Trongsa Valley

One of the most remarkable regions of Bhutan is the Trongsa region that includes the massive Trongsa Dzong.  Surrounded by spectacular mountains rising thousands of feet from the valley floor, the place feels ancient and , in some ways, untouched by human settlement.

As you look across the valley you can see mountains that have, literally, not faced human habitation or settlement.  The word in town and among the people is that these mountains have NEVER been trod by humans.  Looking at the thick undergrowth and brush, it’s easy to imagine an almost primeval place traveled only by animals.

Here is a short video of the valley taken from the Yangkill Resort….enjoy!

Reflections on the recent Bhutan Trip

On the trail from Chele La.
On the trail from Chele La.

It has been a bit more than five years since my first excursion to Bhutan.  The magical quality of this country still surprises me.  For those who have traveled to Bhutan, I imagine you understand the feeling of awe and the power of this place.  I will never forget the feeling of walking down the steps off the plane, stepping on the ground and truly feeling something and some place different from the rest of the world.

Many people have asked “what’s so special about Bhutan?” From my perspective, the difference is in the stillness of the place and the people.  Every person I have ever talked to in Bhutan has that sense of stillness.  Even the students in school have that sense of quiet.  It’s almost as if a still mind is built into the country in some way.

Some of this stillness is the separation from many aspects of the modern world.  When I say modern, I mean the buzz that is constant in cities and towns in the United States.  Maybe it’s the hum of the television sets or the whir of the streets lights or the sound of cars careening down the road.  Of course, this is not to say that Bhutan has escaped the modern world; that word is fast overtaking the country as satellite television, cell phones, cars, trucks, SUVs, material goods, all make their way into Bhutanese culture.

So far, it seems that those “things” have not invaded to such a point that they have become the meaning of people’s lives.  That working for a new car has become the be all end all of someone’s life….I do think such a situation is making it’s way into the country.  My hope is Bhutanese families and individuals can see the limitations of that way of life and means of accomplishment.  Time well certainly tell.

These trips also are joyful because of the students and families that travel with me.  Their reactions and engagement with the place is important to me.  For the most part, I provide some information about Bhutan, but, for the most part, I leave the learning to the students when we arrive.  I believe that experiential learning, especially when visiting countries, places, and people not familiar to us, creates a unique learning environment for both the students on the trip and for the people they encounter.  Their reactions to eating ferns or learning about the Divine Madman and seeing his temple, or talking to a monk, or playing games with school children impact them much more than anything I can teach or tell.

More importantly, for me, is the relationship I have with Namgay, our guide.  His insights and obvious love of his country and history is integral to the process of learning and experiencing Bhutan.  I was lucky to meet him on our first trip and cannot think of a better guide for any group to the country.  His playfulness, insights to Bhutanese culture, and knowledge of History is worth the price of admission.  Students gain a deep appreciation of Bhutanese culture from this wonderful human being.   If you are reading this reflection and are planning or know of someone planning to travel to Bhutan, contact Illuminating Tours
first!

That’s it for my reflections at this point.  Stay close for student reflections about the trip coming soon (as soon as they write them!).

Rafting Along the Mo Chu River

Our rafting experience was a blast considering the long drive to get to the river in the first place!  The Mo Chu is the more calm river of the two in the area.  The Mo Chu, or female river, joins with the Po Chu, or male river, just below the Punakha Dzong.  The Mo Chu passes under a series of cantilever bridges and right next to the Punakha Dzong….the Dzong is imposing from this angle and stands high above the river as we floated by.

Druk Rafting Service
Druk Rafting Service

Namgay photographed us as we passed by and these photos are all his….thank you Namgay!

After the two hour journey, the guides were impressed with our group effort and next time asked is we would be willing to take on class 4 and 5 rapids on the Po Chu.  I think most of the students would relish the chance to tackle the more active river.

If anyone is every interested in rafting Bhutan, the Druk Rafting Service was excellent, the guides were well trained, and really made the trip much more enjoyable.

Group 2, the group that lost the battle of the rafts.
Group 2, the group that lost the battle of the rafts.
Ready to raft the Mo Chu!
Ready to raft the Mo Chu!
Group 1, the winners of the  race...
Group 1, the winners of the race…

Update to the Blog…Ongoing!

Hi Folks,

Updates to the site will continue for the next few weeks.  I will upload pictures to the Student pages, add students insights and perspectives, and add additional information to blog posts from my journals etc.

Thanks for reading over the past few weeks!

Be well,

TGF

On Our Way Home….

Here I sit in the Bangkok Airport, Emily, Carter and Gwen sitting beside me watching every word I type….Emily is laughing at the fact that I keep misspelling words and is now actually laughing out loud….good grief!

We depart at 6:50 from Bangkok and make our way back to the U.S….we arrive home at 10:30 PM if all goes well and the airplane gods like us on this long day in the air.

I will keep posting to this blog, updating photos, adding to the pages on student pictures and etc….in the meantime, we hope you have enjoyed reading, seeing, and visiting this silly little site.  Be well, my friends, and see you all soon.

On the trail to Taktsang, The Tiger’s Nest

Starting just north of Paro and leaving the valley floor, the trail to Taktsang contours around the hills below the temples of Taktsang. The buildings were constructed to commemorate the meditation of Padmasambhava and his consort Tsogyal Yeshe. They both stayed at this place, and according to legend subdued demons in the Paro Valley, brining Buddhism to the western part of Bhutan in the 8th century.

The hike is meant as a kind of pilgrimage to remove sins or bad deeds. WE can certainly vouch for the struggles associated with the climb. The trail is straight up the side of the surrounding hills, and there is very little respite from the climb.

On the trail to Taktsang...the lower stretch of the trail.
On the trail to Taktsang…the lower stretch of the trail.
The Tiger's Nest.
The Tiger’s Nest.

However, about half way into the journey, the trail reveals a tea house perched on the side of a cliff. As has been a part of our trip each day, we stopped for tea and biscuits, sat down at the tables and looked toward the temple.

After the tea house the trail turns up again, steeply climbing until you are actually above the temple….lest you think things get easier, they don’t. A hundreds of steps lead around the opposite cliff side and descends down about 200 feet before climbing again on the other side of a waterfall toward the temple itself.

I think the biggest hurdle here are the various widths and heights of the steps….some small some large, some ridiculously high…at times it’s a real struggle to reach the next step.

Once at the temple, a series of shrine rooms await with various deities and statues inside….the main temple houses an ancient statue of Padmasambhava that, according to legend, remained even after fires destroyed the temple around it (the last one in 1998).

Layla crossing the bridge to Taktsang.
Layla crossing the bridge to Taktsang.

Our trip down was a bit shorter and a catered meal awaited us at the base among the trees. From there we went to soak in a traditional stone bath and finally our last dinner in Bhutan.

We leave for Bangkok and then home. All are eager to see family and friends!

 

Chele La and the Haa Valley

Our travels today took us to the highest pass in Bhutan. At almost 14,000 feet, the pass is the first one we went over that is above the tree line. In most cases in Bhutan, you cannot get above the tree line! With peaks over 12,000 feet with dense, jungle-like qualities, it’s kind of strange to finally see the world above the trees and brush.

At the pass, we hiked up to a couple of unnamed peaks covered in prayer flags. The wind whipped from the south and clouds gathered on the Himalayas to the west. It was easy to see Tibet from this high perch and we took in the scene, a little out of breath, but eager to see the landscape.

Let's call Carter excited!
Let’s call Carter excited!
The Haa Valley below Chele La Pass.
The Haa Valley below Chele La Pass.

Once we gathered at the bus for the trip into the Haa valley, we stopped for tea, lunch along the rode, and then into the valley.

The thing about the Haa valley is that it is remote even though its only 67 km from Paro. You would think the town would be covered in tourists and yet we were the only ones there….we walked the streets, saw children coming out of their Saturday classes, and wandered into a bakery that served Chocolate Eclaires, German Chocolate Cake, and the like. What a remarkable find here in this village!

Namgay also introduced us to dried Yak cheese. You take a piece of it and put it in your mouth. It slowly softens….very slowly. In a test of wills, we tried the cheese…..my small piece took almost 2 hours to finally breakdown, Evan’s was whole 3 hours later! I think this one food item might be an acquired taste.

As the day winds to a close, we are climbing to the Tiger’s Nest tomorrow. The monastery is placed on a cliff wall about 1500 feet above the valley floor. Afterwards, a traditional stone bath awaits us in Paro!

Placing prayer flags on Chele La pass.
Placing prayer flags on Chele La pass.
The baths made of wood; hot rocks dropped into one end...
The baths made of wood; hot rocks dropped into one end…
Getting ready for the stone bath.
Getting ready for the stone bath.