TIGER’S NEST AKA PARO TAKTSANG IN BHUTAN- QUICK TREKKING GUIDE AND TIPS!

The below article is in a chronological order, based upon my personal experience. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them.

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Creative shot of Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang.

TIGER’S NEST OR THE PARO TAKTSANG IS THE FACE OF BHUTAN. Most have nurtured a dream to climb up the monastery, which from a distance looks like it will fall anytime from the high mountains. I have been to Bhutan 2 times (Such is the pull of the country!) I could not visit the Tiger’s nest the first time in 2014 because I was traveling with parents for whom it was not possible to trek. The option of taking a mule up to the Tiger’s Nest was there but they were not too keen. I looked at it longingly from a distance and promised myself to return to Bhutan one day for realizing my dream of trekking up to Tiger’s Nest if nothing else.

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Paro Taktasang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery peeping from the prayer flags

15th August, 2016: Perhaps I was destined to trek to Tiger’s Nest on the auspicious occasion of Indian Independence Day. As our van stopped at the base of the Tiger’s Nest, a touristy market welcomed us. Some of us bought a Rs.50 walking stick. We were 5 bloggers and 2 representatives from Bhutan Bookings.

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Beginning of Tiger’s Nest Monastery Trek- Of Pines and mules

7:35 a.m. Scores of pine cones lay scattered on the ground as we started the trek to Tiger’s Nest. Mules, waiting to be hired, rested nonchalantly. Tiger’s Nest looks like a tiny speck from here. A row of prayer wheels housed in small rooms built in traditional Bhutanese architecture was the first man made structure we passed. Powered by flowing water, it added to the tranquil atmosphere.

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Prayer wheel powered by water is housed in this room. En Route Tiger’s Nest Monastery trek

8:00 a.m. Clusters of tiny mushrooms cushioned the sides of pathways.  The view of Tiger’s nest was our constant companion. Half an hour later, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the valley below and misty mountains on the other side.

Pictures above (L to R) Way to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Shadow of the quirky prayer wheels, Tiny mushrooms (Please click to enlarge)

8:41 a.m. There are benches built for those who want to rest. I preferred sitting on the stones during the breaks. Nearby is a large compartmentalized tank where the horses stopped for their water breaks.

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Me blowing the quirky prayer wheels fashioned out of bottles. En Route Tiger’s Nest Monastery Trek (Pic: Parnashree Devi)

8:57 a.m. We arrived at a giant prayer wheel surrounded by large boulders and prayer flags of all colors. I loved the quirky prayer wheel somebody fashioned out of bottle waters. It had ‘wings’ and was dependent on fast winds or a little blow by humans. Few minutes later, we entered a modern gate. 20 minutes later the muddy path had become rocky in patches.

Pics above (L to R) : Our guide Sonam resting on a bench en route Tiger’s Nest Monastery; Rocky patches

10:00 a.m. We arrived at a mysterious building. It was built around a cave. It’s door was locked but there was a wooden ladder which opened in the window. I climbed the ladder to see a dark room housing idols and prayer paraphernalia. Incense smell seduced my olfactory system as I pushed my nose against the metal net. Just when I thought there were no human inside, a monk looked at me from inside. A board told me that His Holiness JE Khenpo Geshey Guenden Rinchen was born here in a cave in 1926 (Fire Tiger year). People nick named him Dragphugpa (Cave man). He was a Buddhist scholar and for 10 years he served as the abbot of Tango Monastery in Thimphu. Just 3 minutes ahead is a view point where trekkers can safely take pictures of the Tiger’s Nest.

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The cave Temple just before the view point en route Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

10:22 a.m. After a stop of few minutes we resumed trekking, this time on proper steps with metal railings. Few years ago this was a rough trail. The construction helped people navigate the tricky part of the trek. This stretch has the most ups and downs and perhaps due to this reason the steps were built. “It was pretty rough when I visited it solo many years ago! It’s quite easy now!” An American told me, who was trekking this time with his grown up son. 20 minutes later, I passed a cemented seating area. Skipping the rest, I moved on, impatient to reach the Tiger’s Nest. A Japanese pointed out to me a large formation on the rock below the Tiger’s Nest. It looked like a human form. He told me it is said to be a mythological figure.

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The waterfall. Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang is just an hour away!

 

11:00 a.m. We arrived at the most exciting part of the trek. A large waterfall cascaded from the high mountains. A bridge helped pilgrims cross the gushing stream powered by the waterfall. Prayer flags of all colors were tied in haphazard fashion everywhere as if celebrating something. Perhaps celebrating our arrival at the Tiger’s nest which was just an hour away! 10 minutes away was a cave where Khado Yeshi Tsogyal practiced Vajrakilaya. A powerful tradition which is practiced to removes obstacles; overpower evil forces and leads to compassion and spiritual cleaning.

Pics above (L to R): Can you identify the human image; the second cave temple just before Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

12:20 a.m. We arrived at the steps leading to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Cameras, Mobile phones, weapons, liquors, tobacco, drugs explosives and any inflammable object are not allowed beyond this point. We submitted our cameras, mobile phones, sticks, extra clothes and day packs in the locker and proceeded ahead after a security check. It is also not allowed to wear sleeveless outfits, shawls or Bermudas and half pants beyond this point.

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Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery

As I climbed the steep steps to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, I arrived at a dark room. The perfume of incense and juniper wafted in the air, lending it a mystical aura. I visited all the temples in the monastery, silenced and awed by its aura. The breathtaking views of the valley made it all the more soothing.

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Me unable to hide my happiness on coming so close to Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery. One more dream come true! (Pic: Parnashree Devi)

1:24 p.m. We arrive for lunch at Taktsang Cafeteria. A Bhutan Tourism outlet, it is a relaxing place to have lunch post the trek. It has both indoor and al fresco dining option. I suggest you sit at the outdoor benches for a view of misty Tiger’s Monastery. Lunch is buffet style. There are clean loos too.

Lunch Nu 390; Tea/Coffee with biscuits – Nu 100

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The cafeteria. We ate here while returning from Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Soul Window Tips:

  1. Eat a heavy breakfast. You will be burning a lot of calories.
  2. Wear loose cottons and comfortable shoes. Trekking shoes preferred though it is an easy (for me) trek.
  3. Carry light woolens. I did carry but I did not need it. (I trekked on 15th August)
  4. Don’t wear sleeveless shirts/tops and half pants. You will not be allowed inside the monastery.
  5. Carry water bottles (at least 2 liters per person)
  6. Carry Small snacks like dry fruits, cookies, health bars.
  7. Carry a light day pack to hold all the things.
  8. Walking stick helps, though it is not much required. In case you buy it from the shops at the base, it would be great if you could return it to them for free. This is what we did.
  9. Always give priority to the horses and let them pass the path before you do.
  10. Carry plastic to protect your electronic in case it rains.

MY MORAL POLICING ON RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING:

  1. If you are fit, there is no reason to hire a mule. It’s unpleasant for you as well as the mule. Trekking on foot also helps you observe a lot.
  2. Don’t litter. It is a sensitive zone. Though there are huge bins installed every few steps, I suggest you collect all the garbage in your bag and take them down yourself. If all the individuals take initiatives at their end, it makes a big difference at the end.
  3. Don’t talk loudly or scream. Let’s maintain the sanctity of the place.
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Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE THESE BLOGS ON BHUTAN:

WHY THEY PAINT PENIS DESIGNS ON THE WALLS OF BHUTAN

DRAYANGS: THE DANCE BARS OF BHUTAN

THE HAA VALLEY: BEST KEPT SECRET OF BHUTAN

ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

WHITE WATER RAFTING IN PUNAKHA: WHEN I JUMPED IN THE RIVER

Disclaimer: My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

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Me en route Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery. (Pic by: Dipanshu Goyal)

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Dipanshu gaining height. This was shot half an hour after the trek to Tiger’s Nest Monastery began.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

DEAD SEA IN JORDAN – WHY I RAN OUT SCREAMING AS SOON AS I ENTERED IT?

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Dead Sea was towards the end of our 7 days journey in Jordan. As soon as I entered the Dead Sea, I ran out screaming, unable to open my eyes. My co-travelers, between guffaws and friendly teasing guided me towards an open air shower next to the beach. Before I could reach that, I needed water.

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Me at sunset in Dead Sea (Pic: Stuti Shrimali)

I needed water without even a gram of salt in it. My friend Stuti came to rescue and helped me wash my face with drinking water. Just to make sure, I still stood under the shower and rinsed of every bit of Dead Sea water from my face.

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Me floating in Dead Sea (Pic Stuti Shrimali)

My friends told me that in Dead Sea, you are not supposed to take a dip or submerge your head. The water is so saline that it causes burning sensations on skin; eyes and nose being the most vulnerable. Once bitten, twice shy, I entered the sea again this time with head held high (No pun intended here). The water was way too salty, dense and sticky. It felt heavy.

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I tasted a small amount only to be overwhelmed by its strong taste. As I gingerly lied down on my back in Dead Sea, I was amused to ‘discover’ that the ‘floating story’ is not someone’s fabricated story. I floated effortlessly, keeping my eyes open at all times, lest I drift deep into the Dead Sea like a tragic poem.

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The sun had started to melt far in the horizon as I floated eerily on the water, pebbles visible on my sides. It was a surreal moment. It was an unprecedented experience for me and easily one of my finest moments from not only Jordan but all my travels so far.

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One of the many pools which Marriott Resort boasts of!

I almost did not make it to the Dead Sea. After a comforting lunch of Pasta and Pizzas (mezzes are great, but I needed my comfort food) at the resort, we were instructed to check in our room and show up at the private beach of the resort before sundown when the beach closes. Tired, I decided to lie down in my comfortable room.

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Stuti Shrimali floating in the Dead Sea

I didn’t realize when I caught a sound sleep. God alone knows what woke me up after few hours and the first thing I did was check the time. Panicking, I ran towards the beach, not even bothering to carry any swimwear or towel. I jumped hurriedly in the sea with my shirts and pants on.

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The Lobby of Marriott!

When I emerged from the Dead Sea, it was already dark. As I passed the café of the hotel, someone announced a Belly Dance Performance. Scared that I might miss the show, I watched the entire show wearing my salty wet clothes.

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The Belly dancer at Marriott!

When the show ended, my clothes dried naturally by the warm Dead Sea air. The Belly Dance I saw was the best I had seen till date. The presence of Dead Sea made it even more atmospheric.

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Me not wanting to leave Dead Sea (Pic: Stuti Shrimali)

10 COOL FACTS ABOUT THE DEAD SEA

  1. It is world’s lowest point at 430 meters (1412 feet) below sea level.
  2. 7 % salinity makes it the world’s saltiest sea.
  3. It is called Dead Sea because no flora or fauna can survive.
  4. Asphalt for preserving Egyptian mummies was sourced from here.
  5. It served as the first health resort of the world.
  6. Potash sourced from Dead Sea is used for fertilizers.
  7. Thanks to its rich mineral content, many new age resorts have mushroomed across the Dead Sea in Jordan and Israel. They offer natural spa treatments. Dead Sea cosmetics made from its salt and minerals are quite popular and are available everywhere in Jordan.
  8. Swimming is not possible in Dead Sea due to heavy density of its water.
  9. It is 9 times saltier than the ocean.
  10. If you walk around the beach, you will see salt deposits on rock. The drive next to Dead Sea is scenic.
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Me next to Dead Sea posing on my way to the resort! (Pic: Stuti Shrimali)

RELATED BLOGS:

PETRA: THE SECRET OF THE CITY OF DEAD REVEALED

PETRA IN NIGHT: IS IT WORTH IT (EXCLUSIVE PICTURES)

AQABA- THE ONLY COASTAL CITY OF JORDAN WHICH BORDERS EGYPT, ISRAEL AND SAUDI ARABIA

WADI RUM- MARS ON EARTH?

AMMAN CITADEL- THE CONTINUALLY HABITATED WALLED CITY

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

Pictures above: Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa

I stayed at:

Jordan Valley Marriott Resort & Spa: It was my most luxurious experience in Jordan. My cozy room overlooked the sea. The bathtub helped me rinse off all the salt on my body post a dip in Dead Sea. Their restaurant serves good Italian. What I enjoyed was their buffet of a vast variety of mezze and Arabic sweets. Some so sinfully good that I was almost having a dessert dinner. They have a private secluded beach. They have many pools in the premises. A live belly dance performance combined with above factors made my stay memorable. My favourite part was of course the balcony of the room where I would sit and smoke in night, listening to music played far away.

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Me in Dead Sea (Pic- Stuti Shrimali)

NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

PETRA- THE SECRETS OF THE CITY OF THE DEAD EXPLAINED: ONE OF THE 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD!

After enjoying the Little Petra and Petra by night, I was curious to see the prehistoric Petra by the day. The rose red city of Petra was listed as the modern 7 wonders of the world in 2007. Petra, declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 was long on my radar. It is always more fun to see a destination at different times of the day. The place whispers different things to you. I passed the same rocks and boulders which looked like a monster in the night. First remarkable stop is the Bab el-Siq (Gateway to the Siq) as named by Petra’s Bedouin inhabitants. Siq means a passage. The rocks which I interpreted as monsters in the night are in fact called God Rocks. They stand tall, 6 to 8 metres high as if guarding the scarce water source for Petra’s inhabitants. The river bed that begins at Ain Musa and ends at Petra provided the water to its original inhabitants. The path follows the course of the Wadi Musa. Bedouin folklore has it that the spring gushed when Moses struck a rock in Biblical times.

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Me admiring the Siq (Pic: Arka Das)

Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium (25 to 75 A.D.)

I walked the pathway, neatly divided for the pedestrian and the horse carriages (Only these 2 modes are allowed) to discover more gems. In the opposite direction is Obelisk Tomb and Bab el-Siq Triclinium Two monuments carved into sandstone cliffs sit one upon the other, vying for my attention. The most striking feature of the upper one, Obelisk Tomb, are the 4 pyramid like structures representing Nephesh (A Biblical Hebrew word which refers to the soul of higher animals and human beings). It is a Nabataean sign commemorating the departed souls. Below the tomb is a triclinium (A dining room with a dining table and seats on 3 sides, prevalent in ancient Rome). In the funerary dining hall, wine was served in the banquet held in the honor of God or the ancestor. In the opposite cliff it is mentioned in Nabataean and Greek that the burial monument was built by Admanku. The Greek inscription indicates towards the influence of Hellenic culture in the polyglot Petra.

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Upper part- Obelisk Tomb; Lower part- Bab el-Siq Triclinium

Water Management by Nabataeans

We walked further admiring the awe inspiring valley. The credit for sculpting the dramatic lunar landscape goes to not only the floodwater erosion but also to the Nabataeans who carved water cisterns and water channels which diverted the water into Petra for everyday use.  The rugged desert canyon has a mysterious aura to it. A little ahead is Wadi Al Mudhlim, a dry gorge widened by the flow of water. These days, water flows here only during flash floods. In those times, to protect themselves from the flash floods, the Nabataeans built a dam in 1st century B.C. in the area. It also helped them secure water round the year.

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The Gorgeous Gorges!

An 82 meters long rock cut tunnel redirected water through Wadi Mudhlim to reservoirs, water cisterns and dams. Baetyls (Sacred stones/God blocks) were placed in niches towards the end of the Wadi Mudhlim. Nabataeans valued the water and it was their symbolic way to ensure that the Gods were keeping an eye on the water source. Today a modern dam (1964) stands on the same site, built for the same reason, i.e., to protect Petra’s Siqs from Flash Floods.

Sabinos Alexandros Station (2nd or 3rd Century A.D.)

I observe many of the remnants from the past are still intact such as the paved roads (1st century B.C.), Baetyls and Sabinos Alexandros Station. One of the famous niche in the Siq was carved by Sabinos Alexandros, a religious head from modern day Dara’a (Dusares at Adra’a), Syria. The station is notable for the many baetyls, the domed one depicting the God Dushara (the main Nabataean God) from Adra’a and the one on left is deity Atargatis on 2 lions. (See picture). It was carved by him when he visited Petra along with other masters to honor God Dushara in 2nd or 3rd Century A.D.

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Sabinos Alexandros Station. Deity Atargatis and her lions (left), God Dushara (Domed structure on left)

Camel Caravan Reliefs (100-50 B.C.).

A little ahead are Camel Caravan Reliefs. The colossal human forms are at least a third larger than life.  It depicts the life in those times, viz, a caravan of camels and men entering Petra. Ten meters above is an eroded carving showing the caravan leaving Petra. The economy of the place which was based on caravan trade saw much traffic in those times. The high hump on one of the camel suggests that the camel is carrying goods. Notice the pleated woolen garment worn by one of the men. In his left arm he is holding a stick.

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Remaining sculpture at the Camel Caravan Relief. Notice the dress of the man and the stick.

Treasury aka Al Khazneh (1st century A.D.)

Within minutes, I approach the end of the narrow Siq. It must be the most photographed part of the Siq as it offers a dramatic glimpse of the Treasury aka Al Khazneh. The most recognizable face of Petra, Treasury was built by Nabateans around 1st century A.D. Carved out of a sandstone rock face, it originally served as a mausoleum or crypt (Burial place).

What makes Treasury and other monument of Petra special is the fact that they were not built but carved out of rock with simple chisel. It was sculpted top down. 60,000 cubic feet of rock was chiseled out. Indeed a great feat! 2,000 years later, it is still in great shape today except the erosion of small details and the bullet marks near the urn. It is believed that the local Bedouins shot at the urn in early 20th century, assuming that the bandits have hidden treasure in the urn. It, of course, is just a solid sandstone embellishment.

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The first glimpse of Treasury!

Did You Know About The Mysterious Burial Chamber Under Treasury?

Historians have concluded that the rich carvings on Treasury’s façade depict mythological characters representing afterlife. During the recent excavations, a subterranean burial chamber (accessed by a staircase) was found right under the treasury. The archeologists found the treasure of a different kind. 13 skeletons along with pottery were found in one of the chambers. It is believed that the skeletons belonged to the Royal Nabataean family. The treasury was possibly built to honor the Royal family and was a mausoleum.  Visitors are not allowed to enter the underground chamber. In fact mausoleums of many size and shape dominate the landscape of Petra. Their size depended upon the stature of the person in Nabataean society. Ground penetrating radar is used to find many more such gems.

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The most photographed face of Petra- The Treasury!

Thanks to the Hellenistic and Roman influence, the architecture of Treasury reflects Greek styles. Corinthian style pillars, eagles and Statues of Castor and Pollux grab the attention. The entire campus of Petra is dominated by tombs and other structures built in Nabataean, Assyrian, Helenistic and Greco-Roman style, indicating the cosmopolitan nature of the ancient city. The overlapping and merging of different styles speaks volumes about those times.

Street of Façades (50 BC- 50 A.D.)

I passed an old man playing Arabic tunes for the amusement of the tourists and reached the Street of Façades. The many rock cut tombs arranged neatly in street like rows grabbed my attention. Built one stop the other, the homogeneous tombs stand out due to their concentration and visually pleasing pattern. The Assyrian architecture style makes the tombs of Petra identical to the stepped design of Mesopotamium architecture (6th and 7th B.C.). Much of the outstanding labyrinth of tombs, burial niches and Tricliniums (funerary dining halls) has been plundered over time. The tomb of Unayshu (1st century A.D.) is remarkable here.

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The visually delightful Street of facades!

Roman style amphitheater (1st century A.D.)

Opposite the Street of Façades is an impressive Roman style amphitheater. Surrounded by huge mountains on 3 sides, it indicates the Roman influence on the area even before the Romans annexed Petra in A.D. 106. Built in classical Hellenistic style, it seated approximately 8500 people at a time. Carved out of the rock face, the existing tombs were destroyed to create the amphitheater, the evidences of which are still visible at places.

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Tombs, small and large dot the landscape. Seen here is the street of facades. Notice the large tomb!

Roman colonnaded street and Nymphaeum (100-200 A.D.)

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Just as I entered the colonnaded street I came across the remains of a Nymphaeum. A common feature of most Graeco-Roman cities, it was a public drinking fountain named after the nymphs (female nature spirits). Not much of it remains today. However, it once served as a lively place for socializing for the people who frequented Petra.  The source of the water was the water tunnels which began at the Siq (See beginning of the story)

The remains of the colonnaded street will transport you to the Roman Era. Built upon an existing dirt and gravel Nabataean street, it ran through the main city center of Petra. The Romans narrowed, paved and straightened the road. It is concluded by the historians that the street may have served as a market place for trading spices, semi precious stones and textiles from India, frankincense from Southern Arabia and East Africa. The colonnades and buildings were destroyed in the severe earthquake of 363 A.D. At present, only 9 columns are standing, thanks to the restoration work. It was a socializing nerve centre of the city, like any other Roman city. There was even a tavern nearby which people frequented for dining and recreation.

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The ruins of the Colonnaded Street. See how it looked like in the picture above (Sourced from a signboard at the actual site)

The ‘Great Temple’ Complex (25 B.C.- 100 A.D.)

The largest building in Petra yet uncovered is the ‘Great Temple’ Complex. I climbed a propylaeum (entrance) to arrive at the wide lower precinct of the temple. Everything else except the floor has been destroyed. I imagined a paved courtyard sandwiched by triple colonnades (column/pillar) on either side. 60 columns were lined in each row. Built of carved domes, each column had carved elephant heads, a power of symbol.

The upper precincts, was accessed through a stairway. It had a small open air theater. The semi circular theater was used as a council chamber or judicial assembly hall or perhaps for the entertainment of the elite. A workshop for construction work, subterranean drainage system and bath were some of its other features.

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The Great Temple Complex!

Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex (25 B.C.- 25 A.D.)

The presence of Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex few meters away from the Great temple Complex suggests the secular nature of Petra. It was built around the same time. Possibly a pilgrim destination, it is Petra’s oldest temple complex. There is an interesting story behind Qasr Bint Far’un (Palace of the Pharaoh’s daughter) Legend has it that the Pharaoh promised that any engineer who is successful in building a water channel emptying in the temple will be married to his daughter. During excavations, many water channels were unearthed near the temple complex. Said to be dedicated to God Dushara, it stands out due to its sheer size (23 m tall) and unusual square shape. It is a Hellenistic temple which means that only priests were allowed to go inside while the commoners worshipped from open air termenos. The stairs lead upto the stucco covered Corinthian columns which marked the entrance.

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Qasr al- Bint Temple Complex

Monastery aka Ad Deir/El Deir (85 B.C. to 110 A.D.)

After exploring the plains at my pace, it was time for me to hike upto the mysterious Monastery aka Ad Deir/El Deir on higher grounds. We passed a board which indicated The Lion Triclinium was nearby. Short on time, we skipped it only to end up indulging in long conversation with a Bedouin woman Firouz Mousa who served us Jordanian Tea as we sat on stairs and talk to her. Small interactions like these are as important as seeing the important edifices. Due to an elevated height and twists and turns, the landscapes were even more dramatic as we kept hiking. Donkeys jostled for space throughout the stairs. One hour later (includes stops), we arrived at the Monastery. Archeologists from western countries were busy in excavating more remains. Much of Petra is still unexcavated. Over the next few decades, I hope to see some exciting new additions in the Petra landscape.

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The Monastery as seen from Wadi Araba Viewpoint.

Wadi Araba Viewpoint (As old as time)

We hiked further up to the Wadi Araba Viewpoint. Wadi Araba Crossing is popular with tourists who want to cross the border. (Aqaba in Jordan to Eilat in Israel). As I reached on top of the view point, I was treated with incredible views of Monastery on one side and the mammoth mineral mountains on the other. Miles of colorful (due to minerals) mountains dominated the landscape. Many people return from Monastery. I suggest burn some calories more and see the views from the top. A Jack Sparrow (Pirates Of Caribbean) lookalike sold us tea at the only shop on the top.

We descended to study the Monastery in detail. One of the largest monument in Petra, at first glance it looks identical to the Treasury. However, on close inspection, you realize that instead of the bas reliefs, there are niches to display sculptors. An Alter and the two side benches inside the edifice suggests that it was probably a biclinium and used for holding religious meeting and performing certain rituals. There was a columned portico in front to the façade. It is popularly known as Monastery because it was later used as a Christian Chapel as suggested by the crosses marked in the rear wall.

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The mineral mountains as seen from Wadi Araba Viewpoint.

The Decline Of Petra:

What was once a center of power and wealth, started showing signs of decay once the Romans took over. Nabataean paid a heavy price by establishing trade links with Romans.  The Romans annexed Petra in 106 A.D. triggering its downfall. The popularity of trade via sea and severe earthquakes thinned Petra’s fortunes further. Eventually the Byzantine empire took over resulting in doom for Petra. There is also a Byzantine Church in the premises. The only documentation from Petra was found in this Church in the form of burnt scrolls written in Greek. It is under analysis right now. It is believed that the Nabataean co existed with Romans and once all was lost they left the place with whatever fortunes they still possessed. The rest was looted. In its heydays, it is believed that upto 30,000 Nabataeans lived in the protected canyon. 5,00,000 foreign travelers lived outside the Petra in tents. That explains the sophisticated cisterns, tunnels and fountains built to meet the demand for water. Once a powerful kingdom, it is an uninhabited land, visited only by tourists and local sellers.

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The remains just before the Colonnaded Street begins. Notice the local men dressed as ancient warriors.

Soul Window Tips:

  • Keep at least 2 days to see the monuments. Though one day is also OK, but if you want a deeper experience 2 days are good. That includes time for Little Petra nearby.
  • Carry water bottles at all times. The region is dry.
  • Hiking upto the monastery is not advised for the elderly or if you have knee or joint issues. Judge for yourself once you are there.
  • Beware of the shopkeepers. They will sweet talk you into buying overpriced artefacts.
  • Hiking to monastery takes 1 hour with detours and tea stops. Don’t forget water bottles in case you are starting early. Most shops will be shut.
  • Clean loos are available throughout.
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This was the tunnel which supplied water to the Roman Fountain (Please read text above)

MY MORAL POLICING:

  • I personally don’t take animal rides due to ethical reasons. Also Petra is meant to be savoured at slow pace. You will MISS A LOT if you chose to take a horse carriage ride instead of walking.
  • If you are fit, please do not hire a donkey to reach the Monastery. The steps are uneven and it will not be a pleasant experience for either you or the poor donkey.
  • Please don’t touch the monuments, especially the Treasury and Monastery. Every time you do that you erode the façade.
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The man who regaled the tourists with local music!

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Me at the Street of Facades (Pic: Arka Das)

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NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

IS PETRA BY NIGHT WORTH IT? ONE OF THE 7 WONDERS OF THE WORLD!

It was pitch dark! Me and my co travelers walked towards the Al Khazneh Treasury guided by the thousands of lamps lit in the pathway. I had yet not seen Petra in the daylight so it was even more exciting for me to see a Petra, veiled by darkness.  The huge boulders and mountains seemed like monsters who would swallow you alive at the slightest of provocation. I imagined the life in 4th century B.C. when it became the capital of the Nabataeans. I imagined the caravans of camels which plied on these ‘roads’, bereft of fancy lamps. I imagined the sounds and smells of those times. I imagined what would it be like to walk the uneven path in the daylight the next day? The lamps gave a magical touch to the sometimes narrow, sometimes broad siq (passage). The natural gorges or siq lend a mysterious aura to the place.

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When the siq finally ended at the treasury, the most recognizable feature of Petra, it made for an awe inspiring sight! Hundreds of lamps were lit in front of the treasury. The collective glow from the lamps bathed the treasury in yellow. We were made to sit on the mats on ground.  Hot Jordanian tea warmed our palms as we sit with bated breath anticipating the next event.

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Suddenly for me the novelty of the moment wore off. I decided to lie down on the mat for few minutes admiring the dark sky and the gorgeous head of the Treasury. The whispers of other tourists filled my ear. In the crowd, I found my ‘me time’. A soft feathery touch on my arm made me jolt out of my stupor. A cat had decided to make friends with me. I am not too fond of cats and have hardly touched any cats. But I liked the touch, soft as a fur ball, lighter than air, the cat won’t leave me. For me that moment was even more precious than viewing Petra by the night.

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As soon as everybody settled on the mat, a man started playing Arabic music from behind a rock. He would do that for few minutes, sending the crowd in deep meditative silence. Then he emerged dramatically and continued playing the tunes, this time negotiating the narrow passages between the lamps. The act lasted for few more minutes and ended with the man narrating in imperfect English. It was followed by selfie sessions.

During the night, visitors are not allowed to move beyond this point. I spent some more time and decided to leave alone for my hotel, walking distance from Treasury. It was eerie and at times scary to walk in those dark pathways alone. I started to replay the ‘Petra by Night’ in my mind to distract myself from imagining the monsters who would eat me alive.

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IS PETRA BY NIGHT WORTH IT?

It is no doubt that Petra By Night is a touristy frill. However, it might appeal to some and might not appeal to others. I would suggest if you have the money and time, do give a chance to Petra by Night. In case you have to choose (due to money or time issues) between Petra by Night and Petra in Day, go for the latter. Daylight gives you a better understanding of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also, you can walk to the famous monastery and explore other tombs and ruins in the day time. Personally, I preferred Petra in daytime but if I had not seen Petra by night, it would have bothered me for a long time.

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AMMAN CITADEL- THE CONTINUALLY HABITATED WALLED CITY

AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

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NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

BLOGGING HAS GIVEN ME opportunity to stay in some of the finest hotels and resorts. But often many luxury properties fail to touch your heart and forge a personal bond with you. The smaller properties and home stays are often the better bet.

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View from some of the rooms be like….

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba is a rarity. Despite its huge size and a large number of staff, everything this resort does exudes warmth and friendliness. I interacted with many of the staff members and each one of them has attended to the guests with utmost care, willingness and a broad genuine smile.

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Its secluded pool!

One of the front office staff Naser Herzallah chatted with us for a long time even after his duty hours was over. When we asked him if we can visit his home for a deeper immersive cultural experience, he did not take even a second to invite us to his home. We could not visit his home due to lack of time.

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The friendly Filipino host Jonalyn Lagaspi at the restaurant.

The next morning, the many Filipino girls at the Palm Court Restaurant & Terrace won our hearts with their attentive and friendly service. They anticipated our need and would leave no stones unturned to give us a memorable experience. The vibrant restaurant has an indoor dining option as well as an outdoor section.

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The al fresco restaurant

It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sampled only breakfast which comprised of a wide array of Middle Eastern and European cuisine. The live cooking made the ambiance lively.

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The friendly people who willingly posed for us at the al fresco dining!

Apart from the buffet, the restaurant also offers à la carte dining menu. The second day, I dined in the private dining room which was quieter and less packed. I particularly liked the youthful décor of the restaurant.

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Palm Court Restaurant and Terrace

My suite was huge and airy. Its windows and 2 terraces opened to sweeping views of the Aqaba city. Some of my co travelers got even better views of the ocean. Balcony was my favorite part where I would spend all my leisure time watching the city over a smoke. The bathtub helped me fight the tiredness, thanks to a busy day of travel. The sitting area was huge, none of which I could use due to lack of time. The suite even had a kitchen and a large refrigerator.

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The living room of my suite!

Where Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba wins is its attention to detail. It sure knows how to delight its guests. I was delighted to see a local craft on my bed. It was a gift to me from the resort along with the cookies and delicious dry fruits. Even the bathroom slippers in the hotel were not a bland white. It was colorful and depicted local art.

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My room. Notice the complimentary gift so thoughtfully presented!

The resort is so gorgeous that I couldn’t resist saving some time in the early morning for a property round. There is a bridge which connects the main building to another. This bridge is on the top of the road called King Hussein Street. It was very creatively used for an al fresco Jacuzzi pool. We arrived at the private beach of the hotel from where it offered many water sports. Ala’a Salman, one of the jovial staff took us on a tour. Though he knew little English but we communicated well between smiles and wallahs.

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Ala’a Salman with my co traveler and friend Arka Das.

He even showed us the border of neighboring countries from the hotel. He was another staff member who touched our heart and exceeded our expectations. I like the way people from different countries work here as a team. A co traveler told me his room was serviced by a very friendly attendant from Patna, Bihar! Who would have thought?

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Naser Herzallah was a delightful company. He talked to us for a long time even after his duty hours were over. Picture Credit: Naser Herzallah

Ms. Layali Nashashibi, Director of Communications and PR, herself showed us some of the ethnic decor of the resort and educated us about the history of Mövenpick chain and its core values.A brilliant and vivacious lady, she patiently answered all our questions and offered us the famous Mövenpick ice cream.

I have always valued human interactions more than the material comforts in a luxury property. Not all of them do it well. Very small percentage of luxury hotels get that right. Fortunately, Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba is one of them.

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The private beach of the hotel

And oh, Don’t forget to eat the famous Mövenpick Ice Cream if you go there!

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Don’t forget to check out the ruins of an ancient city Ayla in front of the resort.

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AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

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Me posing at the resort in Aqaba, Jordan. Behind me is Israel!

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The Palm Court & Terrace- All day dining!

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Me, faking it in the lobby of Movenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba! (Pic: Arka Das)

NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

WARNING: COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

RAFTING IN PUNAKHA: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I JUMPED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER!

MY CO TRAVELER Dipanjan just did it. It was tempting and I was itching to do it too. We were in the middle of the swelling river when Dipanjan jumped all of a sudden, holding on to the rope and his dear life.

“Guys, I wanna do it too!” I protested

“No you are not doing it”, they said in a chorus.

This was repeated 3 to 4 times.

“Please, please , please!”

“OK, fine go ahead, just hold the rope very tightly!”

“Can someone click my pictures while I am doing it?”

“No, if you want to do it for the pictures we are not!”

“Fine, chuck it, I will do it anyways!”

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The starting point of our rafting session!

I bought few seconds of pause, making sure IF I REALLY WANT TO DO IT? Not reaching any conclusion, I finally jumped in, safety vest intact! Someone screamed crocodile seconds before I jumped! As soon as I jumped, the water pushed and pulled me violently, nothing was in my control except a tight grip on the rope. Though I knew there were no crocodiles in the river, somehow my primal fear made me imagine a croc will pull me in and swallow me whole in next few minutes. Fear is the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind; most of it imagined! I stopped running my imagination wild!  Within moments, I started to enjoy the dip in the deep river. I don’t know swimming and yet I did not want to come out. One person from the boat held my rope tight as I tried to find some balance in the rough river. My co-travelers cheered me on, much of which was lost on me, thanks to the chaos of the choppy waters.

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Our group! (Pic: Dipanshu Goyal)

After few minutes of gasping for breath, I signaled my group leader to pull me in the boat. It was the first time I tried white water rafting and what an experience it was. After a long time I felt alive. Of all the genres of travel, adventure is my true love.

Our rafting began on a calm note. We were taken to a location where the water was not rough. After a round of instructions (which I uselessly perfected only in the last 5 minutes), we readied ourselves for an adventurous morning! It was fun for me because I had never attempted rafting before. Our raft moved up and down as we passed through flags fluttering in scenic hills, kids playing in a distance and our tent by the river.

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Me at our camp side. We spent the night here chatting and laughing! (Pic: Swati Jain)

Somewhere in midway, I started humming a slow song while the raft navigated the calmer water. Gradually, the haha and hihi of my friends started to fade even though I was sitting next to them. Over the years I have mastered the art of stealing my ‘Me Moment’ and cocooning myself from human interactions even if it’s temporarily. As I lose myself to the scenery around, a dragonfly hovered at my face as if dancing to the song I was singing. The dragonfly vanished after strutting his/her stuff. The white prayer flags at the distance were the next victim of my imagination. They fluttered violently as if dancing to my tunes. That was the moment I felt a strong connection with Bhutan. My personal and intimate interactions with clouds, river, mountains, flora, fauna always leave me with spiritual growth. These are the moments when I realize there is much love, rhythm and harmony on this planet.

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Our raft as seen from a bridge. At the start of the raft!

What makes rafting in the Po Chu and Mo Chu rivers of Punakha memorable is the fact that its route includes the Punakha Dzong, famous for its unparalleled beauty. As we passed the wooden bridge which connects the Dzong to the mainland, tourists waved at us from the bridge. Rafting in Punakha offers unique views of the Dzong not possible from land.

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Our breakfast table by the camp side.

As we safely reached the landing point near a hotel, I decided to stay longer in the river. I lied down alone, the body below my face submerged in crystal clear water. Few kids and street dogs gave me company. It is moments like these why I am addicted to travel and adventure.

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We stayed here! Next to the river!

In the evening, we huddled near our tents. Some of us wanted to have beer and one of us volunteered to chill the beers in the ‘Natural Refrigirator’. The ice cold water of the river was where the ‘fridge’ was created. A nest with stones was created on the side of the river. The flowing water of the river turned it cold within hours. We dangled our legs in the river and chatted the night away. It was a secluded place which meant we could laugh over pakoda (fritters) and beer till way past midnight. I even joked, “I hope one of us falls in the river while laughing.”

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Ever chilled your beer like this?

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SECRET BEHIND PENIS ART ON THE WALLS OF BHUTAN

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ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

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The place silences you (Pic: Swati Jain)

My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

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Rafters (Pic: Dipanshu Goyal)

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WHY IS EVERYONE SO CHILLED OUT AT PENIS ART ON BHUTAN WALLS: CHIMI LHAKHANG

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I HEARD FEMALE GIGGLES as I was concentrating on taking pictures and videos of huge phallic signs on the walls of Bhutanese homes. “There are so many of them, in a variety of colors and designs. It’s weird.” The white woman quipped. Many people from (supposedly liberal) western countries were as aghast on seeing phallic symbols as the (supposedly conservative) Asians. Chimi Lhakhang is the place associated with such symbols. Though you can see phallic symbols across Bhutan, you find more of such symbols near Chimi Lhakhang.

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The penis images painted on walls are outrageous. Some have ribbon tied around them; some are shown engulfed by a dragon. Some are even shown ejaculating.  I was amused to see penises with eyes, wings and hands as well. Each one of them is erect and comes with hairy testicles (Some ‘shaved’ too). You can’t afford to miss them thanks to their explicit nature and size (From tiny ones to as large as an adult human).

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As I walked on the lush green hilly terrains to reach Chimi Lhakhang, I was amused by graphic pictures of phallus on the walls of homes and shops. Some of it was aimed at tourists, some authentic. Kids played nonchalantly in the shadow of the wall art while men and women went about their work, not embarrassed of passing such symbols every now and then. In conservative Asian cultures, this is an aberration, even a mild shock!

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Prayer flags fluttered wildly in the unending rice fields as cows grazed nonchalantly in the undulating fields. A dog followed us throughout as we negotiated narrow dirt tracks and open drains to reach the Chimi Lhakhang. Women roasting ‘bhooja’ (Dry Snacks also popular in India) in an incongruous hut filled the air with a comforting fragrance and warmth.

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The cool breeze slapped our cheeks and we would take pauses to soak in the tranquility of the place and admire its raw beauty. Tens of red robed kids were chanting under a tree in their al fresco school.

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As I entered the temple, a child monk approached me and blessed me by softly banging a 10 inches wooden penis on my head. It got me curious and I asked my guide Sonam the reason behind the mystery.

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Sonam transports me to 15th century. Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455- 1529) popularly known as the divine madman of Dragon lineage established the monastery in 1499. Folklore has it that he subdued a cannibal demon goddess with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. Following this event, the monastery was established on a hillock in Punakha by his cousin.

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A famous poet, monk and Buddhist scholar, he introduced an alternative school of Buddhism in Bhutan. A connoisseur of wine, women and finer things in life, he broke the tradition and introduced a school of thought which was unashamed of sexuality and encouraged his followers (mostly women) to shun greed and embrace a honest and spiritual life. His sexual adventures are the stuff legends are made up of. It is said that he even employed intercourse as a blessing to his female followers. Through his unorthodox teachings, he enlightened those who listened to him. His influence is still palpable in Bhutan. The lama Kunley saw the hillock (where the monastery is situated) as the ‘breast of a woman’.img_1008

Even today, childless couples head to Chimi Lhakhang to seek cure for their infertility. Also known as the ‘infertility temple’, locals come here to seek blessings. The wooden penis, which the divine madman brought from Tibet is used to bless the women who seek to cure the couple’s infertility. Couples also come here for the naming ceremony of their children.img_1105

The penis figures are also known to ward off the evil spirits and gossips which explain its presence on the walls of the households. However, I was told that in urban areas of Bhutan, the numbers of such figures on walls are dwindling thanks to the growing prudishness and self censorship. Also known as the ‘mad saint’, his unprecedented teaching style was laced with humor, songs and socially unacceptable behavior. He popularized the depiction of erect penis figures outside houses along with a flying wooden penis on the top of the main entrance of the house, much like the ‘toran’ popular in India.

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MORE BLOGS ON BHUTAN:

THE HAA VALLEY: BEST KEPT SECRET OF BHUTAN

ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

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Tips:

  • Carry Water Bottles. There is a uphill path at the end of the walk which leaves you thirsty.
  • Wear shoes and not slippers. Beware of puddles and open drains.
  • Talk to the locals. They might end up offering you some ‘bhooja’ from their kitchen.
  • Wear hat and goggles since Punakha is warmer than elsewhere in the Paro-Punakha-Haa valley- Thimphu circuit.

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How to reach:

  • Our car left Thimphu at 9:00 am and reached Dochu La at 9:45 a.m.
  • After a break of 45 minutes, we left Dochu La at 10:30 a.m. and reached the road leading to Chimi Lhakhang at 12:15 p.m.
  • At 1:30 p.m. we reached Chimi Lhakhang. Though people take 30 minutes to reach Chimi Lhakhang from the approach road, we stopped many times en route because it was gorgeous.

The walk from approach road to the Chimi Lhakhang top is through an easy trail near the village Sopsokha. It is barely 10 kilometres away from Punakha. We left Chimi Lhakhang at 2:45 p.m.  and reached Punakha Dzong at 3:15 p.m.

My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

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Where to Eat: I would advice to eat at the many restaurants as you you start walking on the dirt tracks. This will give you the energy to keep going! I ate a sumptuous buffet (Noodles, Ema Datshi, rice) at Chimi Lhakhang café. Sit at one of the window seats which overlook the green valley. Beware of the large wooden phallus decorated dubiously at a corner in the washroom though.

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When to go: I was twice. April was slightly hotter than August. I preferred the breezy August weather. It was not cold in either of the months. All you need is light cotton clothes. Morning visit advised.

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Buy: You can take a phallic souvenir from the many shops. Key Chains, Show pieces, even a penis wearing a gho(local dress) are some of the interesting picks.

Pics above: (L to R): Kids playing oblivious to the graphic phallic symbols, the variety of penis ‘for sale’, the wooden penis above the door of a shop.

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