Today we decide to scout a new hike for next year’s trip, a few miles north of and high above of the capital. Our destination is the Dodedrak Institute of Buddhism, accessible only by foot or horse. The trail rises steeply through a coniferous forest for about 1800 feet on a south-facing slope, and the Institute’s small enclave of buildings appear suddenly as we round a bend in the trail at 9,800 feet. A quarter of a mile away, a tightly-spaced collection of traditional temples, dorms, and classroom buildings are tucked into the base of an enormous cliff, completely surrounded by dense forest. We stroll among the buildings, listening intently to the rhythmic blasts from Tibetan long horns being played for a ceremony nearby. A troop of gray langurs (long-tailed, black faced monkeys) lounges in a tree just below the enclave, at the edge of a steep, forested canyon below the institute.
Dodedrak was built in the 19th century; its architects took full advantage of the high-angle terrain by constructing the main temple right into the face a small cliff, where the founder had discovered in a crevice a set of ancient Buddhist texts. Now the institute has 160 monks in training, and four master teachers. We have timed our visit well, as the afternoon sun bathes the entire area in warmth. We are treated to tiered gardens full of roses, day lilies, nasturtiums, cosmos, and others we don’t recognize. Cascading water and birdsong fill our ears from the edges of the enclave. This little community of red-robed ascetics, living with the bare essentials and surrounded by wild nature, is undeniably one of Bhutan’s hidden jewel of architecture, spirituality and history. We want to stay to soak up more of the peace and beauty of this place, but it’s a good four miles back to the nearest road. We leave a small offering at one of the altars, and return to the bustle of the city. -Benj