In and Around Punakha

Our day dawned cloudy and overcast as a light mist spread across the valley.  Clouds hung on the mountainsides as we woke and headed down to a breakfast of a wide variety of foods including Dal, Oatmeal, Roasted Potatoes, something that looked a lot like mini hot dogs, and baked goods.

After breakfast our plan was to hike and then raft the Mo Chu.  The weather had other plans for us today.  Once we reached the river, about 10 kilometers from the Zhingkham Hotel, the water was filled with debris.  Literally, entire trees were floating down the rapids, in places filling the wide river with huge pieces of wood.  The normally Class 2 rapids were now closer to Class 4 and in places Class 5.  Namgay and I quickly made the decision with the rafting company to cancel the float.

Suspension Bridge over the Mo Chu river….

As the mist turned to a light rain, we decide to hike to the temple and take our chances on the weather on foot.  The hike is a short (about 1 mile) steep climb through rice fields and, eventually, pine trees to the temple grounds about 600 feet above the valley floor.  It starts with a river crossing over a suspension bridge, one of two we would cross on this day.  As we trekked, all along the way the rain covered us.  At some point many of us made the decision to NOT wear a rain jacket.  The humidity in the air combined with the heat of hiking made wearing a jacket kind of silly.  Of course, being from New Mexico, walking in the rain was an incredible luxury.  So, we walked up the trail, winding through a pine forest, switch-backing our way to the Khamsum Yuling Namgyal Temple.

photo 2
We shared the muddy trail with people and animals.

Once we arrived, we were the only ones silly enough to brave the tumult.  Waiting for us were two monks and a police officer.  We waited for a few moments before going in just to let the water drip off our bodies…we were soaked!

This temple includes four levels, each one dedicated to a different wrathful deity.  Once we reached the third floor, we were able to walk to a balcony outside as the rain had stopped.  The view was spectacular as we could see miles down the river running north and south.

photo 3

After about an hour, we descended back to the river, hopped on the bus and headed back to the hotel to dry off and spend the afternoon at Punakha Dzong.

Taking a shot of this remarkable view.

Back on the bus, we made our way to the temple grounds and another short hike to the largest suspension bridge in Bhutan.  We crossed the Po Chu river and lingered on the bridge among lots of school-age kids just getting out of school and heading home.  Logan and Nick played the game “who can throw a rock into the river from a great distance” …both were successful!

The longest suspension bridge in Bhutan.

We hiked back past charnel grounds as a family gathered for the cremation of their relative and friend. The group were having a kind of party; we heard laughter and stories being told as we walked by.

We entered Punakha Dzong shortly after and climbed the steps into the temple.  This temple was once the seat of Bhutan’s capital, and the impressive size of the structure spoke to the importance of the place.  The climb into the building is up a steep flight of steps and immediately onto the grounds of the temple.  The building is massive in scale as an interior keep-like structure towers over the central courtyard.

The Courtyard in Punakha Dzong

Our goal was the shrine room in the far southern side of the temple.  The room is equally massive in scale, housing the statues of Padmasambhava, Buddha, and the founder of Bhutan Zhabdrung.  The Buddha statue, in the center back wall, is easily 50 feet or higher painted gold.  Each of the statues is surrounded by hundreds of carvings of other deities, animals, people, and carved flora of the area.  Once inside, Namgay told the group the 12 stages of the life of Buddha through the paintings on the wall of the shrine room.

Our full day finished, we headed back to the hotel, relaxed for the evening and are ready for the drive to Trongsa.

From Thimphu to Punakha

I’m always struck by how much one smiles on these trips to Bhutan.  Pandora and Jade said it best when they both commented, “I haven’t smiled this much in years!  My mouth hurts from smiling all the time!” If there is one thing I can say about travel to Bhutan and our interactions with folks here, it’s that it is joyous in a kind of fundamental way.  Just being in this place changes your perspective.  I’m not going to even try to describe why or how this change happens: it just does.

So here we are, like a bunch of silly folks, barreling down the road, smiling all the way.  We are goofy, silly, and lively as we visit the National Library, the Zorig Chusum or school for the establishment of culture, and the Jungshi Handmade Paper factory, a place where sacred paper is manufactured for monasteries and nunneries around the country.

The photos tell much of the story of today.  The internet connection is terrible here in Punakha, so you may or may not see some of the photos. I’ll post more as we get to a better connection.

The National Library
Shrines on every floor of the building
Namgay telling the story of Bhutan
National Library
The School for Culture
Carving Class
Embroidery Class
Drawing Class I
Drawing class 4
Handmade Paper
Cooking the plant fiber
Creating the paper from the pulp
The wet paper ready to press
Stacked and ready for delivery
Dochui-la Pass, 10,000 feet
Meditation Caves, Dochu-la Pass
and of course, more food.
The Entrance to the Temple of the Divine Madman
Namgay telling us a fantastic tale of the Divine Madman
Rainbow over Punakha Dzong

We Made it to Bhutan!

I cannot tell you in words the experience of finally NOT being on an airplane. After 23 hours and 15 minutes of actual, in the air I’m not touching the ground flight time, we are so happy to have our feet firmly on the ground!

I wish I could express our deep, mind-numbing exhaustion and its best not to dwell on the negative when the place you made it to is so wonderful.

We landed in Paro, Bhutan at about 8:30 am local time and then spent the day at the National Museum, Paro Dzong, and the Giant Buddha. The weather was perfect: about 65 degrees F, cloudy, misting rain, very pleasant.

After a couple of meals and a little bit of riding, we are all off to bed to get the well-earned rest we all deserve.

Tashi Delek folks!

On the Path to Asia

Our morning started early with a 5:55 AM flight to LA and a pretty sleepy group of folks. The excitement, however, was palpable and we walked through the Sunport with a purpose. We, all 9 of us, carried on our bags and made the 1:45 hr journey to LAX.

As all travelers know by now, traveling is all about the hurry up and wait. Get to the airport, wait in line, sit in the waiting area, wait in chairs or on the floor, wait until the flight boards, wait in line…you get the idea.

….and we wait….

Today, our waiting was extended by a delayed flight to Japan. Delayed by 30 minutes. The sleep is catching up to us and we are feeling the urge to crash, hard.

Luckily, we’ll have 12 hours on the plane to chill and another 6 1/2 hours to, well, chill some more.

Ready for another flight? The answer is a resounding WHAT?!
Vending Machines…in Japan…Ice Cream!

More to come….lots more!

Capturing the Magic of Bhutan

Truly, if you have not traveled to Bhutan I can find no easy way to convince you of the magical qualities of this place.  I come across as strange when I use words like “sacred, spiritual” and I tend to be dismissed when I say that this place and these people represent some of the most remarkable qualities in the world.  Have I been everywhere? No.  It’s just difficult to explain the feeling and capture the sensation of visiting this place.

Some of the photos included here are attempts at capturing the feeling in terms of weather, landscape, the smiles of people and the work many folks do in this country to make a living for themselves and their families.  Anyway, here is a small collection of images with captions.  Enjoy.

Waving in the wind, this record of ashes scattered across the mountainside appears all across the country as a testament and recognition of one’s passing.  Like the ashes scattered here, these flags will slowly fade and collapse into the ground.
Playing a pick up game of soccer in the Phobijika Valley.
Prayers in Bhutan are everywhere on rocks, in the landscape, on the mouths of the people.
Overlooking the Haa Valley.  The foothills of the Himalayas stretch out in front of you as you can see into Tibet and Sikkim.
Happiness, questions, wonder all show through this photograph of students at Tsangkhap School in central Bhutan.
Following me around the school, these students tried to hide only to be caught in my camera,.
On our hike through the Phobijika Valley.
Near Jakar, school children waiting for the morning assembly and announcements about the day.
Studying for the afternoon, just after lunch…or sleeping through the study time.  Either way, it’s a good place to spend the afternoon.
Across the river to the Weekend Market in Thimphu.
Cole jogging across the field, chasing a ball.


After the football match on a field of mud.

Trongsa, Tsangkhap, and the Central Mountains

The bus rides high about the valley floors of central Bhutan as we wind our way along the mountains of central Bhutan.  The forested mountains are often covered in fog.  The mist seems to gather on the roads and in the trees, surrounding us in a sense of calm, quiet.  If you listen carefully, you can hear, beyond the drone of the diesel engine, the deep quiet of the region.  A stillness rests on the shoulders of these massive hills.

In a couple of places on the journey, one can see the road far across the valley.  At one place in particular, not far from Trongsa, you can see the road contour around the mountain side, turning in the crook of the folds in the hills, rising up again on the other side of the valley.   The road stretches for miles and yet, if you had a bridge or really long rope swing, you would quickly make it across, cutting hours off the drive.

If you look carefully, you can see the road on both sides of the valley as the river runs through it.
The clouds and mist in Trongsa

Suddenly, on one side of the road, you notice a collection of houses just before you reach Trongsa.  This small community, Tsangkhap, clings to the sides of the hills, fields cut out of the hillside below the houses.  Dirt roads meet the main road here, with fields and farms dotted along these ancient tracks.

Here, in Tsangkhap, we stop at the Trongsa Central School, renamed for its now significant role in teaching students of all ages who live nearby.  Year after year we come to the school to meet with students.  The school grounds are humble and the mood is high as we walk onto campus.  As soon as we are spotted an energy runs through the community and we gather in the open area in front of the school to hang out.

Lots and Lots of Questions…especially about blonde hair.
Really Wanting a Picture
Plenty of Time to Play a Soccer Match

After our time at the school, we walk into the village, visiting our guide’s home.  His mom is there preparing tea for us as we walk into the house.  The fields surrounding the house are verdant with deep hue or green, the wind gently blowing the tops of the wheat.

Into Namgay’s Family Home
The Loom on the porch ready to use…

We are served tea and sit on the floor, relaxing or a moment or two.  The tea is black, with a little milk from the cow, and a small handful of rice, dried and baked.  The drink is filling and the taste is sweet.  We talk about the day, hear Namgay’s stories about the yeti who lived in the forests nearby, and the tale of a yeti who married a man.  Our time in this place is all too brief as we head out again, walking deeper into the village.