Doctor of Historical Sciences
Flights from Nepal to Bhutan are operated by Bhutan Druk Air. It's at her office in Kathmandu that I buy a ticket to Paro. I ask a Butan cashier if there are any discounts for diplomats. Lightning fast response: discounts? for diplomats? Diplomats should pay more! Then she laughed.
DRAGON AND TIGER RIDES
I was flying from the only Hindu kingdom in the world, Nepal, to the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan (then Nepal was still a kingdom). Just an hour of summer along the entire Himalayan range! Behind the porthole, Mount Everest, Makalu, Kanchenjunga, and other eight-thousand-meter mountain peaks float majestically, not to mention peaks of less than 8 thousand meters.The Tibetan plateau, glistening with snow and ice, goes beyond the horizon. The picture is amazing! No wonder the Bhutanese airline is called Druk Air. Druk is a mythical thunder dragon, the guardian of Bhutan. By the way, in Bhutanese, the kingdom is called Druk Yul - the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Our plane is decorated with a golden image of a miracle animal.
..The pine-clad mountain slopes are already rapidly approaching. After flying through the hills, the dragon plane breaks into a narrow valley and goes to land. The airport is a building that resembles a fairy-tale tower. The Bhutanese themselves are similarly dressed in national garb: men are dressed in colorful gho robes, and women are dressed in clothes that resemble a sundress with massive silver clasps on the shoulders.
My escorts, also dressed in national garb, were waiting for me at the airport exit: guide Cencio and driver Vandy. I had to travel with them in a Jeep for a whole week.
I spent two days in Paro, which is considered a large city in the kingdom, although it is rather a large village. All the more amazing is the Paro dzong fortress, which stands on the bank of a fast river. Chencho says that the Dzong, built in the first half of the 17th century, was and still is the administrative and religious center of the province. The buildings in the fortress - temples, monasteries, orders-are decorated with wood carvings, and the white walls are decorated with paintings depicting Buddhist deities and heroes, animals and birds from legends, and floral ornaments. You stand in the courtyard, which is very wide, and you feel like you are on the square of a modern city.
The Dzong represents the greatness of religion and the state, spiritual and secular power. Once a year, Paro hosts a big festival of dancing masks. Lamas perform medieval mysteries. On the other side of the river you can see the palace of the Queen Mother. It is small, but pleases with the noble simplicity of architecture.
Bhutan emerged as a single state in the early 17th century. The process of unification of the fragmented principalities took place under the leadership of Tibetan lamas. Therefore, for centuries, the spiritual power dominated over the secular one.
Along the fast river we go to another fortress - Drukgel ("victory of the Bhutanese"). Almost 400 years ago, Tibetan troops were defeated here. But even now the dzong, as if rooted in the rock, looks impregnable. From the fortress, I notice a large crowd below. You can hear the music. It turned out that I was very lucky: the local peasants were giving a performance in honor of the victorious army of Bhutan.
This peculiar mystery is performed once every two or three years. Despite the seriousness of the topic, this is a very fun concert. Peasant artists in smart costumes play with abandon, especially an old man with a bun of hair on top of his head is hilarious-
ke. Brandishing a fake sword, he jumps up and steps on the audience. Seeing my curiosity, he takes a funny swing at me. I pretend to be very scared. Everyone laughs contentedly. It is interesting to watch the audience, and these are residents of several villages, who, without ceasing, chew betel. All women have the same short hair. Broad faces seem to be framed by hair.
The place where the mystery is given is surrounded by peasant houses, mostly two-storeyed. Their white walls resemble an art gallery. Especially juicy are written out phalluses in an erect state. Chencho explained that the Bhutanese do not revere phallic images as symbols of fertility and vitality, but consider them as a kind of amulet against evil spirits.
It was getting dark. It was time to return to Paro. But I was detained by two guys-artists. While they were chewing betel nuts, they asked me to take a picture of them in very good English. It turned out that in all schools in Bhutan, except for monastic schools, teaching is conducted in English, and not in the official Bhutanese - Dzongkha, that is, in Chinese. the language of bunkers. This language is very close to Tibetan.
(The name of the country is Bhutan, or Bhutan, from ancient Sanskrit - " The outskirts of Tibet.")
For almost two hours we make our way along mountain paths, crossing streams. The stitch winds through the pine forest. You can hear the sound of a waterfall. With a little more effort, we can see the monastery of Taktsang, which is miraculously supported on an almost sheer cliff. It was founded in the eighth century. Padma Sambhava himself, also known to everyone in the Himalayas as Guru Rinpoche. He founded nyingmap, the mystical school of Tibetan Buddhism. Later, another sect, the Kagyupa, took root in Bhutan. Now it is official in the kingdom. The ancient Himalayan religion bon, which deifies nature, is also revered here.
According to legend, Padma Sambhava flew to Bhutan on a tigress. Impenetrable rocks in a pine forest, washed by waterfalls, seemed to him a suitable place for the construction of a monastery. However, at first the Guru and the tigress settled in a deep cave. The tigress was no ordinary animal, but the embodiment of a mighty goddess. She became the divine consort of Padma Sambhava. Together, they defeated the local deity, putting it at the service of Buddhism. And the founded monastery was named Taktsang-tiger shelter.
Pilgrims from all over Bhutan flock to the monastery in the hope of recharging their spiritual energy. A few years ago, in the dead of night, a mysterious fire engulfed the monastery buildings, leaving only ashes and melted metal. However, sacred sculptures of Buddhas and Buddhist deities survived the fire. Some view the fire as a punishment for people's sins. However, Taktsang is almost completely restored. The mountains around it are dotted with stupas*, small
* Stupa (skt., lit. - pile of earth, stones) - a Buddhist religious building that stores sacred relics.
monasteries and chapels. There are also caves where monks who have reached high levels of knowledge meditate.
On the way back from Taktsang, we stop at the ancient Kichu Monastery. There are several villages at a distance from it. In a sparsely populated kingdom, the dwellings don't stick together, but stand alone. Often Bhutanese people have to walk alone in the mountains, reaching relatives or grazing cattle. Buddhism, which emphasizes the importance of contemplation and self-reliance, also contributes to self-absorption.
IN THIMPHU MONASTERIES
Bhutan's population of less than a million people lives mostly in the valleys. In this country, the lack of people is striking. By area, the kingdom is comparable to Switzerland, and by population-10 times less. It seems that there are more images of deities than people, and fortresses, monasteries and chortens* outnumber dwellings.
Capital Thimphu is 70 km from Paro. The mountain road runs along the river, crossing rare villages with their houses-museums. In about two hours, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Thimphu Valley. The capital resembles a large village. Its population does not exceed 50 thousand. All the more amazing is the capital's dzong-complex on the river bank. Its white and red buildings house the king and government, and it is the summer residence of Jae Khenpo, the spiritual head of Bhutanese Buddhists.
Bhutanese people are not short of food. There is no unemployment in the kingdom. Until four decades ago, Bhutan lived under feudalism, almost completely isolated from the outside world. There were no schools, no roads, not even its own currency, not to mention postage stamps, which had long been one of the sources of replenishment of the Bhutanese treasury with currency.
Now the royal government is trying to prevent a sharp stratification of the population into poor and rich. Successfully implements programs for the development of education and healthcare. Education and medicine are free here.
The first thing that catches your eye at the entrance to the Bhutanese capital is the white pyramid of chorten with a gilded top in memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died in 1972. Memorial chorten stands at the crossroads of roads in a small park, where next to the entrance there is a giant spinning prayer drum-a cylinder filled with mantras-sacred texts. Believers, spinning the drum, thus seem to say prayers. Several old men and women are sitting on mats near the cylinder. They pick out their rosary beads and set the prayer mill in motion from time to time. Only the clatter of iron can be heard. One punch, then another, then a third...
There is no industry in Thimphu. A small number of agricultural processing plants are located in the south of Bhutan, in the border areas with India. In the capital, if there is any production, it is craft workshops for making souvenirs. I was interested in learning how to make paper from reeds, almost by hand. I watched the mystery of the birth of paper, and I was ashamed of the nonsense that people write on it, guided by the principle that paper will tolerate everything. In Thimphu, white sheets are painted with bright pictures. I bought two drawings of swift horses. The road always goes along the river with the clearest water. The higher the mountains, the more lush the vegetation. In addition to pine trees, there are many Himalayan oaks, unusually high. Monasteries that have climbed mountain steeps have also become part of nature.
After breathing in the wonderful air of the pine forest, we went to the women's Buddhist monastery. There was a curious picture waiting for us. Shaven-headed nuns in maroon robes stood in a long line, passing yellow logs down the chain. In December and January, Thimphu, located at an altitude of 2.5 thousand meters, is cold. In the oratory of the women's monastery, among other deities, the figures of White and Green Tar attract attention. These goddesses occupy an important place in the Buddhist pantheon. White Tara is prayed to in the hope of longevity, and Green Tara is considered the patroness of virtuous women...
We are going to an ancient monastery - a tall temple with a beautiful view of the city.
* Chorten-a type of stupa.
countless statues of Buddhas and deities, before which oil lamps burn inextinguishably. The walls are lavishly decorated with rich murals and tanka Buddhist icons on cloth. Huge wooden cabinets are filled to overflowing with sacred books, lovingly wrapped in cloth. Multicolored religious flags fall from the pillars. The worshippers place their hands on their heads, lips, and chests, and then kneel and prostrate before the altar to keep their thoughts, words, and feelings pure.
At first, I took this painted tower for another Buddhist temple. People were walking around the building with rosaries in their hands, reciting the most common mantra in the Himalayas, Om mani padme hum, in praise of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy. But it turned out to be the national library. Several of its floors are filled with priceless manuscripts. One of them lists 100 thousand names of the Buddha, and the other lists 100 thousand manifestations of wisdom. However, I didn't notice any readers in it. From the tradition of honoring sacred Buddhist texts comes the Bhutanese respect for the book, for any piece of paper with inscriptions in Tibetan or Dzongka. Scribbled paper will never be thrown away as an unnecessary thing. She must be put to the fire, i.e. cremated like a deceased person.
BETEL AND PEPPER FLAVOR
It's an absolutely unforgivable thing to be in an eastern city and not visit the local market. In Thimphu, the vegetable market is open only on Saturdays. Even on the outskirts of the market place, I heard the sonorous peals of some unusual wind instrument. It turns out that buyers (or maybe curious people) have tried out two or three meters of copper pipes that are used for worship in Buddhist temples. The blare of trumpets was joined by the loud splashes of timpani-cymbals. From the merchant's assortment, you can make a whole orchestra. Accompanied by a cacophony of sounds, I walk along the shopping malls.
I have never seen such an abundance of tangerines. However, as well as the abundance of pepper - both red and green. Very popular product. The merchant herself happily eats momo dumplings, so richly sprinkled with crushed pepper that this dish would be more correct to call pepper with a small addition of dumplings. Literally everyone - both sellers and buyers-chew betel gum, which is very common in the East and has a tonic effect. When smiling, the teeth covered with a dark brown coating are exposed. A crowd of betel-chewing men gathered around the arrow merchant. Archery is the national sport in Bhutan.
Of course, pepper and betel are still seasoning. What is the main diet of Bhutanese? I see endless bags of rice. Its choice is extremely wide: oblong grains, large and small. And the shades are different - from bluish-white to yellow. However, what surprised me most was the pink rice. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else. I was also surprised by the huge root vegetables. One radish can feed ten people.
I associate Bhutan, among other things, with the refreshing taste of juicy and fragrant citrus fruits. Tangerines are worth mere pennies, or rather, not pennies, but chetrams. One hundred chetrams make up one ngultram. But you can pay in Bhutan not only in local currency, but also in Indian currency. Ngultram is equivalent to Rs. In general, the tiny Buddhist kingdom has a special relationship with the giant India. In foreign policy and defense matters, Thimphu is guided by Delhi's advice. Bhutan maintains diplomatic relations with few States. Russia is not among them, however, as are other great powers that are permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Isolated from the outside world for centuries, Bhutan is still being dosed. It is visited by only about 8 thousand people. tourists per year. There is a high financial barrier in the way of foreigners - each traveler must pay $ 200 per day of stay in the kingdom under the "all inclusive" scheme. However, as a diplomat, I received a visa through the Bhutanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and paid only the actual expenses - one hundred dollars a day. Hospitable MFA members arranged a lunch for me. I was pleased to hear that I am one of the very few Russian diplomats who have visited Bhutan. The world, as you know, is small. It turned out that the husband of my interlocutor, the Director of the European Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan, recently visited Moscow, where he successfully negotiated the supply of 1,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles for the Bhutanese army. The Bhutanese also bought Russian helicopters - a very necessary thing in a mountainous country. Bhutanese diplomats have also expressed interest in sending their students to study in Russia. Thus, the absence of diplomatic relations does not serve as an obstacle to the development of Russian-Bhutanese contacts.
There are only two embassies in Thimphu - India and Bangladesh - and Bhutanese representative offices are located in Delhi, Dhaka, Bangkok, Kuwait (the wealthy Muslim monarchy provides financial assistance to the Buddhist one), New York and Geneva. In addition to the United Nations, Bhutan is a member of regional organizations - the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Economic Union (BIMSHT-ES), and is part of the so-called "growth quadrilateral", which also includes India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Paro is connected by flights to Kathmandu, Delhi, Bangkok, Dhaka, Kolkata and Yangon. Foreigners receive their visas upon arrival at Paro Airport with prior confirmation, without which it is impossible to buy an air ticket.
Tourism is the most important source of foreign currency earnings. However, Bhutan does not chase the number of tourists. The bet is made on wealthy travelers. After all, it is known that the massive influx of tourists creates many problems, especially for traditional societies. In addition, Bhutan is rich in hydroelectric resources (electricity is exported to India) and valuable timber, which serves as an additional source of replenishment of the treasury.
The majority of the population is subsistence farming, providing for everything they need-from rice and meat to cooking utensils and clothing. Agricultural practices have changed little in recent centuries. I watched the archaic threshing of wheat-farmers taking sheaves and slapping them on the stones to pull out the grain. They plow on oxen. Mini-tractors are also visible in some places.
Life in small Bhutan has recently been very measured. True, the Bhutanese army had to fight against armed detachments of Indian separatists from the northeastern states of India who were entrenched in the south of Bhutan. It seems that the militants have been expelled. There were no political parties. There is one newspaper published in the country, once a week, but in three languages: Dzongkha, English and Nepali. Radio and television, also trilingual, are limited to a couple of hours of broadcasting per day.
THE POWER OF TANTRISM
Thimphu gained full metropolitan status recently. Until 1955, the winter capital was located in Pupakha, in the central part of the country. You will have to travel more than three hours along the mountain serpentine. From the pass, and its height is 3 thousand meters, a majestic panorama of the snow - covered Himalayas opens. Kulhagangri is the highest peak, rising 7.5 km. On the pass itself, lush vegetation is rampant. These are the so-called cloud, or rather, sky-high forests. Tangles of moss hang from the branches of tall trees. We barely make our way through a thicket of ferns. A man-made forest competes with the trees in an effort to climb up into the sky - colorful patches of mantras-prayers flutter on long poles. The prayer drums of a small chorten are spinning, driven by travelers. Niches in the body of the stupa are lined with small clay pyramids-in memory of those Bhutanese who have already left, retreated back along the steep Himalayan trails. Mini-chorten clay is mixed with the ashes of cremated bodies. I go around the stupa three times and spin all the drums - let the dead find peace in another life.
Finally, the Punakhi Dzong comes around the bend. The huge fortress was built not on a high hill, but in a low place, at the confluence of two rivers - Phochu and Mochu. Their names are translated as "Man" and "Woman".
In Bhutan, Tantric Buddhism is widespread, in which an important emphasis is placed on the connection of male and female principles, as a result of which powerful energy is released. In temples, deities are often depicted embracing Shakti , the personification of the female hypostasis. In Punakha, where two rivers - male and female-merge, the energy is powerful, so powerful that the dzong itself was seriously damaged in high water. Now it is almost restored.
It was in the Punakha Dzong that he was crowned King in 1907. Wu Kyung Wangchuck, the first king of the current dynasty. And now Punakha is the summer seat of the Supreme Buddhist monastic council, which is headed by Jae Khenpo. In small Bhutan, there are about 10 thousand lamas. A whole army. By the way, 15 thousand people serve in the armed forces of the kingdom.
My guide, Cenco, tied a long white scarf over his left shoulder before entering the Dzong. So he did in both Paro and Thimphu. This is a strict rule. Moreover, depending on the social status of the Bhutanese, the color of the scarf varies. Ordinary subjects, like Cencio, are only entitled to the white armband. But an elderly man with a red ribbon slung over his shoulder, a high-ranking official, is climbing the steep steps to the dzong. The privilege of wearing yellow scarves is reserved only for two persons-the king and Jae Khenpo.
When you look at Bhutanese people in dressing gowns, there is an ambivalent feeling. In some ways they resemble marquises in doublets. Wide white cuffs on the sleeves. White doorways. Knee socks and shoes. On the other hand, there is an underlying impression that people have just come out of the bathroom. Wearing a robe in the kingdom was declared mandatory about 15 years ago. This order even triggered riots. Nepalis living in Bhutan refused to wear gho. In the end, about 100,000 people fled to Nepal, becoming refugees, which created an unpleasant, still unresolved problem in relations between the two Himalayan states.
THE WHEEL OF BEING
Sacred art surrounds people everywhere in Bhutan. The walls of ordinary houses have been turned into art galleries, both outside and inside. For example, my hotel room was decorated with lotus flowers, and the restaurant walls were decorated with images of four inseparable friends: an elephant, a monkey, a hare and a bird, as well as the great people of Bhutan.
Against the background of luxurious scenery, all sorts of performances often unfold. Almost every month there are major festivals with masked dances. In Bhutan, there is no division between artists and audiences. Everyone gets the opportunity to showcase their talents. And all of them are talented. Take Cencio. At first, he seemed to me a person who was quite far from the traditional way of life. But I was wrong. We went to Suva's shop-
nirs. I saw my guide pick up a small drum and start to dance, beating it.
You believe that behind the inaccessible walls of the forbidden monasteries of Bhutan, many miracles are hidden, that their inhabitants have reached high levels of knowledge and spiritual development, have mastered supernatural abilities. It is said that some of the advanced lamas can predict the future, overcome the earth's gravity and fly through the air, travel through time and space. Very likely. But, of course, to touch these wonders, it takes not a week, but years of intense search...
I have not yet had time to move away from the strong impression made by the majestic dzong in Punakha, when literally 10 minutes later I experience another shock - a panorama of the Wangdi fortress unfolds in front of me - this is the center of another administrative region. Bhutan is divided into 20 districts, and each has at least one dzong. The Vangdi Citadel has grown into a steep mountainside and dominates the area. Far below, a big river roars - a child of rivers, a Man and a Woman. The orange-and-gold Bhutanese flag fluttered above the castle in the gathering dusk. In the center of the banner floats a thunder dragon-druk. Golden yellow represents secular power, while orange represents religious power. Druk, whose white color symbolizes purity, protects the kingdom of Bhutan. In its paws, the dragon holds precious stones-the key to the wealth and prosperity of the country and people.
A week in Bhutan passed like an hour. I somehow got close to the calm, friendly, delicate Bhutanese people. I really liked that my escorts Cencio and Vandy took care of me hospitably, but unobtrusively. Finally, they prepared a special gift for me - they took me to the oldest Dzong Simtokha in the early 17th century. There was a secret silence in the fortress, accentuated by the muffled voices of the novice boys, who sat in a circle under the awning and memorized sacred texts. The monastery walls are painted with extremely bright paintings. I can still see them now.
Essential attributes of the decorative art of Bhutan, and indeed the Himalayas in general, are eight lucky symbols, which include a vase with jewels, an endless knot, a victory banner, a chakra-wheel of learning, a golden umbrella, two fish, a white shell and a lotus.
Before entering the main shrine, Yama, the deity of death, holds the Bhavachakra, the wheel of existence, in his mouth. In the center, on the hub of the wheel of existence, three animals are depicted: a pig symbolizes ignorance, a snake-anger, and a rooster - lust. People who are held captive by these passions are doomed to end up in hell in their next births.
But I'm not really afraid of the torments of Buddhist hell. After all, there is a belief that a person who has visited Bhutan and visited its shrines significantly improves his karma and can count on a worthy embodiment in the future life.
Lost in the Himalayas, Bhutan strives to keep up with the times. King Wangchuck initiated changes in the country to modernize and democratize Bhutanese society, transform the absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. A democratic constitution was adopted. In December 2006, Jigme Singh Wangchuk handed over power to his 26-year-old son Jigme Kesar Wangchuk, who continues the reforms initiated by his father. The new king also received a brilliant education in the United Kingdom and the United States. In March 2008, Bhutan held its first-ever general election to the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly. Two parties participated in them-the People's Democratic Party and the Harmony Party. Considered more traditionalist, the Harmony Party won 44 seats out of 47. The Council of Ministers will now be elected by the National Assembly, rather than appointed by the King. On November 6, a lavish coronation ceremony was held for the new monarch.
It is worth noting that the subjects were much more conservative than their progressive sovereigns. Many in Bhutan, especially in the ruling stratum of society, believe that no drastic changes are needed and everything should have been left as it is, in other words, not to limit the power of the king. People are afraid of destabilization. And there are some reasons for this.
For example, on the eve of parliamentary elections in the previously quiet Himalayan kingdom, a series of terrorist attacks swept through. They are suspected of being organized by ethnic Nepalese living in Bhutan with links to the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal. Nepalese Maoists overthrew the Hindu monarchy. Nepal was declared a Federal Democratic Republic on May 28, 2008. The newly formed republic is experiencing a period of internal political instability. As far as can be judged, the vast majority of Bhutanese do not want such a development in their country.
The current Bhutanese authorities assure that the main national project of Bhutan will remain the long-term development strategy put forward by the previous reformer king-growth of "gross national happiness", based on the" four pillars of happiness": sustainable economic development, environmental protection, protection of national culture and good governance. Of course, the slogan of increasing gross national happiness, not gross national product, sounds very exotic. So after all, Bhutan is an exotic country. Reforms here should be carried out taking into account local specifics. Apparently, the Bhutanese kings considered changes inevitable in a globalizing world and decided not to follow in the tail of events. Hopefully, Bhutan will continue to change without major upheaval.
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