We spent the morning, hiking part way to the Punakha Dzong from the lodge, passing by one of the third kingâ€™s palaceâ€™s on the way. The palace is very modest in size, no bigger than the farmhouse on the Aman property, which itself used to be owned by one of the queens. People are free to walk on a trail that goes through the kingâ€™s golf course and right by his stables, where his horses roam freely. Chencho told us that the palace is still used by the fourth and fifth king and once when he was taking a pair of guests through the trail, they actually bumped into the king, who was golfing. He suggested they walk along the side, so he doesnâ€™t hit them. The golf course was the oddest that weâ€™ve seen. The area around each of the holes was covered in asphalt instead of grass. Even though security is clearly not as big of a concern in Bhutan, itâ€™s hard to imagine, any other country where security around the king is as low key as it appears to be here.
The Punakha Dzong is an incredible piece of architecture, half of which is used as government offices, and half of which is a monastery. The inside of the temple had gorgeous drawings of Buddhaâ€™s life story. We learned here that the story of Buddhaâ€™s birth is similar to Jesus Christ in that he was conceived by a holy spirit. In Buddha’s case, that came in the shape of an elephant, and he was born from his motherâ€™s armpit.
The one thing we were disappointed to witness at the dzong was the ugly tourist syndrome. We saw a woman guest from our lodge, posing in front of the monastery with her shoulders bare, an act that shows utter insensitivity to the culture. We later saw the same woman walk up to two Bhutanese women, who were chatting, and take a photo of them in front of their face without saying a word. It made us feel ashamed about being a fellow tourist.
In the afternoon, we went to the Divine Madman’s Temple, which is otherwise known as the fertility temple. For some reason our guide decided that he would use the word “dick” to explain the three penises that the monks use to bless you. That sent us snickering each time. It wasn’t the most adult moment for either of us.
In the evening, Patrick won yet another game of Scrabble. The winning word was JA, which doesn’t even exist. After unsuccessfully challenging him for days on words I’d never heard of, it totally disgusts me.
But the assistant lodge manager, Artie, had a nice surprise for us. They arranged a private dinner for us in the old kitchen of the farmhouse. I had the most delicious sausage ever, made out of yak, for a starter, followed by the Indonesian rice dish, nasi goreng. I’m falling in love with this chef’s food. Rob, the chef, came and joined us for a drink towards the end, and we had a great time chatting with him. Rob has been here for 7 months. Our guess is that it can get a bit lonely, though he seems to making the most out of his time, and his food is probably the best out of all the Amans we’ve been at. I was even amazed a couple nights ago that the butter tea he had made as part of the Bhutanese dinner was delicious.
Punakha was the first lodge, where we felt like the communal dining thing worked. Though we’re probably the youngest, we’ve met all sorts of interesting people – Brits, Americans, an artist, an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapy docter… We’ll probably be seeing many of them in Paro, where everyone is sure to be to attend the big festival.