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

All images copyright to Kimberlee Adolph

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!