The term ‘quaint’ barely describes Ogyen Choling. Nestled deep inside the Tang Valley, Ogyen Choling is at least 30 kms away from Jakhar town in Bumthang and is accessed via narrow mountain roads winding through dense pine forests and mountain streams. This 19th century manor currently rests in the hands of the 20th generation of the same family – a family that traces its beginnings to Terton Dorji Lingpa, the revered Treasure retriever. To top it all, the current owner is a celebrated author – Kunzang Choden (the only full-time author in Bhutan, as Mui from Cafe Junction in Thimphu had rightly pointed out). Having recently devoured 2 of her books, I have my fan-girl moments around Ashi Kunzang when she autographs my copies of her books with personalised messages and shares all the gossip around acquaintances that we shared from my childhood years in Bhutan! The traditional manor also houses a family shrine and an in-house museum stacked with family heirlooms ranging from ritual masks to rustic household items. The place has all the bearings of my idea of a perfect holiday.
The views and the surroundings are outstanding. Traditional Bhutanese houses stand tall competing with a variety of pine trees for headspace. The reds and browns of newly tilled potato farms are peppered with brown and yellow boxes of bees that produce the famous Bumthang honey. Little chortens decorated with Buddha images and painted cow skulls dot the landscape. Birds that look exotic to my outsider eyes but seem to be as common as the Bombay pigeons flit by, filling the air with sweet birdsong. Cute kids with rosy cheeks and runny noses run around juggling football matches and school. A long-awaited supply pick-up drives in, much to the excitement of all the villagers. After all, the truck is their primary source of essentials that they cannot produce or barter. It is a poor replacement for the old trade network that stretched from Tibet to Arunachal Pradesh, but important nevertheless!
There is a vibe in the air that personifies “bucolic” and “timeless”. Life is at an unhurried pace and time is synchronised to field work. A simple life that demands a lot, but gives a lot too!
We end the day with an impromptu picnic by a stream with Druk Lager, Zum Zin peach wine and books. This world of peace stands in such contrast to our regular life that it gently reminds us of the reasons for quitting our jobs, while reducing the urgency of making plans for the future.
Apart from providing a perfect setting for lazing around, Ogyen Choling is also the ideal base for exploring Bumthang.
Jampa Lakhang: This 7th century monastery predates Guru Padmasambhava and belongs to a set of 108 shrines along with the Jokhang in Lhasa believed to be built by a Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo on the places where the body of a subdued demoness fell. I found it interesting to note the similarities with the sacred landscape constructed by the Sati myth in Hinduism and the 6th century timing of the Devi Mahatmaya text. Jampa Lakhang is believed to be the oldest monastery in Bhutan and looks the part. Very rustic and beautifully decorated with Yabyum statues, carved ivory horns and other ritual objects.
Kurje Lakhang: This shrine is considered to be amongst the most holy shrines in Bhutan and is revered for bearing the imprint of Guru Padmasambhava’s body. The current structure though looked fairly new to my eyes. In terms of scale and serenity, it scores high.
Tamshing Lakhang: In this newest and grandest of shrines, we witnessed a large chanting ceremony by monks and laity. The shrine has a history that dates back to the 15th/16th century from the times of its founder, Pema Lingpa, and currently houses several relics from those times.
Burning Lake (Mebertsho): Terton Pema Lingpa is believed to have submerged into this lake for many days with a burning lamp to prove himself an emanation of Guru Padmasambhava. He was successful in surviving this test and returned with several treasures (relics) and the lamp still burning bright, thereby creating the aura of holiness around the lake and himself. In the present times though, there seems to be a fear factor around the lake after several careless tourists have found death in its depths. We of course steered clear of risky photos.
Tahung village: Lunch at a village home in the last village in the Tang valley. Sounded sedate when Ashi Kunzang suggested that we drive there instead of walking. But turned out to be the most adventurous lunch ever. After a long offroad drive through dense pine forests and garbled directions in Bumthap / Dzongha and help from a random old man we picked up on the way, we reached the picturesque Tahung village, only to find out that we were to have lunch at the old man’s wife’s ancestral home! Our hostesses, a mother-daughter duo (Sangey Dawa and Tshomo) were brilliant with their hospitality. What a lovely lunch and served with such warmth! Reminded us of Olkhon in Siberia where we had the time of our life with the locals without any common language. Neither of our hostesses could speak anything other than Bumthap. But warmth needs no language. The Ema Datshi, Buckwheat pancakes, homemade rice noodles, potatoes, spinach and carrots made for a hearty meal and we also got our first fiery taste of homemade Ara here. If it hadn’t been for worries over the road, we would have loved to have spent more time here.
By the time we got to Bhutan, we had already been on the road for almost 6 months on our 1 year road trip originating in Mumbai. When one travels constantly for a long time, the theory of marginal utility sets in – the value of beauty reduces as the sight is constantly bombarded with beautiful settings and novel experiences. But Bumthang defies this theory for me. Its beauty rejuvenates my travel-weary eyes and leaves me wonder-struck. I deeply envy those who live here!