Asia 2010 Bhutan

Life Cycle

It began as an overcast day, perhaps an indication of the deeds to be done. This was the day where my family and I would do the one thing we came to Bhutan to do. This entire trip, especially the Bhutan section, is dedicated to the memory of my Grandmother, who had previously traveled to this country and absolutely fallen in love with it. She was always determined to return here and now she has.

In planning this trip, we had advised the tour organizer of our intentions to fulfill her wish in having her ashes scattered here. Sither, our guide, was amazingly helpful in suggesting a proper place…Bumthang’s Chamkhar River, a holy site where the ashes of Bhutan’s previous Kings have been scattered. He also arranged for the Lama, or highest monk, from one of the most sacred temples in the region, to more or less officiate the ceremony.

As we made our way down to the massive and beautiful rocks that lined the river, the sun’s rays shined bright through the picturesque sky, which had thankfully broken a couple hours earlier. It was an amazingly serene spot, with a lovely footbridge covered in prayer flags off in the distance.

Foot Bridge Crossing Chamkhar River

I couldn’t help but notice that the Lama chose a particular area of the river where the water flowed in a clockwise direction, a direction that is quite important in the Mahayana Buddhism tradition.

Chamkhar River

The elder Lama was seated on a rock with his rosary beads (yes, Mahayana Buddhists have what are essentially rosaries that contain 108 beads, after the supposed 108 parts of the body) where he began chanting to bless the ashes. This went on for some time as he asked for her to be reborn in heaven, free from suffering.

As he finished, he handed the ashes off to us to be scattered in the river water, an act which we all took turns in. At a previous stop at a temple, we had all collected stones, a little aspect of the Jewish tradition where you leave a stone when you visit a grave. Sither hopped over to an isolated rock where he stacked them into a stupa for us.

Making a Stone Stupa

After the ceremony was finished and the Lama had left us for another errand one of the local villagers had requested of him, we took a walk along the riverbank, crossing the footbridge that fluttered with prayer flags. This was a wonderful chance to reflect on the morning and think of just how perfect this setting had been for my grandmother’s departure. She was such an amazing individual with such a fascination in the world, particularly Asia, that none of us could think of any better place for her. Apparently, neither could she.

Staring Into Chamkhar River

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By Aaron

Hey there! I'm Aaron and this is my travel site, where I document my adventures to all corners of the world. My love for travel started at the ripe old age of four, when a midlife crisis uprooted my family to Ecuador for five years. Since then, I've been to countries on 4 different continents. When I'm not blissfully on the road, I reside in New York City, where I become the ultimate travel junkie and spend my days dreaming up my next great adventure! Read More...

8 replies on “Life Cycle”

I’m very touched by this beautiful tribute to your Grandmother. It’s such an important gift — the final one that you can give someone — to give them the departure (in our family we call it a “send off”) they would want and take them to their final place.

I agree. It was so very important for her to return to Bhutan that she even insisted on taking me when she was first diagnosed with cancer, though her condition deteriorated before she was able to do that. I’m so glad she was able to get back there eventually!

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