Ura Valley, The Flaming Lake And The Tale Of The Nine Headed Snake, Bumthang, Bhutan
Just outside of Jakar town, on the way to the Ura Valley, lies a beautiful gorge with rock pools that is believed to be a holy place in which the treasure discoverer Pema Lingpa, discovered some treasure.
The locals will point out the exact location where he found the treasure, in the clear turquoise waters.
All the rivers that I saw in Bhutan, were not muddy nor silty but had clear and clean waters.
This place is called the “Flaming Lake” or “Burning Lake” after it is said that Pema Lingpa dove into the water holding a burning butter lamp, which is believed to still burn at the bottom of the rock pool.
This sacred area is frequented by people who have come to pray.
The whole gorge is ablaze with colorful prayer flags.
Small clay stupas are tucked under every rock, by people who have come here asking for healing and protection.
To reach the Ura Valley beyond this beautiful gorge, we drove through forests of spruce, pine, larch, fir, juniper, bamboo and rhododendrons.
I was told that tigers, leopards, bears, boars and even red pandas, often roam this forest, but we could not see any of them from the road.
We visited three small villages in the Ura valley.
Each had cobblestone paths and a river that ran through them.
The locals in this remote area stock firewood for the cold winters and dry radish greens, slices of pumpkins, turnips and turnip greens, as well as hay for the animals, in preparation for the long and cold winters.
The stone paths were very charming to walk on, since every fifty feet you had to climb up and down a small, steep wooden ladder, that is put on the path to prevent the free roaming cattle from taking those inner village paths.
Sonam told me that old ladies with large baskets on their backs, climb those ladders as a matter of normal daily routine.
We had a lovey picnic lunch that our hotel had packed for us, while we sat on a grassy patch in the countryside.
Bhutanese people do not really grab a snack or eat sandwiches for lunch.
They always prefer to sit down to a warm cooked meal and some hot tea.
We visited a most impressive local temple (Lhakhang) in the Ura village.
The whole community had built and maintains this beautiful and old temple.
The inside walls of the temple, where cameras are not allowed, were decorated with a wonderful collection of wrathful deities, with multiple heads and arms.
The temple’s caretaker knew our guide Sonam.
Sonam’s ancestral home is located in this village.
The family farmhouse stays in the family from generation to generation, and whoever lives in it, pays the taxes and all of the expenses.
Currently Sonam’s auntie and uncle live in the house.
Sonam suggested that we go to their farm house, to drink butter tea.
The temple keeper suggested that he will run over to auntie, to let her know that we were coming, since making Butter tea takes time, since it needs some prior preparation.
The farmhouse was a large structure spread out on three levels.
Sonam’s auntie had red cheeks, a warm smile and she wore a beautiful traditional dress.
We sat on the floor of her large kitchen.
Auntie first served us her local brew of Ara.
She insisted that we try her own unique brew.
It tasted very good and very much like a Japanese Sake (rice wine).
Apparently each home brewed Ara tastes VERY different from one another….
The butter tea was delicious and I had four cups, remembering that most Bhutanese get insulted if you refuse to have tea in their homes.
There is a famous story of a tourist who refused to drink butter tea, because the salty oily flavor is not palatable for many people who associate tea drinking with a sweet hot drink.
The tourist also feared that the water used to prepare the tea was not boiled long enough to get rid of all the bacteria.
The host got sad and said that even his enemy should drink AT LEAST three cups of butter tea when coming to his home….
I did not need cajoling to drink butter tea.
If prepared right, it is absolutely delicious to my taste buds.
I have even learned to enjoy the dry roasted cereal snack, that usually accompanies the butter tea.
Auntie told us that she was hoping to have tourists come over to her house for lunch or even for a farm stay.
She said that she has spoken to some travel agencies, and that she is hoping that in the future, tourists will come to dine.
I noticed that the wide wooden floor boards of her house were sparkling clean and her house was very large and airy, although very simple and with a minimal amount of furniture and possessions.
Before we left, I asked to see their temple room.
I heard that every family has a temple room, and we have seen a few which were very interesting, but I was not prepared for the beautiful temple room at Auntie’s house.
It was located on the top floor of the house, and it was very large and glorious.
In one corner was a huge and elaboretly carved wooden altar, with statues of gurus and deities, candles, offerings and seven bowls of water.
As in every home, those seven bowls that are placed on the altar, are filled with water first thing in the morning, and the water is thrown every evening before sundown, and replaced again the next day.
The walls of this beautiful temple room were painted with images of the Buddha and his many incarnations and devotees, a green Tara and many gurus and deities.
The paintings were beautifully done, with such a refined hand.
The house had a feeling of a self-contained fortress, filled with everything they needed to live in a remote countryside.
I told Sonam that after visiting his family home and seeing their majestic temple, I finally realized that compared to the other humble homes in the village, they were a wealthy family.
Sonam listened to me and smiled….he looked like he was looking for the right words…
He nodded his head and said that maybe they were not so wealthy…..but….
that they were GENEROUS….
Meaning that they made it a habit to help the community around them, and assist the people who were less blessed.
There is a long river that snakes through the Ura village.
It is particularly curvy and resembles the body movement of a snake.
There is a story told in the Ura valley, about how the river got to resemble a snake.
It all started on the hill behind which the school is now located.
A nine-headed giant snake, poked his multiple heads out of nine holes in the ground.
It was a demon snake and its intentions were to bring disease and death to the valley.
The local protecting tutelary god chased after it, and it ran into the river, forever changing the shape of the river to resemble a snake.
The local protecting deity subdued the nine-headed snake and in that location, a stupa was built.
We hiked through the beautiful fields, to see the nine holes in the ground from which the nine-headed snake rose out of the ground.
We climbed fences and crossed bridges, walked through bogs and muddy plains, and we arrived at the place.
A large bull with big horns was tied at the spot, looking at us with much surprise, to see what we were doing there….
It took a lot of imagination to see the holes in the ground that were the “proof” of that mythical tale….
We have been hearing so many tales in Bhutan, that by now I realize that it does not so much matter if the stories are real or fictional…..
If it helps people to believe that disease and death come from demons who spread over their valleys…. How is it different from “modern” beliefs that cancer and many other diseases come from harmful bacteria or vicious viruses?
Both ideas are mistaken beliefs in outside circumstances that bring about misfortune and harm upon “helpless” mortal people.
Both concepts stem from a belief in a finite helpless physical reality that seems to govern the cruel laws of nature.
Both primitive beliefs stem from not realizing the Spiritual Divine Nature of the Compassionate and all-Loving Universe.
Both primitive beliefs come from not realizing our Truly Divine and Holy SELF that is the only real thing, beyond the illusion of our bodies, that seem to be so real…. But alas they are not…..