GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (30)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

The continuous succession of curves and countercurves, which allows us to reach meters in height also give right to short stops to buy bananas from a family of road vendors and, a few miles further on, fermented mare’s milk – a very refreshing drink and much of the my taste, with a Mongolian airag flavor – sold by a girl of disarmingly rustic beauty accompanied by her grandmother. The old woman doesn’t move. She just makes braids with wild vegetables.

We stop at a new strategic spot so that Sangay can tell us which was the way traveled by the Portuguese  priests. “Do you see that village down there?” he asks. In fact, through the grove one can see a small village, and on the opposite slope a tortuous path. “The priests crossed the river and climbed a huge mountain towards Chapcha. It was a strenuous four-day trek in an extremely rugged area,” explains the guide. One can imagine the sacrifices borne by Cacela and Cabral at their inaugural entrance in the “Kingdom of Dragon Thunder,” as Bhutan was known, due to the violent storms to which it is subject.

In fact, as the Relation reveals to us, after four long days the Jesuits encountered the first Bhutanese village. Probably Gedu. Or, the “anonymous” settlement indicated by our guide. They had to stay there, for the Bhutanese who were to accompany them – “who is the chief among these people” – had stayed in Rangamati to finish some business. He had therefore entrusted them to his subordinates with express orders not to let them pass “beyond” until he joined them “six months later.”

In Cacela’s opinion, the attitude of the Bhutanese was no more than a stratagem to stop them. “It’s difficult to describe the efforts made by the people of this village in order to avoid our departure. They said us that it was very dangerous to travel alone due to robberies and possible assassination,” recalls the Alentejo born priest.

Twelve days after the forced stay, Cacela, accompanied by a Christian boy “and two Gentiles of the Cocho, who knew something of this language” managed to deceive the guard and set out on his way to reach another village where he could recruit people who would continue to show him the route. João Cabral waited for him in the village.

We also stayed in Gedu. But the reason for the delay is another. A lunch awaited us that was also our first Bhutan gastronomic experience. But what a pleasant surprise! Delicious sauteed ferns and a braised chicken with potato and carrot-flavored home-sweet home retemper us the forces and whet our appetite for future and previously scheduled meals.

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