Sunday, July 29, 2012

There is more to sport than just the game

Teaching a class that will take the national exams or the Board Exams, as they refer to them here, is somewhat daunting for an outsider in this system. Since the curriculum is heavy going and well beyond many of the students at class X level, it makes me think it is designed to eliminate students from schooling. There simply aren’t the resources for everyone to complete high school to class XII anyway. It is grueling, wading through demanding literature just trying to complete the syllabus. Every time lessons are cancelled the pressure increases.

Therefore when I heard that our school was hosting the Cluster Sports Meet again this year and that I would lose 2 class X English classes on Saturday I was less than impressed and deeply concerned about how we will make up the lost time. In the interests of GNH and my own sanity, I am trying my best not to stress…

We were only given 4 days notice so training went into immediate overdrive and I got a big kick out of playing table tennis with the team after school for a few days. As is always the case, those students who are good at sports are in almost all the teams, so finding time that didn’t clash with basketball or volleyball proved to be a challenge but we squeezed in as many practice sessions as possible and I filled in for those who were training elsewhere when necessary. I absolutely love connecting and interacting with the students beyond the walls of the classrooms so this was an opportunity to be grasped.

When our cluster schools; Rahdi Middle Secondary School and Dungste Middle Secondary School arrived on campus on Friday afternoon, the whole atmosphere of the school changed. Madam Martha fellow BCFer arrived with the Dungste team and like most of us was more than a little confused about the process and schedules for the event but managed to roll with the punches and survive sleeping in the classroom with the girls from her school for 2 nights. Students who had attended those schools were delighted to catch up with old friends and the prospect of a 2-day weekend and study periods cancelled, added a holiday feel to the place.

I stopped thinking about the lost lessons and focused on the sports that were to be played and especially the table tennis for which I was once again the person-in-charge. Senior students rallied around to do the officiating and had more idea of what was required and how to accomplish it than I did if the truth be known. I was thrilled at the responsible and reliable way they managed everything.

I also delighted in being able to just wander about the campus and chat with students. Many of those I taught last year but don’t teach now, took the opportunity to spend some time with me and I love the way they socialize with ease and grace. In addition to photographing events, I corrected a morning speech, played a few games of table tennis and even listened to an impromptu jam session. A couple of class XII girls requested some help with their project work due tomorrow and we escaped with Matron’s approval, to our home for a couple of hours to use the Internet to accomplish that task.

Bhutanese Stretchable Time (BST) was operating throughout the meet and games were played with little or no regard for the actual schedule but this didn’t seem to faze anyone but us dopey foreigners!

The weather held up well on Saturday and even the monsoon rain seemed to be co-operating in that only the last event for the day- girls football was rained on, but not so today. Most games were played in the rain and the volleyball and soccer grounds looked more like quagmires than playing fields. Spirits, however remained undaunted, competition was tough and spectators braved the conditions to cheer their teams on.

Just to make a good thing even better Rangjung won many events and there were no discipline or behavior issues either.

All that remains is to try and find some extra time to take make-up classes with XC…. But then again we are also planning a movie session one weekend soon. Even with board exams on the horizon and the syllabus far from complete, we still need to have fun together. Isn’t that what GNH is all about!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


I guess that hiking really can become addictive. Having survived the trail to Sakteng, we thought we would make the most of our newfound confidence and fitness and try our luck on another long if somewhat easier hike.

The public holiday for the First Sermon of Lord Buddha, gave us a long weekend break and we devised a plan to spend the night in Bartsham and then hike back to Rangjung. This we imagined would be an easy downhill walk and BCF Becky who was present when we first discussed it was keen to be included. In our enthusiasm, we failed to predict the amount of damage that the monsoon rains and newly excavated roads can cause.

We fondly remembered Bartsham from our only other visit there last year and although there were no blue skies this time round, it is still a stunningly beautiful place. The lone temple standing like a sentinel overlooking the valley and mountains opposite it, with clear views to several of the villages from which my students hail, has an alluring charm and having used a photo taken last time as the desktop on my computer for some months, I was keen to see it again.

Becky and Tim were both up for the visit when we arrived, with our now trusted friend and driver Lobzang, in Trashigang and we all set off in high spirits armed with a few treats. Luckily for us, the monastery has a few guest rooms, which we are able to utilize. Linda the resident Brit who teaches the monks English, was more than hospitable providing many cups of tea and a delicious dinner too. She insisted that the monks would not allow us to “lift a finger” so were treated like royalty for our brief stay. In return we tried to shower her with such luxuries as apple juice, almonds, cashews, raisins and banana cake, which we knew would not be available locally.

Once again the rain only started after we had settled into our new surroundings and taken a walk down to the village to revisit known haunts and take in the changes and developments. The clouds literally descended on the valley and settled like a blanket over the whole monastery compound and then slowly enveloped the entire village below, as we sat and watched from the comfort of a sofa in the guest living room. There is really something stunning about watching the vista disappear before your very eyes leaving you feeling as if you are sitting in the clouds.

It was a cool night and the rain, wind and much lower temperatures were a welcome relief for us after months of stifling heat but soon enough it was again time to don the hiking boots, take up the sticks, say goodbye to the indefatigable and according to Linda, somewhat bipolar “Cow Dog”  and brave the mud on the road to Bidung. Tim opted to turn to Tsenkharla in a taxi and we took to the road. We had the relatively easy task of splashing through the puddles and skirting the mud on the wide and gently sloping road for the first 9kms. Linda decided to accompany us part of the way despite her aversion to hiking in the monsoon, but when we parted ways at a water-powered prayer wheel, the road was virtually ours and ours alone as we encountered only one vehicle, an elderly couple carrying their grandchild and a small group of girls. They cheerfully called “Au revoir” so we were in no doubt that they were JD’s students.

As expected we arrived in Bidung to find JD engaged with his students and giving up his free time to ensure that they were entertained and amused over the break. We admired his garden and chatted over a cup of tea briefly before setting off once again.

This time we confidently took the track out of town passing by our favourite stand of giant prayer flags, soon after exiting the village. The next known landmark, a lovely wall chorten was bathed in soft light and glowing with red flowers as we passed it and although the path was certainly more overgrown and slippery it didn’t look too treacherous. JD had warned us about both snakes and the cuttings for the new road but the latter didn’t really register until sometime later.

We crossed the road several times and spotted the new road from various points always descending on a known trail until one final wrong turn. At that point we “bush bashed” our way through denser and denser undergrowth becoming less and less certain that we were on the right trail. Finally we emerged without a clue where we were and proceeded along the road for a few meters in search of another track.  That looked even less familiar and landed us in the middle of some unplanted paddy fields. A couple of disjointed conversations with locals got us back on track. Ian spoke in English and locals responded in Sharshopka gesticulating wildly and we continued in the direction they pointed basically. We were never too perturbed about our exact location as my school remained in sight and we were definitely heading in the right direction but the next time we hit the road nothing at all was recognisable and there was evidence of landslides everywhere.

Scouting around for a path to take we finally spotted Joyce’s Chorten and knew that there was no way would get lost from there. As we approached our beloved picnic ground and very, very familiar territory there was an incredible explosion and I immediately thought that they were blasting on the road we were headed for but no. Within seconds we spotted a huge fire in one of the houses in a village, in clear view from our trail but on the facing mountain. From the walks we have done with students who love to point out their own villages I was pretty convinced that it was in Galing and there was no hope of saving the house.

There was one final obstacle on the homeward stretch when Ian took off down a bit of a scree slope leading to the new road and it started giving away underneath him. Becky inched passed and I took to the edge and slid along on my backside hoping the whole cliff would fall from under me.

Soon enough we were scurrying towards our house pleased as punch with ourselves for having made it home without sighting a single snake or causing any major mudslides. Excavating roads in or before the monsoon season really does seem to double the destruction to say nothing of rendering the likes of us incapable of recognising our local landmarks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sakteng Hike - a photo essay

7am bright eyed and bushy tailed - let the adventure begin!

Out of Phongmey, one short cut down a cliff face, over a suspension bridge and the trail begins.

One of many wall chortens -this one just before Joenkharteng

Where we thought we would stop overnight but decided to press on after arriving at 12.30pm and at the  suggestion of our Tibetan guide: Lobzang.

All along the way beautiful Brokpa people who do this not once, but with regularity in order to eat to survive. They and their horse / oxen / cow trains go up and down continually.

The trail was muddy, steep, rocky, treacherous and a quagmire by turns but we slogged on.

4 hours later and I was incapable of another step and ever resourceful Lobzang negotiated for us to stay in this family home at Thrakthrik where we were treated with hospitality and kindness.

One of the many children at the house, half way up a tree at 6.30am and cheeky as a monkey with it.

As soon as the steep uphill climb commenced the next morning Lobzang took my pack in addition to his own and I still found the going tough.

The greatest gift of the monsoon- the spectacular waterfalls viewed from wooden plank bridges traversing the river.

Hard to keep focusing on where to put one's feet even though it is essential when the views are so breath taking.

That spellbinding moment when the tunnel vision of the trail opens up to high altitude meadows and the first glimpse of Sakteng.

tired but not defeated.

The stats!

Campsite kitchen and the rain started less than 30 mins after we got there. Sometimes the gods are smiling on us!

After 12 hours of sleep we were at school for the early morning study session and with exams around the corner everyone was focused on the task.

Back at school when lessons had begun.

one of the cooks at the school with his daughter.

Heading up even higher to visit a monastery the next morning- takes commitment to lug all that traditional attire up to that altitude just to be appropriately dressed for the religious experience- well done Lobzang.

 Maybe not "stairway to heaven" but it just might be "gateway to paradise".

Standing in front of the doorway to the very Lakhang he remembers being carried to on his mother's back, as a 6 year old, having been born in this valley to Tibetan refugees.

High altitude pastures and horses in their element. 

Let the beautiful faces of the Brokpa people speak for themselves!

The charm of Sakteng town.

view from the guesthouse.

"beast of burden"

"time to go"

The trail back- those waterfalls revisited!

That first, now last suspension bridge with the raging red mudslide water after an exhausting 26 km bolt down from paradise!

Have a look in full screen, the river looks like lava!