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.

THIMPHU

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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?

PUNAKHA

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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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Jim, spinning the prayer wheel outside the sacred Kyichu Lakhang

 

 

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.