Asia Travel Gems Wishes Everyone A Happy Chinese New Year of the Fire Rooster!
On 28 January 2017, we say goodbye to the Year of the Fire Monkey, and welcome the Year of the Fire Rooster.
Our sincere wish for all:
May the Chinese New Year of the Fire Rooster bring Love, Joy, Peace, Good Health, Wealth and Success to you and your loved ones! And may all your wishes come true in the best possible ways for each and every one of you.
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Takin Preserve
When you are in Thimphu, Bhutan, here is one of the nicest places to visit, and one of the things to do there. It is the Takin Preserve at the Jigme Dorji National Park to see the rare Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal.
It is located at the Radio Tower Hill. You can easily spot it as there is a sign at the entrance, which is a little way from the actual preserve.
You can see the WWF logo on the sign. WWF is for World Wildlife Fund. The Takin is classified as a ‘Vulnerable’ species. As such, it is Protected. The species survival is threatened by competition with the domestic yaks for food, and loss of habitat due to logging.
At the preserve, the Takin is safe and continues to survive. The numbers of the Takin is slowly but surely growing.
I visited the Takin Preserve with my friend who worked in Bhutan. We climbed long and steep flights of steps to get there. I was practically almost out of breath and panting by the time we reached the destination.
When we reached the place, my friend asked me to take a photo of this road (see photo below). I took the photo, and out of curiosity, I asked my friend what was so special about that road?
He answered nonchalantly that there was nothing special. Just that we took the shortcut that saved time. That road was the usual road tourists would take to visit the Takin Preserve. It was less steep and more scenic, too.
Well, what do you know? The journey to the preserve could have been nicer and less exhausting. So when you visit this place, please take note. Consider this path.
We reached an area at the entrance that looked like a stopover before stepping into the preserve. There were signs with details of the Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal. Here is one of them, and I have transcribed what was on the board to the text below.
Here was what the sign said:
Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal
On 25 November 1985, the Royal Government of Bhutan declared the takin (Budorcas taxicolor) the National Animal of Bhutan.
Takin is one of the larger and stockier of the goat antelope. Plump, bovine-like body is covered with dense, long yellow to brown hair. Short, stocky legs supported on large two-toed hooves and strong dew claws as an adaptation to the mountainous environment. The large head is made distinctive by the large arched ‘Roman’ nose. Both sexes have strong horns, 25 to 20 cm / 10 to 12 inches long, and curve out backwards, and upwards at the tip.
Range: Found in the Himalayas and western China.
Subspecies: Budorcas taxicolor whitei (the Bhutan Takin) has a distribution range from Bhutan eastward to Myanmar and China. In Bhutan, found primarily in the Jigme Dorji National Park.
– Body length: 170 to 220 cm / 5.7 to 7.3 feet
– Shoulder height: 100 to 130 cm / 3.3 to 4.3 feet
– Weight: Up to 350 kilograms / 770 pounds
Status: Classified as ‘Vulnerable’. In Bhutan, the takin is Protected. Threats include competition with domestic yaks for food, loss of habitat and logging.
Predators: Bears, snow leopards and wolves.
Habitat: In summer, they are found in forested valleys, migrating to rocky, grass covered alpine zones in winter; altitudes range between 1,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level.
Food Habits: The takin is a generalist herbivore, mostly a browser, it feeds, primarily in the early morning or late afternoon and eats leaves found on deciduous trees or shrubs, but also grasses, bamboo and herbs. They also have been known to drink from hot springs.
Reproduction: Gestation Period: 7 to 8 months
Young per birth: 1, rarely 2; Weaning: 7 to 8 months; Babies weigh 5 to 7 kilograms / 11 to 15.4 pounds
Sexual maturity: at 2.5 years
Life span: 12 to 15 years
Mating: July and August
There was another sign that you must not miss! This one presented the folklore of how the Takin was created. It is quite fascinating!
Text from this sign read:
THE TAKIN – a unique animal closely associated with Bhutan’s religious history and mythology.
Lama Drukpa Kuenlay (1455 – 1529, is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, known for his outrageous antics. One day his devotees were gathered to witness his magical powers and they asked him to perform a miracle. Before complying, he demanded that he be given a whole cow and goat to eat. Having devoured both, leaving only the bones, he stuck the goat’s head on the bones of the cow. To everyone’s amazement, upon a command uttered by Drukpa Kuenlay, the animal came to life, arose, ran to the meadow and began to graze. The animal came to be known as the dong gyem tsey (Takin) and can still be seen grazing in mountain meadows of the kingdom.
Due to its uniqueness, the Takin continues to befuddle taxonomists. Unable to relate it to any other animal, they have put it in a category by itself, budorcas taxicolor.”
Of course, I could not resist taking a photo next to this fantabulous sign.
We proceeded to the enclosure where the Takin was. There was a fence all along the perimeter, and we did not see any Takin for a short while. Then suddenly, we chanced upon a few of them. The first thought that came to my mind was that they looked like deers!
My friend looked around, and wondered where all the Takin where. He commented that usually there would be quite a lot of them. And they are very friendly.
Round a corner, we found a few, grazing. Here are some photos of them.
This particular Takin was very friendly. One of the locals, a Bhutanese man, was feeding it grass that he plucked from the area outside the fence. The Takin seemed to appreciate it. And looked at me when I took this photo.
It had a slow and gentle demeanor. Its horns had a green metallic sheen at the top that gave the Takin a unique and almost pretty look.
The Takin Preserve is a very peaceful and tranquil place. It was winter and most of the grass were dry and mostly brown. Everywhere there were tall pine, juniper and cypress trees that provided much shade from the hot sun.
My friend and I sat on a bench, and enjoyed the immense beauty of the preserve. The quiet environment was very good for rest and respite. We chat and had a lovely time while we breathed the sweet scents of the pine, juniper and cypress trees.
Do visit the Takin Preserve when you are in Thimphu Bhutan. It is definitely worth the climb up the hill to see it.
Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Changangkha Temple (aka Changangkha Lhakhang)
Another Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan is a temple known as Changangkha Temple or as the locals call it – Changangkha Lhakkhang. When I was in Bhutan, I stayed at a friend’s place and we could see the temple from his home. He told me that this is one of the more popular temples in Thimphu, Bhutan where many pilgrims and locals visit. New parents would go to the temple to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their children.
A more important reason was that the temple was the oldest temple in Thimphu. It was built in the 12th century on a ridge above central Thimphu. The temple offered a picturesque view of Thimphu Valley.
On New Year’s Eve of 2008 I decided to make a trip to the temple. I would also receive blessings for the new year. Perfect! Here I share my adventure and journey to this wondrous place.
With the temple in sight, I started the trek on a road towards that direction. You could see it in the distance, with its yellow roofs against the green mountains.
* Helpful Tip: Bring at least 1 bottle of water along with you wherever you go in Bhutan. The air is dry. And even during winter, the sun shines hot during the day. Plus, there are convenience stores but they are few and far between.
The walk from my friend’s home was not too far, about an hour or so. To be honest, I was walking very slowly as I enjoyed the view, admired the local houses, watched prayer flags flapped in the winds, looked far at the mountains, and so much more.
Soon, I reached the bottom of the ridge where Changangkha Lhakkhang was located. I loved how the highest roof of the temple seemed to peek from the top of the tall green trees. Like a shy and gentle giant observing a guest approaching.
At the bottom of the ridge, there was a quaint little sign that said welcome to all guests to Changangkha Temple. Please do pardon the grammar. Actually, it does add to the charm, don’t you agree?
Now, the long and steep trek to the top of the ridge where Changangkha Lhakhang was at. Just kidding. Actually, the walk up to the temple was short, and not steep at all. Not like the trek up to Radio Tower Hill, which I will share soon (whew! just recalling that trek makes me feel tired … haha).
Entrance to Changangkha Temple
I reached the entrance to the temple. I must say the entire entrance structure, the way the huge walls stood at the side of the door made the entrance look impressive. One could feel awe, and that was just the entrance. Wait till you see the place inside.
I stood at the bottom of the steps to the entrance, and I knew I had to take a photo. There was a lavender-painted brick building just behind the door, and it created an interesting composition to this photo. The doorway was made of wood with traditional Bhutanese carvings and paintings.
I loved how the steps look worn. I imagined the thousands of pilgrims and followers that tread on them over the past hundreds of years. I found it charming how the steps sunk lower at the middle area. And the tiny grass and plants that grew from the gaps just made it all more charming. Each piece of brick were uneven in shape. Not like the evenly cut bricks we are so used to. And I found that endearing as they were surely handmade.
Breath-Taking View of Thimphu Valley
I had many friends who told me how much they liked the photo below. Honestly, I still believe the shot I took could never do justice to the break-taking sight that stood before me when I entered the outer courtyard. Nothing beats being there.
I remembered stepping into the courtyard and noticed this amazing sight. I walked closer to the edge and could feel my entire being soaking in the awesome scene. My eyes relished the colors, the expanse, and the mountains that seemed to go on forever into the blue.
There was a pleasing sound of silence that added to the peace which permeated the entire space. Added to that, the fresh cool mountain air made the experience unforgettable. There are things that you remember all your life. This is one of those.
Here is the fantabulous view of Thimphu Valley from the temple courtyard. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
In the same outer courtyard, there was a religious structure. It looked fascinating to me. Strings of colourful threads and cloths were wrapped around it. On closer inspection, I wondered if these were from Prayer Flags? And why were they spun thing this structure? I never really found out about this though.
There was a wall of lavender coloured bricks with a thick red stripe going all across the building, with large white circles. The building was large and imposing, and this side of the wall faced the outer courtyard. Later, I learned that this building stood in both inner and outer courtyards. Take a look later, and see what I mean.
At the side of the huge lavender-bricked building there was a little door that led to the main courtyard and main prayer hall. The doorways were always so ornate with traditional Bhutanese designs and so colourful.
There was even a Prayer Wheel at the doorway for people to turn for blessings and good luck. You can read more about Prayer Wheels in the Clock Tower Square post where I explained a little more about Prayer Wheels.
A closer view of the Prayer Wheel. Would you like a spin? 🙂
Main Courtyard of Changangkha Temple
At the main courtyard, I noticed the wall of the lavender-bricked building that faced the courtyard had a door. This time it was not just a doorway but there was an actual door.
Look at the intricate traditional Bhutanese art and decorations. It was so colourful. I was sure each design has a meaning to it. Unfortunately there was no one around to explain to me.
There were some pretty flowers at the entrance. I think I kind of know what is inside. Can you guess what it is?
Looking away from the lavender-bricked building, we now see the main courtyard of the temple. The main prayer room was the building on the right side of the photo below.
The temple was quiet with only a few visitors that morning. There were a few tourists with a local guide. When I was taking photos the guide kept staring at me. It was a little uncomfortable and I wondered why.
I mentioned it to my friend later and he explained that the guide was most probably wondering why I am all alone touring the site. You see, in Bhutan visitors are not allowed to move about on their own. There must be a tour guide assigned to each or a group of tourists. So please make sure you have a designated your guide when you book a vacation in Bhutan.
In my case, I was invited by my friend who was working for the United Nations. So I was on a special visa. So I did not need to have a guide and was free to travel anywhere in Bhutan while on this special visa.
Main Prayer Hall of Changangkha Temple
Here is the full view of the front of the Main Prayer Hall. As with any of their architecture, you can see beautiful traditional Bhutanese design and decorations. There were Prayer Wheels for people to turn them as they walked towards to the hall.
An elderly man dressed in blue was chanting and praying as he sat on the floor, walked a bit, turned the wheels, walked a bit and sat again. It was their way of showing devotion to the gods.
Also on the front of the Main Prayer Hall, there were 2 gold discs with the Kalachakra image on it (see photo below). The Kalachakra motif, also known as the Tenfold Powerful One, is the most potent and best known symbol of the Kalachakra system in Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism.
* Interesting Fact:
In Sanskrit, ‘Kala’ means Time, and ‘Chakra’ means Wheel. That is why Kalachakra is often perceived as Time-Wheel, which also means Time-Cycles. Without going into too much details, basically the meaning of this revolves around the concept of time and cycles. Everything is influenced by time, and the wheel represents an endless cycle with no beginnings or endings.
The symbol also consists of a ten syllable mantra – OM AH HUM HO HAM KSHAMALA VARAYA HUM PHET. Each syllable has a meaning. Again, without going into too much details, here are a couple of examples; HAM refers to the Enlightened Wisdom of the Mandala Deities, and KSHA refers to the Body, Speech and Mind of the Deities.
On the left and right of the Kalachakra symbol are 2 characters that stand for E and VAM. E means Emptiness, and VAM means Bliss. Together, they represent the union of the two concepts.
To the left of the Main Prayer Hall, there was a passageway into the hall. But before that, there was a lovely little altar (see photo below). For some strange reason, I was very drawn to this space where the altar has been constructed outside the Prayer Hall. I found it very pleasing.
All throughout the time as I explored the main courtyard, I could hear bells ringing once in a while. I wondered what they were? As I walked into the passageway, I discovered the source of that.
Enchanting Sounds of Bells from Huge Prayer Wheels
Ahhh … so this was where the sound of ringing bell came from. That was a huge Prayer Wheel! It was so large that ropes were tied to the bottom for people to pull and turn the wheel! The wheels were painted with holy Buddhist text.
Watch the video and take note of the top and right part of the Large Prayer Wheel. That was where the bell was placed, and when a piece of metal that stuck out at the top of the wheel hits the bell, the sound of bell ringing was created. Oh, and a shy local Bhutanese woman and her child were caught by surprise when they saw me filming this. Hahaha
* pls pardon the low quality video. I did not have a good camera back in 2007, and HD was not available yet. Rest assured, I have a good camera since, and other videos and photos from this time on are of high quality.
The Prayer Hall of Changangkha Temple
Once inside the prayer room, no photography or video taking was allowed. I stepped into the prayer room, and entered into a small rectangular hall. As I entered the prayer room, the doorway to the altar room was to my right. A huge statue of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of Compassion was inside, raised on a table/platform. The statue was so gigantic that when one stood just outside the doorway to the altar room, one could only see part of the head of Avalokiteshvara. See the drawing below that I drew (the best I can from memory) of what I saw.
The people of Bhutan believe that Avalokiteshvara at Changangkha Temple is able to answer all questions, and makes all wishes come true. At the doorway of the altar room, there was a yellow box (see box in drawing shown above, on the right side of the doorway). People who have questions or wishes would consult a monk who would be standing by the box. The monk would then gesture for the enquirer to take the divination blocks and cast them on the yellow box. The monk looked at the position and facing side of the divination blocks, and informed the enquirer whether his or her question would be answered or wish would be fulfilled. Any negative response could be resolved with the help of the monks.
The enquirer would place a donation into the large bronze bowl that was on top of the yellow box. At the front of the yellow box, there was also a sign. The sign gave a bit of the history of Changangkha Lakhang, built in the 15th century. It also mentioned that the monks would like to expand the temple. As such, any donations would be welcome. All donations were placed into the large bronze bowl.
I noticed there were pieces of cloth (possibly thangka?) covering the walls. Some of the cloth were curled up at the edge. I moved closer to take a peek, and saw a very small portion of what looked like a large painting. Too bad they covered it. I was sure it would have been very awesome to see the entire painting that was on the walls of the prayer room.
To the right of the prayer room, there was a raised platform that faced the doorway of the altar room. In front of the raised platform was a table with a large book, and religious artifacts. On the cover of the large book was a title in English that said it was an astrology book. I supposed that was where people could consult a monk about their star sign, and what the future held for them.
Perimeter of Changangkha Temple
After the experience of being in the Prayer Hall, I just felt I needed some air. To be outside, and feel and breathe. So I walked to the perimeter area.
Looked up, and saw this gold statue of a head with bird’s beak at the corner of the temple’s roof top. Reminded me of the ‘garuda’ – creature with bird’s head, and body of a lion. Wondered if this served the same purpose?
A closer view of the gold heavenly creature. Interesting, isn’t it?
Prayer Wheels of Changangkha Temple
Along the perimeter, there were rows of Prayer Wheels that do not seem to end, that seemed to circle the entire temple. Again, for more info about Prayer Wheels, please read my article about Clock Tower Square where I shared a bit more info about this.
There were shy local Bhutanese women turning the Prayer Wheels. Watch the video below.
All too soon, it was time to take my leave. It was a really pleasant visit, and I did enjoy seeing the temple a lot. As I walked down the path away from the temple, I glanced back. This will surely be a memory that will last a lifetime.
Just as my friend highly recommended Changangkha temple, so do I highly recommend it to you, too. When you are in Thimphu, Bhutan, you must add this place as part of your travel itinerary.