Merak & Sakten Trek – Yeti Trail (Group Journey) Oct 21 to Nov 07, 2014

Merak Women

Merak Women

Till date we have 3 members enlisted for this trip. With the maximum strength of 9 people, which still leave room for 6 more to join.

This trip actually provides a chance to see best of both regions – west and east Bhutan. West juxtapose with modernization and tradition & culture. You can see the blend of traditions and culture in harmony with modernization and east with its quaint charms.

And also the trip is aligned with the colorful festival (Jakar Festival, Bumthang) providing glimpses of thriving tradition and highlighting the cultural essence of the trip. The trip incorporates the world of wilderness in natural state in trek and vibrant culture and tradition.

Outline Itinerary of the trip

Tue Oct. 21, 14 : Arrive Guwahati-S/Jongkhar 

Wed Oct. 22, 14 : Samdrup Jongkhar-Tashigang 

Thu Oct. 23, 14 : In Trashigang (Day excursion to Tashi Yangtse) 

Fri Oct. 24, 14 : Start trek to Donmong Chu

Sat Oct. 25, 14 : Donmong Chu-Merak 

Sun Oct. 26, 14 : Merak-Mitsateng 

Mon Oct. 27, 14 : Mitsateng-Sakten 

Tue Oct. 28, 14 : Sakten Exploration 

Wed Oct. 29, 14 : Sakten-Joenkhar teng 

Thu Oct. 30, 14 : Joenkhar teng (Trek ends) 

Fri Oct. 31, 14 : Mongar- Jakar, Bumthang 

Sat Nov. 01, 14 : In Bumthang 

Sun Nov. 02, 14 : Bumthang – Trongsa – Punakha 

Mon Nov. 03, 14 : Punakha-Thimphu 

Tue Nov. 04, 14 : Thimphu – Paro

Wed Nov. 05, 14 : In Paro 

Thu Nov. 06, 14 : In Paro(Taktshang Hike) 

Fri Nov. 07, 14 : Departure

For further comprehensive details. Please emails us on office@windhorsetravel.com.

Video of the trip:

http://youtu.be/TfvFQ4IDS7Q
Merak Village

Merak Village

After the success of our maiden trip to the region last year, this is second time we are organizing this trek. Our CEO partook on that trip; the temptation was so intense of exotic community and the wilderness of far-eastern Bhutan of Merak and Sakten that beckons alluringly got better of our CEO, Ugen Tshering.

Eastern region of Bhutan was recently opened to tourism and as a new hot spot destination has created quite a buzz in tourism arena. These region are least explored, and with an air of quaint tranquility and rare rural experience with  cultural uniqueness of community.

 And one element that separate the Merak & Sakten Trek from others is – it’s one of the few trek with the community development based sustainable tourism which serves, seek and strive to incorporate social and environmental criteria while contributing, in particular, to local and regional sustainable development;

Our Guests watching Sakten Cultural Show

Our Guests watching Sakten Cultural Show

The history of these nomadic enclaves of Merak and Sakten speak volume for itself as it survived unchanged to this day and form rich part of Bhutan cultural and ethnic diversity. This region has practically remained isolated from civilization for more than 35 years. Until now only a handful of researchers and tourists have been granted permission to enter this area. Merak and Sakten has been closed to protect the unique cultural heritage of the Brokpa people and in part to give the mythical Yeti some peace, whose tales of wandering in the valley is very popular among the locals.

Sakten people watching  bank opening ceremony

Sakten people watching bank opening ceremony

What the past guests has to say

“One of the guests (name withheld) said ‘I was glad to see you in Bhutan.  What I appreciate about your agency is your ability to listen to the desires of the client and be willing to meet those desires.  You are not a “cookie cutter” agency that forces clients into the pre-made packages! The trip was more than I anticipated. And series of events and sceneries that unfolded was simply breathtaking. May you have continued success.  And if there are potential clients who would like to speak to a former client, i would be happy to oblige.”

Guests interactive session with students

Guests interactive session with students

Add comment September 2nd, 2014

The Tango Murals-Michelangelos of Asia

Murals in Tango

Murals in Tango

Thimphu: Bhutan: “The paintings in Tango are among the most important, beautiful and sacred in the world,” professor David Park, Director of Wall Painting Conservation at the Courtauld Institute of Art confirmed. The professor described the paintings as the, “Michelangelo’s of Asia.”

History of Tango

Tango Choying dzong is located at the end of the Thimphu valley. As the seat of the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism, the fortress plays an important role as the seat of learning and propagating Buddhism in the country.

Many of the great Kagyu masters in the country have mediated and blessed this dzong. The list includes luminaries like Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo (1184-1251), Drukpa Kunlay (1455-1529) and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal ( 1594 -1651). Monks believe that the place is so sacred that seven days of meditation in Tango is equivalent to seven years of meditation elsewhere.

Lam Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo, the master who introduced the Drukpa Kagyu School to the valleys of western Bhutan meditated in the monastery. It is said that while in retreat, the lam saw the cliff in the form of horse head, which is the symbol of Yidam Tandin (Hayagriva). Accordingly, the monastery was named Tango or “Horse Head.”

Centuries later, in 1688, Desi Tenzin Rabgye (r.1680-1694), expanded the monastery to its present structure. The 4th Desi assigned his secretary Drung Norbu to supervise the construction of this architectural grandeur. The three-storied tower was built in the traditional fashion using, stones, mud and timber. The central tower has twelve corners making the architectural façade unique and magnificent.

According to, msthung med chokyi gyal po, in 1690, an elaborate consecration rite was held for the completion of the monastery. Since the Desi could not produce a male heir, he took his fourth wife, Wangdue Lhamo, and the marriage was timed with the consecration.

Lam Pekar Lhendup (1689–1697) who later became the third Je Khenpo or head abbot presided over the consecration ceremony.

According to msthung med chokyi gyal po, “the restoration and enlargement of Tango had been undertaken to fulfill a wish expressed earlier by Ngawang Namgyal, and no doubt the timing of the marriage had a certain magical rationale.”

In 1690, the new murals were completed but separately consecrated. The Desi’s closest disciples and advisor presided over the service, which was kept as a private affair. The disciple blessed the murals and offered prayers for his master’s continued male line.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the 8th Druk Desi Druk Rabgye (r. 1707-1720) added some structures to the Tango monastery to bring it to its present stature. In 1977 some alterations were made in the internal supporting timber but today, the utse or retains its integrity as a historic structure.

The priceless paintings of Tango are on the walls of the northern shrine rooms on the second and third floor of the utse. There are also some paintings in the secondary lhakhangs on the eastern and western sides of the utse.

The Paintings.

According to professor Park, the wall paintings of Tango Choying dzong are unique. He pointed out that only a handful of such painting exists in the world.

The professor, who is a world authority on murals conservation, said the Tango paintings are of tremendous importance because of its religious significance, subject matter, art technique and the era in which it was painted.

Mural-of-Phajo-Drukgom-Zhigpo-and-his-family-in-Tango-Choying

Mural-of-Phajo-Drukgom-Zhigpo-and-his-family-in-Tango-Choying

Unlike modern Bhutanese paintings, the ones in Tango are not produced in workshop or painted on industrial produced cloth as they have been painted directly on the adobe walls. The paints used are all from natural products; a style unique to the 17th century, making it precious.

The professor pointed out that the Tango paintings display sophistication in style and are of incredible quality. The gilding works and the details of the gold work, jewellery and drapery simply could not be better.

The most unique painting is the weeping Guru and has been associated with a miracle. It is believed that when the Desi died, the image shed a tear and hence the red spots in the corners of the painted eyes, making it the only painting of its kind in the world.

 The Artist

Little is known about the artist. Tsang Khenchen and Trulku Mipham Chogyal helped start up the formal training of painters in the country. Both these artists were renowned in Tibet for their mastery of the Men-ri and Khen-ri style of paintings that were used in the Tango painting.

Tsang Khenchen’s two most famous trainees were Lhadrip Jangchub Sempa and Tenpa Gyamtsho (1646-1719). The former is credited with the paintings of the murals in the Tango monastery and the latter is known for his works in Taktsang monastery.

Professor Park said the artist of the murals in the Tango dzong was a genius. From his work it is clear that the artist trained professionally for decades.  The professor said he didn’t know any one in the world who can produce paintings like this any more.

Dashop Zepon Wangchuk who has helped renovate many monasteries said he saw a thangka painted by Lhadrip Jangchub Sempa in Phajoding monastery. The painting is that of Penden Shing Chen, the principal deity of Je Shakya Rinchen (1744-1755).

The thankga is one thok sem or one floor in height. Dasho said that the Lhadrip’s work is beautiful and it is commonly believed that in the future the thankga will sung jun or speak to its viewers.

While it is possible that the artists were influenced by the Tibetan culture and artistic tradition, the frescos in Tango dzong are a fine example of environmental adaptations as they the paintings have a distinctive pattern. The genius of Bhutanese art is represented by frescos such as the ones in Tango.

 The Challenge

The considerable interest of the world community in historic Buddhist art was well demonstrated by the international outcry, which followed the willful destruction of the ancient statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan.

The rare murals on the walls of the northern shrine rooms of the utse were discovered recently. In preparation of the renovation work, altars were moved and this is when the murals were discovered.

In the government’s haste to renovate, the fortress, some of the walls on which these paintings sit would have damaged. Without the timely intervention of the royal family, some of the world treasure would have been reduced to dirt.

Art historians and conservations experts say that the value of these unique paintings is enhanced when they remain in their original context in a building, which retains its historical integrity. This is the case with Tango dzong, and the paintings it contains.

It is important therefore not only for us to preserve the paintings but also to conserve the historical integrity of the structure.

Tango's-Mural

Tango’s-Mural

Courtesy Kuensel

Add comment August 29th, 2014

Tashi Tagye: the eight auspicious signs.

This set of symbols is very popular in Bhutan and you will find them in dzongs, temples, monasteries, home and offices. It is also known in Sanskrit as ‘Ashtamangala’, ashta means eight and mangala means auspicious and they carry special meanings:

DUG (parasol) embodies notions of wealth or royalty, for one had to be rich enough to possess such an item, and further, to have someone carry it. It points to the “royal ease” and power experienced in the Buddhist life of detachment. It also symbolises the wholesome activities to keep beings from harm (sun) like illness, harmful forces, obstacles and so forth, and the enjoyment of the results under its cool shade.

Dug - Parasol

Dug – Parasol

SERNYA (a pair of golden fishes) were originally symbolic of the rivers Ganges and Yamuna, but came to represent good fortune in general, for Hindus, Jain and Buddhists. Within Buddhism it also symbolises that living beings who practice the dharma need have no fear to drown in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate (chose their rebirth) like fish in the water. They may also be taken to symbolize the eye of perception as fish can see through muddy water.

Sernya - A pair of Fishes

Sernya – A pair of Fishes

BUMPA (Treasure Vase) is a sign of the inexhaustible riches available in the Buddhist teachings, but also symbolises long life, wealth, prosperity and all the benefits of this world. (There is even a practice which involves burying or storing treasure vases at certain locations to generate wealth, eg. for monasteries or dharma centers.)

Bumpa- Treasure Vase

Bumpa- Treasure Vase

LOTUS (padma) is a very important symbol in India and of Buddhism. It refers to the complete purification of body, speech and mind, and the blossoming of wholesome deeds in liberation. The lotus refers to many aspects of the path, as it grows from the mud (samsara), up through muddy water it appears clean on the surface (purification), and finally produces a beautiful flower (enlightenment). The white blossom represents purity, the stem stands for the practice of Buddhist teachings which raise the mind above the (mud of) worldly existence, and gives rise to purity of mind. An open blossom signifies full enlightenment; a closed blossom signifies the potential for enlightenment.

Lotus - Padma

Lotus – Padma

DUNGKAR (conch shell), which is also used as a horn, symbolises the deep, far reaching and melodious sound of the teachings, which is suitable for all disciples as it awakens them from the slumber of ignorance to accomplish all beings’ welfare. It symbolizes reverberating sound of Dharma and signifies the awakening of sentient beings from The sleeping state of Their ignorance. It persuades them towards the path of noble deeds that are beneficial to others. Gautam blew the conch shell when he decided to preach the law. The Conch shell is blown in commemoration of this event whenever there is a special sermon by a high lama.

Dungkhar - Conch Shell

Dungkhar – Conch Shell

PALBHEU (endless knot) is a geometric diagram which symbolises the nature of reality where everything is interrelated and only exists as part of a web of karma and its effect. Having no beginning or end, it also represents the infinite wisdom of the Buddha, and the union of compassion and wisdom. Also, it represents the illusory character of time, and long life as it is endless.

Palbheu (Endless Knot)

Palbheu (Endless Knot)

The GYALTSEN (Victory Banner) symbolises the victory of the Buddha’s teachings over death, ignorance, disharmony and all the negativities of this world, and victory over. This symbol also signifies the fortune of having victory of good over the evil forces which hinders the success of noble goals and also proclaims the victory of deity over evil. It is used in processions.

Gyaltshen (Victory Banner)

Gyaltshen (Victory Banner)

KHORLO (Dharmachakra); it is said that after Siddharta Gautama achieved enlightenment, Brahma came to him, offered a Dharma-Wheel and requested the Buddha to teach. It represents the Buddhist teachings.

Khorlo - The wheel of Dharma

Khorlo – The wheel of Dharma

Add comment August 23rd, 2014

The National Flower of Bhutan

Meconopsis spp

Meconopsis spp

 

BLUE POPPY: With the monsoon in the air it’s time for blue poppy to flourish, the monsoon bring along with it rain, heat, dampness and moisture a pre requisite for the delicate blue poppy to thrive.

The national flower, blue poppy, is one of the most exquisite and rare flowers in the country and found at elevations of around 3,000m to 4,000m above sea level.

Blue poppy, with its scientific name Meconopsis spp, has 13 species and falls under the family of papaveraceae. Blue poppy also comes in pink, white and red colors and are found in the country.

Meconopsis superba (endemic  To HAA)

Meconopsis superba (endemic To HAA)

The white-coloured blue poppy is endemic and found in Haa, a quaint town in south western Bhutan. About eight species are found in blue, while one species is red in color, and a few are white and purple.

Blue poppy starts flowering from June to August and they need lots of moisture to grow. They grow on sandy and moist soil

Blue poppy grows across the Himalaya and they survive in extreme conditions, such as freezing temperatures. And  it’s amazing how this rare flower can grow in extreme conditions, and yet it is frail in nature. Blue poppy is said to flower once, after which it seeds and withers.  It takes about two to three years for the seeds to grow into a plant.

Meconopsis napaulensis

Meconopsis napaulensis

It was in the early ‘90s that the blue poppy was declared as the national flower of Bhutan.

Blue Poppy is the national flower because it’s said that blue blood runs through it and it’s a rare flower,” About 5,603 plant species have been identified in the country, including about 576 wild orchids and 46 rhododendron and over 300 medicinal plants.

Meconopsis paniculata

Meconopsis paniculata

 

August 7th, 2014

The Airport Trap (Bangkok, Thailand)

Suvarnabhumi-airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

Suvarnabhumi-airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

This is another articles that I happen to come across in Kuensel ( National Newspaper in Bhutan) Albeit, the protagonist are the Bhutanese in the articles but this can be served as general notification to all.

Basically, more than 80% of our guests choose to fly from the Bangkok for its convenience to connect directly to Bhutan and in most cases it help to avoid India visa.

If guests exercise general caution and pay heed to notification can add value to overall enjoyment of the trip

 The Airport Trap

For the thousands of Bhutanese travelling to Thailand, the duty free shop at the Bangkok international airport is a favorite place to do last minute shopping, whether to pick up a gift or spend their remaining baht.

But the duty free shop, it seems, is turning out to be a dangerous place to pick up a gift for your loved ones, or to window shop.  There are stories of how departing passengers are detained for allegedly shoplifting and let off after paying huge sums of money.  Airport security officials and even police are alleged to be partnering with those at the shops.

Recently, the BBC carried a story warning tourists travelling to Thailand of the alleged airport scam.  Many newspapers and websites picked it up, as Thailand is a favourite tourist destination.  Following the article, there were many stories shared by victims, most of who paid huge sums of money to get back to their country and avoid the notorious Thai jails.

The number of Bhutanese travelling to Thailand, especially Bangkok, has increased by manifold in recent years.  From only civil servants on official tour in the past, Bhutanese visitors have increased and include business people, students, and families on holiday or for medical reasons.  It is a favourite destination for shopping and a transit route with a request of few days’ stopover.

Although no Bhutanese were reported to have gone through the ordeal, it is important for the travellers to be cautious of the scam.  The joke among some is that Bhutanese will not be targeted, because they don’t carry USD or pound sterling or euros or credit cards to withdraw and pay the officials.  But the average Bhutanese traveller is comparatively naïve, and chances of getting cheated or robbed are higher.  Bhutanese travellers will suffer more than others, because we are not used to this kind of treatment.

Maybe not at the airport, but a good number of Bhutanese have fallen victim to scamsters or conmen while in Bangkok.  Many will not share the story for  fear of being mocked.  But there are instances, where some have lost their entire stipend or shopping money on the day of arrival.  This is made worse by lack of credit card facility, or the habit of carrying wads of cash everywhere we go.

A common incident being letting a stranger, in Arab dress in most cases, see your wallet and exchange currencies.  Because we’re friendly by nature, we are easier prey to such predators.

Unfortunately, there are no stories of anyone getting back their money, even when attempts were made to involve authorities.

The chocolates, watches, alcohol and branded goods at Bangkok airport may be tempting, but it would be wiser to be a little more cautious when on the streets or duty free shops in Bangkok.

Courtesy Kuensel

July 31st, 2014

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