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Hike to Cheri, The Long Trip Home
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All images copyright to Kimberlee Adolph

Monday, December 28, 2009

To A Great Weekend

The Nomads' Festival ran from December 26th-28th at the future site of the head quarters for Wangchuck Centennial Park. There were 90 nomads gathered from 8 different dzongkhags (disttricts). Some traveled for 7 days on foot through the Himalayas to reach the grounds. Goods, wares, and food were packed over the distance with the assistance of Yaks.

It was an amazing thing to be able to witness, contribute to, and take part in. I decided to dive in and take in everything that was offered. I tried many different kinds of Bhutanese dishes, joined in some dances around the campfire, made an honorary Bhutanese by the boss, and even rode a yak!

In these few photos I am posing with some of the nomads who made the journey. The women are from Laya in the Gasa dzongkhags and were the ones who traveled the farthest. The group of men I am standing with are from the Brokpa tribe. The youngman directly to my left was the winner of the wrestling tournament and one of the largest Bhutanese there.

The weekend was exhausting, quite cold, and my throat is still sore from breathing in campfire smoke for the majority of the last three days. I was able to make some new friends, share in the fun with old ones (Jan and Ute), and create amazing memories. All in all, the festival was a monumental success and achieved what it set out to ... "Celebrate the richness of mountain nature and culture."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Handmade Goods

Festival Day 2

The second day of the Nomads’ Festival began much different from the first… from the very beginning I had a problem to solve. DS Rai and his sons had stayed at the site in tents the night before. Though I had arranged to get a ride back to Dekiling Saturday evening with his wife, the cold and my tiredness chased me from the mountain earlier. This also took away my ability to arrange a pick-up the next morning with the park driver… bad foresight on my part. Add to that the fact I was to bring a bag of my things to stay overnight and I had quite the conundrum.

We had picked up a hitchhiker or two on the many trips to the heart of Wangchuck Centennial Park and I figured a white person trekking on the dirt path would grab someone’s attention. So finding the inner adventurer that had had the nerve to hitch a ride through Uganda, I grabbed my full pack and began the walk. If, for some reason, I wasn’t able to get a ride, the walk was about 20 miles and I would make it by lunch. Lucky for me I was only about 35 minutes into the trip before some tourists happened by and picked me up. Rob and Nikola turned out to be from Australia and New Zealand and were working for various aspects of social government in Thimphu. (I was able to return the favor of the ride by fixing Rob’s camera, which someone had set to strange settings and were accounting for the odd results he was getting.)

Sunday was more of the same when it came to the program for the festival. More games were played, a local won a weight lifting competition, a pillow fight battle raged for an hour (see the photos), and dancers kept up the performances with an amazing energy. Though Jan and Ute did not return for day 2, many others I had met greeted me and I enjoyed pleasant conversations.

It happened, however, that this would be the day I spent the majority of my time with Baddham, Mano, Robin and Michele. They appeared as interested in me as I was in their culture. Through them I was able to navigate through the food stalls and procure my first (and probably last) ride on a yak. It took awhile for me to warm up to them and more than once it was commented that I was the quietest American any of them had come across. They made sure there was never a dull moment in the day and Baddham wasn’t phased by my incessant questioning of the day-to-day life in Bhutan.

That evening I stayed and watched the night program as many individuals made their way to the stage to perform. Baddham and DS Rai were among the few to brave the mic and I was quite surprised at how well they performed. Towards the end of the evening, even the Chief Guests gathered for a few songs with the nomads. Upon closing the entire group (myself included) danced and chanted around a huge campfire. It became clear that though Baddham was the singer of the family, Mano was the dancer. Try as they might to lead me in dances, I was relieved when Baddham was the first to come with me to the sidelines.

From there we went to a more private setting, where only about 10 people gathered around a smaller fire to share stories and drinks. It was here I learned that I would not be able to stay overnight at the home-stay since it was quite late. After a problem with a truck engine, a shifting of cars, and a long drive home… I fell into bed around 3:45am.  

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Opening & Day 1 of the Festival

The first day of the Nomads’ Festival was an early one for me. DS Rai said he wanted to leave the office no later than 5:15am. The opening ceremonies started at 8:30 and there were still some preparations to be made, not to mention it is about an hour drive. Luck happened to have this festival fall on the 26th so my early wake up was more enjoyable by a Christmas call from the family back home (though they did have to interrupt Star Trek in HD).

I packed up my camera, put on 5 layers of clothes, and set out into the early morning darkness for the walk to the office. I was a little worried since I was a few minutes behind schedule, but relieved when no one was there when I arrived at 5:08. That relief slowly dwindled away as I saw 5:30 come and go. Then 5:45 came and there was no sign of any one at the office. Just as I was about to call DS Rai a red truck pulled up at 5:52 and the driver told me to come quick. Getting in his car I saw the temperature outside read -14*C (just about 7*F); I had been outside the entire time.

About 15 minutes later I was squeezed in the back of a different truck and heading up to the site with DS Rai, one of his sons, and two of his friends. When we arrived I was completely amazed at everything that had been constructed in the past two weeks! I had just visited 13 days ago and there was nothing! Now fences, stalls, tents, and prayer flags covered the main grounds of Wangchuck Centennial Park. (All of these were made from bamboo or local logs and could be easily removed and recycled after the festival.) I was left to my own devices to wander the area until the opening procession. My eye was caught by the horses and yaks with colored rags braided into their hair and bells around their necks. 

Nomads’ were first in the processional line, each playing their own instrument in welcoming. Directly behind them was the Chief Guest, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho. Members of Parliament, local government officials, Lamas from surrounding monasteries, and other invited guests brought up the rear of the parade. 

After many speeches, the Chief Guest cut the opening day ribbon from the stalls and proceeded to greet every group and spend a few minutes inspecting their goods. As he went around I stood on the other side of the flag boundary taking photos. Many reporters called his name and were asking questions. So you understand my amazement when, after snapping his photo and lowering my camera, he looked at me and said, “You must be Kim.” DS Rai was directly behind him and his eyes were bigger than mine. The Minister and I shook hands and exchanged some greetings and I’m sure a few other words, but I was to amazed to comprehend them. He said he heard I was here helping his country, in his department, and if there was anything I needed, he should be the first to know. On he went to the next stall and I got a nod of approval from my boss.

Saturday continued with cultural dances, traditional wrestling, khuru tournaments and overall celebration; following posts will elaborate more. I was lucky enough to have DS Rai’s sons to help guide me along the way and more will come on them also. Jan and Ute did make it for the day and brought me a Christmas treat of chocolate! The evening was spent with some people I met who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture around a brokhuri sipping ara, water or beer and having song wars. They told stories, jokes, asked me questions and welcomed me into their group. It astonishes me how hospitable and friendly these people all are. My favorite moments of that day were those spent living in the moment with the Bhutanese, feeling completely content and apart of their lives.

Faces of the Festival

 I have been struggling with the best way to write and post about the festival. To write out each day’s events in one post would be incredibly long and I fear some details would be missed, but to space out each thing in its own section would make for many short posts and not a cohesive unit. So I have compromised and decided that a post on the big events of each day overall will suffice and the topics I want to give more detail to will have their own post. I hope this makes sense in the end! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lesson #1

I was in the office Tuesday morning checking through emails and catching up with family when DS Rai said he had some people he wanted me to meet. He had mentioned previously his sons were coming to town as they were on break from their studies. I was right! Both of his sons (college age) and two of their classmates had arrived and were anxious to help with the Festival.

Banners were going up, brochures were at the printer and the formal invites had been sent out. They approached me with an idea they had about making formal "badges" for the Festival. I had noticed that people of importantce wear buttons at each event and had been hoping we would be designing one as well. DS Rai told me they had designed the entire thing but weren't sure how to get it to print.

At first, I was honestly a little let down. I was hoping I would be able to create this and already had some ideas. The boys showed me their file and it looked pretty good. There were a few things they couldn't quite figure out so I helped make the adjustments, gave a few suggestions and the badge was created. They were so excited and quite thankful it was so easy to get done.

After they were gone it hit me. I'm going to be leaving here in March, most likely never to come back to Bhutan. Our mission for this park is to get the community involved and excited about conservation. If these boys, from Bumthang get an attachment to this festival and therefore this park, they can keep it going once those of us here to get it started have moved on. Not only did I feel silly and embarassed for feeling letdown about not being able to design this small element, I felt lucky to have helped the local people take something they had as an idea and to turn into product. It may be something small, but it has the power to make a huge impact.

Epiphany #1: I'm not on this journey to leave my mark on Bhutan. I'm on this journey to help Bhutan leave its mark on those who come after me... and most likely, let it leave its mark on me.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just So You Know..

Just wanted to make it known, I will be out of the office pretty much until next Monday, the 28th. We have the festival this weekend so you won't see any posts from me until then. No worries... I am perfectly fine! Merry Christmas to you all! I love you!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Out & About

I had already decided earlier in the week that I wanted to walk to Wangdichholing Dzong. It was listed in the

Lonely Planet Guide as one of the places to see in Bumthang. However, I overestimated the time it would take to walk there and what was supposed to take a few hours took just over one. I wandered around a bit and found the 19th century palace had long been neglected. I was a little disappointed in my self-planned adventure and wanted to do more with my day.

As I turned to head back up to the main road I noticed the Jakar Dzong (built in the 16th century) up on a hill overlooking the valley. I checked my guidebook to make sure it was open to visitors (some are not) and headed that way. It was quite rewarding when I got to the top (256 stairs later) as the main courtyard overlooked the entirety of Chokhor Valley. I walked around for a bit and heard children laughing. Following the sounds through some creaking wooden doors, I came upon young monks playing soccer in one of the courtyards. Most of the dzongs are now used as schools for those pursuing a career in the religion, as well as local government offices.

I took the opposite staircase down to the main part of town because I wasn't quite ready to head home just yet. I hadn't been down to the river so I made my way there and stopped for a snack (an apple, wheat crackers and water).

Some WWF staff in Thimphu had told me there was a Swiss farm in Bumthang and they usually had an assortment of fresh goods for purchase. Well, I found the place and was rewarded with the lovely fresh gouda I am currently nibbling on.. with cut apples of course!

After I came home I discovered I had walked about 10 miles, but I still have no idea the change in elevations. Another sunny Saturday well spent! Now only if we could get this power thing worked out... the winds are wreaking havoc on the lines!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What A Culture..

After I took my seat in the tent some women appeared and offered all of us tea. I wasn't surprised by this since it appeared we were with some very important people. But then they brought us rice, another round of tea with a biscuit, some 7up, and finally more tea. All evenly spaced throughout the event and it was quite a surprise.

It did feel a little self-indulgent to be sitting in a covered tent, snacking on treats with hundreds of people in front of us on the dirt and recieving nothing. There was no need to worry. Men walked through the crowd and began creating aisles between the audience members. Soon huge baskets of rice and buckets of vegetable damaste appeared. I (along with my new English buddy) was amazed that they were going to feed all these people.. and at no cost. My next thought was more practical.. what will they serve it on? Our selections had come on paper plates, but there were only 20 of us. The audience was prepared and from the pockets in the ghos and kheras bowls materialized in front of every family. We just watched as volunteers walked down each row spooning rice and vegetables into every bowl.

Not a single person went hungry.

A National Holiday!

I woke up this morning thinking today would be just another day.. crossing my fingers D.S. Rai and the internet would make a triumphant return to the office. Imagine my dismay when I arrived to find the doors locked and no one in the building. Since the arrival of the new Administrative Assistant, this hadn't been happening. Around 9:15
one of the rangers drove by on his motorcycle and noticed me outside the building. Apparently today is a National Holiday in Bhutan; the anniversary of the First King Wangchuck's birth.

I assumed this meant the same thing here as it did back home. All government offices closed, most businesses closed, and every one enjoying a mid-week day off. This all was true, but there was also a huge celebration taking place in the market and I was late to the party! I ran to the apartment, grabbed my camera and jumped on the back of his motorcycle. Upon my arrival I found what had to be the entire town gathered in the market place. Every one wasdressed in kheras (women) or ghos (men). Have you ever walked into a gathering and felt like the entire place stoppedand turned to look at you? I'm sure some still paid attention to the procession and speech, but it sure didn't feel like it!

I had milled around for 30 minutes or so hoping to spot some one from WWF when a government aide appeared at my side, accompanied with a member of the Royal Bhutan Army. He asked me if I was with a tour guide. I said no and that answer surprised him. After I explained to them my reason for being here, they told me I was an invited guest and please join them in the tent. Since I was about 5 people deep from the circle of the events I figured I would follow their lead. I ended up in a tent directly next to the main stage, seated in the front row, with local and national government officials. I met the governor of the city, some of the parliament, the head monks of the local dzong, and the only other white face I had seen since my arrival in Bumthang. She was also a solo traveler, but her guide had arranged her spot.

From here we watched as local schools performed dances and songs, a mask dance, and the final farewell chant. OH, and we met the Princess of Bhutan. All in all.. not the ordinary day I was expecting.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Making It Work

Plenty of distractions and mishaps in the office have given me ample to time to catch up on some journaling and recounting some of my prior adventures. While this had been the plan all along (to write it all down when there was down time), re-reading Gorillas in the Mist and having Dian Fossey again tell me "its always best to write notes the evening of the day they happened, otherwise they become stale" inspired me to do even more catch-up work. Read when you can.. some days have been sensational!

So far this week has been a complete loss (work-wise) for a few factors. The major one being D.S. Rai is in Thimphu handling "paperwork business" for the festival as well as the fallout from the Himalayan Black Bear incident. Last report was that the bear had moved on to a new range and the cattle were once again safe (no, I do not know if a protective ritual was performed over the weekend or not). Monday wasn't helped by a lack of internet connection which held my assignment email hostage. Good thing there are plenty of books to read at the Head Quarters! Tuesday was even worse as it started with a glimmer of hope. When I arrived in the office the internet was up and running! It held out long enough for me to get to the inbox before the power went out at promptly 9:23am. No power = no computer = no internet  and more importantly = NO HEAT!

After staving off completely freezing by jogs up and down the street, I speed-walked home at 4 only to find no electricity there either. That was going to make for one very long, very cold night. In the last few days
the breeze coming down off the glaciers had picked up and at last report we were at an air temperature of 16
degrees.. not factoring in the windchill of course. So I boiled some water, filled the thermos with tea, put
on 3 layers of every type of clothing, gloves, a beanie and hunkered down under the sleeping bag and blankets. (I couldn't help but wonder if this was the deities way of laughing at me.. just the night before I had mentioned to Mom and Dad how I was beginning to get acclimated to the cold and didn't need nearly as many layers as before!)

Power was restored around 6 and the room is beginning to get the chill out. I don't even see my breath anymore!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

End of Week One

I am just completing my first week in Bumthang and am finding the weekend a welcome respite. The week was filled with anticipation and energy from multiple fronts. Subash and Tshering left for Thimphu on Tuesday making a few more stops for WWF US. I was finally able to get some assignments completed and am happy to report they are currently at the printer in Thimphu. Under D.S. Rai?s guidance I designed the official program/flyer and invitation for the First Annual Nomads? Festival.

The Prime Minister has reported he will be attending and official invites will be going out to 140 other guests. We are also expecting groups of tourists from China, Japan and Bali. The draw for this festival is the unprecedented opportunity to view dances, sample foods, and witness competitions between 11 nomadic groups from 8 different dzongkhags (districts). These groups are all nomadic herders from the highlands of the Bhutanese Himalayas. The festival is the first big celebration for Wangchuck Centennial Park and, if successful, will be a huge tourist draw in the future. Attracting visitors to the park will bring much needed money to the locals and help WWF fund more projects. Because the Department of Forestry and WWF are working together on this initiative, the environment and the species it houses are the first priority.

Our week was thrown a curveball when a Himalayan Black Bear wandered into a nearby village (within the park) and decided two heads of cattle would be the easiest meal before going into hibernation next month. The call came in late Wednesday night and all the rangers were dispatched to help the villagers remove the bear from the area. It became apparent this did not work when more animals were found dead, with the number rising to 8 by Saturday evening. The next step is to find the bear before the villagers do and sedate it so it came be moved further away from the village. (The village council will likely also call an astrologer to determine which protective deity has been upset and a religious ceremony will be performed).

If each week is this eventful and busy I am in for quite a ride!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The New Girl in Town

I made the trek down to the main market on Saturday morning and got plenty of second glances along the way. It took about 40 minutes to get there and I passed three different villages. Each one had little kids who were anxious to practice their English. It seemed each one wanted their chance to say ?Hello!?, ?How are you??, ?Where are you from?? or ?What is your name??. They all have happy, inquisitive and smiling faces. I have found that their stature makes them appear much younger than they actually are. Some even hang their heads out the windows of their car to wave and shout a greeting.

Saturday evening D.S. Rai sent his driver for me to join them at the celebratory dinner for the graduates if the first hospitality training in Bumthang. Twelve girls were selected from villages within WCP and trained in the art of hotel/farm house management. The Department of Forestry and the Tourism Council of Bhutan coordinated the three-month course. These girls will be hosting many of the guests for the Nomads? Festival in their homes with their families.

It was the first time I got to sit and talk to D.S. Rai outside of work and we were able to learn a little bit more about each other and our backgrounds. He now knows how anxious I am to get into the field and I have a strong feeling he will make it happen. The dinner concluded with the graduates performing some dances and D.S. Rai explained them to me in detail. Some I had seen at the campfire, but others were knew. I had so many questions and was enthralled by them to the point I think he could see it on my face because he said, ?You?re going to love the Festival!?

Can?t wait!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Food Situation

I came to Bumthang under the impression most food items were going to be difficult to get. I stocked up on pasta and have a giant bag of rice, purchased more oil, soy sauce and oyster sauce than I ever thought I would need, and resigned myself to a life of bland foods... well three months at least.

Upon my arrival I found that there is a veritable pantheon of vegetables and fruits available, you just have to get to the market. Granted it's only a 10 minute drive, but I am carless so a brisk 30 minute walk there and back is in the cards. I will be happy for the extra exercise and really don't have much to do on Saturdays anyway. Food experimentation will be fun!

Meat is available for purchase here, but there is a bit of a catch. Buddhist do not believe in taking the life of another living thing and therefore will not kill anything for food. They will, however, eat something another has killed. Since 97% of the country is Buddhist, this does pose a problem. Most meat is butchered in India and then transported to Bhutan. In Thimphu or Paro this isn't a big deal since they are the "major" cities. Meat butchered and prepared for Bumthang can take almost a week to get here which would be fine, but refrigeration is not a guarantee and more often than not, the objection rather than the rule. I don't really need to risk a food borne illness, so being a vegetarian is the route I am taking, (Eggs don't fall under this Buddhist mantra so I will have those for breakfast!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Humble Abode

I created this lovely video tour of my apartment, but technical difficulties have kept it in the editing room so
I have settled for a written version (but if you're interested check back because I am determined to get that
video up one way or another!)

Upon our arrival in Bumthang on Sunday evening, I discovered I still had no place to live. The original site had been chosen by people not from the area and when the Rangers went to get the keys, they deemed it unacceptable. Apparently it was way too big, quite far from work, and haunted. (Yes, haunted). That idea was scrapped and after an all day scramble, they found me a new place to settle down. Located in Dekiling village in Bumthang, I have a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom, second-story apartment... it rents for $76 a month.

This is not like an apartment back in America. While it is quite large, it has no heat, no insulation, no hot water, no closets, and the kitchen's furnishings begin and end with some shelves. We had to bring in a table to set my glorified camp stove on. I have a propane tank connected to the stove and pretty much live off pasta, rice, eggs, assorted vegetables, and fruits.

Of the two bathrooms, only one has a functioning toilet so the other has been deemed the "laundry room." There isn't a mirror (which may be a blessing in disguise) and the "shower" is a set of knobs that stick out from the cement wall at waist level. Washing my hair is a chore and involves boiling 3 liters of water, pouring it in a bucket, adding cold water and lathering up from there; bathing occurs in the same fashion. Laundry is done a similar manner and by hand, one item at a time. I have clotheslines outside but the wind lately has scattered clothing up and down the street so I just drape wet clothes over the many doors and they drip dry... eventually.

My bedroom is where I spend the majority of my time when home. My heat source is a 3 foot tall rectangular unit that plugs into the wall and heats the room well enough. Initially the bed that was brought was only 5' 6'' long since it was for a female and here they barely hit 5'. That had to be removed and now I sleep one a wood plank bed that is 6 feet long. On top of that is a 3 inch foam matress, a sheet, my sleeping bag (complete with liner) and two heavy blankets. Thats all that is in the room. My clothes are laid out on the floor on the extra mat and sheets brought for camping.

Being on the second story gives me added security and there is only one set of very steep and narrow stairs that lead to my front door. The landlord lives on the floor above me with his wife and 5 daughters. I am lucky that he speaks English and is working on getting me a brokhuri (type of wood stove) to help with the heat. So far I am making it okay and have had no major problems. It takes a little getting used to but I am getting there. Besides, I just have to look out my windows to be reminded to the best feature.. the view.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Made It!

I have made it to Bumthang! We went over mountains, into valleys, hiked in marshes, and crossed many rivers (or it may have been one river many times?). The 361km drive is done and I am finally in the “town” where I will be doing the bulk of the work. I am putting up a few pictures as a sampling of the amazing stops we made and promise to post the stories behind them later this week (but yes, those are black-necked cranes, one of the most rare and endangered animals on the planet! Wait until you get the story behind that picture! )

It is quite cold, a thin layer of frost covers some plants but the sun is shining and it is dry. Tonight I will be staying a hotel since we arrive at 4:30pm on Sunday and there won’t be enough light left to get me moved into the house where I will be living.

I am here with a WWF Bhutan driver as well as the Deputy Director of the Eastern Himalays Eco-Region for the WWF USA and his wife. Tomorrow morning we will all head over to WCP headquarters and meet with D.S. Rai. He is the MoA manager for the park and the person I will be working closest with for the next few months. Then the other three will head back to Thimphu and the real fun starts!

Black-Necked Cranes

We decided on an early start because it was going to take about ninety minutes to get from Kitchu Resort to Phobjika. Bhutan is the wintering home to about 300 black-necked cranes. They travel down to the valley of Phobjika from Tibet starting in late October and remain here until mid-February. Since most of the nomadic tribes in the area move to warmer parts of the country, the birds have found a fairly deserted place to nest. Due to habitat encroachment, the cranes are considered highly endangered and are one of the rarest animals on the planet at one point numbering only 800 in existence. They are so reclusive that they were the last of the crane species to be discovered.

Morning and dusk tend to be the best times to see the nesting black-necked cranes. We arrived right on schedule but under a thick fog cover as winter continues to roll in. Not to be discourage we drove to the Information Center WWF Bhutan has established. Here we learned more about the cranes, spoke to the surveyors who maintain the individual counts and we were able to see some cranes feeding out in the marshes. The fog slowly began to lift and we walked down to a local hotel for a cup of tea and biscuits. On our way back we made one last stop at the Information Center and used their spotting scopes to see a little further out and catch a few more glimpses of the cranes.

Cranes are different from most birds in that they don't travel in flocks. They move in family groups ranging from three to ten and mate for life. Subash and I were disappointed we hadn't been able to get any good pictures of the birds, but just seeing them is an amazing experience. On our way out we passed more marshland and the road rose higher out of the valley. Pema spotted a family black-necked cranes among some grazing cattle. There were two adults and one juvenile, a young family.

As soon as the car stopped, Subash and I couldn't get out of the car fast enough. (He had mentioned his new found interest in photography and really wanted some great shots to take back to the US). We snapped away, but the birds were still distant and began moving being a small grove of conifers. He looked at me and said, "I want to get more pictures, but I don't think we can get down there". After confirming with Tshering and Pema it was okay to head down into the marsh I told Sbash we were heading down!

So down the hill we went, passed grazing cows, under thorny scrub brush, and ankle deep in marsh mud. I ended up much muddier than he did, but it was worth it. Around one bend and the birds were within 30 yards. We stood there, firing away, pausing to take a breath and realize what we were seeing. How funny it was to be up to my mid-calf in mud, being cold enough I could see my breath, and still feeling completely content capturing this rare sight.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Punakha Dzong

Originally my trip to Bumthang was going to be made with D.S Rai (the Chief Forestry Officer for WCP) and completed in one day. With the pressure of the upcoming festival and other extenuating circumstances, my trip was pushed back a few days. While I first thought of this as a disappointment, it turned out to be a divine intervention of the best kind!
I was informed early Friday morning that I would be leaving for Bumthang the following morning with some higher-ups in the organization. It was then I also learned the seven-hour drive would be spread out over two days and involve a few stops along the way. Pema picked me up first at the hotel on Saturday morning and with a truck packed with everything I would need for the next three months. Our second stop was to get Tshering, the finance and account manager for WWF Bhutan, whom I had met on a few occasions. Our last stop was for the special guests. It turned out I would be spending the weekend sightseeing and chatting the Subash Lohani, the Deputy Director of the Eastern Himalayas from the WWF US, and his new bride. What luck!

Day one of the trip took us up to Dochu La, the same pass we had previously stopped at during our ride for the overnight practical. It was again shrouded in fog and quite cold. Still it is an amazingly quiet place and the newest symbol of Buddhist tradition in Bhutan. From there we drove on to a restaurant perched at the highest point on the pass for lunch. More Bhutanese cuisine that will make even the strongest mouth tingle! Casual conversation kept the ride lively (as there are only three radio stations in Bhutan) and Subash and I were able to trade stories about travels abroad, (he was born and raised in Nepal).

Our first big sightseeing spot was Punakha Dzong, the second monastery to be built in Bhutan. It differs from others in that is not constructed at a mountain peak, but rather seems to almost rise out of a river. Its base is on a small island between the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers. Since Buddhists originally built these places as fortresses, the location is ideal to provide protection. The main stairway can actually be hauled up to keep intruders out. We were able to take pictures in the main entries, but again, the temple that housed three enormous gold-plated bronze statues, was off-limits for photos.

After the tour from Tshering ended we climbed back in the truck for a short drive to Kitchu Resort in Wangdue. The rooms had balconies that extended over a river and my first night out of Thimphu came to an end there.