Bhutan # 17 : The Haa Valley

 

Here, in the upper reaches of the Paro Valley, the rice paddies climb further up the adjoining slopes.  A lot of water can be seen in some paddies as these have yet to drain after heavy rain associated with cyclone Phailin.

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P1000931  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000931 © DY of jtdytravels

Terraced rice paddies are easy to flood but being so level, are slow to drain.

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P1000932  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000932 © DY of jtdytravels

Beautiful patterns are created as the harvested rice is laid out in lines.

Some attempt has been made to cover some of the crop with blue tarpaulins.

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P1000927 © DY of jtdytravels

What a wonderful face.

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P1000940  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000940 © DY of jtdytravels

The highest point, 3988m (13,084ft), on the Paro-Dantak road.

The road leads to the Haa Valley

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P1000941  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000941 © DY of jtdytravels

108 is an auspicious number for Bhutanese Buddhists.  For those who can afford the expense, 108 prayer flags are erected on a high pass to commemorate the death of a family member.  Prayer flags have mantras printed on them and come in a vertical format (above) or square.  These vertical flags are called darchor.  The square flags, which usually come in a string of five colours, are called lung ta.  A wooden block is used to print the prayers.

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P1000970  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000970 © DY of jtdytravels

The view back down into the Paro Valley.

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P1000971  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000971 © DY of jtdytravels

In general, high passes are favoured places to erect prayer flags.  Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom.  It is believed that the mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space, bringing benefit to all.  It is further believed that these thoughts become a permanent part of the universe and as the images and words fade from exposure to the elements, this represents the cycle of life – the old being replaced by the new. Therefore new flags will be erected alongside old ones.  These flags must always be treated with respect and never placed on the ground.  Old flags should be burned.  It is believed by some that if the flags are hung on what is deemed to be an inauspicious day, they may bring bad results for as long as they are flying.  A sunny, windy morning is the best time to put up new flags.

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P1000972  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000972 © DY of jtdytravels

The Chele La (pass) was covered with flags of five different colours.  The colours are arranged in a specific order from left to right.  Blue symbolises the sky and space, white – air and wind, red – fire, green – water, and yellow – earth.

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P1000975 © DY of jtdytravels

A popular Buddhist tradition is to enshrine portion of a person’s ashes in a small reliquary known as a tsa-tsa.  The ashes are combined with some clay, dried, sometimes painted, and left at a place of power such as near a river, stupa or in a cave.

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P1000992  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000992 © DY of jtdytravels

The Haa Valley is a steep-sided narrow valley in the far west of Bhutan.  Wheat and barley are the main crops grown in the valley however some rice is grown in the lower parts.  Apples, potatoes and chillis are cash crops grown on the terraced lower hillsides.  Census statistics indicate that every household owns some animals, mostly yaks, cattle, and some chickens, pigs and horses.  The flat area to the centre left contains a helipad and was the place we stopped to have our packed lunch.  The valley was only opened to foreign tourism in 2002.  Facilities are still scant.

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P1000994  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000994 © DY of jtdytravels

Traditional farmhouses dot the valley.

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P1000995 © DY of jtdytravels

The Haa Dzong is a military installation.  We were told that there is some agitation to have the army vacate the dzong and return it to the people.  The base is maintained in the valley to guard against incursions from China.

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P1010009 © DY of jtdytravels

Our boxed lunches were laid out on tarpaulins on the ground.

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P1010010  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1010010 © DY of jtdytravels

Each box was labelled with its contents.  Salmon, chargrilled vegetables (my yummy choice), roast beef, garden salad, hogay salad etc.  There were boiled eggs, pieces of fruit cake and fruit as well.

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P1010011  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1010011 © DY of jtdytravels

Forestry is very important to the local economy with 78% of the district being covered in forest.  A substantial part of the NE half of the Haa District is defined as the Torsa Strict Native Reserve.  There is no human habitation in this reserve.

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P1010016  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1010016 © DY of jtdytravels

These happy school kids are wearing a school uniform that is not traditional.

 I don’t know why.

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P1010017  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1010017 © DY of jtdytravels

This interesting sign refers to the proper dress that must be worn when a Bhutanese visits a Dzong or other administrative centres.  A “kapni”, usually spelt “kabney”, is a long scarf that is hung over the left shoulder and loosely tied on the right side at about knee level.  The colour of the Kabney varies with rank.  Yellow is reserved for the King and Head Abbot, orange is worn by Ministers, green by Judges, red with a narrow white stripe is worn by a District Administrator.  Commoners wear white kabneys.  Women wear a similar scarf, called a rachu, although colour has no significance.  These are usually woven out of raw silk and richly embroidered.

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P1010018  ©  DY  of  jtdytravls

P1010018 © DY of jtdytravls

A string of chillies drying on an ornately decorated window in the Haa Valley.

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P1010021 © DY of jtdytravels

A traditional, ornate wooden window under construction.  Local soft-wood is invariably used.  The heavy construction matches the solid building techniques used to construct the rest of the building.

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P1010024 © DY of jtdytravels

These bricks have come from India,”Bharat” being an Indian brick manufacturer.

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P1010027 © DY of jtdytravels

The Haa Valley is home to two important temples.

The Black Temple and the White Temple were built at the same time in the 7th Century.

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P1010028 © DY of jtdytravels

A string of freshly hung chillies being dried for later use in the winter.

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P1010030 © DY of jtdytravels

The White temple being renovated and restored.

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More anon

David

Photography copyright ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

more of our travel stories can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bhutan # 13 Tango University, Thimphu

 

A stop on the way to the Tango monastery was made at this mural painted on a large sheer rock face.  Near the mural was a small building with a water driven prayer wheel.  To one side was an open structure created by prayer flags. I’m not sure what it was all about but it was very photogenic.

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P1000710  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000710 © DY of jtdytravels

The colourful mural of Buddha.

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P1000709  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000709 © DY of jtdytravels

Row upon row of white prayer flags tumbled from the apex of the structure.  Near the bottom were some rows of coloured square ‘lung ta’ prayer flags

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P1000714 © DY of jtdytravels

The whole structure was most impressive.

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P1000726 © DY of jtdytravels

Tango Monastery is about 14 kilometres north of Thimpu.  Its a steepish hike up to the this site which was founded in the 13th Century as a place of meditation in caves in the mountain side.  The monastery was built over the caves in 1688.

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P1000729   ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000729 © DY of jtdytravels

Campanula sp. with very bristly stems and calyx.

As usual on these walks, I found flowers of interest to photograph.

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P1000735 © DY of jtdytravels

Impatiens sp.  Yellow balsam

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P1000759 © DY of jtdytravels

In Bhutanese, the name Tango means horse’s head. The rock face on the mountain here is identified as the ‘Horse head’ or ‘Hayagriva’, the name of the deity worshiped here.

Tango Monastery is renowned in Bhutan as a University of Buddhist teaching.  Below the monastery, a new university is being built that will take overseas students who want to learn more about Buddhism.

Tango is also an important summer retreat for monks. This retreat, known as The Yarney, is held here in August/September.  ‘Yar’ means “Summer” and ‘Ney’ means “to stay” and Yarney is a time when monks come to the monastery and stay within its precincts for the entire period while they observe strict monastic discipline, say special chants and prayers and avoid any type of entertainment.  During this time the monks wear yellow robes, going back to the usual red robes when they return home after the Yarney is over.

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P1000738 © DY of jtdytravels

On the day we visited Tango, many bright, new prayer flags were in evidence. We learned that an important graduation ceremony had taken place just before our arrival.  Monks graduate after 3 years, 3 months and 3 days meditation.  Many family members and friends attended the graduation and were still around when we were there.

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P1000749 © DY of jtdytravels

Butter lamps are an important part of Bhutanese Buddhanism.  Traditionally these lamps burn clarified yak butter but more often these days ghee or vegetable oil is used.  The small lamps seen here burn for about one day.  The lamps are managed by the monks of the monastery as extreme care must be taken to avoid fire.  Many a monastery has been burnt to the ground by a misplaced or knocked over lamp.  The famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery was all but burnt to the ground in 1998 by a reported butter lamp being knoched over.  To help avoid total destruction of a monastery, separate outside buildings are now common.  I was privileged to be allowed into this pavilion at Tango Monastery to light a lamp.  It was in a stone forecourt with a stone flagged floor, so obviously much care had been taken with this lamp area.

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P1000747 © DY of jtdytravels

This large butter lamp holds 75kg (165lb) of ghee.  It will burn for one month.

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P1000752 © DY of jtdytravels

Black face langur at Tango monastery.

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P1000762 © DY of jtdytravels

A grand view of the Himalaya mountains from Tango monastery.

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P1000764 © DY of jtdytravels

As we left, the last of the day’s sun clipped the Himalayas. A majestic sight!

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Sonam Dorji

Sonam Dorji

On the walk back down to the car park I got talking with a local who asked me if this was my first visit to Bhutan.  I said that I’d had the privilege of visiting some ten years before.  This gentleman immediately said that I would visit his country a third time.  I do hope so!  He asked me what differences I noticed between the two visits and what I liked most about his country.  On parting as we reached the carpark, I asked him what his name was.  It turns out that he’s one of the 20 elected members of the National Council of Bhutan.  I found this photo of The Hon. Sonam Dorji on the Web at <nationalcouncil.bk>  He’s wearing the blue kabney worn by Ministers of the National Council when visiting a monastery.  Meeting him was a real bonus for me for the day.

More anon

David

All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

 

Bhutan # 6 Wandering in North Punakha Valley

Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which we visited in Bhutan musings #5,  dominates the upper Punakha Valley and commands views south along the Mo Chhu and north towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.

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P1000409  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view down the winding Mo Chhu towards our hotel and Punakha village was truly stunning.  The road snakes its way at the foot of the hills on the other side of the river.  Rice farms use every possible piece of land between river and hills. Conservation of the forests is high on the Bhutanese Government’s agenda. But it’s a balancing act with a growing population meaning more people to feed and so more land needing to to be cleared for farms.  It’s a problem in most countries worldwide.

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P1000409  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000409 © DY of jtdytravels

The view north, upriver towards Gasa and the higher mountains of the Tibetan border is equally pleasing. When I was here in 2003, we walked down from those mountains to this river before a small bus picked us up for the final bit of road into Punakha.  Looking at this view brought memories of that trek flooding back to me.

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P1000412 © DY of jtdytravels

As we began to wend our way back down the slope, we looked down on an amazingly intricate patchwork of rice terraces.

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P1000413 © DY of jtdytravels

These terraces seemed to just tumble down the mountainside.  Some harvested, some are ripe for harvest, and others , on the upper slopes, still green.  Careful planning is obviously needed to balance the work load and the harvest timing. Both white and red rice are grown in this valley.

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P1000389 © DY of jtdytravels

 This time, as we walked down the path, we were able to look down onto the terraces below us.  The family we had seen earlier were still hard at work threshing their rice. While we wandered, they worked.  Thought provoking!

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P1000390 © DY of jtdytravels

Toddlers at play whilst their parents work.  No creche here.

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P1000424 © DY of jtdytravels

Hibiscus trionum, a weed in these crops, shows just how temperate the climate is here.

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P1000425 © DY of jtdytravels

There must be very few countries in the world where the ubiquitous but rather beautiful Morning Glory doesn’t grow.

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P1000431 © DY of jtdytravels

A well camouflaged dragonfly with delicate gauzy wings.

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P1000434 © DY of jtdytravels

Just the very top of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple showed on top of the ridge as we made our way back down through the rice fields.

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P1000442 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking the other way, the view was one of rugged mountain peaks.  Clouds began to roll in. Was this to be the end of our good weather?  Hopefully not. We still had so much to enjoy in this valley.

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P1000436 © DY of jtdytravels

It pays to look down as well as up, even when surrounded by magnificent mountains.

Back down near a fast flowing small stream, I found this insect, maybe a water nymph…

his shadow, a perfect replica in the mid-day sunshine.

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P1000446  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000446 © DY of jtdytravels

Nearby was a rather attractive butterfly.

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P1000447  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000447 © DY of jtdytravels

A quiet eddy by the side of the river.

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P1000449 © DY of jtdytravels

After a pleasant wander, we were back to that flag bedecked bridge across the Mo Chhu.

‘Twas time to return to our delightful hotel for lunch –

 and it was a well earned lunch!

More anon.

David

All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

Bhutan :#2 Paro : Drugyel Dzong

Our time in Paro at the start of our Bhutanese journey, was for just one day.  We made the most of it by driving up the Paro Valley to Drukyl Dzong, a ruined fortress built of rock and mud. Although a ruin since it was largely destored by fire in 1951, the Dzong is still impressive and, as an important part of Bhutanese history, it’s well worth the visit.

P1250297 Map of Paro

P1250297 Map of Paro

Before we go on, a little history of Bhutan may help in understanding this small country.  Bhutan is a largely Buddhist country and the Paro map shows several Monasteries and Dzongs in this area.  One of the first of Bhutan’s Buddhist monasteries was built here in the Paro Valley at Kyichu (just north-west of Tshongdi) in the 7th Century by a Tibetan king, Songstan Gampo, who reigned from 627 to 649.  From then until the early 17th Century, Bhutan was really just a group of warring fiefdoms, each with their own lord and sub sect of Buddhist monks.  The country was eventually unified by a Tibetan lama and military leader, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal, who had fled from Tibet because of religious persecution.  In order to repel any Tibetan armies, he built several fortresses, one of them being Drugyel Dzong built in 1649 on a pass between Paro and the Tibetan border.  When the Shadbrung died in 1651, his death was kept a secret for 51 years in an effort to try to keep the peace in the country.  That didn’t work and the country lapsed back into internal conflict.  It wasn’t until the the mid 1880s, after a civil war between the rival valleys of Paro and Tongsa (in Central Bhutan), that peace was restored under Ugyen Wangchuck.  In 1907, he was unanimously chosen as the hereditary King of Bhutan by an assembly of leading monks, families and officials.  Thus began the Kingdom of Bhutan under the reign of the Wangchuck family which continues to this day.  Interestingly, the current King, 33 year old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, carries one of the names of that first unifier of the country, Shadbrung Ngawang Namgyal.

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Trevor's Camera shot

David with the boys:  Photo Courtesy Trevor

Namgyal’s fortress of Drugyel Dzong was to be our destination for the afternoon.  However, on the drive up towards the dzong,  our Toyota Coaster had a flat tyre, so a couple of us abandoned the vehicle and began walking up the road; the driver would pick us up again when the bus caught up to us.  Our timing was perfect.  It was right at the end of the school day, so we were quickly joined by four boys walking home from school. They were two sets of brothers; one set were the comics (boys will be boys), the other two boys were more serious. Dressed in traditional Gho and long socks, their ages ranged between 7 and 11.  When asked what they had learnt that day, they said they had played a game!  We knew, though, that all lessons are conducted in English with the exception of lessons in Dzonkha, the country’s official language.  So we knew we should be able to have a conversation  with the boys.

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Photo courtesy Trevor

Trevor with the boys

And we were right.  They were wonderful to chat with.  We could easily understand them and vice versa.  They wanted to know where we were from, what our father’s, mother’s, grandfather’s and grandmother’s names were etc.  When we asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they knew; a policeman, an engineer, a doctor and a monk.  Their fathers were both drivers; one a bus driver and the other drove taxis.  This interlude was just another of those wonderful moments that unexpectedly occur when travelling, and when they do occur, they add so much to the experience of visiting foreign places.  But they just won’t occur if you ‘only sit and wait in the bus’!

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P1000232  ©  DY  of jtdytravels

P1000232 © DY of jtdytravels

After chatting to the boys, we went further on up the road, crossing a small stream bedecked with colourful prayer flags.  These are the usual size prayer flags put up by ordinary people to send their prayers wafting off in the breeze.

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P1000237  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000237 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking up the hill in front of us we saw the Drukgyel Dzong, sitting high on a ridge.  Considered to be the most famous archaeological site in Bhutan, Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 to control the route between Bhutan and Tibet.  This fortress was never breached by an enemy.  Its important role in the defense of the region only ceased in 1951 when it was partially destroyed by fire.

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P1000245  ©  Dy  of  jtdytravels

P1000245 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual on a walk, I was on the look out for wild flowers.

This one is Parochetus communis.

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P1000253 © DY of jtdytravels

This delicate pink flower growing by the side of the road is, perhaps a daphne. The Bhutanese make their traditional paper from the bark of a daphne plant.

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P1000246 © DY of jtdytravels

Once we arrived at the dzong, we could see just how much damage the fire had done.  Most of the timber features had been burned out.  However, much of the stone and rammed earth wall structure still stands giving some idea of the way in which the fortress was built around central quadrangles.

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P1000247  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000247 © DY of jtdytravels

Although Drukgyl Dzong is said to have had the best and finest armory in the country, there were other ways used to beat the enemy.  One story goes that an attacking Tibetan army was once made welcome in the Dzong and treated as guests. They were even invited to a feast.  But, as the Tibetans began to relax and enjoy themselves, their faces and then their bodies began to swell.  The wily Bhutanese had decorated the guests’ tents with branches from a particularly poisonous tree.  The end for the Tibetan army was swift and sure at the hands of the Bhutanese.

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P1000248  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000248 © DY of jtdytravels

Even now, the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong continue to be protected and revered by the Bhutanese as an important monument linking them with victories over several attempted invasions by forces from Tibet and Mongolia.

Drukgyel Dzong was only ever a defense fortress unlike the other regional Dzongs which even today serve a three fold purpose: as a strategic fortress and also as a court for the unique Bhutanese dual government system which consists of Buddhist Monks, who deal with religious affairs, and government officials who deal with regional temporal affairs.

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P1000249  ©  DY  of  jtdtravels

P1000249 © DY of jtdtravels

From the walls of the Dzong we could look way down into a valley of terraced fields.  Agriculture is the main livelihood of more than 80% of Bhutan’s population.  Farming consists mainly of subsistence farming and animal husbandry with farmers producing rice, cardamom, chillies, dairy products from both yaks and cows, buckwheat, barley, some root crops, apples, citrus and some maize.

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P1000251  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000251 © DY of jtdytravels

It was interesting to watch a group of people harvesting the rice.

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P1000254 © DY of jtdytravels

Inside the compound of the ruined Dzong;  Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting.

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P1000257 © DY of jtdytravels

This plant formed an usual head of pale pink flowers.

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P1000258 © DY of jtdytravels

And as always, in such places, there will always be members of the daisy family.

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P1000261 © DY of jtdytravels

The construction method of stones and rammed mud still stands testament to its strength after all these years.

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P1000264 © DY of jtdytravels

The massive stone masonry walls rise high above a steep slope of the hill.  They entirely enclose the inner space of the Dzong.  Since the hill rises steeply on three sides, the Dzong is accessible only from one side and thus had only a single entrance heavily guarded by troops in three towers.  It’s said that secret tunnels provided protected passages for the fetching of water from the river below the hill.  These were also used to secretly send troops out during time of war.

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P1000243 © DY of jtdytravels

More prayer flags – always a colourful scene.

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P1000265 © DY of jtdytravels

On the way back to Paro we passed through this village.

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P1000274 © DY of jtdytravels

 A delightful couple of Bhutanese girls.

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P1000278 © DY of jtdytravels

A view of Paro’s Rinpung Dzong, a large Buddhist monastery and fortress that houses the district Monastic Body and the government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag.

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P1000279  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000279 © DY of jtdytravels

Coming back down into Paro, we looked down on newer buildings with tin roofs.  In the past, tin roofs had to be covered with wooden shingles or stone slabs. This isn’t required now.  The tin roofs are certainly not as picturesque as the traditional housing.

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P1000280 © DY of jtdytravels

In such a mountainous country, every arable piece of land is used to produce food.

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P1000284 © DY of jtdytravels

This view over Paro is dominated by that runway; we were back where we had begun.

We stayed just one night in Paro but would be back at the end of our Bhutan journey.

Our destination next day was to Punakha, north east of Paro.

More of that anon.

David

All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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Bhutan : #1 Paro

There’s probably no greater contrast to be found in the world, than the contrast between the rush and chaos, hustle and bustle of the Indian city of Kolkata and the peace and quiet of the mountain Kingdom of Bhutan.

P1000198  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000198 © DY of jtdytravels

Our morning flight took us away from the millions of people who crowd Kolkata, over and through the foothills of the Himalaya, to the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon where a mere 700,000 people inhabit the whole country of Bhutan.

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From Google Map Images

From Google Map Images

Map showing Bhutan in relation to India, Nepal and Tibet.

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P1000195  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000195 © DY of jtdytravels

Unfortunately, we were seated on the ‘wrong’ side of the plane and only caught glimpses of the mighty Himalaya.  Never-the-less, just the sight of them is enough to stir the blood and make one anticipate a very different type of experience.

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P1000187  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000187 © DY of jtdytravels

We flew in Royal Bhutan’s Airline, Druk Air, which has a distinctive and proud logo depicting the Thunder Dragon.  This airline has only a very small fleet and we flew on one of its two Airbus 319s.  Our destination was Paro, the only commercial airport in the whole country.  Pilots have to hold a special license to be able to fly into this airport.

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P1000199  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000199 © DY of jtdytravels

There’s only one airport because the Paro Valley is the only place in the whole country of Bhutan that has a long and flat enough stretch of land to construct an airport!  As we banked through the hills, we could just see, far down the valley, a yellow, flatter area of rice farms.  And that tiny strip of yellow was our destination; Paro Airport.

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P1000200  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000200 © DY of jtdytravels

The approach was quite exhilarating with mountains to the left and right of the wing tips.

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P1000206  ©  DY  of  jydytravels

P1000206 © DY of jydytravels

 Safely on the ground, engines off, the calm and serenity of Bhutan began to set in.

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P1000205  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000205 © DY of jtdytravels

Welcome to Bhutan.

Bhutanese art and style is evident even at the airport terminal.

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P1000209  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000209 © DY of jtdytravels

Attention to detail in the art work.

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P1000210  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000210 © DY of jtdytravels

No busy highways outside this airport terminal… just a tranquil country scene.

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P1000212  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000212 © DY of jtdytravels

Rice fields and typical farm houses in the Paro valley.

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P1000214  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000214 © DY of jtdytravels

Driving up out of the valley, up is the only way to go, we came to a viewing spot.  From here we could enjoy the clear blue, unpolluted sky and begin to breath in the pure mountain air as we looked up the valley we had just flown through.

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P1000215  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000215 © DY of jtdytravels

Down in the Paro valley, beside the cold mountain stream and some buildings under construction, was that runway!  While we were in Paro, we were to experience several times the unusual sight of a plane coming into land below us.

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P1000216  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000216 © DY of jtdytravels

Prayer flags are a common sight in Bhutan.  One hundred and eight is a significant number to the Bhutanese so those who can afford to do so, erect this number of prayer flags to commemorate the death of a family member.

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P1000219  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000219 © DY of jtdytravels

As we drove higher into the hills, we saw, far away across a valley, our first glimpse of the famed ‘Tigers Nest Monastery’, an iconic and much photographed symbol of Bhutan.

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P1000221  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000221 © DY of jtdytravels

A closer look through the camera’s tele lens shows just how precariously the monastery is perched on the rocks of the mountain side.  We planned to walk up there to visit the monastery later in our Bhutanese journey, but for now, we just viewed it, in awe of those who built it in the first place and of those who still live there today.

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P1000224  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000224 © DY of jtdytravels

Throughout the hills there are small farms dedicated to growing the Bhutanese red rice which is a red japonica rice.  It is semi-milled which leaves some of the red bran adhering to the medium-sized grains.  It takes a little longer to cook than white rice but less time than brown rice.  It retains its pink colour, is soft and slightly sticky.

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P1000223  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000223 © DY of jtdytravels

As timber is plentiful, it is the basic resource used for building.  This simple dwelling, possibly someone’s first home, shows the use of rough sawn planks.

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P1000222  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000222 © DY of jtdytravels

This is the traditional style of house seen throughout the Bhutanese country side.  Usually three stories high, the ground floor is used to shelter animals, the second floor is where the family lives and the top floor and roof areas are used to store  grain etc. The open style roof area allows for ventilation of the storage.

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P1000230 ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000230 © DY of jtdytravels

Decorated windows provide a great place to watch the world go slowly by.  No rush here.

Chillies and jerky hang to dry from the lower windows.

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P1000236 ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000236 © DY of jtdytravels

A phallus painted on the side of a house is very common sight in the countryside, though not so much in the towns.  It’s an ancient symbol of fertility and is said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

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P1000238  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000238 © DY of jtdytravels

It comes as a surprise to many western visitors to find this symbol depicted in many different ways not just on houses but in the arts and crafts, especially in the countryside.  ‘Gift wrapped’ with ribbons, dragons and snakes, this symbol comes in many guises.

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P1000234  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000234 © DY of jtdytravels

A patient Dad carries his sleepy son in a traditional shawl.

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P1000240  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000240 © DY of jtdytravels

Not many houses have flower gardens; vegetables usually take priority.

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P1000228  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000228 © DY of jtdytravels

Where ever you drive or walk in this country, there is a view down into a valley.

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P1000227  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000227 © DY of jtdytravels

And you also need to stop and look up.

The snow covered peak of Mount Jhomolhari is impressive.

Seeing that is a reminder that Bhutan is bounded in the north by the mighty Himalaya.

So much beauty – and this was but the start of our Bhutanese sojourn.

More anon.

David

All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel sites are:

www.jtdytravels.com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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Russia : Kamchatka : #15 Forays into the Forest

29th August and our last day in the Esso area.  ‘Twas a very foggy morning that didn’t promise good things.  But the plan for the day looked interesting.  A morning drive out of town to forage in the forest;  then, after lunch, a drive to an ethnic village to experience a cultural dance and music show put on by some of the local young people.

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P1120134  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120134 © DY of jtdytravels

I mentioned the rough roads!

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P1120125  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120125 © DY of jtdytravels

We made our way slowly to a hill on the other side of yesterday’s small lake.

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P1120126  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120126 © DY of jtdytravels

The fog/mist was lifting as we reached this summit.  The forest stretched to the horizon and further.  The dead trees were a result of a wild fire that went through the area about a decade ago.  They were probably dead Pinus pumila.

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P1120127  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120127 © DY of jtdytravels

Further around and we could actually see the river snaking its way through the forest.  By now, though, the weather had definitely changed for the worse.  It was 100% overcast and it felt as though the wind was blowing straight from Siberia, having originated somewhere above the Arctic Circle.  This was not very good at all for our rumbly chests.

And, by the way, those  ‘alcoholic medicines’ hadn’t worked.   I was still feeling anything but 100%.  Maybe I needed more? Alcohol, that is!

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P1120124  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120124 © DY of jtdytravels

There were signs of bears, the most tangible evidence were footprints in the mud.  Again, we knew they were around but we didn’t see them.  Thankfully, and hopefully, they were already full of salmon for their winter hibernation and were generally only interested in the berries that were ripening everywhere.  We liked the berries too, so we were doing the bears out of some of their vitamin C.  We just hoped that our foraging for berries didn’t make them angry!  But in reality, there were plenty of berries to share.

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P1120128  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120128 © DY of jtdytravels

Even though most plants here had finished flowering for the short summer season, I did find some more plants and fungi to add to my growing collection of photos of the Flora of Kamchatka.  This little beauty is Ledum palustre  also known as Marsh Labrador Tea.

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P1120129  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120129 © DY of jtdytravels

In this part of the forest there were several types of fungi growing on the tree trunks.

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P1120131  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120131 © DY of jtdytravels

Again, there seemed to be mushrooms and toadstools everywhere; a sure sign of autumn.  Most of the ground mushrooms had almost finished their task and were beginning to wrinkle and wither.  Spring, summer and autumn are all short seasons here.  All plants have to make the most of the brief time to grow and reproduce.  Winter is long and hard.

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P1120132  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120132 © DY of jtdytravels

Leathery and wrinkled.  All part of the ageing process, isn’t it?

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P1120141  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120141 © DY of jtdytravels

All around us was evidence of past volcanic activity.

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P1120152  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120152 © DY of jtdytravels

A climbing Aconitum species;  possibly Aconitum fischeri var.arcuatum or Aconitum alboviolaceum.  I’d never seen a climbing, twining Aconitum species before.  Intriguing.

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P1120151  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120151 © DY of jtdytravels

The plant contains poisonous aconite, but according to ancient Chinese medical lore, it can be used in the treatment of colds, coughs, and fevers.  Perhaps that’s what we all needed a dose of.   However, if the dosage is not carefully measured, prepared, and used – if the measure used is even in the slightest degree inaccurate – aconite is pure poison.  Best left alone!  Just put up with the cold and chestiness.

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P1120140  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120140 © DY of jtdytravels

Poisonous this plant maybe, but the flower is a delight.

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P1120143  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120143 © DY of jtdytravels

And what about these beauties growing in the undergrowth.  A species of Amanita.

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P1120150  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120150 © DY of jtdytravels

And this is one of the most recognisable toadstools, the quintessential fairy home, an Amanita sp.  I looked, but I didn’t see any fairies sheltering under this umbrella. Maybe they were just shy!

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P1120148  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120148 © DY of jtdytravels

Interesting bark of Betula platyphylla ; Flat-leaved Birch

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It had been a good morning in the forest despite the rough tracks.  We called back to the hotel for a quick lunch.  While there, I checked on the flashing EXIT sign in our room.  And, yes.  It was still flashing!

During dinner the previous evening,  the babushka who runs the hotel came into the eating area with a young man at heel who proceeded to check the fire detection units attached to the ceiling.   We’d noticed earlier that the ‘EXIT’ sign in our room was flashing continuously, but of course, took no notice.  There were no flashing lights or sirens and definitely no smoke or flames!  Thirty something hours later the ‘EXIT’ sign was still flashing and still there was no sign of smoke or fire.  We would no doubt sleep peacefully again for another night under the flashing light.  I have no idea what the matter was, nor do I expect to find out.  Where were we?

P1120159  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120159 © DY of jtdytravels

After lunch we drove for about 25 kms to another part of the forest to visit an ethnic village.  Near the entrance track to the village we saw this colourful sight.  Whatever the faith of these local people, they believed in using prayer flags made of strips of material to send their thanks and entreaties to their god/gods.

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P1120158  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120158 © DY of jtdytravels

Here, we were greeted by a lady of the village who turned out to be the ‘mother-figure’ of the group of young people we had come to see perform.

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P1120160  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120160 © DY of jtdytravels

After her welcome, we followed a track to the village passing totem poles which stood proudly at the entrance of the village site.  Tents could just be seen through the trees.

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P1120163  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120163 © DY of jtdytravels

In the village area, we saw some interesting carvings placed here and there on the grass.

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P1120162  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120162 © DY of jtdytravels

I quite liked this otter sculpture.

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P1120198  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120198 © DY of jtdytravels

The dances were to be performed on a slightly raised platform.  The dance group consisted of 9 dancers who ranged in age from 12 to 30.   Dressed in traditional ethnic costumes, they performed some lovely dances.  They were introduced by the lady we had met earlier and she did a great job of involving us in her stories.

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P1120190  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120190 © DY of jtdytravels

They were an enthusiastic group and seemed to have a lot of fun while dancing.   And while they danced, I took photos of some of the young people showing more closeups of their costumes and bead decorations.

P1120168  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120168 © DY of jtdytravels

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P1120180  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120180 © DY of jtdytravels

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P1120192  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1120192 © DY of jtdytravels

It had been a very interesting visit in this lovely setting in the forest.  After that pleasant interlude, it was back to the hotel for a hot tub, dinner and bed.  But before got to sleep, the four of us in my room were disturbed by the arrival of two of our other lady travellers!   Their room, they said, was unbearably hot, just like ours was on arrival night.  OK.  Their mattresses were soon wedged into our room, on the floor.  So now I had five women in my boudoir!  Oh the joys of adventure travel!

I thought I might have been able to send an email to Jennie from here to let her know that we were all OK.  Not so.  This is the longest time I’ve ever been in any country that I’ve visited, even off the beaten track ones,  where there has been absolutely no internet access possible.  This area of Russia is really so remote.  It is just over 7000km to Moscow – and that’s as the crow flies.  There is no linking road from Kamchatka to Moscow and all travel in that direction is by boat and/or plane.

Do they have TV?  Well, yes, but not here in this guesthouse.  We did have a TV in our hotel room in PK but all programmes were of Russian origin so it was a futile attempt to turn it on because all the titles are in Cyrillic script, which of course I don’t understand.

No. The world, with all its modern technology, could have completely disappeared for all I knew, or in fact cared.  For me all that existed at the moment was our little bit of paradise in the wilderness of Kamchatka.

David

All Photography Copyright ©  David Young of  jtdytravels

Our other travel stories and photos can be found on:

www.jtdytavels com

and

www.jtlifesgood.wordpress.com

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