The day after a festival gets over,Â the village elders arrange a celebratory archery game for all the villagers who helped out with the festival. Its a day of 'high-spirited' fun and games and i was invited to come along.
The game took place in a clearing outside the village. The participants divided themselves into two teams, each team was assigned one end of the field (about 100 meters apart) and then took turns trying to shoot at the target placed in the territory of the opposite team. The target seemed impossibly small, especially considering the distance involved, it was a wooden board about 3 feet tall, 1 foot wide with the bullseye painted right in the center but yet, the archers frequently found their mark.Â
Unlike Thimphu, where the participants were dead serious about the sport and used high-end imported bows and arrows, here the atmosphere was festive and jolly. The villagers used traditional wooden bows and arrows and the Ara kept flowing. The arrows wobble dramatically as they tear through the air in search of their targets and occasionally, the spectators. Teams would break into song and dance whenever someone from their team hit the mark and they never miss an opportunity to taunt the opposition archer whenever he missed.
We were sitting just a few feet away from the target and it was not uncommon for an arrow to come whizzing by. We had a (hopefully sober) spotter whose job was to shout out loudly whenever an arrow came our way and everyone would scramble for our lives. It was all good fun and probably the best memory of my entire Bhutan trip.
I landed in Phobjikha by mistake. I had planned to visit Gantey (some 10km before Phobjikha) but i was driving in the dark without really knowing where i was going and ended up in Phobjikha. And im so glad i did.
The Phobjikha valley is wide and marshy and every winter it plays host to a large population of migratory black necked cranes. Known locally as Thrung Thrung, the birds are revered and their arrival every winter is considered as a good omen. The echoey calls of the birds are a source of spiritual happiness to the people and it was wonderful to see such close ties between people and nature.
The valley was beautiful. I woke up to a frosty morning and spent the morning walking along the edges of the marshes, observing the birds (you are not allowed to walk through the marshes and disturb the birds). Seeing the Black Necked Cranes from so close was another memorable Bhutan experience.
During the last leg of my journey through Eastern Bhutan i visited a couple of monasteries in Sengor and Trashigang. And this is where the monastery experience came alive for me.Â These lesser known monasteries see very little tourist traffic and as a result the monks are more welcoming to visitors and happy to show them around.Â
The Sengor monastery is no bigger than a small house and it hosts a couple of lamas along with about 20 students. As i walked in, the lama was giving music (trumpet) lessons to a few students. I stood quietly in the corner and continued observing the lessons. It was interesting to see how the kids practiced improving their lung capacity by blowing bubbles into a bottle of water. Later i was invited for some tea and biscuits with the Lama and through a translator he told me a bit about the monastery and asked me if i could sponsor it !!.
Apparently they require about 2500Rs (~50$) per month to feed everyone. I couldn't say no directly, so i told him that i would think about it. If anyone is interested in sponsoring the Sengor monastery in Bhutan let me know and i will give you details on how to send money to them.
A few days later, i visited the Dramtse monastery near Trashigang. The place was closed but a few of the young monks took it upon themselves to show me around. They all absolutely loved the camera and couldn't stop posing for it. I even gave my camera to the little monks and they ran around the place shooting pictures of all their friends. It was smiles and laughter all around and thinking about it brings a smile to my face even now.