Aug 19, 2016
By Shannon Hogan Cohen
Fly to the clouds and Dream in Bhutan
I smile each time I open the mailbox and spot the National Geographic Expeditions magazine surrounded by unwanted bills and junk mail.
A particular featured location lured me in – Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest Temple). One of the oldest private monasteries in the country of Bhutan which was constructed into the side of a sheer cliff. This mystical image captured my attention every time I gaze upon the article. I imagine walking beneath the cascading, colorful prayer flags and marveling at the beauty it exudes, nestled between folds of the Himalayan Mountains with plant life peeking through cracks and crevices. I tell EVERYONE…this is a voyage I must make.
This fantasy became a reality on my 40th birthday. My compassionate and selfless husband booked an unexpected trip for me to visit this kingdom in the clouds. After years of having my head in the clouds, he felt it was time for me to see this holy site.
I have never been deficient in the dream category. In my reality, dreams, often like travel, take me away to unknown places. Being alone, and lost in my thoughts allows me to be free. When I travel, I break free from the confinement of my mundane everyday activities.
So, off I went on my adventure. Flying into the Paro Airport, which is nestled among the steep mountains of the Himalayas, I was terrified as our pilot took multiple attempts to land our plane. Eventually, a change in the atmosphere, allowed us to land. I stayed at Zhiwa Ling Hotel in Paro, one of the unique lodges of the world.
In the morning, I met my guide Namgay Tshering of ABC Tours and Treks. As much as I enjoy being alone, you cannot travel Bhutan without a local guide. Oddly, his presence and aura did not diminish my sense of freedom. In fact, his spirituality was refreshing and welcoming. As we started our hike up the mountain, I began to relish each and every step. Little was spoken between us, yet I sensed he knew something was happening inside me, here in this pious place, where I am taking the hike of my life.
I find myself eagerly walking into the unknown. I mentally detach from apprehension, as the air becomes thinner, my body aches for the summit. I focus again on my guide. Namgay walks this trail multiple times per week. This is motivation for me to continue. A tea break at the half way mark gave me the nourishment needed to make the final approach to the monastery. After an additional climb that took us over a bridge, and across a waterfall with a 200 foot drop, I could see the mystic wonder in front of me.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery was still blanketed in a low-hanging cloud, adding an aura of heaven to this place. To arrive was empowering and euphoric, I was no longer gazing at a glossy picture but positioned right where I had hoped to be – wrapped in prayer flags and feeling the energy of the land and proud of my achievement. I stood in my dream turned reality.
We walked into one temple, and witnessed the offerings to the deities. Many were wishing for their freedom, yet there I was, thanking the same gods and goddesses, for mine at this moment. There was deep inner contentment, as I inhaled the fresh and cool mountain air.
As we readied for the trek down, the fog lifted revealing the Paro Valley 3,000 feet below. I reassured my fellow adventurers slowly making their way, either on mules or with walking sticks through the switchbacks. The descent brought me magnificent and unforgettable views that were hidden on my way up. I found the rhododendrons, pine trees, and wildflowers to be much more vibrant with oxygen…mine!
As we continued to descend, I was able to learn more about my guide. Namgay’s knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt and his black dress shoes looked uncomfortable to me. I was thankful to be exempt from the traditional dress rule in Bhutan, a Kira for women and its equivalent for men, the Gho. My tennis shoes and yoga pants felt like a baby’s blanket. Namgay indicated the national dress code must be worn by any Bhutanese if he or she is visiting offices, temples and any important occasion or celebration. I thought about what he said…important occasion or celebration. This was, for me.
I celebrated my freedom to travel, the occasion to self-reflect, and the traditions of the Bhutanese.
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About the Author
Shannon Hogan Cohen
Shannon Hogan Cohen has always had a special place in her heart for storytelling. She writes because there is so much to say and her two teenage boys’ tire of listening to her. She writes for insight, the more written the more she learns about herself. Shannon has a passion for life and learning which drives her appetite for adventure. Interests include travelling and learning about different cultures.