Friday, March 9, 2012

Just another day in the Himalaya

Feb 8
I’m really feeling part of my surroundings this morning as I walk to school.  In national costume, I’m dressed like half the people I see walking or driving: many walking towards me are field workers and shop owners, the rest are students.  Some make eye contact and we greet each other with “Kuzoo Sangpo” or “Kuzampo” (slurred version), though the students in groups mostly turn and bow to me in unison: “Good morning, Sir”, their beautiful quasi-English accents ringing in the crisp morning air. 

But however you look at it, we’re definitely alien beings.  Last night Tara and I returned home in the rainy dark, so we hopped in a taxi, $2 from town.  We missed directing the driver onto our narrow rocky lane, but the driver made the turn anyway.  Of course he’d seen us walking last week.  As they warned us in our Thimphu Orientation, we’re so visible, and the locals know all about us, when we're coming, where we're going…

Wearing Kira and Gho, we blend in completely, of course... 
The road I walk is dusty and very rough: either bits of concreted float in the dirt or else the surface is embedded with river rocks the size of bowling balls, making travel by any means bumpy and slow.  Here and there are cow paddies…in fact, cattle are everywhere, from the Old Palace gardens to school yards, parking lots to intersections.  Dogs are curled up against the morning frost, and can be found  almost anywhere the cows are.  As I approach the village, horses are drinking in a marsh at the side of the road.  On my left is Tara’s hotel connection, the Amankora.  Its entrance is through a field of burnt grass and sandhills occcupied by the menagery I just described.  And running diagonally across the field is an archery field, with the targets a traditional 145 metres apart.

The only reason the Bhutanese don’t clean up at the Olympics is they’re not used to the shorter regulation distance!  On the other hand, they have some unique medical issues related to their national sport: three times I've met people who were visiting the hospital and reported someone coming in to have an arrow removed from their body: one from the leg, two from the head.  The local Hospital administrator told me the skull ones are dealt with in Thimphu, so they just cut off the shaft leaving a good handle before putting them back in the ambulance.
Bridge to get us to the other side of Bumthang valley
Bumthang Valley from the Dzong = Adminstrative Castle
Monastery side of our Dzong

Feb 12
Today Tara and I walked to Kurje, where the holy water comes straight out of the mountain.  This time we continued around the corner.  Stopped at a little shack of boards with no light, known as a store.  There the monks from the monastery could buy nails by the kilo, shampoo, mango juice, tinned mackerel, or Indian potato chips.  We chose mango juice and chips.  Around the corner the Chokhor River we’d been following became a deep torrent, swirling around huge rocks.  Crossing a wire suspension bridge festooned with colourful prayer flags, we looked down into blue pools, imagining ourselves soaking in the back eddies in the summer heat.  Tara hopes we’re not just dreaming….she’s committed to returning later with her swimsuit. 

Next stop was a communal forest of 190 acres, supporting 33 families.  At the entrance was a flourmill, with a woven bamboo funnel for the grain suspended over an enormous millstone disk.  The grain flows through a hole in the stone, where it’s channeled down and ground between it and the bedstone.  The flour on the edge was tan in colour, probably the local buckwheat which grows well at this altitude.  After we did our clockwise walk around the small forest of vertical prayer flags, we continued on our hike through what was essentially a medieval farm community: the only thing to suspend our fantasy was the odd section of powerline, spliced together with different colours of electrical tape as it runs in and out of buildings.  

Our sweet, generous, landlord Karma, backed by family, living upstairs
so this is considered a state-of-the-art kitchen in our neighbourhood
local kids love having pics taken

We met a girl from this village walking the same pace, and she accompanied us for the next half hour.  She has three more days of winter holidays before she returns to her boarding school, just 6 km away.  This seems common, for them to be housed to focus on their schooling.  Attendance at school is excellent, and primary students at my school will sometimes dress up in their national ghos and kiras and come to school just for morning prayer and announcements before being sent home again because it happens to be a Senior day to prepare for some upcoming celebration.  In whatever form it may appear, education is very important in this culture.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Martin and Tara
    Great Blog! Wish I was there too.
    looking forward to hear how the year unfolds