The Plane Flight to Paro: A Bhutanese Adventure

Riding the bus from the terminal in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport, the air-conditioning is cold, blowing hard against the heat of the city.  For what seems like an hour, we ride to the far end of the runway to find our Bhutan Airlines plane waiting on the tarmac.  Once the bus arrives, we climb the stairs to board the plane.  Hopefully, it won’t be raining as we make our way onto the plane.

We are greeted with kind folk, welcoming us onto the flight and directing us to the proper seat.  The excitement is at a fever pitch, imaging travel into one of the most remote kingdoms in the world, a trip very few have taken.

As we settle in, we get ready for our trip with a first stop in India and the final destination, Paro Bhutan.  We take off and head around the Andaman Sea toward India, landing in Kolkata, a huge trade port in eastern India.  The stop is short and we soon take off again to Bhutan.

If we are lucky, the clouds part enough for us to see Mt. Everest in the distance as we fly into far western Bhutan.  The plane descends through the clouds flying just above the mountain tops into the country.  Unlike many flights in the world, the Bhutan flights huge the mountainsides, following the contours of the mountains as the plane descends into the Paro valley.  At the last minute, the plane makes a sharp descent to the runway and a very quick stop.

The flight is like nothing most folks have ever experienced and the exhilaration is real.  We walk off the plane much like we came aboard, walking down stairs on the tarmac.  We make our way into a small building and the customs check before walking into the kingdom of Bhutan for the first time.

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On the Tarmac in Bhutan

After a brief bag and passport check, we exit the building and meet our guide, Namgay.   For the next week or so, he will lead us across the country and to a wide variety of places that reveal the unusual and wonderful quality of Bhutan.  By the time we are finished, we will never want to leave!

The flight into Bhutan is amazing!  Take a look at this video and let me know what you think!

Flight into Paro, Bhutan

Kyoto: Staying in a Machiya

As you step off the train in Kyoto, the people and the station overwhelm you.  Hundreds of folks traveling to destinations all over Japan are moving through this train station in the center of the city.  After our 45 minute ride from Kansai airport, we head toward the south exit to find Bus #100.  We hop on the bus and pay using our bus passes and head west, toward the Higashiyama neighborhood and the rows of traditional Japanese homes called Machiya.  After a winding walk through the neighborhood we look around for a small alleyway that opens into a small courtyard of twelve houses….at the end of the courtyard, we find our spot, Juichi-an, number 11.

This particular house is managed by a wonderful company Windows to Japan.  These folks are easy to work with and provide excellent services to visitors in and around Kyoto.

Higashiyama Area

As you can imagine, a stay in a machiya is like living in the past; a way to experience Japanese life as millions live it to this day.  The rooms are small, the space tiny, compared to U.S. homes, and the machiya have an undeniable charm and feeling of being IN Japan in a way that a hotel room simply does not capture.

The Floor plan of Juichi-An
Sleeping Area, Juichi-An

Our days are spent out and about in Kyoto visiting shrines and temples, shops and museums.  Our evenings will be spent in this traditional home.  We bring food from the local market, prepare it in the kitchen, and eataround a table sharing our experiences of the day.

Our time in Japan will capture your imagination and offer a perspective on the city few people ever get to experience.

Dining Area, Juichi An
What’s Nearby…

After these days in Kyoto, you will leave with a real appreciation of the city, Japanese culture, and the history of this remarkable place.  Are you ready for the adventure?

Gearing Up For Bhutan: One Perspective on packing for International Travel

As I have shared in the past, traveling across the world presents some special and very unique challenges when weight limits are less than 40 pounds.  In fact, I am fascinated by the fact that much of what we carry is often redundant to our experience.  In years past, I have taken both too much and too little.  Getting just the right balance takes some practice.

Traveling minimally and well requires practice.  Most of that practice can happen at home in a bedroom, packing and repacking clothing, gear, and etc.  The thing is, however, we often make the same choices over and over again often refusing to limit the numbers of shirts, pants, or skirts we take along for the ride.  My daughter says, “I need choices!”  Exactly!  Yet having too many choices can lead us to a more stressful experience once the travel has begun!

The trick is to take exactly what you need and not one thing more.  Literally not one thing more.

I start with the best bag for travel.  The one that I settled on is the EBAG.  The site I use is www.ebags.com and it includes just about everything you need to pack efficiently.  Similarly, I have used the web site One Bag to hone my packing skills.  Combing these two sites and the information included, I have been able to pack well for a three week trip using one bag.

The bag I use is the TLS Motherlode Weekender (yea, I know).  Here is what this bag has that others do not…or at least, do not do as well:  an outside front pocket for easy access to papers, journals, pens, etc.  An inner sleeve for a laptop or other large electronic device.  Top pocket for essentials.  A single open space used for packing all clothing and etc. The other nice feature is that the backpack straps completely disappear in a inner pocket, making the bag easy to toss on the top of a bus or van when you have to make sure that your bag doesn’t get hung up on someone else’s luggage.

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TLS Motherlode Weekender

 

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Notice that FRONT pocket?  Nice feature.

 

Notice how the interior has a mesh pocket on top and straps with a central fabric divider….I’ve never used the divider, and it lays flat for packing.

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Interior View

The key, however, to packing well is packing cubes.  These lightweight, zippered containers make getting all of what you need IN the bag.

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Check out the packing…efficient.

Using this method of packing cubes, the right bag, and the one bag approach to packing, you CAN get what you need in a bag that is easy to carry anywhere, anytime.

Can you see I’m already excited to get on the plane and head to Bhutan?  I begin my packing process months in advance, knowing what weather I will encounter and getting any items I need to make the trip easy for me.  As trip leader, that makes a huge difference in both my experience and the experience of my fellow travelers.  Making sure I have what is necessary positively impacts everyone’s trip.

Bicycling Kyoto

For the longest time I have wanted to bicycle around Kyoto and this year the plan is set.  Bicycling in Kyoto is one of the easiest ways to see the sights in the city and do it in such a way that you can be at street level everywhere.  Traveling by bicycle, in any city, is a way to actually see more and experience more than by walking or bus.  Here’s my reasoning; on a bicycle you can cover more ground than by walking AND since you are traveling a a reasonable speed, you have the chance to see what you are passing.  By bus, the city flies by from street to street and it’s hard to be a part of knowing the city well.

Ginkaku-ji Temple

In Kyoto, our plan is to ride to each of the sights on the plan by bike.  Our first ride will be from the bike rental shop on the Kamo-gawa River to Gingakuji Temple.  The park around the temple is wonderful and this trip gets our first step into traditional Japanese culture.

Kinkaku-ji Temple
Ryoan-ji Garden

Our second excursion will take us around the city proper and to a series of locations including Nijo Castle, the home of the Shoguns, then on to the Hirano Shrine and along the road to the famous Kinkakuji Temple.  From Kinkaku-ji we head to the wonderful Ryoanji temple and rock garden.  These sites are among the most visited in the city and are worth the time spent.  Along the way we will stop for snacks and make a leisurely day of being in this remarkable city,.

Of course, to participate in this adventure, you will need to be comfortable on a bicycle, be familiar with riding near traffic, and be careful to watch each other as we ride through the city.  Keep in mind that modest dress is required for the visiting some of these sites. (More on that later)

Medium Format Film Photography

I grew up in the film era.  By film, I mean film photography.  Sure, movies were (and some still are) constructed using film, however, my experience comes from shooting 35 and 120 MM black and white film.  While I have maintained my interest in and development of film, I was seduced by the dark side: digital photography for a while.  OK, so yea, digital photography is NOT some kind of short cut to photography; however, the lessons I learned in film photography are not necessarily inherent in digital photography…..with cameras that adjust for any light source or environmental conditions, the shot is all about the snapshot….with no concern for the number of shots left or cost, digital photography can expand into a near video shoot of still scenes.  Even the iPhone has a software feature that takes stills photos and gives them a slight video feel.

Beginning a few years I ago, I decided to re-establish my film photography.  I shot film in Japan in 2008 during a trip to the country and found the process really enjoyable.  I left behind the strong desire to “see” my instantaneous image and instead relied on my knowledge and instinct to grab the shot I wanted.  More recently, I committed to the Hasselblad and 120MM photography.  My partner gave me a Hasselblad 500 C/M as a wedding gift in 1997 and I am forever grateful for Katie opening the door to medium format photography.  The Hasselblad really forces me to slow my photographic process waaay down…I spend time using a light meter, framing the shot, and clicking off one of 12 stills on a single roll.

The other less talked about but equally important part of working with a medium format film camera is the weight of the beast.  With a 50MM lens attached to the camera, the Hasselblad weighs in at almost 6 pounds.  Add to that a bag to carry film, film backs, and an extra lens and BOOM serious weight considerations!  Just holding the camera is a real trick; on a recent trip, I noticed about 5 out of 60 shots completely out of focus….probably because of shaking during the shoot.

One of the more interesting parts of modern film photography is that IF you want to share images with folks electronically, you have to scan those images.  I’m lucky in that I have a place to develop my film for free; however, getting that film into digital form takes real effort.  A flatbed scanner is the cheapest solution, AND the time commitment is huge; in my case, roughly 3-5 minutes per scan!  Commercial scanning is available and runs roughly $20 per roll (with development)! Yikees!

Enough drivel for today; on to the show!  Included here are a few images from last summer’s trip to Japan and Bhutan.  I am still processing film and scanning images…these photos give you a glimpse into both the process and the place.

For those interested, all of these images were shot on Ilford HP5 in 120MM format with the Hasselblad 500 C/M, 80mm lens.