The shade is still blistering cold. It’s the beginning of March, and to be hidden from the sun’s rays shows just how prevalent the winter is. But there is hope. As I walk the initial hundred meters to Tango Monastery the first Rhododendron buds greet my companion and I. It’s a well-embraced surprise. The sun is beating down on us and we quickly forget the morning frost. It’s Sunday, so our hike up is greeted by hoards of monks hiking down. It’s their day off and they scramble towards Thimphu to gather supplies, play snooker, and see friends. Less than an hour hike and we arrive to Tango, which is a majestic fortress type monastery, very Dzong like. I’m told that this facility is one of the greatest lamaseries in all of Bhutan and awards the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Buddhist studies. It’s obviously a thriving school as exhibited by the number of students on the trail and the number of upgrades to the facility that are currently being constructed. I’m reminded of the lamaseries I visited in Tibet which seemed to contrast Tango immensely. In Tibet, monasteries seem to be hanging on to what once was, a portrayal of how Tibetan Buddhism has in a sense been oppressed. But in Tango, and Bhutan at large, Tibetan Buddhism is thriving and pushing into the future, not being held back by social or political restrictions. The philosophy has grown and flourished without constraint.
After a number of great interactions with the residing monks (those left behind from the journey to town), we descended, only to ascend once again to the neighboring monastery of Chagri. We crossed a footbridge decorated in a brilliance of prayer flags (Lung-Ta) and found a less developed trail. In approximately 45 minutes we came to the monastery and heard the clinging of bells echoing throughout. Monks in isolated prayer kindly asked to not be disturbed and we obliged. Standing on a balcony looking over the valley below we rested. It became apparent that this was not the same type of institution as Tango. Chagri has become much more of a meditation center rather than a center for philosophy. Light is fading and we realize that we’ve spent too much time lingering. It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re hiking among Rhododendrons, conversing with Buddhist monks and immersing yourself in the hills of Bhutan. The sun is down, and winter quickly reminds us that it is still here.