Sunday, August 24, 2008

All good things come to an end

Nancy, me and Paul (in front of more stairs)

This mural was painted for the movie Travelers and Magicians.  It's a great movie filmed by a Bhutanese director.  Anybody want to come watch it with us?  Give me a call!

Cyber cafe in Thimpu - the young woman was amused I wanted to take a picture

Traffic cop in Thimpu

View of the valley and mountains

Quintessential Bhutan

As we worked our way out of the villages and back into city life, we stopped along the way, visiting more monasteries and sites of interest.  Thimpu is the capital city.  We had lunch with the Lhomen Tour and Treking director, Karchung Wangchuk and the owner of the farmhouse, Karma Dorje.   Karchung facilitatead an introduction to the director of the Tarayana Foundation,  Chime Wangdi.  She is a social worker trying to help the rural people of the country.  She and I felt we had very much in common when talking social work.  We visited the art school and saw how the students learn all the crafts Bhutanese are famous for--weaving, painting, carving, metal work, etc.  

My description of our trip only touches on the highlights of everything we saw and absorbed (including a few bugs I could have done without.)  Visiting Bhutan was everything we hoped it would be and more.  When we spent time in the villages, they were just as curious about us as we were about them.  I have concerns about the influence of western culture as it seeps into Bhutan.  Coming home was as almost as much a culture shock as it was to leave.  I missed our new gentle and kind friends almost immediately.  I feel blessed by the good fortune to be able to go and I am blessed by the abundance of wealth I have here, not in material terms, but by family and friends.  

Life in and around Nabji

Our guides for the tour through the village

Dr. Paul consulting a villager with Chhimi and the local guide translating - it was in three different languages!

Watching the soccer game

Playing soccer in the dust with rubber boots

Our cook and helpers doing dishes

Village man

Village boy

Playing a gambling game on the porch

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Little ambassadors

At first they were very shy, but became more comfortable as we got to know them.  The principal had encouraged them to greet the foreigners kindly and they did.  Then they hammed it up for the camera...

A few days in a farmhouse

We arrived at our destination very hot and tired after six hours of hiking that day.  When offered a choice between a farmhouse or a tent, Nancy, Paul and I voted for the farmhouse.  It turned out to be an excellent choice when the skies broke open the next day.  As it was so wet and slick on the trail we opted to stay an extra day at the house which resulted in a choice to turn around and go back the way we came in, not forge ahead to the next village.  It would have meant combining two days of walking into one.  Nancy and I weren't sure our knees could take the steep downhill trek out that way.  After massive amounts of deliberation that our guide, Chhimi, withstood without complaint, he began rearranging our agenda for the return trip. Fortunately his cell phone got service out in the rice field.

The upside of spending three nights in Nabji was an experience none of us will ever forget.  We got to spend time with the people in the village.  A small group of girls came as ambassadors to dance and sing for us every night.  They were eager to practice their English:  "What is your name?  Are you married?" There voices were astonishingly clear and beautiful.  I truly wish we had had a small digital camcorder but we just couldn't add another expense to an already expensive trip.

Once the word got out that there was a doctor in town, Paul didn't need to hang out his shingle, they came to visit with prescription bottles and a variety of complaints.  He even made house calls to a few people who couldn't leave their homes.  We were frustrated that we had not brought more medical supplies but didn't anticipate the need.  Paul could have used a few simple instruments to examine people.  The most important piece of information the people seemed to be lacking was knowledge of simple hand washing techniques.

During a lull in storms, Gary and I had two young boys give us a tour of Nabji, up the dirt trails and over fences and back around.  There was no real center to the village.  The farmhouse we stayed in was probably the biggest house in town.  I first assumed that there was no furniture in it because it was empty most of the time, but was surprised to learn that the Bhutanese villagers don't have furniture.  It's too expensive.  They squat to eat and sleep on the floor. Their water is in a tap outside and so are the "facilities."

We also had a delightful tour of the local school.  As always, there was a steep trip down the trail to the school and a hefty hike up the trail, every day for those kids, six days a week!  The school was having a soccer game that we watched and then the kids were served lunch.  Lunch consisted of a big plate of rice with a few vegetables on top.  We donated some money to the school and the principal said that it would be used to buy vegetables for the kids.

The day we left we were a little bit sad to leave our new friends and a little bit glad to be getting out of the mud and cow poop.  It was luxurious to get to a hotel with running hot water and inside "facilities."

Back to Bhutan, another time, another place

After a night in Nimshong, we hit the trail again to Nabji.  It took six hours to hike through some of the most remote and incredible forests any of us had ever seen.

Hillside covered in magnolias

Magnolias up close and personal

Intermissions from Bhutan

Independence Pass

Susan and Selwyn in front of the Maroon Bells near Aspen.  

Susan has been my best friend since 7th grade!  It is so special to still be friends.  We are really lucky that our husbands like each other and are willing to get together for visits.  Their two daughters live in Aspen so we all met there for a great couple of days.

Uintah Mountains

We took the dogs for a walk on Leidy Peak one Sunday and enjoyed the view.

Rocky Mountain cairn

Happy to be young and in love

8/08/08 was a very popular day to get married.  We were so happy to get to share this day with our friends who asked Gary to take the official photos.  These, however, are mine of Annalice and Drake.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The simple joy of bubbles

In trying to decide what to take to share with the children, somebody suggested bubbles.  They were a real hit with the kids and something they had never seen before!

Going down and up to Nimshong

If you look closely at the mountain across the way, you will see a road.  Somewhere on that road is where we started walking.

One of our porters

The crew assembling

Riotala - you know that joke about "Don't blink or you'll miss it?"  Don't blink.

In the trip description provided by Journeys, this day is mentioned as "probably the hardest hiking of the trip."  Well, overall they rated our trek as "moderate" and athough I am no athlete, I am not exactly a hiking wimp.  I walk our Flume Trail regularly and we live at 6900' elevation. 

This trek begins at 3200' so naturally I'm thinking "piece of cake." Not.  We hiked down a very hot, dusty, steep trail, crossed a bridge and then hiked up and up to Nimshong.  I can't whine about this too much, though, because our porters carried all our gear up and down these trails in rubber sandals with baskets on their heads.  We were pretty distressed when we realized people were going to be carrying the gear.  We thought horses would be used.  It was explained that the government was trying to boost rural economies by hiring people to carry gear for tourists.  We had a "local" guide and a "local" cook, plus our guide, Chhimi who began the trip with us.  We also had a head cook who had two assistants.  It was definitely out of the ordinary for us who have backpacked with llamas but not a team of people!

I must say though that they were all wonderful to us, very kind and considerate.  Having tea on the trail with hot noodles is such a treat!  We had three meals cooked every day plus the afternoon tea no matter where we were.  If were were trekking, they cooked in the morning and carried the meal in warmers so that it was still hot when we stopped to eat.  The meals were delicious and satisfying.  I got so spoiled that by the end of our trek I was ready to take them all home with me.

Trongsa to Riotala

We begin the less well known part of the journey here.  

We are going to unload our gear and begin our trek in Riotala.  It is a place very few foreigners visit and very little is written is written about it.  There were two paragraphs about the Black Mountain area in Lonely Planet.

Before we left the states, Janie and I were looking at a map and the trip itinerary and trying to match things up.  Nothing really matched....Janie appeared a little anxious.  I glibly replied that we were headed into the middle of the middle of nowhere.  Little did I know how true that was going to be!

Langur in magnolia tree

Another beautiful child

Calla lilies, some of my most favorite flowers

Inside the dzong

Thunder dragon

Bhutanese cat

Everything is decorated so beautifully

Monks taking a break

Although this is not the actual tree the Buddha sat under before attaining enlightenment, he did sit under a bodhi tree like this.  This plaza is inside the dzong and festivals are performed here.  

Wangdue Dzong

A dzong is half government offices and half monastery.  

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Not our ride

 This is a Tata truck, from India, a big, smelly road hog!