Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Painted houses

Can you imagine an entire country (of the size of Vermont and with 700,000 habitants) where all the houses look the same and are all beautifully painted with earth colors? Well, this is reality in Bhutan!
Magnificent houses, very square, with white walls, visible structural beams made of blue pine, all painted of the same colors from nature: red, ochre, brown, white and black (no chemical paint here!). Amazing architecture!
The supporting beams of the roof and of the floors sometimes, and the window frames are nicely decorated. There are lots of designs of dragons, the symbol of the country – the land of the thunder dragon - circles and curved shapes. The paintings are symbols of peace and harmony in the home, and meant to keep the evils away!
Bhutanese people have an unbelievable sense of national identity. And it is obvious when you see the care and love they put in maintaining these beautiful structures.
Even more interesting is the fact that this architecture is similar for private homes and for official government buildings and monasteries. The official buildings are called dzongs and they share the functions of government offices, temples and monasteries. Built several centuries ago, it is said that they existed in Tibet as well, but that in Tibet they fell into ruins or are simply used in museums. Here in Bhutan, they are part of people’s daily life. Quite unique.
And if you look really closely, you will see some details in monasteries which you won’t see in private houses: in monasteries, the painted wood structures are actually carved and sometimes gold leaves are applied.
We have seen some quite majestic monasteries here. But for our last two days, our hotel – in Paro – was certainly equally memorable. Built to oversee the valley of Paro, the Gantey Palace used to belong to a member of the Royal Family. And we are convinced we had the best room in the whole place, a corner room on the top floor with a view on the whole valley! Check the view from our bed!

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