Rinpung Monastery, Paro, Bhutan. A “dzong” is the word they use in Bhutan for a fortress/monastery. These beautiful structures with giant walls reveal a lot about Bhutan’s unique culture. First, it is a defensible fortress--a holdover from days when wars were still happening. You can’t see from the picture I took here, but the walls descend further, so there’s no way for attackers to climb up or get inside. There’s tiny slits around the Dzong where people inside can shoot arrows at attackers on the outside! I’ve seen 10 fortresses like this in throughout Bhutan, and they’re usually built on a hillside with a strategic view of the valley, and, if the view isn’t so great, there’s a secondary watchtower in a better position. But what are they defending? I am just learning, but there’s a unique confluence of activity inside each Dzong: besides a military fortress, today, Dzong’s are homes for monks, and a spiritual center, but they also house all kinds of offices—think of it like the combination church, DMV, a civil court, an architecture planning office, and anything else related to the city’s administration. It shows how there is a lack of separation between “church and state”… In Bhutan, their philosophical and “religious” beliefs (some say Buddhism is not a religion, but a philosophical perspective), are integrated with the government, not separated. More Bhutanese are beginning to dress like Westerners, but when you visit the Dzong, you are required to where the traditional dress of the Bhutanese people. To foreign eyes, it makes for a colorful and exciting experience—you feel like you’re in the 16th century watching the activity inside, even though people might be there to get architectural plans approved, or to get a divorce, or something else that seems very “modern” to us. Ah yes, and the chilis… I had to include the chilis drying in the sun. Bhutanese add chilis to almost every dish (even in their rice); certainly there will be chilis in every meal! The chilis are dried outside, typically on the roof of homes. Drying can take a month! I think I’ll be adding chilis to dishes when i get back home!