Three weeks of gorgeous, sunny weather, warm during the day and crisp at night, is heaven to a recent Whidbey Island transplant, used to fog and mist until midday. So all the exigencies of the past weeks can be forgiven as I view the imposing Himalayan mountains, the white clouds, and the endless sun.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a tour person, but that is the only way to see exotic Bhutan, which I reveled in for seven days. Just flying into the tiny airport was an unexpected thrill, with passengers squealing as the wings of the plane seemed to graze the mountaintops and valleys in their circuitous path toward the runway. I was lucky to sit on the left side of the plane, which afforded clear views of such majestic peaks as Makalu, Everest, and Lhotse…sights that never cease to excite me.
I have vivid memories of six very full days in this peaceful country, visiting major temples and dzongs (fortresses), walking the strenuous trail to the Cheri Gompa, as well as the Tiger’s Nest at 10,000 ft., which hangs onto a 900 ft. precipice, with 750 stairs on the final approach. And it was awesome to stand on the Dochula Pass viewing the northern mountains of the Tibetan Himalaya, called the Jigme Singye Wangchuck, from the 108 chortens built in memory of fallen soldiers during a war between Bhutan and Tibet. We climbed up through these colorful monuments and got an amazing panoramic view from the Druk Wangyal Temple on top. This was reached by an elegant stone staircase. The last time I climbed as many stone stairs as I did in Bhutan was on the Inca Trail in 2003!
The small Kingdom of Bhutan (650-700,000 population) has never been invaded or occupied by another country and they take pride in their independence and cultural purity. They need to do a lot of work building their infrastructure, and are getting help from the United Nations and several western countries, who are interested in helping to preserve the Bhutanese culture. Things are changing radically, however, as the West introduces new forms of building and more sophisticated business models, and the highly educated young people are seeking to go beyond farming and traditional art into new careers and enterprises. This, of course, is happening throughout Asia.
Like all tourists, I have hundreds of pictures, but no way to put them on my blog until I return home in January. So please be patient with me and I’ll make a slideshow at that time. Words really can’t begin to describe the beauty of the ancient buildings, the farms, or the countryside. So I won’t try. I did enjoy several pujas, which were quite different from the ones I attended in Tibet, Sikkim, Dharamsala, and Ladakh. The chanting seemed more rapid-fire and there were more instruments accompanying the traditional drums and long, deep horns. I enjoyed an oboe-like horn, a recorder, and a type of lyrical wooden flute. People were milling about, doing prostrations with their young children, which was lovely to watch. The antiphonal singing reverberated magically through the stone buildings. I so wished I had brought my tape recorder!
Election day has come and gone in Nepal to the relief of most of the people with whom I’ve talked. The Maoists are on the way out and it looks as if the country is bouncing back from a very dreary, unproductive time, tantamount to civil war. Jimmy Carter and his team were here to monitor the election and felt satisfied with the outcome. Was quite a day! Everything was closed and no cars or motorbikes were allowed. I loved it. I could walk around without endangering my life. I will say that as I strolled around both Bhutan and Kathmandu I found my biggest challenge, aside from broken pavement and potholes, was not to forget that cars and bicycles and motorcycles were coming toward me in the “wrong” direction. The Brits set the driving pattern and vulnerable Westerners have to be on their toes. Even so, I never get used to walking around the narrow streets and alleys, wondering if I should just continue or jump out of the way. It’s like a game of chicken, and most of the time I’m the “chicken!”
The electricity is about to turn go off for the next three hours, so I’ll close. This is a common occurrence in Asia. Will try to get back on this afternoon.