Journal Entry #1: Hailey

Each student, over the course of the trip, will write a brief reflection on their experiences.  Today is Hailey’s reflection:

Today consisted of a breathtaking adventure up the mountains of Punakha, Bhutan where we got to experience yet another mesmerizing temple. The gold plated walls and hand carved statues and intimate details of the shrines were indescribable. The 45 minute hike in the pouring rain was well worth it to reach the top and see the once in a life time views of not only the temple, but of the entire city, rolling mountains, braided river and clouds bellowing through the steep hills.

The slippery hike down, with a nice break to munch on some fresh corn, was equally beautiful and gave the perfect opportunity to talk and admire the adorable cows roaming the rice fields below. Once back into town and changed, we had a lovely picnic lunch down by the river, accompanied, of course, by numerous stray dogs. We then left to trek the longest extension bridge in Bhutan where a fairly equally matched rock throwing competition had to take place. Logan won.

The beautiful fluttering prayer flags laced along the bridge led us straight back to the next temple where we learned the history of the Buddha and how to properly point in Bhutan, with all five fingers so none are selfishly pointed back toward youself. The day ended with some well deserved relaxation at our hotel on top of the hill, a delicious Indian dinner, and the anticipation of another spectacular day in this amazing country. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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The 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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

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After the football match on a field of mud.