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Day 112: Paro

Michael Palin - HimalayaAt the main gate stalls are already set up and at one of them a bearded old lay monk, or gomchen, stands beside a small table, on which is a brass and silver miniature temple, with drawers that open to reveal various gilt figures of the gods. As people go by, they tuck the odd ngultrum note into his temple. He makes no acknowledgement of the contribution, but stares ahead, keeping up a low, monotonous, gurgling chant. He's not the slightest bit fazed when a sudden yowling and barking breaks out beside him, as two packs of Bhutan's ubiquitous stray dogs (which, of course, no-one is allowed to cull) fight for territory at the bottom of the entrance steps. After some vicious teeth baring, they're seen off and we climb up to the grand, carved doorway. The dzong is as impressive inside as out. There are two main stone-flagged courtyards on either side of a massive central tower. Timber-frame galleries run above the squares, connecting up the accommodation.

The opening ceremony takes place in the smaller, lower courtyard, which is hung with swathes of yellow silk, billowing out from a beamed loggia.

Out of 6000 monks supported by the government of Bhutan (there are 3000 others who live off private patronage), 200 live and work in this dzong, and before the crowds gather, I take a peek inside their rooms. The atmosphere seems very much like that of a Victorian public school. There are wood-panelled partitions, pegs on walls, dormitories with bare wood floors and rows of shoes at one end. I almost expect to see Dr Arnold striding round the corner of one of the dim and dusty corridors, heels clicking on the stone floor.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 112: Paro
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Paro
  • Book page no: 256

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