Six Days In Happy Land

We are now in Nepal; quirky Internet connectivity made it difficult to do justice to beautiful Bhutan, so this post will be a quick collection of photos and memories of Happy Land.


A few years ago, Rio’s Christ the Redeemer was chosen as one of the seven new wonders of the world.  Thimphu’s gigantic Buddha didn’t exist at that time.  If it had, I’m convinced Buddha would be giving Rio’s statue some serious competition.

Buddha sits atop a mountain overlooking Thimphu

The base of the statue contains a temple, filled with hundreds of thousands of smaller Buddhas, butter lamps and butter sculptures. Yes, you read that right–sculptures are made of colored butter!

Just the artwork on the base would get MY vote

Dedicated to teaching Bhutanese arts and crafts, this school focuses on 18 traditional crafts including painting, woodcarving, metal work and embroidery.



Whenever I visit a country, particularly one whose economy is dependent on the tourist trade, I like to drop some dollars by buying gifts, so a stop in the school’s small shop was a definite requirement.

Handmade paper is another traditional Bhutanese craft.  We watched the entire process: the raw materials being delivered, heated, compressed, made into sheets and dried.



Notice how hard these young women are working?  They were all smiling as they were lifting those heavy bundles!  And yes, I most certainly did make a purchase at their tiny gift shop.

The modern world is rapidly creeping into Bhutan.  Construction is everywhere.  But it isn’t just new buildings and new technology.  Since the introduction of television in 1999, the western world has slowly been influencing Bhutan’s youth.

Thimphu’s clock tower plaza, right beside our hotel was the site of what looked like an  auto exhibit, but it was a whole lot more.image

Young Bhutanese shed their traditional clothes, donning jeans and tee shirts to dance to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”.   Unfortunately, my camera’s software is incompatible with my iPad, so you won’t be able to see the beautiful young girls I videoed dancing, but with any luck, I’ll be able to link a YouTube video of the boys doing their hip hop routine when I get back home.

You may be wondering what kind of audience the entertainment drew. Well, wonder no more, because when my personal paparazzi used his long lens to capture me unawares, he also photographed the crowd.

A bit sparse, no?


Much of the road between Thimphu and Punakha is under construction, making travel slooooow and very dusty.  We stopped at the Dochula Pass on the way to and from Punakha.

108 Stupas of the Dochula Pass

The Dochula Pass memorial honors the 15 Bhutanese that were killed fighting the Indian separatists from Assam.  The separatists were creeping across the Bhutanese border, creating training camps.  The fourth king actually led his troops into battle and was victorious.  No wonder he is so beloved!

The pass is 10,000 feet above sea level, so Tashi thought it would be good practice for the Tiger’s Nest if we took a hike in the Royal Botanical Park that adjoins the memorial.

The rhododendron were in bloom–they weren’t bushes, they were trees.

The jacaranda were also in bloom, outside the Palace of Great Happiness.

Notice the covered wooden bridge in the distance.

This is the entrance to the Palace’s temple.  Inside Tashi gave us a fantastic lecture about Buddhism, using the artwork that covered the temple walls as an ancient Power Point Presentation.image

I was so glad to see these monks, enjoying themselves by the river bank outside the Palace of Great Happiness.

We also visited a nunnery located atop a mountain, where I purchased some bracelets from this sweet 21 year old nun, who spoke perfect English.

Marilynn from San Francisco on the right, bracelets on the window sill on the left.

No visit to Punakha would be complete without a stop at the Chhimi Lhakhang Monastery.  To get there you need to hike through rice fields, a village and up a hill.

The shingles on roofs are held down with stones instead of nails.
These sweet villagers were happy to pose for me
Christmas presents for everyone!

imageThis monastery was founded by Drupka Kinley, the Divine Madman, whose “Thunderbolt of Wisdom”, also known as his “Flaming Thunderbolt” , brought his own special form of enlightenment to local women.  Infertile couples visit the monastery where the woman is doinked on the head with a huge wooden “thunderbolt”.  Could that be the Bhutanese version of IVF?

The Divine Madman is the inspiration behind the artwork that festoons the area’s houses.

Although not part of the “official” itinerary, our wonderful guide thought we might enjoy a visit to the 17th century village of Rinchen Gong.  These villagers are definitely not used to having visitors!  Our arrival was quite an occasion, especially for the children, who chased our van up the steep dirt road.

Like me, Jim enjoys photographing the locals
Like me, Jim enjoys photographing the locals
These boys loved seeing their pictures
These boys loved seeing their pictures
Shy at first, they warmed up when they saw the shots.
Shy at first, they warmed up when they saw the shots.

Our last stop was in Paro, where we climbed to the Tiger’s Nest and visited Bhutan’s  very first temple.  It was built in the 7th century by Tibet’s great ruler, Songtsen Gampo, and it is where he pinned the left foot of an ogress who once covered all of Bhutan and part of Tibet.

Jim, spinning the prayer wheel outside the sacred Kyichu Lakhang



The Cast of Characters

The Cast of Characters
For those of you who expressed concern about my traveling alone, after Mike and Greg had to cancel, have no fear. I now have five new friends. Here we are at the National Memorial Chorten, which was built to honor Bhutan’s third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk .

first row: Jim, Peter, Marilyn, Marie. Back row, Dick, me

Jim is a former hotel and restaurant owner from the greater San Diego area. His family used to own Marty’s restaurant and hotel, an establishment frequented by yestereyear’s stars, such as Lucy and Desi, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin.

Peter and Marie are from the greater Boston area. They retired from the financial industry, and have been traveling the world ever since. Prior to arriving in Delhi, they had taken another OAT tour through the Balkans, then spent a few days in Dubai. Jim, Peter and Marie will be heading home after Nepal.

Marilyn, a retired nurse from San Francisco, is like the little energizer bunny. She walks faster than I do!

Dick, from Seattle, retired from Boeing. He’s the most widely traveled of our group, having been on 27 OAT trips, plus tours with numerous other companies. Marilyn, Dick and I are the only members of the group that will be visiting all three countries. In Nepal, we will be joined by three new travelers.

Although not actually traveling with us, we see the royals EVERYWHERE.  Photos of them are on hotel and restaurant walls, on the sides of buildings, in museums and temples.   This official portrait is of the fourth King, known as the “Royal Fourth” with his four wives ( all sisters), the ten children they produced, (including the “Royal Fifth”) and the first grandchild. Since that photo was taken, the Royal Fifth has married.  He and his stunningly beautiful wife have produced an heir,  the Royal Sixth.

Tashi has identified which member of the royal family is in the motorcade when they go whizzing by.  So far, we have seen one of the four queens, and a royal uncle.

This photo of Tashi was taken at the Memorial Chorten.  He’s  instructing us on the proper way to circumambulate a prayer wheel.  Walking in a clockwise direction, you give each wheel a good spin as you pass by.  If we had been carrying rosaries, we would be using them to keep track of our prayers while we walked.


As with all mountain roads, Bhutan’s have their fair share of hairpin turns.  What they don’t  have are guard rails.  This tour is NOT for the faint of heart or the queasy stomached.  We have come so close to passing vehicles, we could have flossed the other driver’s teeth.  What a relief to have an excellent driver like Gembo getting us to the top of the mountain and back down again.

Gembo, our very skillful driver

An unexpected delight was the owner of our hotel in Thimphu.  Her story deserves an entire post, but that will have to wait till I get home, or until YOU stay at the Thimphu Tower.

Jim and Tshering, the owner of Thimphu Tower


Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan’s airport looks like it was designed by Walt Disney.  The buildings are covered with carvings of dragons (Druk means dragon in Bhutanese) and the windows are highly decorative.  It is the country’s sole airport, because Paro is the only area flat enough to accommodate a runway.  It’s a very SHORT runway, but a runway nonetheless.

The mountains that surround the runway make landing quite exciting.  So exciting, that only 8 pilots are skilled enough to fly into and out of Paro.  Fortunately one of those 8 was flying our plane today.

The airport is on the left. Take a look at those mountains

Tashi, our guide, and Gembo, our driver were waiting for us outside the terminal, ready to get this party started. First stop, Paro’s dzong. Every city/community had its own dzong. Back in the day when the Tibetans’ favorite leisure activity was invading their neighbors, the dzongs were fortresses. Today they have been repurposed into administrative and religious buildings.  

the demon of the west
The dzong courtyard
Young monks

Anyone thinking about visiting Bhutan should take a close look at those stairs.  They are steep, uneven, and lacking handrails.  And they are everywhere!

good thing i spent time at the Y before this trip!

After touring the dzong and the national museum, we stopped for lunch at a typical farmhouse.   In a “typical farmhouse” the ground floor is where the cows sleep.  They are protected from predators, yes, but this arrangement is multipurpose.  They also act as the home’s furnace, generating heat (among other things) for the floors above.  The second floor is used for storage, mainly food.  The room we viewed was loaded with drying rice.  The top floor contains the bedrooms, the kitchen/gathering spot and the altar.  

check put the floor boards!

Our hostess served us a delicious meal, complete with butter tea, into which you tossed grains of toasted rice. Okay, so maybe that last part wasn’t so delicious–at least not to me–but the fresh spring asparagus was particularly wonderful.

Benches were provided for thise that didn’t want to sit on the floor

Our hotel, the Thimpu Tower, is smack dab in the center of town, right by the historic clock tower.  It was very easy to stroll through the capital city and check out  their version of a traffic light.  

Bhutanese traffic light
the rotary

By the way, that’s the ONLY “traffic light” in Thimphu.  Like Massachusetts and New Jersey, they DO have “rotaries”, but their traffic circles are a bit more decorative.  

My lovely room overlooks the “clock tower plaza” and from my window, you can see the largest Buddha (in that particular contemplation pose) in the world.  Tashi tells us its construction is being completely funded by Asian Buddhists from Singapore, Thailand, China and Indonesia.  A much more up close and personal view will follow.  

There is construction everywhere in Thimphu. I needed to watch my step at all times to avoid the uneven pavement and the frequent holes in the sidewalks.  (I sure was missing Mike, who normally does all the watching for me, making sure I don’t trip over my own feet or fall into one of those holes!)

i wouldnt want to depend on THAT scaffolding

The kids roam freely in the land of gross national happiness.  These two were moving so quickly, I couldn’t get a good shot, but you’ll get the idea.  What better toy than a box and paper bag?  They were having a blast!  

A Day in Delhi

 Might one of those peaks be Mount Everest?   Your guess is as good as mine.  One thing I know for certain, those babies ARE the Himalayas and the view from the left side of the plane, even from my middle seat over the wing, was majestic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  This post is supposed to be about Delhi, so I need to back up a little.  Truth is,  I just wanted to use the photo.

On my flight to Delhi, my intention was to get to sleep as fast as possible.  That quickly changed when I realized my seat mate was quite fascinating.   He was starting a speaking speaking tour in several cities throughout Asia about the “soft side” of medical care.  If that weren’t interesting enough,  his son, Ashok Rajamani, wrote “The Day My Brain Exploded”  a memoir about his stroke at age 25 and his come back when he emerged from a coma.   The end result?  I got so engrossed in our conversation, it became too late to take a sleeping pill, so I landed in Delhi a bit more jet lagged than I’d hoped.

For those of you that view me as being organized, I have a confession to make.  I forgot to bring my hotel confirmation with me, so I didn’t have its exact address.  I figured that would be no big deal, given that the Pride Plaza Hotel was right at the airport.  Wrong.  The cab driver had no idea where it was, so he stopped periodically to ask random people for directions.  You might suspect it was a ploy to run up the meter, but the fare was prepaid.  What’s going through my jet lagged, brain while we are driving aimlessly around, chatting up strangers?   I’m thinking it’s a good thing I’m not in The Amazing Race.  For sure, I’d be hearing Phil say, “you are team #10, and I’m sorry to tell you, you have just ‘bean’ (yes, that’s how he pronounces it) eliminated.”

When we finally made it to the hotel, I was pleased to discover that it was quite lovely, and I congratulated myself on my decision to arrive in Delhi a day before the start of the OAT tour, to allow myself time to acclimate.  I am very aware that a well rested me is a happier me, and an overtired me, well, let’s just say it isn’t pretty.

Delhi is chock full of amazing temples, tombs, museums, bazaars, historical and cultural sites.  One could easily spend a day visiting  Humayun’s Tomb, the India Gate, the Lotus Temple, the Red Fort –the list goes on.

I did none of that.

One huge benefit of retirement is I finally figured out I don’t have to cram everything into one day.  No,  I have EARNED the right to be selective and to do fewer things, but to choose the things that put a smile on my face.

So, what did I choose?  Well, I toddled over to the Delhi Dance Academy’s Gurgaon location to shake, shake, shake in my best Bollywood fashion with my charming dance instructor, Vishnu.  Marcus, Pride Plaza’s very knowledgeable concierge, arranged for a hotel driver to take me to Gurgaon, wait the 2 hours I was there, and bring me back–all for about $25.  After the night before’s taxi experience,  I figured it was the best, nay, the ONLY way to travel.

Next question– how’d it go?  Well, although I had thought I would be joining a class, I discovered that the Delhi Dance Academy had arranged for a private lesson.  For about $30, I got a welcome ceremony, refreshments, instruction in three different dances, and lots and lots of laughs.  I’m supposed to get a video of my endeavors within the next couple of weeks.   I’ll be sure to post it so everyone can share in the fun.

And now some lessons learned,  for future OAT travelers taking the Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet trip.

  1. Prepay for your taxi inside the terminal.  It is a whole lot easier if, unlike me, you have the actual address with you.
  2. i wasn’t the only one with a clueless cabbie.  Even WITH the hotel address,  one of the other travelers had a similar experience, stopping several times to ask for directions to a hotel that was in the bloody airport area.  Don’t panic if it happens to you.
  3. The ATMS in the terminal are not as user friendly as they are in other countries.  At least they weren’t for me.  After having difficulty with two different ATMs, I ended up using the currency exchange at the airport.  Not the most cost effective choice.
  4. I probably COULD have paid for the taxi with dollars.  The guy at the terminal’s taxi desk told me he would have given me a much better exchange rate.  Who knows?
  5. Our flight to Bhutan was scheduled for a 5 AM departure.  We had to be in the hotel lobby at 2 AM to be sure we’d get through passport control and security in time.
  6. if you CAN go a day early, it is well worth the additional cost of the hotel room.  And the hotel can help you do whatever puts a smile on YOUR face.


The Ultimate Packing Challenge

Ultimate packing challenge???  Well, at least it is for me.  I’ll be gone for a month, visiting countries that have temperatures ranging from Lhasa’s average low of 31 F  to an average high of 105 F in both Delhi, India and Chitwan National Park.  Fortunately, I “met” a new virtual friend via OAT’s Forum.  She gave me lots of helpful hints, and most importantly, clued me into the existence of laundry facilities that are plentiful and cheap.  Thanks to her advice, I am able to be safely under the airlines’ 44 pound checked luggage maximum.

In the spirit of giving back, this post is all about what I’m packing.  Maybe a future OAT traveler to Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet will find my information as helpful as I found Janet’s.

There’s nothing like a visual, right?  P1140314

Being your obsessive compulsive kind of gal, I start packing many days before departure, loading articles on the bed in our spare room.  I use a paper list and check off as I go.

One of the many nice things about OAT trips is no one cares what you look like.  No one dresses to impress–it is all about comfort and adventure, so you will notice a total absence of makeup, jewelry, fancy clothes and dress up shoes.  But then, my family would tell you that’s how I normally roll.

Checked luggage:

Toiletries:  toothbrush, paste, floss, shampoo, conditioner, brush, comb, moisturizer, deodorant, soap, face cloth.  

I’m not bothering with a hair dryer because some of the places we will be visiting won’t have electricity.   I let my hair grow just for this trip, so I can pull it back and forget about it.

Miscellaneous: binoculars, sunscreen, Insect repellant, anti itch gel, lip balm, lotion, Ibuprofen, Pepto bismol, gasex, Imodium, Hydrocortisone, Bandaids, bonine, moleskins, z-pak, granola bars, small duffel (supplied by OAT).

I’m hoping I won’t need any of the medications.  Whatever I don’t use on the trip, I’ll give to the trip leader.  Might as well have someone make use of it before the expiration dates.

Clothes:  Rain jacket, down jacket,  Sun hat, Sweater, Underwear  (14 days),
socks (10 ), long underwear (2), Pajamas (2), Shorts (2), Short sleeve tops (7), long sleeve tops (5), Long pants  (4), capris (1), Sneakers, flip flops, keens, bathing suit, buff, chill band.

For the colder parts of the trip, I figure  I can wear long underwear beneath my lightweight pants.  No need for corduroys.  I’m counting on layers to keep me warm.

My goal is to get by for at least a week, maybe two, without having to do laundry.  I may have packed more  than I need; I will report back after the trip is over, identifying anything I took that I didn’t need, and anything that I didn’t take, but wished I had.

As with other OAT trips, we will be visiting a local family, so I packed gifts.  Our guide told me that warm socks are always appreciated for the cold winter months, something I never would have thought to bring.  Of course, I had to include toys for the kids, plus an inflatable globe.


On our OAT trip to Africa, we discovered that a duffel holds more than we ever imagined  possible.  We also learned there is no need for those fancy packing cubes.  My jumbo zip lock bags work just fine, allowing me to pull out only what is needed.   Take a look.


Shoes in the bottom, along with items I expect to need at the end of the trip.    P1140320

Yep. It all fit and I even have a tiny amount of extra room.

I know you’re wondering, so yes, that white decoration on my teal LL Bean duffle was my very own creation.  Nobody is walking off with MY bag and claiming it was a mistake!

Because I have a direct flight to Delhi, I don’t need to pack a change of clothes into my carry on.  Here’s what’s going inside.

Backpack:  Money, credit card, passport, etickets, travel info,  camera, batteries, charger, iPad connector, iPad, ipod, Bose headset, sleeping aid, Wipes, hand sanitizer, Glasses  & case, water bottle, cell phone, pens, pencils, notepad, gum, cough drops, copy of passport.


 That little black bag with the white decoration?  That’s my “comfort case”, which holds the small items –cough drops, pens, gum, etc. so that I don’t have to rummage through the many pockets of my back pack.

The good news?  I did indeed score the first class upgrade I requested back in November, so I probably won’t need to be digging into that comfort case the way I would have if I were back in economy.  United, you have been forgiven.

The sad news?   Because of some late breaking events, Mike and Greg won’t be able to come on this trip.  Thank heavens for trip insurance!