When we discovered that we had a 2-day break for Losar and that it was attached to the birth anniversary celebrations for HRH and Education Day, we immediately hatched a party plan. Class of 2012 BCFers, Becky and Martha are a mere 16kms from us, in Phongmey, so the obvious thing to do was to invite them down for a night and a catch up. Radhi is conveniently placed at the exact midpoint between us, so we thought that we should walk up and they should walk down and we could all meet there. Everyone was delighted with the idea and after a couple of phone calls and emails confirming plans, we set an ETA of 11am in Radhi and we all took off from our respective homes at approximately the same time on Wednesday morning. Just the day before we had received the very welcome news that the break had been extended to include Friday and that meant we could all spend a couple of nights together.
Recently a new road heading up to Radhi from Rangjung has been carved into the mountain face and since our previous attempt at a shortcut didn’t really pan out that well, we tried that for the upward leg. We did deviate a few times and cut across the now dry and barren looking rice paddies to cut off a few hairpin bends but mostly we stayed on our dusty and almost completely vehicle-free farm road. We kept a sharp eye out for arrows and darts as there were Archery and Khuru tournaments going on everywhere. Children, men and even women were making the most of the holiday break to try out their hands at the national games. Seeing women playing khuru was a first and a very positive sign.
At almost the exact meeting time, we strolled into the remote but picturesque town of Radhi. We located a perfect picnic spot and even bumped into a former teacher from RHSS who informed us that he thought Phongmey was 13kms from Radhi. Sitting in the sun at the prayer wheel at Radhi Middle Secondary School we decided to give them a bit more time and then call and by the time we did they were actually sitting at the prayer wheel directly above us having just arrived. We soon realized that we could see each other and were united in no time. Luckily our original estimation of the distance was correct and they hadn’t had to walk 13 kms. They had however had to navigate their way across a particularly treacherous part of the road where the swiftly flowing river cuts directly over it. The pulley system with a precarious basket in which goods and maybe people too navigate this sector when the monsoon makes it impossible to ford the river, looked none too inviting when we saw it.
We all enjoyed our picnic lunch and the spectacular views before heading back down. Our own home and schools are both clearly visible from that vantage point and it always astounds me how close they look when it has taken us 2 hours to climb the 500 metres and 8 kms to get there. On the return leg we made good time as we chatted and caught up with the beginning of term activities and compared our 4 schools’ processes. We opted for the more travelled and older road and not the newer one we had taken up, once we reached the junction of the 2, as there is something so much more gratifying about doing a circuit rather than a vertical up and down. This also afforded us views of the monastery, both our schools and our own home for most of the homeward journey.
Food, laughter, drinks and nonstop conversation filled the next 2 days and nights and JD a returned BCFer from the class of 2011, like us, was a welcome inclusion by Thursday evening. He was more animated then I have ever seen him be and it now seems that we have formed our own group or as the Bhutanese like to say, “cluster. ”Although we didn’t do much in our hometown it was a great opportunity to get to know each other better and share our experiences.
Our favourite local driver was contracted to get us to Trashigang and then back to Phongmey and as usual he was resourceful and co-operative. Due to the public holidays, finding the essential items required to complete the set up of their new homes was a bit of a challenge, but we gave the shopping expedition our best shot even with the 2 best stocked stores in T/gang still closed when we arrived there on Friday morning. After scurrying all over town locating various goods at different stores, the order of the day was getting some momos for lunch.
On the way to Phongmey the driver received a call requesting that he collect some primary school children who needed to return to their boarding school in Bikhar that afternoon, which meant that we really had no time to spend at either Martha or Becky’s new homes though we could assist with the delivery of the purchases and take a quick look around before jumping back in the vehicle.
We had wrongly assumed that the driver would collect them after dropping us back in Rangjung, but 4kms from home and about 4 anxious phone calls later we turned off the main road and up an even steeper, dustier, bumpier farm road toward Chaling. It is the highest point that the road reaches above us and we had certainly never been up there before. This is one of the points where you can begin the trek to Merak and Sakteng and as we approached the top we realised that the calls had been from highland women and it was their children who were about to join us.
They were crammed in with 4 in each of the 2 back bench seats and 3 more “monkeys”, as our good natured driver called them, were positioned on the roof while Ian and I and the driver retained the front bench seat. He too is a highlander and took it all in his stride even though the 8 he had been told he was to collect, had now expanded to 11. We were reluctant to get out in Rangjung. We simply didn’t want the adventure to end and were sorely tempted to continue on to Bikhar with the kids, who had been singing along with the music in the car and competing with the boys on the roof to out sing each other.