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Magic Thunderbolt? Punakha, Bhutan & The Temple of the Divine Madman

If we thought Paro was a bit warm, Punakha was crazy hot and humid, but the valley was gorgeous. We arrived in Punakha after a fun drive from Thimpu, in which I was thanking my motion-sickness patch every hairpin turn along the way.The COMO Punakha property is stunning, it's new, quaint, and with an absolutely beautiful view. They have a deck that is just incredible, overlooking the valley and perfect for an early breakfast or sundowner.We spent 2 nights in Punakha. Our first stop was at Chimi Lhakhang, otherwise known as the Temple of the Divine Madman. Catchy, right?

With just a short drive and a quick walk uphill through a small village and some rice paddies, we arrived at a small knoll and the Temple. Many couples visit this temple to be blessed for fertility, but there were just a few other visitors there at the same time.On the way, we were lucky enough to stop through the village and check out a few things they were making. Um..did you know rice pops like popcorn in oil over the fire? Yea…apparently everyone knew that but me. It was awesome to try some Bhutanese rice krispies, as well as a rice puff snack.

In most of the temples you enter in Bhutan, you have the option to be blessed (and an offering is expected if you accept the blessing). We typically donated to the temples, though not in large amounts (equivalent to a few US dollars). If you are or were totally overwhelmed with history like we were, the Divine Madman is a story that is hard to forget, and you are reminded of the Divine Madman in many places in Bhutan, particularly in the Punakha Valley but also in other locations as he is a essential part of their history.

It goes something like this…(very, very abbreviated version…no offense intended, just aiming for brevity): once upon a time (kidding…he actually lived between 1455 and 1529, according to most records), Drukpa Kunley–infamously known as the Divine Madman–built a chorten on the knoll. Kunley decided on this site when he fought with, and won (of course), a battle against a demon nearby. He won with his magic thunderbolt, which now adorns homes throughout Bhutan (see photo if you don't know what the magic thunderbolt is). The Divine Madman was best known for being completely, well, crazy and outrageous. His sexual endeavors were infamous, but he was also a famous poet (related? I'll never know). He thought that existing teachers of Buddhism in Bhutan were a wee bit too conservative and anal, so he opted for the opposite, with song, dance, and by having sex with women to bless them (they would seek his blessing in this way, the story goes).

And this is how the phallus became a symbolic decoration throughout Bhutan, and the Divine Madman became one of Bhutanese Buddhism's most important figures. The thunderbolt is considered not only a sign of fertility, in representation of and respect to the Divine Madman, but also thought to ward away gossip and other evilness.

Interesting, eh? So many fascinating stories, so much history, and so much I still have to learn about Buddhism.

In other news, I may have fallen in a rice paddy on the way home and emerged with a very, very disgusting shoe, but my husband didn't take pictures because he thought I would be mad…I was laughing…and wondering what kind of nematodes were crawling through my shoe, sock, and skin.


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Hi, I'm Heather! I'm a part-time traveler with a love for Africa, warthogs, archaeological sites, carry-ons, and studying disease outbreaks. Err on the side of luxury travel, and always want to look somewhat fashionable while been totally comfortable. With just a short amount of time to travel each year, I try to make the most of it! Beaches, cities, jungles, and the bush--I enjoy it all. Always planning the next trip, exploring the near, and destination lusting.



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