Sandwiched between mountains, Paro International Airport is one of the most terrifying airport to land into. Apart from having to avoid humungous mountains, balancing wind pressure, the pilot also has to consider how this airport does not have the longest runway. It is said that there are only eight pilots, in the entire universe, trained and certified to land in this airport. This could be the reason the gentleman next to me was busy rolling his prayer beads. I should have said a prayer with him, maybe.
Touch down. We walk out of the plane into a tiny runway, a wind so crisp and fresh meets us, welcome to the land of the thunder dragon. This is a kingdom where culture and tradition, properly preserved — a living museum, meets and embraces a globalized world. This is a kingdom where happiness is an aspiration and Buddhism, more than just a religion but a way of life; this is Bhutan.
Under a cypress tree lays a sacred monument— a chorten or a stupa, as I later found out, where a lady spins the prayer wheels in reverence. What could she be praying for, I wondered, a child? A job? Or some sort of revelation? Regardless of what it was, I felt the need to go and pay my respects as well.
[Insert your religion] is a way of life, one can only wonder how true the statement is. I am not religious, I was a lifetime ago, but the streets of Bhutan, in all its glory draws me towards their tradition and culture which is deeply embedded in Buddhism. One aspect that fascinated me the most were the colorful flags hung around town and sacred sites. These are not your regular flags of festivity, but flags of the Bhutanese culture, their lifestyle and a representation of the actuality of their beliefs. These flags are called the prayer flags.
The prayer flags are said to bring happiness, prosperity and long life. It is also said to lead the soul of the dead to the light and prevent a bad rebirth. It is usually hung outdoors, bridges, hilltops, places of spiritual value, and at backyards and front yards of family homes, believing that as the wind blows the prayers will move and be answered. If the prayers on the flag fade away, it is believed that one’s prayer is being answered.
There is something about Bhutan, something mesmerizing, which changes a person from being a cynic to believing that religion can actually be more than just a religion. I cannot quite pinpoint what is it, maybe it is the peaceful nature of the drukpas, the happiness that radiates from their smiles, or maybe their utmost dedication to Buddhism. Whichever it is, the drukpas seemed truly have embraced their religion as their way of life, and this, apart from all the picturesque views, is a definite sight to see.