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Hike to Cheri, The Long Trip Home
More Sights in Thimphu

All images copyright to Kimberlee Adolph

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Long Trip Home

How I am getting home...

3.20.2010 - I leave this morning (Saturday) for Paro, Bhutan. I will sightsee there for the day and check into a hotel.

3.21.2010 - My flight from Paro to Dehli, India leaves a little before noon and will take about 3 hours. I will me met at the airport and taken to my hostel in India.

3.22.2010 - I have the entire day in Dehli free, though I am not sure if I will see some more sights or just head early to the airport. My flight leaves Dehli for JKF in New York at 12:30AM.

3.23.2010 - The flight from Delhi will take 16 hours and from here I take 2 more planes, the first to Salt Lake City, the second to Portland. I land there at 2:55PM on the 23rd.

3 days, 4 planes, and more than 25 hours in the air... away we go!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hike to Cheri

The hike up to Cheri Goemba was gorgeous. It ended up taking an hour each way and we spent a lot of time in and around the monastery. The meditation rooms look like they are carved directly into the mountainside. Monks remain in the rooms for 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days in isolation.

The main temple houses the ashes of the father of the man who united Bhutan and the entire structure has been in place since the early 16th century. The site is deep in the forest and was exactly the scenery I was hoping for. Birds flitted in the trees around us and the dirt path was all ours until the hike back down.

The goral around the monastery are wild, but well habituated to human presence. It took some time to find them, but after an addition climb of just under 300 stone steps, we came across a little herd. The trip down went quick and we cam across some French tourists. We (Jigme and Pem joined me on the hike) stopped for tea, zhau (fried rice snack), and biscuits. It was a lovely, energizing morning and a great way to say goodbye to Bhutan.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Sights in Thimphu

My final day in the main city of Thimphu wrapped up today with a sprinkle of rain. Apparently Bhutan has decided to help me get ready for life back in the Pacific Northwest!

The first stop was to one of the weaving centers in Thimphu. Women were seated in front of their looms hand weaving the kiras and ghos for the men, women, and children of Bhutan. This particular shop was owned by a male weaver (quite unusual), who has won the national award many times and weaves for the King himself.

Next was the public library so I could unload the most of books I purchased to keep my mind busy in Bumthang. The weight limit for the flight out of Paro was my main motivation for donating the books, but any excuse to lose some baggage is fine with me... plus I was able to give a little back to a society that has given so much to me. I was eager to get one more look at one of the strangest creatures I have ever seen, the takins. They were much more habituated than before and cooperated for some fun pictures.
The last stop was a little off the beaten tourist path and we found our way to the National Library. Here some of the oldest texts in the region are stored. There are also letters from the 1700’s and mantras written with bamboo pens from Tibet.

Tomorrow we head out for a 5 hour round trip hike to one of the more famous dzongs in Thimphu and I am hoping to glimpse some wildlife along the way. One more day in Thimphu, then one in Paro, and then its all airplanes until I see some familiar faces on the 23rd

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Touring Thimphu

Today I turned in my final report on my placement with WWF Bhutan. It was strange to revisit all the projects and events in Bumthang and to be writing about them in the past tense.  Even more strange to put a conclusion on it all. It made it really seem over… how surreal to know that all my tasks here are complete. The website is ready to go and Jigme is working on mastering the design system, I have imparted all the photography knowledge I can, and edited more papers than I care to remember.

Fittingly, Tashi and I sat down to brainstorm the last few places to see in Thimphu before I get on the plane Sunday morning. We came up with a list of 9 more “must-sees” and Jigme graciously agreed to take me around town. I will explain more  about these places later, but wanted to get some photos up and show off some cool experiences.

We first went to the Folk Heritage Museum. This is site has a dwelling from 150 years ago preserved exactly as the people who once inhabited it lived. It was, amazingly, not  too different from the houses of friends I visited in Bumthang.

Next we went to the Institute for Traditional Arts and Crafts. Here they train students in the formal aspects of the traditional painting, sculpting, and casting. Since the program just began a few days ago they were not yet working so hopefully we can return Friday to see them in action. Some of the more experienced students were working on their final project… a huge clay sculpture of The Four Friends.

A few other temples and a giant statue of Buddha (when it’s finished it will be one of the largest statues in Asia) rounded out the day. Another neat stop of note was to the handmade paper factory. Its really more of a large house that has been transformed into a place were paper is still manufactured the old way. Down the street was a place where thangkas (painted wall hangings) were being produced. 

A few more stops tomorrow and Friday and my week will be complete. I am running into tourist groups in the streets and visitors from all over the world are stopping by the headquarters. I remember leaving for Bumthang 3 months ago wondering what it would be like to be on the other end of this trip… I never imagined it would feel like this.

Life is something glorious, because in this life we can awaken to who we truly are. – Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just Another Dinner

One of the ladies who works in the WWF Bhutan office approached me on Thursday and invited me to an office dinner on Friday night. She said she would arrange for a driver to pick me up from the hotel around 6:30 and we would head over to the Golf Country Club Restaurant. I had been to a few dinners before when in Thimphu, so I was expecting some drinks, the office gathered around telling stories, and a simple dinner. When I walked around the corner from the parking lot I had a feeling this was going to be a little different.

On the back patio of the restaurant was a huge bonfire, tables and chairs for 20, and the royal dancers were getting ready to begin their performance. I quickly found a familiar face and was then introduced to some Bhutanese girls in their 20’s who had been studying in the United States and were back visiting with their boss. That answered my question about who the other white-face at the party belonged to. Shortly after 7:00 things got interesting as a large group of caucasians came around the corner. They were donors here with WWF visiting Bhutan for the first time. I made small talk with a few of them and found some were even from the Bay Area (such a small world).

WWF Bhutan’s Country Representative called me over to meet a few people he was speaking with. He has done this before because they enjoy the fact they have an intern and I had become somewhat of a novelty to the Bhutanese. Since he was standing with some foreigners I was, however, instantly nervous. CR introduced us by first names only and left to mingle. I fielded the usual questions: “How long have you been here?“, ”What are you doing while here? ,“Have you enjoyed your time so far?”, and then asked them the same ones. Apparently I was the only one not informed of who was coming to the dinner party. Unbeknownst to me I had been shooting the breeze with a member of the governing board of the WWF US and its former Vice-President (a man who currently runs the Bhutan Foundation). I instantly blushed, but that went unnoticed since I was saved by the arrival of the former Prime Minister of Bhutan.

This was no normal gathering… we were entertaining some of the highest people in the WWF organization. I also met the cousin of the founder of the WWF and a safari leader from Kenya looking to expand into Bhutan. Needless to say, I was bouncing off walls when I got back to the hotel! 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lost in Translation

America - Bhutan

Do you have plans tonight? - What is your program?
I will come and get you at 7. - I will pick you at 7.
Hi. This is Kimi. (phone) - Hello. I am Kimi.
We will go to Thimphu Thursday. - On Thursday we will move to Thimphu.
We will stay in Ura for one night. - For one night we will halt in Ura.
Can you move that box? - That box needs to be shifted.
What would you like to eat? - What will you take for dinner?

Other language quirks

You do not say good-bye on the phone, simply hang-up at the end of the conversation.

Laso or la is similar to ok and said many times by the listener. 

There is no "tonight," rather "today evening."

When someone is leaving for a trip you say "safe journey."

Thursday, February 25, 2010


The main dance of the festival was the one I had been the most excited to see. Buddhism has many rituals, stories, and superstitions. While all are entertaining and teach a different lesson, only one has gotten my attention time and time again. For some reason I have held onto it as the epitome of what this trip has meant to me and how it has made me view the world differently.

Guru Rinpoche is believed to be the second Buddha and to have been born from lotus petals. He is the most revered in the Eastern Himalayas because he is thought to have brought the teachings to the region. One of his powers was to manifest into different beings in order to carry out his religious duties. The main duty was forcing demons out of the villages and converting those who were poisoning the people with their disbelief.

One of these deities is known as Mahakala and he is called upon for protection. He may appear in different colors depending on the task and who has invoked him. The large dance contains up to 8 representations of Mahakala as he performs dances to drum beats and drives out demons.  All the colors are represented during the performance and the wooden masks are carved with faces in a grimace and a skull crown.

My “favorite” is the blue form of the deity. He is painted at the entrance of almost all the dzongs and is depicted standing on two demons. He is called upon to stamp out ignorance and negativity at the beginning of one’s journey, whether it be literal or figurative.

If one speaks and acts with a pure mind void of negativity and ignorance, then happiness follows as one’s shadow that never leaves. 

Punakha Festival

Punakha’s festival is the first of the season and is one of the most well attended tsechus in the country.  It is held in Punakha dzong which was constructed in 1637.  The temple is also the summer home for the highest ranking monks. The Je Khenpo (the head of the monk body) begins the celebration and the festival is preceded by a  dromche (ritual cleansing) that lasts for 5 days.

I jumped in a taxi from Thimphu to Wangdi and then had to catch another one to take me down into the Punakha valley. The majority of the hotels were booked with tourists and other native Bhutanese who had come in to town for the festival. Not much else occurs here during the year and the dzong typically only attracts day visitors passing from west to east.

There were a couple of problems with this trip, but I had come to expect them. The first was when we got stopped at the immigration check-point and I realized I didn’t bring my route pass. To travel between the different dzongkhags (districts), a government issued permit is required. I had brought my permits to visit the dzong, but the other was with Pema (my WWF driver). Luckily we were able to have a copy of it faxed from WWF and the guards let me through.  The second was when I found my hotel my reservation hadn’t been recorded and the only rooms available were for 3 people and were all I could take. This also mean triple the cost, but it came with a tv so I was able to watch the USA route Finland to get the gold medal game.   

I was able to get a taxi the following morning and my entry into the dzong was very easy. I was surprised at how many Bhutanese were there. It was strange to see the tourists mixed in and the bewildered and somewhat frightened facial expressions they wore made me laugh. Not laugh at them, but rather it made  me realize that must have been exactly what I looked like 3 months ago. 

Yogins at the Punakha Tscehu


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back in Thimphu

I safely returned to Thimphu on Friday the 19th. It is strange to be living in a hotel again... a complete 180 from how life was in Bumthang.

Bhutan is celebrating the King's 30th birthday this week, so all the offices are closed until the 24th. Saturday there was a celebration put on by the different schools in the city, but the King was in a different dzongkhag. A few days off to catch up on sleep, family chats, and get reacquainted with the city has been great.

From here I will go to Punakha on the morning of the 24th for the first festival of the year. The arrival of the festival season also means the arrival of tourists. I have seen many more foreigners walking around town and stores are open later than the first time I was here. This short trip puts work off for another week and then it will be 3 weeks of projects before boarding the planes for home!

I was able to Skype with Mom and Aunt Barbara yesterday while watching the USA beat Canada in the Olympic Games... how different from Bumthang!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kadinche Bumthang...

Another change in plans and I am leaving Bumthang three days earlier than planned. I'm a little bummed by this since we planned a farewell picnic with the entire staff for Saturday, but my vehicle arrives on Thursday and we head out on Friday.

I can't believe I am saying goodbye to everyone here already. It seems like just yesterday I was stumbling about not knowing who I could talk to, how to communicate to buy food, or where anything was. While every step of this trip has introduced me to something knew and helped a new piece of the puzzle of who I am fall into place, Bumthang will always be the "it" place for me. The people have been more welcoming and accepting than I ever could have imagined. If they were able to learn half as much from me as I have from them, my job will be well done.

It was here, in my solitude, I read the books that opened the doors to the best parts of me. It was here I saw firsthand the loving kindness and compassion all Buddhists speak of. It was here I am leaving all the negativity and ignorance of the shadows of my past that have so long haunted me. So this chapter of the story is done. Much more is to be written for sure, but my life has forever been changed, my heart completely touched by the beauty that lives in the people and environments of Bumthang. Kadinche (Thank you)

I saw that it was better to be true than to be strong... I was saved and I had won my freedom. This freedom which I shall never lose has given me the rare joy of loving. A new and splendid life has opened before me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Celebrating the New Year

February 14, 2010 marked the turning of the Chinese calendar and dropped us into the Iron Year of the Tiger. Just about every store was locked up and the merchants were away celebrating with their families. I had been lucky enough to earn an invitation to a family picnic with one of the rangers, Rinzin. His wife, their 2 sons, another family of friends, and DS Rai and his wife were all gathering in the park to celebrate. We totaled about 15 people and enjoyed the sunshine and company.

I was surprised at DS Rai as his fun-loving side came out and the serious boss he is at the office faded away. We sat around the blanket snacking on Bhutanese crackers and rice fried chips underneath the shade of Blue Pine trees. He was full of stories from his recent trip to America and was anxious to trade notes with me. He absolutely fell in love with San Francisco! Most of the adults drank ara or beer, but I was still feeling the effects of the previous night on the town and was content with water or tea. The kids were off playing games and wandering through the forest. Strange how some things between the two cultures can be so similar.

DS Rai introduced some games he learned at the leadership conference and everyone was laughing and playing. We settled down again for lunch around 2:00 and little girls were again dancing for our entertainment. It was an unexpectedly calm and relaxing day… very much what I needed. The sun was even shining enough for me to get the beginnings of a sunburn! How warm it seemed when it couldn’t have even been above 60 degrees.

The sun drifted behind the mountains and a brisk wind picked up signaling our time to go. I have become much less nervous and self-conscious since being here, so when DS Rai asked me to supply the closing song for the picnic, it took no prodding for me to jump up. So for the second time, I arranged a circle of Bhutanese and taught them the hokey-pokey. I couldn’t help the smile that crept across my face on the ride home…

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Turning 26 in Bhutan...

Saturday morning came early as usual, but since it was my birthday the normal routine of housekeeping and trying to catch up on sleep was scrapped. I sipped hot chocolate and ate corn flakes next to my heater reading a James Patterson book for probably the sixth time. A surprise came at 10:15 when Mom and Dad called to wish me happy birthday. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to hear someone say those words and it made it seem more real. It had been easy to let Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to slip by on the calendar… those day aren’t celebrated by anyone here. Birthdays are different though. Everyone has them, everyone celebrates them.

The call got me going and I was up and out the door before 11:00. My plan was to walk to town and pick up some souvenirs… spend a little of the money I have been so protective of since I got here. What better way to spend my birthday than getting myself a birthday present? Unfortunately the Handicraft Emporium was closed since the family went out of town to celebrate the New Year on Sunday. I wandered into the market and picked up some grapes and a Sprite for a bit of a treat.

My walk home was shortened when Rinzin saw me walking and offered a ride the rest of the way. After a quick text message to Kinga to confirm our plans for the evening, I took a Saturday afternoon nap. I splurged on buying lunch instead of cooking… red rice, potatoes with chili and cheese, spinach soup and a Coke cost me 95 ngultrum (just over $2).

At 6:00 on the dot Gyeltshen and Kinga arrived to take me out for my birthday. Gyeltshen even brought me a bottle of rose-colored ara! We drove up the road and picked up some more foresters to come to town. Our little posse of 7 was excited and anxious to have some fun. The next stop was at the snooker bar Kinga, Gyeltshen and I had been to before. The actual bar isn’t connected to the snooker room so when we went in we were mostly unnoticed. Once the game started, that changed. One of the waiters mentioned to someone in the bar that not only was there an American playing snooker in the other room, but it was a girl and she was holding her own against the boys! Our group of 7 quickly grew to almost 20 and all the Bhutanese men were rooting for me. It was hysterical as they cheered when I made a shot, groaned when I missed one, and incessantly taunted Kinga and Gyeltshen. We passed around the ara bottled, drank a few beers, and laughed through the whole game. I thought the windows were going to crack for sure at the uproar that came from the locals when I made the winning shot!    

Kinga has been talking up his singing abilities since our first trip to Ura so we headed to a dance club. They convinced me to get up on the stage and learn a Bhutanese dance with the in-house dancers, we convinced Kinga to show off his singing skills, and the evening closed with all 7 of us on stage dancing to an English song. All in all, not a bad way to spend a birthday, foreign country or not. My 26th birthday will definitely not be forgotten… I mean how often will I have a group of Bhutanese men attempt to sing Happy Birthday to me? 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winding Down in Bumthang

Winding down my last full week in Bumthang seems like a strange thing to say. But next week is shortened by Losar (Chinese New Year) as we have Monday off. I head back to Thimphu on the 24th, but will stop for a few days in Punakha for the first big festival of the year. I leave this tiny Himalayan country in 37 days...

I can't help but reflect on what I have been able to see and do. I've really "seen" Bhutan. I know there is more for me to do here, but leaving Bumthang and resettling into Hotel living will feel more like a vacation than working for the betterment of the environment. This week I was able to visit with the foresters who have taken me in. One of the younger ones, Choki, just welcomed his first child. We went to meet his daughter and getting to hold her was exactly like holding the newborns in the family back home. I have done the "touristy" things, but my favorite memories are, by far, the intimate experiences with the real people of Bhutan.

This weekend will be spent shopping, celebrating, and creating more wonderful memories in Bumthang...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Taking the Bad with the Good

When I started this adventure just about 100 days ago, it was hard to contain my excitement. I had no idea what people I would meet, what things I would see, what kind of projects I would work on or how I would live. Lurking under the surface were the memories of some emotional nights I spent in Africa and some of the disappointments that came out of those four weeks in Uganda. Was this trip destined to be the same? Had I bitten off more than I could chew signing a contract to spend four months away from life as I knew it?

The timing of the trip came at an interesting point in my life. I was still finding myself after floundering for a few years and as far as I had come, the chance to step away from it all and spend some quality time with myself was as big a draw as the actual trip itself. I knew no matter what, I had family and friends to back me up, keep pushing me, and be there to welcome me home.

As much as I didn’t want to think about it, I knew there would will bad days along the way. The first big one hit this past week and I am quite surprised it took this long in the trip to slip up… but hey, we are all works in progress right? Luckily I was able to track down Mom through the internet and a phone call Arin was will to place. I guess all I needed was a familiar face, voice, and some stories from home so I could feel connected again. An hour later we signed off and I got back to life in Bhutan.

Still in a dismal mood Friday evening and Saturday, I stayed in the apartment and slept most of the time. Once in college on a particularly crappy day I had called the house to vent to Mom, but she wasn’t home and Dad asked if everything was okay. During that conversation he said something I have never forgotten, and if you know my Dad you know how perfectly it fits his personality… its a lesson, but its going to make you chuckle. He told me, “Scratch your butt and get glad!” I found myself saying those words Sunday morning and pulled myself into action.

I can’t tell you how much better I felt after getting out, walking to town, finding grapes (no idea where they grow them) and feeling the wind blow against my face on the bridge over the river. It was like those flapping prayer flags took the demons and scattered on the breeze.

Another lesson learned: There are always going to be the bad days, it’s the price you pay for the good. The thing that’s the true test of self is how you get through them and if you can come out better off on the other side.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bhutanese Cuisine

This is to give a little glimpse into what food looks like in Bhutan. This was the spread prepared at the puja last week. There were many other dishes served to the rest of the group that contained pork, yak, or beef. The meat dishes all contained big red chilies and turnip leaves usually. The cheese is typically a melted version of dried yak cheese or processed cheese bought in the larger towns. Dal is a legume and chili porridge. Yes, its all hot!

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Blessed Day... Literally

 Over drinks on Thursday night Kinga’s friend Rinzin mentioned they had been having some Himalayan black bear sightings near the village of Bjeezum, just west of Trongsa. When they all saw me perk up at the mention of wildlife, changes to our program for Friday were quickly made. We would scrap the tour of Trongsa Dzong in the morning and go looking for the black bears!

As we got set to leave in the morning it was suggested we stop at the main prayer wheel and stock up on oranges for the hike; no one knew how long it would take to find a bear. Chensho even gave us a liter of ara in case it got too cold and we needed to warm up. When Gyalsten parked the taxi in front of the immigration outpost, Kinga noticed all the police had abandoned the building and were gathered around a small car loaded with luggage that was headed east to Bumthang.

I got my camera ready, loaded my pockets with oranges and was emptying my camera bag of the books and things we wouldn’t need when Kinga hurriedly called out to me. Apparently the car’s passenger was none other than the reincarnation of Pema Lingpa (read some of his story here). As a man who is believed to have attained enlightenment and discovered treasures from Membartsho, this was truly a holy man in the Buddhist religion. He gave each of us a card with a blessing written on it. There were seven of us and we stood in a line, each taking a turn to bow in front of him and have him give a personal blessing by placing a holy box on our heads. Our day hadn’t even started and it was already a raging success.

Kinga and Gylasten had an extra spring in their step as we crossed the bridge adorned with prayer flags to the remote village of Bjeezum. We asked every one we saw if any sightings had been made that day, but no one had seen anything. We walked for two hours, occasionally stopping at points that were particularly prime bear habitat, but apparently our luck had been used up in coming across Pema Lingpa. Our trek had taken us along the Wangdi Chuu and among forests of conifers. The day was clear and bright and I quickly was shedding layers. A few times we stopped, thinking we saw a bear, but it turned out to be a shadow or rock.

With many apologies the guys said we should head back and drive a little further up the highway to a different farm road. I was disappointed but couldn’t help but still be in awe that I was meandering in the alpine forests of rural Bhutan looking for Himalayan black bears. When we returned to the outpost, the police were excitedly speaking to Kinga in dzongkha. A black bear had spent the past few hours sunning and foraging on the slopes just behind the outpost. Of course it had!

The men had watched it lumber over a rocky outcrop but the place was visible from the riverbank and we were welcome to climb down to wait. Seeing as we had been walking for 3 ½ hours I wasn’t about to say no to a short rest. Plus, Kinga was determined to find a bear. So we sat in the blazing sunshine, staring at the side of a mountain. A police officer, a villager, and three school age boys joined in our vigil. It took about 45 minutes, but our black bear finally made his long overdue appearance.      

The long walk, the slight frustration, and the build up of anticipation finally culminated in a male, juvenile black bear snacking on grapes across the river. I had tears in my eyes as I sat with my feet dangling above the river rushing by, sharing oranges with the young boys, toasting my guides with the ara, and watching a wild Himalayan black bear. It had turned out to be a blessed day in every way. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Three Little Girls

Three little girls ended up taking a keen interest in the white lady among them. They had not yet learned English and couldn’t communicate with me, but they continued to inch closer and closer. When one of Gyaltsen’s sisters sat with me and began talking they clambered over and sat on her lap.

After awhile someone suggested they sing a few songs and do some dances for the older people still awake. That was all the prodding they needed and for the next 45 minutes or so I was treated to dances, songs, and chants. The youngest is 5 and she knew every move and word just like the older girls. When I brought out my camera they were overcome with giggles but didn’t miss a step. Some of the songs and movements I recognized from the festivals I had attended, but there is something quite different when they are performed on the spot by young girls, purely for their own enjoyment.

They sang by light of a kerosene lamp until we all drained our glasses of ara and scattered throughout the house to find an empty mattress and a few blankets to huddle under. I was quite lucky to get to have an experience that cannot be found on any tourist itinerary.  

The Puja

A Bhutanese puja can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The one being held at Gyaltsen’s parents home in Isa was due to last 12 hours. It begins early in the morning when the monks arrive and all offerings are brought into the altar room.  Here the monks (or in some cases nuns) will sit and chant readings from a prayer books. They also play drums, horns, and cymbals to ward off evil deities. Every house has an altar room that has a shrine to Buddha and at least five small goblets that are filled with water each morning. There are hand painted wall hangings called thangkas, seven butter lamps, rice or barley flour sculptures, and usually some form of musical instrument.

My drive from Thimphu took just over six hours due to road construction. I was able to meet up with Kinga and Gyaltsen at 3:15 in the main courtyard of Trongsa where we picked up offerings of beer and eggs for the hosts. We then drove for another hour to the home where the puja was being held. The village was very remote and they hope to have electricity by August.

From the street below I could hear the sounds of drums, the mumblings of monks, and see the smoke from the burning juniper. Straight up the hillside 20 minutes later, we were at the doorstep. Our gifts were gratefully accepted and Gyaltsen’s parents, who had been aware an American would be joining them for the occasion, greeted us. They had never received a foreigner in their home and this was a big event for them.

Since my arrival had not been confirmed due to obligations in Thimphu, the others attending the puja had not been told I would be there so it wouldn’t disappoint them if I couldn’t make the trip. This time the room literally did stop when I walked in. The only sounds were from the altar room… not a whisper from the 30 or so family and friends sitting in the living room who had previously been engrossed in conversation. Small children stared, old men and women unconsciously stopped spinning their prayer wheels, and even the kittens sat still.    

The silence was finally broken when Kinga introduced me and when I said “kuzuzangpo” it seemed to break the ice. Against my wishes, we were given the seats for the Chief Guests and served tea. Conversations resumed, traditional snacks were passed around, and the children began playing. Gyaltsen’s parents gave me permission to enter their altar room during the ritual and also take a few photographs.

It was another surreal moment to be in a Bhutanese altar room at dusk, lit only by candles, sitting among eight monks, listening to them chant, and ward off evil spirits. Again I found myself thinking, “who does this really happen to?” I couldn’t help but close my eyes, lean my head back on the wall, and breathe in the serenity.  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Long Drive

The trip to Thimphu began at 9:30 (an hour later than planned) and I didn’t crawl into the queen size bed at Hotel Pedling until 10:00 that night. Karma Tempa (the WCP accountant) was driving with another member of the tourism industry to Punakha and he would give me a lift until that point. From there it would be another two hours by taxi to reach Thimphu. His wife and infant daughter were also going to Thimphu, so we would need a taxi that had room for two.

We stopped frequently and the drive went slow since Karma wasn’t as confident behind the wheel as the professional drivers and the road was icy. We took a break for lunch along the roadside and enjoyed rice with carrot or beef curry (I opted for the vegetarian choice) with some gorgeous views. Once we reached Punakha it took almost 90 minutes to secure a taxi that could take two more adults. The little girl would ride on her mother’s lap, just as she had done for the previous six hours of the trip.

It took every ounce of patience and every fiber in my newly-learned meditating body to survive that drive without nerves fraying to the bitter end. We were in a small Hyundai with five adults and one unhappy infant. The monk in the front seat mumbled prayers for two hours and the driver had somehow decided 1990’s rap would be the perfect choice for navigating winding roads in the darkness.

All the tension washed away when I settled into a hot bath and was able to get completely clean for the first time in months (though I did feel bad for the maids who would have the job of scrubbing the ring of dirt the next morning). For the next two days I was shuttled between the office of the videographer, WWF headquarters, and the hotel. I was able to meet up with Jan and Ute one final time for dinner Tuesday night and the highlight of the short vacation to luxury was the long awaited arrival of Mom and Dad’s package.

Monday evening was spent curled up in a brand new Snuggie, snacking on walnuts, and watching ESPN… it was almost like being home.  

Friday, January 22, 2010


In rural Bhutan it is crucial that one be able to provide for themselves. This includes clothing, housewares, food, and drinks. Villages typically will have at least one craftsman for each vocation in order to limit trips to the main town, which can be more than a day’s walk away.

The majority of the homes we visited had at least one loom for weaving kiras, ghos, blankets, or scarves. The women were the ones who most commonly operated the looms and various types were available. Some consist of two sticks placed between logs and the simple pattern is woven from yak yarn. Others were much more complicated and had foot pedals, many colors, and metal tools used to make the most intricate designs. Young girls are taught the skill from an early age.

Bamboo weaving is conducted by both men and women for many different applications. It is not uncommon to drive over bamboo sticks laid in the road by weavers to help flatten and soften the fibers. Baskets, floor mats, fencing, and room dividers are all created from different types of bamboo weavings.
These two pastimes are typically performed in the evening after work in the fields, school, or the paid jobs are completed. The workday ends a 4:00pm in the winter and dinner is served at 7:00, leaving two hours of light to work.   

The Plan for the Week

Things are really starting to get super busy for me as I am getting engrossed in the documentary work and Kinga is continuing to take me all over Bhutan!

Sunday the 24th I will head from Bumthang to Thimphu where I will check in a hotel for a few days! (A hotel means a real shower and I couldn't be more excited about that!) On the 25th and the morning of the 26th I will be working with our videographer going over footage, concepts, and determining if we need to go out into the field again. The afternoon of the 26th I will catch a bus for the trip to Trongsa where I will meet up with Kinga to go see the watch tower, a couple waterfalls and a few more goembas. I will get to witness the annual puja of Gyaltsen's house on the 27th which I am very happy about. We will head back to Bumthang on the 29th just in time for the weekend!

Lots to do and lots to see in the next 7 days! This photo was taken on the 20th when we dropped in on some of Kinga's friends on our way home from Nasgephel (we had given them a ride earlier in the day so they were expecting us). The mother of the house was trying to teach me how to use her prayer wheel, but I couldn't get right. You can see her laughing to the left.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Animals That AREN'T Red Pandas

Blood Pheasant, Barking Deer (muntjac), &; Black Necked Cranes

This post will continually be updated with critters we have found during our hunt for the red panda. Kinga has made it his mission we find one... he has everyone he knows looking and they will call him when/if they see one at which point we jump on the bike and go find it!

A Few of Me

Because Mom likes pictures with me in them and Kinga loves to take them!

Photo1: Some of the boys were willing to let me try archery with their traditional bows.

Photo 2: After the 20 minute climb straight up the hillside to a remote goemba.

Photo 3: Sitting with a monk on a vacation from the monastery to visit his family.