Monday, January 24, 2011

Tiger's Nest Monastery

The morning started early. We were breakfasted and on the road in the bus heading for the Tiger's Nest Monastery by 7.15. About 30 minutes later we began our ascent of the mountain accompanied by 4 or five scruffy but friendly dogs. We were at about 2,200 metres when we began our trek and were heading for the Monastery which was about 3,000 metres. The beginning was easy enough but soon the combination of altitude and exertion began taking their toll. My heart was pounding in my ears as I removed layer after layer of clothing. The trail took us past a water powered prayer wheel in a clearing filled with prayer flags which, on the way down was the site of a shopping opportunity in the form of a sheet laid out on the ground with Bhutanese 'treasures' laid out carefully and 'shop keepers' eager to sell.
Onward and upward.
We stopped for a breather after about 45 minutes of pretty strenuous hiking, drank water and cooled off sufficiently to start up agin with gusto.
We passed more prayer wheels big and small and thousands of prayer flags going in every direction in a riot of colour.
We made it to the cafeteria in pretty good condition and after a short rest continued further up the mountainside to the bird's eye viewpoint.
Words cannot do justice to the scene.Suffice to say it was a view unlike any other I have seen. The monastery was literally growing out of the cliff face and clinging to the slope following the contours exactly. We chose not to continue the rest of the way to the actual monastery instead opting to enjoy the view from a distance. Two of our party did, in fact, reach the buildings and they reported that it was an amazing experience to be so close to something so special.
Standing around and enjoying the view was fine for 15 minutes or so but we started to freeze so we descended back to the cafe with it's roaring wood stove and nice hot cups of tea. We warmed up and further took in the views until the rest of the group rejoined us and we all set off downhill together.
We met many people making the trek upwards and we tried out all our known Himalayan greetings, Kuzuzampola for the Bhutanese,Tashi Delek for the Tibetans and Julay for the many Ladhakis we met. Men and women, old and young, fit and unfit, all were eagerly climbing up intent on reaching the hallowed grounds and buildings of the monastery. We even encountered a family of Aussies making the ascent on pony back! I
The monastery has a fascinating history which is well worth investigating.
Once we returned to the bus we all felt as though we had been part of something very special and were happy that we had been able to do it on only our second day in Bhutan.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Arriving at Paro

We have now arrived in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon and luckily for us the Dragon must have been looking the other way on our approach to Paro airport as it was pretty smooth the whole way. The last 15 minutes or so were amazing with snow covered peaks jutting majestically out of the clouds and then mountains either side of us as we zoomed down the valley getting lower and lower and closer to the airport. We could clearly see the settlements on the ground, the bare paddy fields, the meandering tracks, the river and streams, the trees and finally the town of Paro and the International Airport. It was a bit like landing at the old Hong Kong airport but instead of flying between apartment buildings we were shooting past pine trees and cypress trees and mountains and amazing Tibetan houses.
The entry formalities were a breeze, customs was mainly interested in finding out whether we were carrying any tobacco products! They x-rayed Vix bag but mine stayed on the trolley. We were met by one of the office staff, Karma, well before we had even gotten our bags off the belt. He is great, smiling and friendly and he seems to know everyone which may have helped us pass through customs so easily, he just told them we were all good!
We have checked in to the Dechen Hill Resort which is fabulous. After a short break we were taken to the National Museum of Bhutan which is a former watchtower. An amazing structure, a round freestone building with a labyrinth of rooms, corridors and quite possibly tunnels and secret doorways etc. There are great views to be had from it which makes sense as it was there to spot the invaders and other baddies before they could upset anything. The museum houses antiquities general and also has a great photographic section with some great old shots as well as some newer ones of the Royal Family and stuff.
Oh, I forgot lunch. We have now eaten (and survived) the national dish of chillies and cheese which is called 'ema datse'. Good tucker.
Yes it is cold, Karma said calmly that it must be minus 3 degrees when I asked him! The good news is that our place, Rangjung is pretty near tropical, even too hot for him in the summer!! He was there in January and has seen our prospective houses and today told us that there is another one to consider, the home of the past principal of Vix school who was recently transferred to another school. That place is in the compound of the school and he thinks that is good. We can check all of them out before we have to make a decision.
We are staying here in Paro until everyone gets here which should be Sunday then we are all off to the capital, Thimphu, where we will have our orientation for 2 weeks. We will all slowly buy the things we need to set up our new homes during that time. Karma suggests getting a rice cooker, gas stove, curry cooker (?), traditional garb, SIM cards for everyone's phones, and a thousand other sundry items.
In summary,we are happy to have arrived here and it seems fantastical, terribly Tibetan but with a strong dash of Indian thrown in.
Thailand may be called the Land of Smiles, but this is definitely the country of Happy Chappies.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The beginning of the adventure

In less than 48 hours we will leave our hometown of Adelaide South Australia to fly to Bhutan via Bangkok. We will spend this year teaching in Rangjung in eastern Bhutan and we are really looking forward to the adventure. Right now we are surrounded by luggage and making the hard decisions about what we can take and what stays behind. We are feeling nervous, excited, anxious and unsure. There are more questions than answers about our posting but we can hardly wait to get there and begin the orientation in Thimphu. It will be great to meet our fellow intrepid travellers and teachers. This is a first attempt at blogging so we hope to get better at it as the year progresses. Please join us on the adventure and post your comments.