Report from Bhutan: An Auspicious Beginning
"Expect the unexpected in Bhutan," advised trip leader Tsewang upon picking up our Hiker's Paradise group at the Paro airport. Within 20 minutes, almost as if he'd arranged it especially to illustrate his point, we found ourselves amidst a spectacular, unusual, and hard-to-predict Buddhist ceremony. Tsewang had just caught wind of it before our arrival and whisked us straight from the airport.
Joining the crowds of locals, decked in their brightly colored traditional gho (for men) and kira (for women), we zigzaged our way up a prayer flag-lined path to the massive Paro Dzong and then across the hillside overlooking the Paro Valley to the center of activity. A five-story tall and equally wide thongdrel (a cloth-on-cloth appliqué work) was being unfurled and consecrated. Generally when these thongdrels are displayed, it's only for a couple of hours one day a year, so the fact that we were catching this was, in Tsewang's words, "an auspicious start to the trip."
Hundreds of villagers lined up to pay homage and visit with their friends and neighbors. They welcomed us warmly into the convivial atmosphere with big smiles and shy greetings. Children waved to us, said hello, and mugged for our cameras. Monks chanted and Chief Abbot Je-Khempo (making a rare appearance) delivered a blessing and explained that some 40 artisans had worked together to create this inspiring hanging. We soaked it all in, in awe of the scene around us and of our good luck. Tonight as we settle down for our first night in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, we're looking forward to more of the unexpected.