Bhutan: Kila Goemba Nunnery - Getting High to a Highlight

We will set to an exciting trek, which will turn out to be THE highlight of my trip. I have no expectations but I am absorbed by curiosity as this is the only nunnery I have managed to sketch in my trip. There are just five nunneries in Bhutan as usually and historically mostly men take the way to enlightenment.

I spend the night in Paro. I have my own bungalow by a small and picturesque river and as I am already ahead in my travel, I already feel I am more and more connected with the nature, I notice more little plants and bugs around me, I notice the fog above the water, I hear the sounds of the river. I start understanding better what it actually means to connect with the nature and that it is not just a matter of being among the nature, but to feel it and accept that we are part of the same system, we are interdependent and that indeed nature is so much greater and vaster than our own lifetime.

I have a dog...again...in front of my door...morning and night it is there. This time it is truly my dog
because it would not move from there...indeed I figure out the dog is the boss as it does not pay any attention whatsoever to me and my attempts to jump over it to go out of my bungalow, it owns the place. Oh well...I am no longer bothered.

Another thing worth mentioning is that I am already a professional in washing my face and brushing my teeth with a bottle of mineral water. Apologies if it sounds like a waste but you do what you have to do if you don't want to fly on the toilet floor towards Delhi again.

We are about to head for the trek and Tashi, my guide, warn me that this is the highest altitude we will reach during the course of my stay (around 4500m) and normally he does not take all his guests there as it is very tough and mostly everyone suffers from severe altitude sickness. He tells me "if you feel any tension in your neck, dizziness or headache, do not try to be cool but tell me right away, because the death is fast and certain." Wohoo! I am like..."OK, where am I going." On top of that he admits that this is just the third time he will do that trek and the first time alone, so we might get lost...which we did :)

On the way to the starting point, we see more of these alienated little Bhutanese houses nested across the hills. It is simply fascinating how people build their houses in what seems to me middle of nowhere, not connected by roads, sometimes not connected by electricity. Villagers need to walk 2-4 hours across the forests to get to the near town. But I guess they have just built their lives in a self-sufficient way - they grow their own crops and animals and they actually rarely need to go anywhere.

The trek starts through Chele La pass. It starts with...a graveyard. The Bhutanese graveyards are pretty unique, though. When people die, they get cremated and their ashes are usually spread around the mountain and their families just put somewhere a long stick with prayer flags in honor of the dead person. I ask Tashi where do the family make remembrance of the person, as usually we go to a grave and offer flowers, he says that they just look at a photo at home and most importantly, they just bring the person in their heart and that's pretty much enough. It makes complete sense to me.

There are indeed Tibetan buddhist prayer flags all over the place ...like literally! The principle is similar to the prayer wheels - when the wind blows them, they send prayers for balance and harmony in the world. The five colors symbolize: Yellow - Earth, Red - Fire, Green - Nature, White - Space, Blue - Water. I love watching them, they make me feel at peace and I bring some for my garden in Brussels.



In the beginning there is thick and scary fog, I have no clue what we are heading towards, I can't even see a mountain, and even less a mountain 4500 high. The further we go, though, the clearer it gets and I am slowly and deeply immersing in the landscape. I understand what it means that "what matters is not the end of the journey, but the journey itself." I see flowers and plants, which I have never seen even on a photo, I can't believe these exist. Stones and old trees are covered with thick and fleecy moss, which I feel like touching all the time (and I do!). 


We pass by a few little waterfalls, which pop up unexpectedly among trees and rocks...just water falling and flowing its own way. We are walking among some furry trees and bushes - hanging freely, bright green, dense and almost feels like they will come into life any minute and grab me. They are all interlaced with one another forming a proper wild jungle. The path is so untouched, I can really notice we are the only people who have passed there for a long long time. There is actually no clear path, just some walkaway through the forest. Any time when I heard about the Himalayas I imagined vast rocky areas and never have I thought that there will be such a wondrous vegetation.


I am just walking in silence and trying not to label anything that I see, but just to observe, absorb, listen and feel the landscape.

As we reach the nunnery around 4-5 hours later (due to getting lost in the Himalayan jungle) I am out of breath - and not due to the high altitude (which I handled with a remarkable success) but due to the unimaginable view at 4500m height ...too many concepts are getting clearer in my head these days, but I now realize what it truly feels like to be on top of the world - you feel so small, but part of something so huge.

The nunnery is as if carved in the rocks, it is surrounded by numerous meditation huts and caves, where the nuns live and everything seems to be in full harmony with the mountain. However they have decided to build it, they had ensured that every little building is part of the landscape rather than destroying it in any way.

I attend a prayer service at the nunnery. All the nuns are with shaved heads and wearing the red robes, just like the monks. These women have decided to take a life towards enlightenment and dedicate their lives to contemplation and realization. They are so isolated from the world that they rarely get i touch with the rest of the world at all. They are chanting and occasionally someone is looking at me. I feel awkward as ...I have long hair?! And I have the feeling I am disturbing them. Hence, I leave and leave them to themselves and their day of prayer and teachings, who am I to interfere?

I got an overdose of wilderness and I am a little overwhelmed with impressions. I did not expect such a bright experience but this was one moment when I was like "OK, that's why I am here."

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