Moments after I decided to go camping, (last thursday) another couchsurfer messages me saying, “Hey, looks like you are in Bhutan for a while, wanna meet up for coffee or a drink?” He lived in Paro, which was not too far out of the way home from camping.
The following pictures are from my day in Paro before I met him. I just wandered around the town until he got off work…
So right as I started to get bored, I see this gathering… I go to investigate.
Turns out it is an archery tournament! Archery is national sport in Bhutan, and I had seen it on TV before, so I was super stoked to see the real deal.
They were aiming at this target. I’m not entirely clear, but I think it’s scored like Corn-hole, where my team only gets a point if your team failed to hit the target. (So if your team hit it twice, and mine only once- your team gets one point. )
The flags were so that the shooter could see how far off he was. Because…
The target was REALLY far away!!!! It seemed longer than a football field! And then the crazy part was, when they would switch sides, the crowd didn’t. So these guys were shooting TOWARDS us!! I thought this was just insane, but the shots were within 3 feet of the target each time. Some of their teammates would be standing about 10 feet away, just watching the arrow come in- no big deal.
After archery, I walked into Paro Dzong. The Dzong is where all the governmental activities happen. The highest Court in the area was inside, as well as the various other divisions, such as the Economic Affairs, Agriculture etc.
On the way up, I ran into these school boys, who insisted I eat an apple with them! They actually wouldn’t let me leave until I had taken an apple from each of them. They were fun.
I was not allowed into any of the offices, but the courtyard was fantastic.
Don’t even think about it.
This was the view from the Dzong. You can see the main street of the town below, as well as the farmland in Paro valley. Awesome.
Here are some pics from part 1! Enjoy!
Kelly, the couchsurfer who invited me camping.
Blue poppy or Meconopsis grandis, which grows at high altitudes of the alpine meadows of Himalayas, is the national flower of Bhutan.
Phuntshol, who came with us.
This guy was B.A. He did the whole trek in sandals, and carried twice as much weight as us. He didn’t even have a proper backpack, just a sack that he tied some rope to for shoulder straps.
Oh, and if anyone knows me, then you know how awesome I am at starting a fire. Phuntshol and I raced to light fires and he schooled me big time. However, I learned a lot of tricks about fire starting in high altitude (low oxygen), wet, windy conditions.
The view. Just over that mountain is Paro, the other city I went to that weekend. I thought about just walking there, since we were almost a third of the way there and I was going there anyway in 2 days. At our celebration dinner I was so thankful to be eating hot delicious food with good company. …And not cold, wet, tired and alone somewhere near that mountain. Good choice for sure.
This is the view from the pass- right after the clouds parted for a second.
One of the lakes up in the mountain!
Below is our campsite. Epic.
This is part one of a three part series; my long weekend away from Gedu:
Part 1. Trekking at 14,000 Feet.
Part 2. Paro: Dzong and Archery Tournament.
Part 3. Aman Kora, the most luxurious resort in Bhutan. (And how I got in free.)
Part 1. Camping at 14,000 Feet.
Over a month ago, we learned that there was another law student here in Bhutan. On Thursday, I sent her a message seeing if she was still here. She replied that she was, and invited me to go camping with her and some friends!
There was seven of us, four Americans, one from Denmark and two Bhutanses. We embarked early saturday morning for what I thought was going to be a simple camping trip… turns out it was a pretty hard hike! We slept at around 12,000 feet!
We went to a place called Phajuding, which is a monastery above Thimphu. That was three hours in (mostly straight up!), and is where we had lunch.
After that we continuted for another 2 hours to “the pass” It was at 14,000 feet, and freezing and windy. If we were smart, we would have waited 20 yards down the trail, where it wasn’t so windy, but rather we stopped right at the peak. It was lightly raining at this point, we were all freezing, and our spirits were pretty low.
BUT THEN: the clouds parted for a brief few moments and we could finally see how far we’ve come! Thimphu was so far down below us we might as well have been looking out of an airplane window!
Onwards for another hour, it felt like we were walking though a scene from “The Lord of the Rings.” We were sourounded by big dark rocks, mysterious fog, giant rocky mountians in the distance. Often the trail consisted of stepping stones placed in the middle of a water-logged path for hundreds of yeards at a time.
Finally we got to our campsite, 6,000 feet and 8 hours later. We were above the clouds, and could barely see the Himalayas in the distance. It was right next to a lake, and is up there for the most beautiful campsite I’ve ever been at. Get excited for the photos I post of the sunset… (I don’t have my camera cable now, so also get excited about all the photos I post!)
Sorry we haven’t updated in a while, but we’ve been busy taking some awesome pictures. We have plenty of new material so expect some more regular updates!
Brittany only planned on being in Bhutan for the first half of the summer, and now she is working for a Judge in Atlanta. Her flight connected through New Delhi, India, so we decided to change her layover from being 5 hours to 5 days! We stayed with fellow GIP participant Eric Garber, who was working at a corporate law firm in Delhi. After a long and sad goodbye at the airport, I stayed with Eric for another 6 days. The following are pictures from our adventures. I’m sure Brittany will update you with our Delhi experiences, including our trip to one of the 7 wonders of the world!
That weekend, Eric and I traveled to Rishikesh, a town 4 hour away from Delhi by train. Since he had to work on Friday and Monday, we left at dawn on Saturday and took the midnight train back early Sunday morning. There were barely any benches, so literally hundreds of people simply laid down on the platform. For whatever reason, no one was on platform 2, so we just walked over there and sat on a bench until our train arrived.
We rented out a top floor room with a view, and this was our view! The town was beautiful. Every teahouse and restaurant had a view like this. The Ganges ran right through the middle of the town. It was a very religious town, with a 7 story temple, and a no-alcohol policy. Luckily for us, there was a festival in town, so it was very lively.
Friday night we wandered around the streets near where Eric lives. Friday nights they transform into a bustling night-market. It was absolutely the place to be on a Friday night. This is where we bought some spices to bring home.
In Hariwar, which is where the train station was, it was customary to send a candle down the river at night. It was really pretty watching dozens of candles float down the Ganges. … And we had expected to be bored waiting for our midnight train to come. This festival lasted all night!
There were lots of Monkeys.
In Hariwar, where the candle-sending night festival was going on, the streets were super crowded, with people pushing by each other constantly. These kids thought that made for the perfect place to get tattoos! I’ve heard of street food, but never street tattoos. Aside from the sanitary problems with getting tattoos on a street corner, Eric had another point- with the busy crowd , what if someone bumped into you! These kids didn’t seem to mind, and were really excited to see Americans. They all wanted pictures with us! We hung out with them for a bit and eventually we caved and each got some sweet tattoos. (Mom, I’m just joking.)
This guy was awesome. We were caught in the rain and he brought us into his temple. He offered tea and gave us a place to sit. After some conversation (His english was about as good as our hindi- bad.) He just kept repeating, “You are…. [long pause] … my friend.” Then he would look at Eric, “You ARE… [pause again] … MY friend. This is MY temple… you ARE …welcome.” Then he was really excited to show us around the entire place. He and some others lived there. They even had a private beech on the river!
A couple of days ago we got the rare chance to visit the Tala Hydroelectric Plant and hike through the jungle to visit a remote local village all in one day! The Director of the College called us around 7:00am that morning and asked us if we wanted to visit the Tala Hydroelectric Plant. Since I only had a few days left in Bhutan we decided to blow off work for a few hours and go with the Director. Of course blowing off work was perfectly okay since the Director was the one that invited us. The Tala Hydroelectric project is very important to the tiny town that we live in. All of the buildings here in Gedu were built and previously owned by Tala during the project. In fact, the building that we live in, The Guest House, was officially handed over to the College just a week or so after we arrived! Tala still plays a huge role here! The Tala project was a joint effort between India and Bhutan and now supplies a large amount of electricity to Bhutan and India alike. The plant that we visited is a huge power house inside a mountain! It was amazing! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of the plant, but just imagine a giant power plant with six huge generators inside of a huge mountain! Very impressive engineering! You walk into the side of the mountain via a huge tunnel big enough for vehicles! We were very lucky to have to chance to go, as I do not believe that many people are allowed inside. Luckily one of the Director’s former students was working as an engineer there and was able to get us right in!
Before we went to the plant the Director’s driver Anil dropped us off near the river to meet the director. Some of the faculty and students from the College were hiking around to various local villages conducting a survey on the social impact of the Tala Hydroelectric Project. Tala is planning to instal another dam that will cause flooding in many areas. Many of these villages will be wiped out and the people will have to be relocated. The survey was done to get an estimate of what the people in the villages will lose and thus how much they will need to be compensated. The problem is that these villages are tiny farming communities located in remote parts of the jungle, accessible only by foot. The people have built their lives in these areas for generations, living off of the land and selling crops for a little extra money. If they have to be relocated they will lose not only the homes that their families have lived in forever, but also the animals and orchards that make up their livelihood.
It was truly an eye-opening and a once in a lifetime experience that we will not soon forget! To reach the village that we visited we had to hike through the jungle! It was full of plants and bugs that I have never seen before! The people in the village were so nice and even offered us lunch! We had some Maggie noodles with fresh mint from their garden! After lunch we hiked back to the road, where Anil picked us up and drove us to the power plant. By the time we made it back to Gedu later that day we were exhausted, but it was well worth it! It was one of the best days that I have had here in Bhutan! None of the tourists get a chance to do that!
This picture of The Four Friends or “Thuenpa Puen Zhi” is on a wall or building almost everywhere you turn in Bhutan. We were immediately curious, so we decided to ask about its significance. Since my rendition of the story would not be nearly as captivating or accurate as the one that was told to me, I found a version online at http://bhutanjournals.com/history-culture-tradition/buddhism/the-four-harmonious-friends/. I think that this is a wonderful story that really demonstrates an important aspect of Bhutan’s rich and beautiful Buddhist culture.
Long ago, there lived a rich man in a city named Shravasti in the country of India . Because the rich man loved the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, he built a fine temple for the Buddha and his monks. When the temple was finished, he invited them to come to live in the new temple.
The Buddha and thousands of his monks began traveling toward the new temple in Shravasti. The young monks went quickly and were soon ahead of the Buddha.
The Buddha went slowly and peacefully, teaching and helping people along the way. The senior monks Shariputra and Moggallana, who were also important Dharma teachers, traveled slowly beside the Buddha.
Night came and the only place to sleep along the road was a small town. All of the hundreds of young monks arrived there first. They prepared a nice room for the Buddha, then settled down in all of the extra rooms and beds in the town and went to sleep.
When the senior monks arrived, all the rooms and beds in the town were already filled with younger monks. There was no sleeping space inside for the senior monks, so they had to sleep outside under the trees. Even Shariputra, who was the highest of all the senior monks, had to sleep outside.
The Buddha saw that this was not right. The next morning he called all of the monks together and asked them, “Which monks deserve to get the best rooms, the best food and the best water?”
Some monks answered, “Those monks who came from a high class family should get the best things.” Others said, “Those monks who have the most money.” Others said “Those monks who are more educated.” Others said, “Those monks who have done the most meditation.” Others said, “Whoever gets there first.”
The Buddha replied, “Oh Monks and everyone who follows my teachings: listen. Seniors should always go first.” It is not good that last night Shariputra, who is the highest among the senior monks, and also the great Moggallana had to sleep outside while young monks slept inside on a bed.”
The Buddha explained, “Even animals learned long ago that by showing respect to their seniors, their daily lives would be orderly and happy. And because of the good deed of showing respect, after they die they will have a happy and higher next life.
The monks said to the Buddha, “Please tell us more about the animals,” and the Buddha told this true story of long, long ago.
Once upon a time, three animal friends lived by a large banyan tree: a bird, a monkey, and an elephant. After a while, they stopped respecting each other and began to argue a lot. “I’m first;” “No, me first;” “You got the best one;” “I want that one.” Thus it continued day and night.
The three friends knew that this wasn’t good and tried to figure out how to solve their problem. They thought that if they knew who is the oldest, they could each show respect to the older ones. But because animals don’t know their birthdays, they didn’t know who of the three was older.
Then the animals had an idea. They said to each other, “Oh friends, let’s measure our age by the size of this great banyan tree. How big was this tree when you remember it first?”
The elephant said, “I remember this tree when it was only as big as a bush. When I was a baby, I walked over it and it tickled my stomach.”
The monkey said, “I remember when the tree was even smaller. I remember when I was a baby monkey, I sat down and the leaves on the top just touched my nose. I ate the little leaves on the tiny treetop.”
The bird said, “Friends, long ago there was a great banyan tree not far from here. I ate the seeds from it, and pooped a white speck at this very spot. The seeds in that speck sprouted and grew and became a tiny tree, which has now grown into this large banyan tree. So because I knew this tree before it was born, I am older than both of you.”
The monkey and the elephant said, “Oh bird friend, now we know that you are the oldest. From now on, we will respect you, so you should go first. As you are older and wiser, please give us advice, and we will listen to you.”
Then the elephant said to the monkey, “Oh monkey friend, as you are older than I, you should go before me and I because I am the youngest I will go last.
Then because he was senior, the bird gave good advice to the monkey and the elephant. He advised them to do good things and not to do any bad things. The bird also did his best to follow his own advice.
After the three animal friends began to respect each other in this way, their daily life became peaceful and happy. They lived harmoniously together for many years. After they died, they were born again as humans in a better life.
After the story was finished, the Buddha said to the monks, “Long ago these three animal friends learned how to live together happily by respecting those who were older. From now on, you should respect those who are senior to you. Speak politely to them, listen to their advice and always give them the best rooms, best food and best water. By doing this, you will follow my teachings.” Then the Buddha said:
“If you know the Dharma, you will respect your seniors. You will be praised in this life, and happy in the next.”
When the Buddha finished explaining how important it is to respect those who are senior, he said, “In those days, Moggallana was the elephant, Shariputra was the monkey, and I myself was the wise bird.”
We had plans to go to Phuntsholing this weekend, the Indian Border town, but on Thursday our plans changed. Jigme, one of the staff here and one of our friends, offered to take us to “The Tiger’s Nest.” Since he used to be a tour guide and Taktsang (Bhutan for Tiger’s Nest) is high on our to-do list, we dropped our Phuntsholing plans and came with him to Paro, the city where his family lives.
We stayed with his family in their home, which alone was worth the trip. They were incredibly hospitable from the moment we got there- making us coffee over our refusal, insisting that Americans love coffee! They even gave us lessons in tying Kira and Gho- the traditional dress. I had worn the Gho once before, but someone helped dress me because it is so difficult. After a few tips from Jigme, his mother retreived some of the family’s best kira and gho, and insisted that Brittany and I put on a fashion show! One Gho was brand new! Another she had woven herself! And one was a gift to Jigme’s dad from the Queen Mother herself! Not only was it fun but it was quite an honor to be welcomed so well in their house.
As our last night came to a close, Jigme’s mother gave Brittany and me each a gift! I received a hand woven tie and Brittany received the most beautiful and soft scarf I’ve ever seen. (Also hand made by Jigme’s Mother!)
Not to mention his sister’s excellent traditional Bhutanese cooking! Brittany, who loves to cook, of course learned a few things and when we returned she prepared “Kewa Datse”. Cheesy potatoes. Yum.
We started at 8AM, and reached the temple around 11. It was a very steep hike, but well worth it. I’m also glad we went early, as there weren’t many others on the trail. As well as being one of Bhutan’s best tourist attractions, it is also a very spiritual place, and many Bhutanese and Indians visit often for religious purposes. The tiger’s nest had 8 or 9 separate temples inside of it, and a maze of staircases connecting them. The air was filled with the sound of horns, drums, and chanting monks. There is no cable car or gondola, so everything that the monks need is brought up by foot or pack-horse regularly.
Check out the photos and the video below. The red house is where we stayed.