“You will never starve to death in Bhutan,” Yangzom, the lady at my homestay in Paro told me over dinner on my first night. I was talking to her about Bhutan’s customs and their hospitality when she proudly said this. I had already seen an example of Bhutan’s hospitality when I first arrived in Paro and I was sure there was some base to what Yangzom just said.
The next day, when Yangzom’s father asked me what would I like for breakfast, I settled for a cup of tea. Now it was time to explore Paro. When I left the farmhouse, I was unaware that another example of Bhutan’s hospitality was waiting for me. This experience would prove Yangom’s statement true.
It was a beautiful morning in Paro. I took a 30-minute walk from the farmhouse to reach the town. I passed through beautiful scenery, observing people busy in their daily routine and clicking some pictures.
After reaching the town, the first thing I did was to buy a local SIM card. Second on my list was to visit the Kyichu Lakhang. I also visited Rinpung Dzongkhag and the National Museum of Bhutan. I spent almost four hours exploring Paro. It was getting a little hot now and I was hungry.
I wanted to get back to the town as soon as I could and have something to eat. As I almost reached the town, I saw a temple. I noticed a few kids and some adults outside. A man told me about the place and I asked him whether I could enter the temple to attend the prayer. He said I could and I climbed some very steep stairs to reach the prayer room.
Attending Prayer at a Buddhist Temple
As I entered the prayer room, I saw almost 15 monks sitting inside, praying. The next moment, I saw everyone turning their heads and staring at me with questioning eyes. I introduced myself and asked them whether I could join them for prayer.
“Why not?” A monk told me. “Come, sit down.” I put down my bag, camera, cap, and sunglasses and squeezed in-between the monks. A young monk gave me a small bottle of some litchi drink. I glanced over the place and the monks. Almost everyone exchanged an eye-contact and a smile. As I settled down, a monk sitting beside me started asking me questions.
He asked me if I was a Buddhist and I told him I wasn’t. I told him I was just a curious explorer and answered a few questions about what I do and why was I travelling. After a few minutes of conversation with some of the monks, I was now ‘accepted’ by them. I felt more relaxed and comfortable after a while.
The prayer continued as I observed them. In a few minutes, they closed their books and it looked like they were done praying. They spent next few minutes talking to each other. As they got up one by one, I asked the monk sitting beside me whether the prayer had finished. He told me that it was their lunch time.
“Did you eat something? You must be hungry. Would you like to join us? Come have lunch with us.” I just looked at him as he offered me to join them for lunch.
It was true that I was hungry. I didn’t have anything for breakfast. It is also true that I probably never say ‘no’ to food when it’s offered to me.
I believe that when people offer you food, they offer you a chance to become close to them, to know each other better. I hold people who invite me to dine with them with high regards. This is not a matter of hunger, taste, quantity, or quality to me. It’s about honouring the chance offered to me.
Anyways, so I took this offer, too. It was a chance to dine with monks, after all. One by one, everyone present in the room left. I followed a monk downstairs. “Be careful with the steps,” he told me.
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Joining the Monks for Lunch
He led me at the back of the temple where everyone sat on the floor. Two (or three?) women served us food. They had big containers of food with the biggest one holding rice. I didn’t really count, but I guess we were served at least 8-10 different items. We had rice, ema datshi, chilies, salad, noodles, buttermilk, and many other items I forgot the names of as soon as I asked what were they called.
We spent almost 45 minutes enjoying our lunch. I always eat slowly and I was amused by the speed at which those monks ate. By the time almost everyone had finished their lunch, I had reached only halfway through finishing my plate. Everyone made sure I enjoyed my lunch and kept me company until I finished.
After I was done, some monks asked me how whether I enjoyed my lunch. “Absolutely,” I replied. “This is the best lunch I have had in a long time.”
After we got up, I was told by a monk that the prayer would resume after 30 minutes. Most monks were now resting and a few others were sitting outside the temple enjoying Doma Pani (beetle nuts). Those three ladies who served us were now having their lunch.
I spent a few minutes taking a walk outside the temple, observing and taking photos. After a while, I sat under a tree and watched some children playing. Then I decided to leave and met a monk to express my gratitude.
“Thank you very much for allowing me to witness the prayer and teaching me about your traditions today,” I hold him. “I have enjoyed my lunch and your hospitality.” He smiled and thanked me for visiting them. With a smile on my face and food in my belly, I left the temple.
Lunch with Buddhist Monks at a Temple in Paro: Summary
After exploring different places in Paro, I was hungry and wanted to get back to the town to eat something. On my way back, I came across a temple and my curiosity let me to the prayer room. About fifteen monks were busy praying as I observed them until it was their lunch time.
A monk asked me to join them for lunch and I accepted his offer. I sat down with them and thoroughly enjoyed the food.
Just a day ago, Sonam and her husband had helped me find a place to stay. And today, I had just experienced another wonderful example of Bhutanese hospitality. What Yangzom had told me a night before had turned out to be very true.
Experiences like this make my travel worthwhile and help me keep traveling. It’s not the food I am hungry for, though. I have hunger for such experiences and memories that last forever. I have hunger for the love I receive while I am travelling. And Bhutan kept me well-fed, I must say.
I am sure you must have experienced something similar during your trips around the world too. Share your memorable experiences with me.
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