also popular as gifts for friends and family back home, with some tourists buying hundreds of dollars worth from the post office.Making stamps in BhutanStamps are often released to feature the sights and culture of Bhutan, celebrate festivals, anniversaries, the royal family wedding or anything worth remembering. Have a look at some of the stamps here.Making stamps in BhutanCommemorative stamps for royal birthday, royal visits and diplomatic relationsMaking stamps in Bhutan
Wildlife in Bhutan (yes, even dinosaurs)Making stamps in BhutanThe annual Chinese zodiac animal stampsMaking stamps in Bhutan
Buddhism is an integral part of the Bhutanese culture. Bhutan is a Buddhist country and people often refer to it as the last stronghold of Vajrayana Buddhism. Making stamps in BhutanForms of postal transportation. I would love to get a ride in the red jeep.

If I could post a message to Bhutan, I would say “I am in love with you, and I want to go back!” If you were to send a message to someone, who would that be and what would you tell him/her? In these modern times where Wechat, Whatsapp and Facebook permeate our daily lives, we have taken personal communication for granted. Try sending a handwritten note to a loved one, and I am pretty sure he/she will be pleasantly surprised. :)

 

Bhutan Postal Museum
Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00AM – 5:00PM in summer (April-October); 9:00AM – 4:00PM in winter (November – March)Admission fee: Tourists – Nu. 250 (approx. USD3.70); SAARC Tourists – Nu. 150; Locals – Nu. 50

 

Photos of Bhutan Postal Museum courtesy of Tharchu from Happiness Journey Bhutan (thanks pal!)
Photos of Bhutan stamps from Bhutan Postal Corporation Ltd.
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