Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The restorative effects of picnicking and nature -A PHOTO ESSAY

I always struggle with exam time: the lack of contact with students, the ever-changing timings, the pressure to complete the marking within tight deadlines, my own obsession with quality correction and the desire to see my students do well. I made up my mind I would mentally prepare myself for this stressful and discouraging time this year, by beginning it with a calm and collected state of mind and all administrative tasks complete.

As we were privileged to get a 4 day break just before the final 2 days of teaching I decided to try to quiet my mind, blow the cobwebs out of my routine thinking, energize myself and create some inner peace in those few days, in the hope that it would hold me in good stead for the 2-week exam period ahead. Of course Swifty was also on board. Although the break was really the culmination of the year long celebration of the Fourth King’s Sixtieth Birth Anniversary we chose to forgo those special events and instead relax, unwind, refuel and replenish our sense of aesthetics.  We took to preparing delicious picnic lunches each morning and hiking in local places of renown scenic and natural beauty to consume them. Both these pass times bring us immense pleasure and we managed not to come to blows over who would create the day’s cuisine.

Now on day 3 of the exam period the sense of serenity and contentment we deliberately cultivated has largely evaporated and I guess that means my original objective failed but the following photo essay attempts to bring it back to mind and reassure us such inspiration is just outside the door even here in the big smoke………

DAY ONE – WANGDITSE : easy hike and delicious Japanese style lunch

DAY TWO – HIKING TRAIL NEAR BUDDHA POINT: flying prayer flags for Jessica’s newborn daughter

DAY THREE : rest those tired feet and admire the spectacle of the capital in festive mode. Actually clocked up the most kilometres (17) on this venture

DAY FOUR – TANGO MONESTARY AND UNIVERSITY OF BUDDHIST STUDIES : well worn and spectacular walking path up to the gods.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

oNe PhOtO a DaY:OcToBeR

wEeK oNe OcToBeR 2015

Since I’d done an alphabet challenge of Bhutan before using the huge national symbols, motifs and icons of the kingdom, I decided to try to make this one the alphabet of simple everyday items, practices and events in Bhutan. Feel free to let me know how you think I went!


MONDAY 5th A IS FOR…. Accessory! I wear Bhutanese dress almost everyday to school and I wouldn't feel completely dressed without an accessory to hold it all in place: these 'jackets' and 'shirts' have no fasteners at all

TUESDAY 6TH B IS FOR….B is for ...... Bamboo basketry and particularly the round variety known locally a Bang Chu

WEDNESDAY 7TH C IS FOR….Chungki: This game is played across Bhutan and is a bit like hacky sac.  The ‘chungki’ itself might be made of elastic bands or weeds tied together but it is very popular with junior primary kids especially girls and even some middle school kids can’t resist when they see others playing

THURSDAY 8TH D IS FOR…… Doma: the addictive chew of betel nut, lime and leaf that permeates many Asian cultures and is very pervasive in Bhutan

FRIDAY 9TH E IS FOR…. elephant: one of the famous four friends in the parable, which is depicted on walls all over Bhutan. This particular one is in my school library and takes up the whole wall above the quiet reading zone

SATURDAY 10TH F IS FOR….Flags. All kinds of celebrations in Bhutan warrant the hanging of these kinds of flags from sports days to royal visits and it is almost a daily occurrence to see them somewhere

SUNDAY 11TH G IS FOR…. Gate. No gateway is truly Bhutanese until it been dressed and this one was clothed in stunning colours for the annual Health Walk at Royal Thimphu College this morning  

wEeK tWo OcToBeR 2015


MONDAY 12th H is for ……. hot-case, as it is called in local parlance. It might be a tiffin or a thermos or even an insulated lunch box in some places, but like most Bhutanese I've got one and it contains my "curry and rice" most days and is nowhere near as up market as the versions most of the students carry.

TUESDAY 13th I is for ……. inspiration. Every school, government office, public building and home in Bhutan has at least one photo, picture or poster of the King. This one is my favourite. I love that HM is barefoot and the kids are focused on the ball. On this the 4th wedding anniversary of their Royal Highnesses this seemed appropriate. They are an inspiration to the kingdom.  

WEDNESDAY 14th J is for ……. jam. A local product and organic too, this jam comes from Bumthang in central Bhutan and is made at one of our favourite hotels there. We bought these as gifts for colleagues when we were there recently but I'm not sure jam is a regular part of the diet here, so I guess we have a stash now. Hope that qualifies as a daily item in Bhutan

THURSDAY 15th K is for ……. Kuensel. Nothing could be more daily than the daily news. Kuensel meaning  "clear to everyone" in Dzonkha

FRIDAY 16th L is for ……. Lama. Not a household item but this man is a household name in Bhutan where his work with rehabilitated addicts is legendary.

SATURDAY 17th M is for ……. money. The ngultrum being Bhutanese currency and like many other countries it has the various kings on each of the notes. Unfortunately money is a daily necessity here despite it being the Kingdom of Happiness

SUNDAY 18th N is for ..... notebooks. Despite the Internet connectivity, mobile phone reception and other modern devices, Bhutan still uses a lot of notebooks and its not just the school kids. Business records are kept in them, speeches delivered from them, attendance at meetings recorded in them and stores even wrap breakable goods in used pages from them. I especially love reading the contents of the pages when I get home from shopping. I also love that the cover designs are so unmistakably Bhutanese

wEeK tHrEe OcToBeR 2015


MONDAY 19th O is for ....... outdoor events. We don't have a hall big enough for the whole school to gather so many events are held outdoors. This was evening prayers today but morning assemblies, graduation and even dance competitions are also conducted on the grounds and this is not at all unusual in Bhutan

TUESDAY 20th P is for ....... prayer flag. They come in 5 specific colours but all shapes and sizes and a whole row of this particular style tower above the sports ground at my school

WEDNESDAY 21st Q is for ....... Queen. Ashi Jetsun Pema the Queen of Bhutan is not only intelligent, compassionate and stunningly beautiful, but also an inspiration to the kingdom's girls. This is a shot of a magazine photo since commoners like me are not permitted to photograph the royal couple. She graces many daily household items including coffee cups but I most frequently see her image on the badges student wear

THURSDAY 22nd R is for ....... religious celebrations. Today we were lucky enough to be welcomed into the home of a dear friend and not only met her family but participated in the Hindu Dasai celebrations. Although Bhutan is predominately Buddhist it speaks volumes that this festival is a public holiday and religious tolerance prevails. Thanks also to our charming host Anjana for taking this photo with my phone

FRIDAY 23rd S is for ....... stripes. Almost all my traditional kira are stripes. The choices are really only plain, checks, stripes or heavily embroidered designs. Mine seem to all be variations on stripes

SATURDAY 24th T is for .......  thanka- the beautiful religious scrolls presented with multi-coloured silk borders and found everywhere in Bhutan

SUNDAY 25th U is for ....... ungulate. We see these beasts daily on our walks despite living in the capital. They graze freely in roadsides and wander wherever they please though there is usually a keeper close at hand

wEeK fOuR OcToBeR 2015


MONDAY 26th V is for ……. vase. One of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism - the treasure vase or cup of life, representing Buddha's everlasting life. A common symbol in every corner of the country

TUESDAY 27th W is for ……. Window frames. In this case the spectacular carved and intricately painted wooden window frames of the Trashichho Dzong.

WEDNESDAY 28th X is for ………Class X students doing eXams and at a Xroad with their lives as students. These are only trials for the real national exams coming next month but appropriately enough the exams finished today right on cue

THURSDAY 29th Y is for ……… Yathra the unique weaving style of very warm woollen items, which originate in Bumthang. These are the only 3 pieces we have and I treasure them

FRIDAY 30th Z is for ……….. Zhabdrung Rinpoche, which is Dzonghka, meaning at whose feet one submits and the honorific title bestowed on Ngawang Namgyal. He features in thankas such as this and innumerable statues and images across Bhutan

SATURDAY 31st ONE: I guess all carved pumpkins or Jack O Lanterns are really one of a kind and this is the first and only one I have even attempted but it did take two of us to make it. The Halloween themed Senior School Concert being performed tonight inspired us all to try our hand at making them. Sometimes Bhutan really does embrace a rage of cultures and it often takes me out of my comfort zone!

SUNDAY TWO: The two most popular and common Bhutanese ingredients for daily meals – red rice and chillies