– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro
In his account, Estêvão Cacela claims to have devoted himself body and soul to learning the language of the region and probably Sanskrit, since he mentions having studied “the books of the lamas.” Although, just like the others, he justifies the difficulties “in ministering catechesis” with the lack of knowledge of the language, nonetheless he has the humility to learn it through contact with the lamas.
In the process, he certainly came across some of the precepts of Buddhism. As we said before, the Jesuit identifies “Chescamoni” – Sakyamuni, Buddha – as the son of God. Taking as its starting point the Christian mysteries and dogmas, Cacela reveals to us in the pages of the “diary” his perception of the beliefs of the Bhutanese Buddhists, contrasting them with questions related to the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Virgin Mary and the existence of Hell and Paradise. The Relation is, for this reason, and also because it is the first western text about Bhutan, a work of utmost importance.
There is no better scenario to imagine the theological discussions between the priests and the local monks than a mist-shrouded mountain ridge that conceals the pine canopies and other conifers that swarm near the Chagri monastery and others hills of the country.
During our journey we would see mists of these, time after time, and countless rainy days and numerous curves. As far as the road network is concerned, and much to my surprise, Bhutan still has a long long way to go. Honestly, I did not expect to find such poor roads. They are at par with (or below) those of Nepal and those of the rough regions of northern India.
In the course of our pre-monsoon trip on two occasions we reached the eleven thousand feet of the Dochula Gate. Characterized by the 108 (mythical number in the Tibetan universe) chortens Druk Wangyal, religious monuments built in 2004, under the patronage of Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, “to celebrate the stability and progress that Her Majesty has brought to the nation.” Although they reflect “the spiritual and artistic traditions of Bhutan,” they are but a memorial in honor of the Bhutanese soldiers killed in the December 2003 battle with the Indian Assam insurgents. Leading the troop was the king himself, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, now proud to have displaced the rebels from his thirty camps in Bhutanese territory. Ethnic conflicts are not uncommon in the Dragon Kingdom.