Thursday, July 31, 2014

oNe PhOtO a DaY fOr JuLy

 Since for half of this month we will be on holidays I have decided to make it my month of showcasing Bhutan with every photo:- let’s see if I succeed.


1.  RED + WHITE: two letters from the Dzongkha script, which is what is used in Bhutan and it is closely related to Tibetan. Actually it is the same letter twice if I am not mistaken. I love the way it looks like a pair of eyes

(especially if you view it upside down)    - like big brother is watching us. It is part of the signage for a bank on the main street in Thimphu

2. SOMETHING BEGINNING WITH K: the special coronation blend of whiskey produced here in Bhutan, known as “K5”. In this case “K” stand for the king and yes the 5 is because he is the 5th monarch of the kingdom

3. MATCH: in fact not a perfect match but very close and pairs of phalluses just like these adorn, the walls and entrances of many traditional homes and buildings in Bhutan. This shot from archives was taken in the district where we now live but never imagined that we would, at the time it was taken in February 2011

4. STARS: of the Bhutanese cinema from yester year found on the wall of the now disused cinema in downtown Thimphu

5. ON THE TABLE: a plate of momos; Tibetan style dumplings. We consider them Bhutan's best local snack food and indulge whenever we can.

5b. ON THE TABLE: Ian on the table and receiving treatment in the physiotherapy department of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu, where he has been for the last 4 days. At least it is finally starting to make a difference and the swelling is going down even if he still needs the crutches to walk. Thanks Tshering and Sandy for doing such a great job

6. VIEW: the view of the Haa valley in the far west of Bhutan taken from Chelela the highest road pass at 3,988 metres, as we came through this morning. Just managed to snap a shot before those clouds dropped down and blanketed the whole valley, already half the peaks are concealed.

7. FIRST: first and only chorten I have ever seen with its own roof protecting the central structure, which usually contains the treasure or religious relic.

8. I’VE NEVER…. wanted to drive on these treacherous, narrow, mountain roads in Bhutan where hairpin bends, switch backs and sheer drop-offs, combine with landslides, rock falls, road blocks, near misses and low visibility but always showcase magical scenery, and finally leave you in breathtaking wonder that you actually survived the journey.  I am however delighted to have been a passenger and survivor of many awesome adventures across the kingdom, including today’s trip from Haa back to Thimphu.

9. ALIVE: these dogs might look dead but they are very much alive and simply resting, despite the fact that this is the main intersection at the traffic circle in downtown Thimphu. They sleep here most afternoons and as anyone who has ever visited Bhutan would know, like stray dogs all over the country, they keep the population awake with their almost constant howling and barking all night long.

10. SHARP: These darts known as “khuru” in Bhutan might not look sharp but they are indeed sharpened to a fine point and can penetrate a solid wooden target from approximately 20 metres when thrown by someone with the requisite skills. Khuru or Bhutanese darts is just one of the traditional sports played here

11. GOLD: a hand held prayer wheel in motion at the newly consecrated lakhang (monastery) in downtown Thimphu this morning

12. INTERIOR: of the same lakhang as we saw yesterday, still crowded with devotees listening to the eminent lama deliver an inspirational sermon. Every corner of not just the hall, but also the grounds was teeming with people. I was even discouraged from spinning the prayer wheels because the tinkling of the bells distracted those who were listening intently

13. LOOK UP: from the grounds of the same lakhang, standing at the bottom of the poles of prayer flags it is always lovely to glimpse the blue sky above when you look up

14. OLD SCHOOL: there is nothing quite so old school as having no traffic lights in the entire country and even in the busiest intersection downtown having a police officer in a police box directing traffic all day everyday.

15. TORN: the cliff face is torn apart by blasting and excavation for road widening and the road itself is torn up by the monsoon rains and unrelenting, heavy traffic – makes for scary summer journeys on the lateral road from west to east in Bhutan

16. LISTENING TO…..: most days several times a day we have the opportunity to listen to birdsong and this Red-vented Bulbul is pretty common all over Bhutan

17. SUNSHINE: the monsoon season provides weather alternating from torrential rain and nearly white out cloud cover conditions to blue skies and blindingly bright sunshine; the rays seem to select particular subjects to illuminate in the late afternoon in particular

18. ADMIRE: everyday on my way to school I make a point of stopping to admire the view from the bend in the road above the primary school but recently it has been completely obscured by cloud cover. This was the 6am view from the living room window this morning and I am glad I took the time to admire it as the valley was cloaked in cloud by the time I headed out. The rice is flourishing now

19. CURLY: What immediately came to mind when I saw this prompt was these fiddlehead ferns, which are a summer treat here in Bhutan. They are usualy served with sauce made from “datse” (homemade cottage cheese) like so many other Bhutanese dishes. We like to call them “Mr. Curlies” with due respect and admiration to Michael Leunig of course.

20. MOMENT: after the jostling crowds, scorching heat and burning sun at the Bajo Sunday Market we had to take a moment to cool down and this refreshing Bhumthang made apple cider in our favourite hotel restaurant was just what the doctor ordered. Just one of the many Bhumthang products that are not so easy to find outside the district.

21. BASIC: Bhutanese classrooms are pretty basic: just the greenboard (they’re not black but they are magnetic!) a place to pin notices, a collection of photos of the royal couple and a stack of exercise books and textbooks, being the norm! Nice to see that given the opportunity the students are still keen to engage, especially when it involves group work.

22. I WORE THIS!: a combination of blue wangdue (shirt) and tego (jacket) to match my kira (skirt) : all 3 constitute traditional Bhutanese dress for women and I wear it every weekday for school. Today I was not happy with the colour matching after I was dressed but then a class VIII girl greeted me at school with “Madam is looking beautiful,” just after I took this photo at the prayer wheel on campus, so perhaps  I am finally adopting a Bhutanese sense of fashion.

23. MACRO: my favourite traditional Bhutanese brooch featuring a dragon. Since none of the items of national dress for women have any fasteners, a belt (mine is featured in the background) and safety pins are essential for holding it all in place in this modern age. Most women usually add a brooch to their tego as the final touch and I have a small collection though this is the favourite by a long shot

24. WATER: constantly flows from this tap despite the sign; with no handle it is actually impossible to turn it off. This is a common problem across Bhutan, where water shortages are also a huge problem. Even in the monsoon season when water is flooding the roads, supply is cut off and then when it returns water gushes from faucets, which cannot be turned off

25. HOME: this home in the village closest to where we live has always seemed charming and well-loved to me. It is surrounded by much more imposing traditional structures but this one just looks so much like home.

26. FUN: I have always admired the way Bhutanese children and adolescents can make their own fun without fancy gadgets or electronic devices. This is a shot from archives taken at the annual school picnic in Rangjung 2012. It is my first home class and by far the class with which I have had the most fun in Bhutan

27. TEN: the top ten prayer flags on the newly erected and incredibly tall pole, which was put up yesterday as part of the ceremony and consecration of the Goddess of Knowledge statue in the primary school

28. COOL: after a hot, sunny afternoon and 36 hours without water, at dusk the dark clouds rolled in, the thunder growled, lightening flashed and the skies opened up. It was deliciously cool to be soaked to the skin and carrying bucket loads of water up those treacherous stairs to refill our 60 litre plastic bin in the kitchen. I’m now cool and its cool we have at least a 2-day supply of water on hand. Water storage being a reoccurring theme in Bhutan this is not that unusual and our neighbours looked and behaved exactly like me. Thanks go to Ian for snapping the shot

29. REPEAT: the symbols and motifs of Buddhism are all repeated in the designs on woodwork, fabric, scrolls, murals, jewelry and costumes for festivals and masked dances.  The face of the dragon is a favourite of mine and I posses a painting and a brooch as well as many photos of it. In fact it is a repeat of the image on my favourite brooch posted for prompt 23: macro

30. LOST: the people are completely lost under these stacks of dried pine needles. We often see walking mountains of pine needles heading up the paths around our home and we assume that they are used in the cowsheds before ending up as compost

31. RISE: before our journey to Thimphu this morning I was wondering just how high the luggage on the roof rack was going to rise before we departed and just for the record one level higher than when this shot was taken. Never would space inside the vehicle be taken up by luggage no matter how much there is. Nine passengers also crammed inside with the driver and we all arrived safe and sound (70 kms in 3 hours).

Well that’s it. I gave it my best shot to showcase Bhutan and follow the prompts. Just the odd one from archives but all Bhutanese through and through. What do you think did I succeed?  Do you have a favourite?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Haa – A Photo Essay

There are 2 options for road travel to and from Haa and both offer spectacular views.

The roadsides and valleys were awash with irises at this time of year,

and a joy to behold both close up and from a distance.

Chelela is the highest road pass in Bhutan and we had a 5- minute window of opportunity to glimpse the Haa valley below from the top before the clouds completely obscured our view.

Undeterred by the vanishing view, I applied myself to the mission of flying a new string of prayer flags at the top while Ian waited patiently in the car.

The windy conditions and crystal clear air more than compensated for the disappearance of the views,

…which reappeared intermittently as we descended anyway.

The main street is a sleepy row of general stores and parking space is easy to come by…..

…… as is the laid back lifestyle and a sense of friendly camaraderie among the locals.

Summer is certainly the perfect time to visit Haa as it is the season for blooms…….

……. and brilliant blue skies.

Winter on the other hand must be extremely chilly as the as the ever-growing stockpiles of wood verify.

When we made our booking to visit Haa during the Summer Festival we weren’t aware that hiking wouldn’t be an option.

Wandering slowly around town certainly provided entertainment enough for us, and confirmation that traditional culture is alive and well way out west.

Some of the best examples of freshly painted Buddhist motifs were to be found on the newly completed rammed earth buildings, we are now very familiar with. This one is on a building, for which we saw the foundations being rammed on our first visit to Haa last September.

I was surprised that the raven crown is also a symbol, which appears on noticeboards and signposts in abundance throughout the town, when I have hardly ever noticed it before. This example is the finial on the entrance gate to Gongzim Ugyen Dorji Higher Secondary School.

The thirst generated by our afternoon walk was more than adequately taken care of by our host in this little family style restaurant.

The locals were thrilled to see us and keen to communicate too, even if it did mean using only gestures and the topic of conversation was always Ian’s injury.

The best local use for the bright sunshine of the summer season is drying meat to hoard for the long, cold, winter months ahead and there was an interesting variety of hanging spots utilized.

With a new dzong under construction and the beautifully maintained ancient one currently housing IMTRAT (the Indian Military Training Team) this magnificent structure is the Ha Namgayling Dzong.

So wherever the wind may blow us next year and beyond, we certainly hope that this will not be our final visit to the sensationally beautiful Haa Valley. A small part of me hopes we might even be posted there despite my knowledge that no-one in BCF ever has been and my dread of the extremely cold winters.