By Stuart Thompson
The divine shopping bags are already crammed with handfuls of incense, butter and oil for votive lamps, some tasty treats for the young monks (sweets, biscuits and two-minute noodles) as we all pile in to Lotay’s hot and dusty shop. Our merry band of friends and family are after strings of brightly coloured prayer flags for our puja or pilgrimage to a local temple.
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Our spirits are immediately lifted as we plunge into the deep refreshing shade of the blue pine and rhododendron forest alongside a cascading meltwater torrent (the Do Chhu) which will lead us all the way to the temple (and hopefully cool our feet along the way).
Each time I pass this way and catch glimpses of the tiny temple perched on high amongst the towering peaks I marvel at the depth of faith that it must have taken to build this place in the first instance and of those who tend it and worship in it today.
The hubbub of banter and idle chat soon falls away as we all bend to the task in hand, lapsing into a meditative rhythm and focusing on each precious breath at this heady altitude. Panting from the final steep climb we gasp a friendly “Kuzoozampo” as the smiling monks usher us into the temple courtyard for a reviving cup of hot sweet tea.
Shuffling into the welcome coolness of the temple our stocking feet contribute a wee bit more lustre to the massive, gleaming wooden floorboards kept so by the monks. A stillness falls over our contented company as we each pay our respects to the Floating Goddess whilst prayers and wishes are whispered, and mantras intoned.
The Lama and his retinue of young monks meanwhile bustle about the shrine receiving our offerings, blessing us with sacred water, lighting incense and butterlamps (and reaching into the folds of their maroon robes to check their phones!). In quiet contemplation we gaze around this sacred shrine at the ornate decorations, countless statues of idols from Guru Rinpoche to the green Tara and the Goddess of Compassion (Avalokiteshavara) and murals such as the Wheel of Life adorning the walls.
“A stillness falls over our contented company as we each pay our respects to the Floating Goddess whilst prayers and wishes are whispered, and mantras intoned.”
Back in the brilliance of the courtyard as boots are retied and farewells exchanged a clap of thunder booms around the mountain peaks “very auspicious” the monks tell us as we head off down the mountain and back through the looking glass into our daily lives.
Our blessed prayer flags are handled with more care now and soon Tshering, Ugyen and Wangchuk risk life and limb to string them across the gorge over the stream ensuring that our prayers and the mantras printed on the coloured flags are carried on the wind and water, spreading goodwill and positive energy wherever they go.
If you are ever in Bhutan do buy some prayer flags (windhorse or Lung Ta) and try your very own puja it is such a reassuring affirmation of the spirit in all of us as well as a great excuse for a day in the hills with good company.