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

All images copyright to Kimberlee Adolph

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ideal Outcomes & Objectives

Today I received the revised document stating the desired outcomes from WWF Bhutan. This was developed when Tashi (the Communications Officer) and I spoke about my goals and specific skill set.

The Wangchuck Centennial Park Manager arrives at the office on Wednesday (December 2nd). I will have a meeting with him in which we decide if I will depart Thursday or Friday for the park. I will return to Thimphu at the end of February and spend the last month compiling my work and completing the second part of my internship.

At Wangchuck Centennial Park (December thru February):
* Prepare communications package for the Nomad's Festival (annual festival)
* Assist with preparation and development for communications and public information packets for WCP
* Create brochures and visitor information fliers for all aspects of WCP
* Develop a photographic database for WCP to be used for the park's current and future communication works
* Assist with any other field work at the request of WCP management

At WWF Bhutan (March):
* Train WWF staff on basic photography skills for picture taking in the field
* Assist in re-development of WWF Bhutan website

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) Dzong

I truly believed my eyes would never see a man-made item that could rival the Taj Mahal. The feeling of sheer awe that washes over a person setting eyes on it for the first simply cannot be replicated… or so I thought. I had seen pictures of Taktshang Dzong but the photographs never did it justice. It was originally constructed in 1692 as a gift to Guru Riponoche symbolizing his success in subduing a local demon who was wreaking havoc in Bhutan. The folklore would have one believe he flew to this spot on the back of a tigress (a manifestation of Yeshe Tsogyal). The tigress then left impressions of her body marking the spot a holy site. Many saints have come to this spot to meditate for months in caves or on seemingly impossible overhangs. (Parts of the monastery were destroyed in a fire in 1998 and renovations were completed in 2005).

It looks as though it is literally carved out of the mountainside and the many temples seem to be never-ending. After 2 grueling hours of hiking up what feels like a constantly vertical trail, all visitors come to a main viewing point. Just across a ravine (about 10300 ft high) you see the Buddhist masterpiece. The view and glimpses one gets when the clouds part every now and then on the journey up do nothing to prepare you for it. Only here can one see the monastery alive with life as red-robed monks move about thanking and blessing the visitors, hear the hundreds of prayer flags clapping in the wind, and smell the lavender water being brewed for the days meditations. The waterfall gushes water over a thousand feet down and if the expression “getting a second wind” ever applied, it is now.

A quick glance down the cliff and the trail becomes noticeable. No longer a dirt path, but hundreds of stairs zigzag down one side of the mountain and up the next, only connected by a short bridge directly in from of the waterfall. It seemed like every 5 steps a new picture had to be taken. The prayer flags framed the dzong differently or the angle of the sun made the roof tiles sparkle or for a few moments a monk was stopping to feel the presence of the place he called home.

There are many rooms and shrines housed in the monastery. Cameras, bags, and shoes are all checked at the main entrance and admittance is only granted if you are a Bhutanese native or if a special has been issued by the government (yes we had them!) Each room is different but all house a bronze or gold Buddha, at least four feet tall. The tradition is to walk around the room clockwise, an odd number of times, and follow the stories painted on the rugs hanging from the walls. Incense, butter wax for lamps, snacks or monetary donations are made in each room. Followers if Buddhism can be seen doing traditional bowing that involves a mantra, touching of the forehead, mouth and chest, and concluding with a bow where one puts their forehead to the floor. This is typically done three times and all the Bhutanese are in their traditional dress.

Truly a cultural overload and a site that cannot be missed, the hike up only makes the place more magical and surreal.

Butter Lamps

As we hiked up the trail there were many places that had been marked as significant points of interest. One of these was a place on the mountainside where the tigress Guru Riponoche was riding stopped and left her impressions in the rock. Here one could light a butter lamp and say a prayer for good luck. Below is a picture of the tigress's eye print. (A footprint is also in the rock, but set too far back for me to get a decent picture.) After lighting the candle, a monk pours lavender holy water into your palm. The tradition is to drink half of it and the other half is poured/patted on top of your head.

More From the Hike

Bits of Buddhism Along the Way

These little sculptures are found in caves and crevices along the trail. They are typically made from flour, water and ashes of the dead after they are cremated by the family of the one who has passed. They are left out to dry after being molded, then painted. For superstitious reasons they are placed away from the family home.

These are more prayer flags, obviously worn by the gusty winds of the Himalayan mountains. This type of prayer flag is known as lungdhar and are placed for good luck, protection from an illness, or fulfillment of a personal goal. They commonly have a name written on them. When to hang them and how many to hang is determined by a minister at the annual religious ceremony of the household. The monastery can be seen in background.


One of my favorite shots so far, this picture captures three examples of buddhist tradition. The first being traditional prayer flags, next a six foot prayer wheel, and finally Tibetan prayer flags in the background.

A painting of Guru Riponoche, the man who is said to have ridden the tigress to this mountain for meditation. (see the post on Taktshang Dzong for a better explanation) Notice the prayer flags and cremation sculptures that surround this illustration. This was painted on one of the caves along the way to the monastery.

The Hike to Taktshang Dzong

Early Sunday morning Yangchi & Dechen arrived at my hotel to pick me up for the trek to Taktshang Dzong. The monastery is located in Paro and it would take us just over an hour to drive there. On the way we picked up Jan and Ute as well. This monastery is considered one of the holiest destinations for a pilgrimage in the Buddhist religion. The hike up took two and a half hours and went from 7480 feet above sea level to 10300 feet. This first picture is taken at a large prayer wheel halfway up the walk. If you look in the mountains behind the woman, the monastery is barely visible. The white spots on the gray landscape... thats our destination.


The trail on the way up is rocky and almost vertical the entire way. We were surrounded by evergreen forests filled with birds who chirped constantly as if rooting the hikers on. Prayer flags are seen everywhere, strung over bridges, between trees and on poles 11 feet high. Once we reached the chasm of the first mountain, we found stairs leading down the mountainside, across the waterfall, and back up the the monastery. Stacks of rocks lined the stairway as another symbol of prayers and wishes of those who have come before.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Quick Who's Who

Just a few tid-bits so everyone knows who I am referring to in the posts and how they fit in this tale. I will update this as I meet more people.

Yangchi - Assistant to the Communications Director at WWF Bhutan. She has been my "tour guide" so far  and we are about the same age. She was born in India to Bhutanese parents and returned only 3 years ago to work in Bhutan.

Dechen - Assistant Programs Officer. She is a good friend of Yangchi's and their biographies are identical.

Jan  - One of two consultants working with WWF Bhutan. He is originally from Kansas, but has two sisters that live in Tualatin, Oregon (small world!). He has been living here for almost a year with his wife Ute. They are field researchers both working towards PhD's. Their next stop is Laos, after a quick stop home.

Ute - One of two consultants working with WWF Bhutan. She is originally from Germany, but has been working in the field for over two years. She has been to Poland, the UK, South Africa and the US.

Subash - Deputy Director of the Eastern Himalayas Eco-Region for WWF US.

Pema - WWF Bhutan driver

Tshering - WWF Bhutan Finance and Accounts Manager

DS Rai - Chief Forestry Officer for Wangchuck Centennial Park (my boss)

Mano - DS Rai's eldest son (23)

Baddham - DS Rai's younger son (19)

Cheten - works in His Majesty's Wellness Office and has offered to take me to see sights in Bumthang (no longer will be seeing him)

Kinga - forester for WCP. My guide and new friend for the Bumthang Valley

Gyaltsen - Kinga's best friend and also our taxi driver for all the excursions

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Around the Camp Fire

Videos of chants

Sitting around a campfire in Bhutan was remarkably similar to a campfire in America. Songs, chants, jokes and stories were told for hours. The link above will show a few of the chants and dances the Bhutanese traditionally do at different celebrations. There were many more they performed, but some I got up and participated in so I have no video. This night did give me two memorable stories to tell though.

As mentioned in the prior post, Kinjay had brought out plenty of alcohol for everyone to enjoy. After awhile they began asking the Americans (Jan & myself) to perform some traditional American songs or dances. Jan was brave and told a few jokes and did some swing dancing with Ute. I had no idea what to do. Phruba (a Program Officer for WWF Bhutan) decided I needed to feel a little more "at home" and announced he would sing one of his favorite American songs. Now I was expecting some lullaby or a little ditty he may have picked up along the way, but nothing prepared me for his performance. Phurba is a jovial, round man, probably in his late 30's. He stood up on the stage and proceeded to rap every verse of Ice, Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice... complete with "rapper moves." I thought I was going to fall out of my chair I was laughing so hard. One of the other guides now continues to hum the melody whenever we gather or he walks by. This was definitely not something I will forget!

After Phurba's performance I was called on again to finally add some American input. I had no idea what to do, but then inspiration struck. I was thinking back to the last few camp outs I had gone on.. trying to think of something easy. Then it hit me... it is Thanksgiving, I am a Hanlon, why not pull from that volume of traditions? I grabbed about six of my Bhutanese friends and they all now can do the Hokey Pokey! So not only did I get to create a great memory in the middle of the Himalayan mountains, but I got a little family tradition of my own on Thanksgiving!

Over Night with WWF Bhutan

The majority of the WWF Bhutan office set out for an overnight adventure in the Royal Botanical Park on Wednesday afternoon. The drive took about 2.5 hours along a winding mountain road. At the top of the peaks sits a monastery known as Dochula. Dochula was erected in 2003 as a gift to the gods to help protect the Bhutanese Royal Army when they flushed out militant members of an Indian group hiding in the forests. The main monastery is surrounded by 108 chortels to enhance the protective powers. We stopped here & were greeted by a bonfire, tea & biscuits. There is nothing like sitting on a mountaintop, surrounded by evergreen forests, sipping tea & reflecting on the tranquil powers of Buddhism. 

We arrived at the Park 45 minutes later & the rangers quickly set-up camp.  Shortly after arrival the Country Representative (the head of the office, Kinjay) brought out oro &Johnnie Walker whiskey. Oro is a local drink they refer to as “wine” but is really more like 80 proof moonshine. It is typically served heated, occasionally with an egg poached in it. Kinjay had prepared this batch himself & included coricepts in it.  Coricepts are a mealworm like creature that gets impregnated with a fungus that eventually kills it & grows into a vegetable protuberance. It is highly revered & very expensive as it is used in traditional Chinese & Bhutanese “medicines.”  They were added just for us (Jan, Ute & myself), so we had to try it.  I figured my mouth was still tingling from all the chilies we had for dinner.. why not go for the whole Bhutanese experience!

Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is a method used to identify species & individuals in a certain location. For our purposes, we were just using the cameras for one night to see if we could identify any specific species within The Royal Botanical Park in Lanpherli.  They are commonly used in one-month periods or longer, then rotated to cover more area & the home ranges of carnivores. The locals at WWF Bhutan had never set-up the cameras so Jan & Ute decided to take them out to show them how it all works.

The cameras are in plastic housings that are made to look like a tree. When an animal passes in front of the infared beam it triggers the camera to fire. It will only go off every 30 seconds so it won’t take multiple shots of the same animal.  We set four traps, but only one camera caught any wildlife: a muntjac (barking deer) & blood pheasant. 

Mini-Adventure & Happy Thanksgiving

After working a shortened day, all of WWF Bhutan is heading out for an overnight in the field to get some hands-on experience. Though most have no scientific background at all, it is good for them to see how the information in the reports is gathered and to have a basic understanding of surveying. There are supposed to be plenty of birds and ungulates to photograph.. I can't wait!

Today it is Thanksgiving back home, obviously not a holiday celebrated in Bhutan. The list of things I have to be thankful for is never-ending. I know how lucky I am to have a large family who supports me in all that I do, a great set of friends to keep me grounded and sane, and the chance to be living my dream. So on this day, when Americans join together to remember how blessed they truly are, I too remember how fortunate I am. Love you all!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prayer Wheels & Prayer Flags

The Buddhist religion runs very strong through every aspect of Bhutanese society. Every day people set aside time to visit a monastery or turn prayer wheels. These wheels can be found in most courtyards housed in buildings such as the one shown in the picture on the right. They  are to be turned clockwise and always an odd number of times (the most common being 3, the most auspicious being 108). At monasteries or places of high religious importance the prayer wheels can be over 6 feet in height with chimes attached. It is as these places where it is common to find men, women and children gathered for hours mumbling prayers to Buddha and other deities.

Prayer flags permeate towns and can be found in clusters on hillsides, hanging from bridges or roofs, and on tall poles in front of homes, buildings or playing fields. These are blessed by ministers on special occasions and placed to attract good luck, ward off evil spirits, bless the dead or pray for a healthy harvest. The writing and pictures on the flags varies depending on the reason for the placement and reinforce the prayer wish.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Snapshots of Bhutanese Culture

Meet a Takin Herd

One of the most interesting parts of Bhutanese culture are the intense followings of superstitions & religion. I got to see firsthand one of the most revered & storied creatures in this Asian country. There is a preserve just north of Thimphu setup & founded by the WWF hoping to insure the survival of this "threatened" species.

Their national animal is a takin & it is unlike any animal I have seen. A strange cross between a yak & goat, its docile nature & calm disposition make it an animal fitting for such a culture. So strange of a creature it in fact cannot be closely related to any other animal on the planet. So different it has its own genus & species classification. The takin is almost entirely endemic to Bhutan.

This only helps to add to the stories of its creation. The most common concerns the Divine Madman. It is believed that while he was visiting a small village they asked him to perform a miracle. First he said he needed to be fed & the villagers brought him a yak & goat. Once he was finished, he took the skull of the yak & placed it on the body of the goat. It instantly sprang to life & began grazing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bhutan's Beauty

I woke up on Friday morning ready to get moving on the next part of my adventure. India was an astounding place with plenty to see and experience, but I knew my big adventure was awaiting me in Bhutan. Though I was running late for the plane, my hostel manager assured me it would not be a problem.. he was right. Despite the traffic jams that seem to be never ending on Delhi's main roads, I arrived with plenty of time.

DrukAir operates on more of a "we-will-takeoff-when-we-are-ready" philosophy anyway. The amount of luggage I was bringing was also a concern due to the websites strict 20kg only policy. But a small fee was assessed and all my baggage hitched a ride to Bhutan.

That airplane ride was like nothing I have ever experienced. Never before I have I not wanted a plane to land. Turbulence was a problem, but the views were stunning. Once we flew out of India and over Nepal the smog dispersed, clouds parted, and the most majestic mountain landscape came into view. Snow-capped mountain tops peeked through low lying mist, evergreen trees covered every possible surface, and the only sign of human life was the prayer flags that dotted the hillside. We cruised over the Himalayas and the enormity of Mt. Everest was heart-stopping.

As we began our descent more examples of human inhabitants came into focus. Whipping prayer flags, ornate buildings that appeared to be carved into the mountainside, leveled rice fields and roads with more camels than cars were our first introduction to Bhutan. The tin roofs were covered in drying green and red chilies.. something I have come to learn this region is famous for. As the plane touched down on a short runway, I couldn't help but notice the fact we had literally landed in a canyon. Steep mountainsides rose up from the North and South. We disembarked directly onto the tarmac and were greeted by Bhutanese officials dressed in ghos and keras (their traditional costume).

The feeling of peace and serenity permeates this country.. and I can't help but to feel it wash over me. Standing on the tarmac in what may be the world's most beautiful country, it finally hit me that I was here, starting a new adventure, writing the next chapter of my life and it was destined to be an amazing one.

Injuries & Oops - Running Tally

We all know it just wouldn't be me if I hadn't managed to do something off kilter...

11.18.2009 - Turn to laugh at joke from colleague & walk into a low street sign. Homeless kids thought it was hysterical, my forehead didn't

11.19.2009 - Slip & fall down set of marble stairs in the hostel. Lovely pair of bruises on my ankle & thigh

11.20.2009 - Drop passport out of my pocket & leave on airplane. Was safely recovered

Land of the Thunder Dragon

I have safely made it to Bhutan where I will spend my next 123 days. My first 12 are in Thimphu getting acquainted & working out of the main office. We work 9-5, Monday through Friday & my colleagues want to make sure I see as much of their country as possible. No doubt I will be busy, but each night I will be able to edit more photos & post more stories.. I already have so many to tell!

After that it's off to a different part of Bhutan than originally thought, much farther north. But on the plus side, photography is going to play a much bigger role in my assignment. No complaints here! Until the next post..

Miss you all!

A Promise For More

**Posts will be put up by day they were experienced, not necessarily the day they are posted**

I can't tell you the amazing things I have seen in the last 48 hours! I'm trying to keep a journal every night so I don't forget a thing! I will blog all about it when I have a chance to sit & put my thoughts into coherent sentences. (Yesterday started at 5:00am & I didn't get back to the hostel until after midnight).

My time in India has come to an end, but this morning I leave for Bhutan & my placement with the WWF. Miss you all! Will post more soon! I can't wait to show you the pictures!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Akbar the Great's Mausoleum

Akbar the Great was one of the great Mughal Emperors. He had a love for animals & his mausoleum has become a safe haven for many different species.

See!! I Really Went!!

Red Faced Macaques

These are the friendly little guys that loved the camera at Agra Fort. The fort was stunning & these monkeys only added to the charm!

Agra Fort