Photos courtesy of Dana Scheffler
Standing constant watch over the Paro Valley is perhaps its most noticeable feature—the Rinpung Dzong, also known as the “Fortress on a Heap of Jewels.” Having spent the past nine months getting to know Paro, we have learned just how many gems are in fact hidden in the rice valley we call home.
We find these treasures everywhere: garnets in the doma-stained teeth of the elderly farmers who wave to us on our runs; diamonds in the snow-covered peaks of the mountains that cradle us; emeralds in the lush forests that cover their slopes; rubies in the chilies that make our eyes water with every serving of ema dhatsi.
This past weekend we hiked what is often considered to be the crowning gem of the Paro Valley: Taktsang Goempa, or Tiger’s Nest. This 17th century monastery was built where the highly venerated Guru Rinpoche mediated in the 8th century for three years, three months, and three days after arriving in Bhutan from Tibet on the back of a flying tigress. Our students invariably find our hike to the iconic monastery to be one of the highlights of the semester. Its pearlescent structures are capped with gold and nestled into a dramatic setting of dizzyingly steep granite cliffs.
Doing this hike on one of the last days of the semester allows us to reflect upon perhaps the greatest treasure of all in this gorgeous valley—the sense of community we are able to cultivate within our SFS center. Living, travelling, and studying in such a small group allows us to embrace a culture of acceptance and profound connection that is only possible under such extreme circumstances. Each group of students brings their own unique gifts, dynamics, and quirks. Each goodbye is no less easy. As we hiked along, sometimes laughing, sometimes silent, we were all reminiscing on the times we have had and the friendships we have foraged.
Even though the spring semester students are soon departing this valley of gems, no one who has grown to love it will ever truly be gone. Every student who leaves carries with them the riches of their memories and adds a part of their hearts to the heap of jewels that remains.