Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hike to Cheri, Pt. 2

Some odd number of weekends ago, Jon and I wanted to get out of the city. So we decided to go to Tango and Cherri, two monasteries near enough to drive to but far enough out that we could ignore the lit, wired, developing, back-alley-borough-rat's-nest of a settlement to the south

My notes from that time in the wilderness are hastily scrawled, and my sweat bled out most of the ink, but I can make out some things:

"filming Ms. Bhutan competition, #14 cute, all look better in real life than on television"

So we didn't escape civilization at all. In fact, we didn't even escape people we know. While examining a rock which contains the Zhabdrung's riding yak's tongue (hidden there as a treasure), Jon and I met three individuals who turned out to be the Prime Minister's secretary (Jesus, this is a small country) and two teacher's who were friends of Daniel's. We find this later fact out when we walk into Cherri (at this point our camera ran out of battery and died, sorry) (past the cutest mountain goats/baby-deer-look-alikes you've ever seen. Again, sorry) and into a hospitality house set up by the monks and see Daniel. It turns out the entire teacher population of Ugyen Academy had come for a quick vacation at Cherri.

This actually turned out to be a gigantic stroke of luck. Besides seeing a friendly face, it turns out that one of the Ugyen Dzongkha teachers had been a monk at Cherri earlier in life and thus had an in there. We got the super-duper-special-not-for-white-people tour. First thing we got to do was we got to be in the lhakhang while the monks were meditating. Each monk was reading a different chant, but somehow they all came together at the end, and then began a crazy call-and-repeat session led by the head monk, a man with a voice like a gravel truck struck with fire on the day of Pentacost.

From there, we walked up three flights of stone stairs covered in tiny neon green fern-like plants, past an angry rooster to a secret temple marked "RESTRICTED AREA ACCESS TO BHUTANESE NOT IN FORMAL DRESS AND FOREIGNERS WITHOUT A LETTER OF PERMISSION FROM THE SPECIAL COUNSEL FORBIDDEN". We were then let into a pretty conventional-looking lhakhang, with one exception: over in the corner there was a permanent sign with the words "Man Meditating Do Not Disturb" pointing to a small room off to the side where from you could hear chanting and beating of a drum. According to Jon, and I have probably got this wrong, the man inside is a rinpoche and an incarnation of some Really Important Religious Figure. Anyway, the walls of the room did not go up to the ceiling, and through a window-like cut you could see a statue of the Zhabdrung wearing Moses's beard. See the above link for a description of Zhabdrung; those wikiers do a better job than I.

(Side note: See K1. Then see K2, K3, K4 and K5. Notice a difference? One of them has a beard. And is shoeless. For the life of me I cannot understand why these baller fashion trends have not continued or been revived.)

So, yeah, pretty cool. Afterwards, we walked past what according to another sign was the Zhabdrung's walking stick (an 80-foot cypress tree) and paused to wait for the others as the wind caught a line of prayer flags hung over the valley and lifted them slowly, majestically into the air. Jesus, this country.

Then we walked back and, as we were leaving the trail, past the filming of an episode of the Miss Bhutan competition. While trying to figure out how we were going to conquer the 12 km back to Thimphu with the half-hour of sunlight we had left in Cherri's improvised parking lot/end of the road, an SUV drove up to us and stopped.

"Do you need a ride into town?" a woman's voice inquired.

Why, yes, we did (the teachers were going back to Ugyen not through Thimphu), so we hopped inside and proceeded to have a wonderful conversation about golf and the moral imperative of letting your children have their own lives with none other than the wife of as well as the man called Brigadier General Tsencho Dorji (he insisted on us putting his full title into the phone when we put in his phone number), who was at Cherri in order to bring tea for the Miss Bhutan Competition competitors and support his daughter (Miss Bhutan contestant #8) and who, holy crap, was quite well acquainted with our proprietor, the son of Brigadier General Tsencho Dorji's old boss and mentor, Major General Lam Dorji.

This country is so tiny. So tiny.

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