Written by koshkha on 18 Jan, 2009
The ancient art of "bows-and-arrows" is the National Sport of Bhutan and is the most common way for young men-folk to pass a Sunday afternoon. I did wonder if archery had grown from a history of hunting small furry critters for food but I was…Read More
The ancient art of "bows-and-arrows" is the National Sport of Bhutan and is the most common way for young men-folk to pass a Sunday afternoon. I did wonder if archery had grown from a history of hunting small furry critters for food but I was wrong. Archery is not about food, it's about war - shooting at invading Tibetan armies or fighting with your neighbours. In a country with mountainous terrain many of the usual forms or warfare have limited use and so archery remained an effective form of warfare long after the rest of the world had moved on to guns and missiles.On any Sunday afternoon when any self-respecting young man in Europe or North America would be out playing soccer with his friends or drinking in the bar, his Bhutanese counterpart can be found in his traditional dress (plus expensive trainers) with his ultra-technical bow firing arrows at a target no bigger than a football 150 meters away. Forget your normal 'big ringed target' with pretty colours about 50 m away - this is hard-core archery. I struggled to even see the target, it was so far away. And the only way you can tell if the archer has hit it, is that all his pals on his team start dancing and singing and jeering at the other team. When we arrived at Paro airport our guide and driver picked us up to take us to our hotel and our first step was the town archery grounds. Each town or village will have an archery ground and Paro's is pretty typical. There are targets at either end of the 150m court. Each is painted on a wooden board. Taking it in turns, half of the archers fire from one end until all the arrows have been shot, and then the other half fire back from the far end. In between they stroll off for beers in the bar and posing for all the tourists who generally have little idea what's going on. The success and experience of the archer is reflected in the number of scarves hanging from the belt around his gho, the traditional national dress which must be worn for the occasion.As a spectator sport the archery itself is secondary to the preening and strutting of the archers. Watching someone shoot at a target you can't actually see gets dull quite quickly whilst watching the lads hooting and hollering in delight or derision holds the attention for a lot longer. Close
Written by formershrink2 on 25 Mar, 2008
In March of 2008, I went hiking in Bhutan on Wilderness Travel's "Hiker's Bhutan" trip. On the whole, the trip was very good, with excellent leaders and an enjoyable itinerary. Most days, we hiked for two to five hours, generally on easy terrain,…Read More
In March of 2008, I went hiking in Bhutan on Wilderness Travel's "Hiker's Bhutan" trip. On the whole, the trip was very good, with excellent leaders and an enjoyable itinerary. Most days, we hiked for two to five hours, generally on easy terrain, but some hikes were moderately strenuous. We were rewarded for our efforts by beautiful views and tours of remote villages and monasteries.You need to be in decent physical condition for this trip, but not a major athlete. The altitude at which the hikes take place (7,000 - 10,000 feet) make them more strenuous. If you can comfortably do a 5-mile hike with some uphill portions, you'll be fine.The comfort level of the accommodations was generally good. The lodges had Western bathrooms and basic comforts. We ate most meals in lodges. The food was vaguely Asian and served bland so as not to trouble American palates: many stir-fried vegetables, rice, a Bhutanese version of lyonnaise potatoes. The trip featured a two-night campout which was as comfortable as tent camping can be. The biggest source of discomfort was the cold: on both March nights, the temperature dipped below freezing. I became best friends with the hot water bottle they gave me, but it was still quite cold. There were some problems with Wilderness Travel's management of the tour, however. Many people on the trip felt that we were placed in lodging inferior to what was available on several occasions, most notably in an unsightly dump called the "Raven Inn" in Thimphu. People who paid the single supplement found that they did not always get single rooms.Of more concern was that Wilderness Travel's advertising for the trip was false and misleading. The literature and website repeatedly refer to a "Haa Valley trek,” and that experience is made to sound like a wilderness adventure, with horsemen and pack animals taking participants to camp for two nights at a wilderness site. This is completely false. The campground is a drive-in campground that is perhaps 200 feet from the road and just outside a sizeable town. Our guide, Kipchu Dorji, told me that Wilderness Travel has used this particular site for its camping trips for many years. There were no horses or horsemen used. Our luggage was trucked in by the luggage truck, the same way it was brought everywhere else. The campground is convenient and well-situated, but it is misleading to suggest, as Wilderness Travel’s literature does, that it is a remote and inaccessible wilderness spot that requires hiking and horses for access. Moreover, the “Departure Notes” describe in some detail the special duffel bags that must be purchased so that they can be cinched to the pack animals. Fortunately, I did not go out and buy a new duffel bag, but travelers who did must have been quite irked to find that it was entirely unnecessary. I recommend Wilderness Travel's "Hiker's Bhutan" trip, but with the reservations I've just mentioned. I strongly recommend touring Bhutan, however. Hiking in Bhutan is a wonderful experience. Bhutan is truly a different world. You meet people who farm their land, live in rural villages, and conform to longstanding traditions. We visited Bhuddist temples and monasteries, many of which were exquisitely decorated, and watched monks in prayer. Not only is Bhutan another world because it is entirely mountainous -- there are virtually no flat, straight roads anywhere -- but also because it has barely been touched by Western development. We hiked through farming villages that appeared to have changed little in the last 100 years. Bhutan appears to have preserved a highly traditional culture that is fascinating to learn about. Close
Written by Barbara Colliander on 04 Oct, 2007
Trek - Day 6:The first order of “business” today after breakfast, was to gather our crew together and give them small gifts and their tips. We thanked them for an incredible experience! They had been so attentive and watchful for our health and well-being. It…Read More
Trek - Day 6:The first order of “business” today after breakfast, was to gather our crew together and give them small gifts and their tips. We thanked them for an incredible experience! They had been so attentive and watchful for our health and well-being. It is always hard to say goodbye, when you have spent so much time with a group of folks...in such a beautiful area. We took a group picture, gave hugs all around and headed off.This is a short day, only about 5 to 6 km. Most trekkers continue down the mountain to the youth center at Motithang in Thimphu. We took a more gradual path along a ridge and down to the radio tower. This trail was shaded, with trees dripping with Spanish moss. Near the end, on the hilltop, are thousands of prayer flags that the people of Thimphu have hoisted. It was a meaningful way to end the trek.We arrived at the trailhead and parking lot late morning and immediately began our tours in the Thimphu area. This will be described in future newsletters. Yes, we did make it back to the hotel for showers...and then headed out again to see the sights with the guidance of Karma. Thus ended our trek, and our cultural experiences continued!The HighlightsFriends have asked: What stands out the most about Bhutan and your trip?Our answer is four-fold:1. The gentleness and sensitivity of the Bhutanese people. Their helpfulness, smiles, pleasant attitude. Their appreciation of whatever they do…work or play...a love of archery, javelin, darts, soccer, and other sports.2. The beauty of the mountains (clear or cloudy), the lushness of the countryside— flowers abound! It is easy to simply stand still and soak up the scenery!3. The educational aspects of learning about another culture, its past history, its hopes for the future. The Bhutanese are determined to preserve their traditions, while moving gradually into the modern age. Indeed, we saw evidence of the “gross national happiness” that the monarchy and the government are trying to achieve.4. We gained a new appreciation for the Buddhist traditions and religion. Believe it or not, we never tired of visiting the temples and monasteries...each was unique and a place for pilgrimage and peace.This was truly an adventure! Our advice: visit now, while the tourists are few, and the traditions are alive. Note that there are many outfitters for Bhutan trekking. Compare offers of different companies. We used Adventures Within Reach, based in Boulder, Colorado, to arrange our trek. They provided excellent service. Close
Trek - Day 5:Our campsite at Labana is near some water, but also next to a dry lake bed. It is at 13,600 feet (4110 m). We head off in the morning, up hill. At this point, we are fairly acclimatized and are not huffing…Read More
Trek - Day 5:Our campsite at Labana is near some water, but also next to a dry lake bed. It is at 13,600 feet (4110 m). We head off in the morning, up hill. At this point, we are fairly acclimatized and are not huffing and puffing with each step. As a result, this was a fairly easy day, even though we were still going up and down, hiking on a rocky trail.Again, the views were awesome, each pass bringing another terrific view. We passed through a a herd of yaks, taking pictures of the little ones...and keeping our distance!We arrived at Phume La Pass at 13,500 feet (4080 m), just in time for morning tea. We hung our second set of prayer flags to send prayers over the wind to the other valleys and mountains. They were strung between two poles atop this crest where we could see the entire Thimphu Valley and the city of Thimphu. Even though it was cloudy on our high perch, we could see the sun shine on Thimphu!As we had tea, another group of trekkers came by...the first group we had seen during the entire trek. They were two women from Switzerland. We chatted a bit and found that they were hiking the Druk Path trek in four days (so it can be done!)They left and we continued to a rock outcropping where we had lunch. At this point, we are heading downhill towards Thimphu, to a monastery at Phajoding. Our campsite is in the vicinity of this monastery, so we take a side trip for a tour of the temple there. This dates back to the 13th Century. Close
Trek - Day 4:This morning was a beautiful sunny day with a few puffy clouds in the sky. We ate breakfast outside (the usual procedure for our group), and were watched by the children of the yak herder (sitting on chairs at a table, eating…Read More
Trek - Day 4:This morning was a beautiful sunny day with a few puffy clouds in the sky. We ate breakfast outside (the usual procedure for our group), and were watched by the children of the yak herder (sitting on chairs at a table, eating eggs and sausage, is pretty bizarre for them).Up hill we headed, rock hopping for a good part of the day. We had beautiful views of several Himalayan peaks and took many opportunities for photos. The clouds did not cooperate, however, and clung to the mountain tops.Lunch was at a lake, Simkotra Tsho. Karma and Sonam tried their luck at fishing, actually going around the entire lake, casting as they went. Fish were jumping, but not biting.All throughout the trek, we have been seeing beautiful flowers. Rhododendrons of many colors are in bloom. Other wildflowers, growing in profusion, are a pleasant sight and provide a good opportunity for a photo stop! Karma often stopped to tell us about the flowers and herbs and was most informative about medicinal plants. Did we see the famous and illusive blue poppy? It was not in bloom...but we did see the stalks of last year’s plants.This part of the trek has the highest elevations, and of course, gorgeous views. Each high point brought new sights and a continuation of the trail. Enroute, the hillsides are covered with rhododendrons. At this high altitude, these are not in bloom until mid-June. Finally, we made a climb to the last and highest pass (of the day) at almost 14,000 feet (4210 m) and looked down on the camp at Labana La. What a welcome sight!As we had tea, we watched Dan (the cook) and Karma prepare supper. We have been having typical Bhutanese dishes...without the chilis. (The absence of chilis was our request - they will add them for anyone who wishes to have them!) The crew have the same menu as we, but they jazz it up with chilis...very spicy hot chilis! Tonight’s fare was pork dumplings, beef and potato balls, and fried egg plant. Then they served enchiladas. Bhutanese food with additions...something for everyone.Following the dinner, there is always butter tea, made with boiled water, tea herbs, and a pat of yak butter, mixed with a hand whittled egg beater. It tastes bland to us, which is a surprise, since their food is usually so spicy! Close
Trek - Day 3:Today’s hiking was laterally (surprise!) for a bit, then downhill to a rushing stream, the Tsaluna Chhu, a tributary of the larger Thimphu Chhu (river). We crossed a small plank bridge and came to a yak pasture. Here we found our mules…Read More
Trek - Day 3:Today’s hiking was laterally (surprise!) for a bit, then downhill to a rushing stream, the Tsaluna Chhu, a tributary of the larger Thimphu Chhu (river). We crossed a small plank bridge and came to a yak pasture. Here we found our mules grazing and all the men tossing javelins at a target! A yak herder’s boy had several hand made javelin sticks and a dart. Karma even tried throwing Sandy’s trekking poles...they stuck in the ground but never reached the target.Continuing uphill with our hiking, we found it very difficult because the rain had made the rocks slippery and the dirt turn to mud. Just when we thought we could not take another step, we reached the lake Jimilang Tsho and our campsite. Such a beautiful setting...tranquil lake, mountains, valleys. This site is at 12,800 feet (3870 m).We asked if we could have lunch there in the tent and they were pleased to have us. It was cold and had started to rain. Since we couldn’t finish our lunch, we gave our left over food to the yak herder. On his fire, he was heating whey and he was in the process of making yak cheese...he had also made butter!As we rested in our tent before “tea time”, we heard a commotion. A yak herder’s family had just arrived and was setting up camp. The commotion was the yaks, grunting and mooing (?) right outside our tent! The family set up their tent quickly (on their basic foundation, which stays there all the time) and the children came to watch US! We were a bit of an oddity. Close
Trek - Day 2:Today was supposed to be easier hiking. We questioned that, as we negotiated long, rocky, muddy difficult up hills and short, rocky, muddy down hills. The first order of “business” was a visit to and tour of the Jili Dzong, dating back…Read More
Trek - Day 2:Today was supposed to be easier hiking. We questioned that, as we negotiated long, rocky, muddy difficult up hills and short, rocky, muddy down hills. The first order of “business” was a visit to and tour of the Jili Dzong, dating back to the 15th Century; we were fascinated by the tall statue of the historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, and the monk caretaker, who taught us a dice game for determining whether our wishes would come true. We threw the dice well, so he said.Hiking along a ridge, we were in search for a good place to string up our prayer flags (we added our prayers for a safe trek, and for those people in our lives who needed special thoughts and wishes). We joined ours with many other prayer flags on a hill overlooking the Paro Valley.After more hiking and lunch, we donned our rain gear, because it had begun to rain. We stopped at a yak herder’s home at Jangchhu Lakha and visited a bit. There, a young 7-year old boy was learning from his elders how to be a yak herder; thus, he did not go to school.We finished our hiking through a beautiful cedar woods and came to our campsite at a yak herder camp, complete with yaks. The site is Tshokam and is at 12,450 feet (3770 m).All of our meals were superb, but tonight was particularly unique. After chicken soup, we were served spaghetti and sauce, hand made meat dumplings filled with a mixture of beef, onions, garlic, and ginger. AND, we then had mushroom pizza (also hand made)! Quite tasty. We tried not to eat too much but it was so good! For dessert, the cook, Dan, served apple pie, which he had made and baked Dutch oven style. Close
The two most popular treks in Bhutan are the Druk Path and the Jhomolhari (or Cholmolhari). The first is a four day trek, and the second is eight or nine days. We took the Druk Path trek, but because two of the days are 20 km each, we…Read More
The two most popular treks in Bhutan are the Druk Path and the Jhomolhari (or Cholmolhari). The first is a four day trek, and the second is eight or nine days. We took the Druk Path trek, but because two of the days are 20 km each, we split those and did the trek in six days. This makes for a very pleasant hiking experience...two additional, beautiful campsites...and time to play.Trek - Day 1:We were picked up at the hotel by our guide, Karma, and taken to the trailhead at the National Museum. This is the start for the Druk Path that, for centuries, was the main route from the Paro valley to the Thimphu valley. We felt as though we were going back in history, as we trudged along the trail, stepping where thousands of farmers, hikers, yaks, and mules have trod. This translates to: a trail that is worn with deep ruts, rocky and difficult to negotiate!The cook, camp assistant, and the mule driver (who arrived with six mules and one horse), packed the gear and loaded the animals. The two of us took off with our guide, starting at approximately 8,100 feet elevation. We have only our day packs...weighed down with cameras! The mules and horse, with very heavy gear passed us, enroute to the next campsite.The trail goes up steeply (naturally), and we were exhausted by lunch time. A beautiful meadow with a prayer wall was a welcome view as we ate our hot lunch.Mid-afternoon, we reached a yak herder’s camp, not far from Jili (or Jele) Dzong, close to our campsite. We went inside their home and visited a bit (through our translator, Karma). The homes are one-room tent structures with pine boughs, wood, and stone walls. We sit on pine boughs around a fire that keeps the place warm. After pictures of the children (we show them the picture on our digital camera) we bid them good bye. This procedure will be repeated several times throughout the trek and became a very special experience for us.We continued on to our campsite where the crew had set up a dining/cook tent, our tent and a toilet tent. The mules and horse were at pasture. We had warm water to wash, tea and a snack and finally supper. We were VERY tired from the climbing and hiking that day! Our camp is in a meadow below Jili Dzong at approximately 11,500 feet (3480 m). Close
Written by baroudeur2004 on 19 Sep, 2007
During my trip in Bhutan, I asked my guide to show me a deaf school since I am deaf myself. There are two deaf schools in the small kingdom of Bhutan, one of them being near Paro, on the way to Drukgyel monastery, about ten…Read More
During my trip in Bhutan, I asked my guide to show me a deaf school since I am deaf myself. There are two deaf schools in the small kingdom of Bhutan, one of them being near Paro, on the way to Drukgyel monastery, about ten kilometres from Paro. The deaf school is actually in a small building separated from the rest of a big secondary school. The first classroom was opened in September 2003, with three deaf students. In 2005, they were 14, split in two classrooms (first and second grade). All students are between 7 and 16 years old and are supervised by five deaf adults, two hearing teachers and a sign language researcher. Before 2003, there was no Bhutanese Sign Language. To create a new national Sign Language, five deaf adults were reunited and tried to establish a way to communicate. They were asked by the Sign Language researcher to create basic signs for concrete words such as "fruits", "vegetables", etc. The word creation process was partly influenced by the researcher's knowledge of American Sign Language, and nowadays, American Sign Language is used for numbers and spelling words. Classes are taught in English only (as it is the compulsory language in all Bhutanese schools). Dzongkha, the national language is only taught as a second language at school. When I visited the deaf school, teachers were trying to teach literacy and mathematics to children with moderate success. I was highly impressed by the courage of the teachers and of the kids and how a Bhutanese Sign Language emerged in just a few years without having existed previously. Close
Written by sweet_kinoko on 14 Apr, 2004
I’m writing from 13,500 feet elevation with a bloated stomach (due to low air pressure combined with a huge gourmet breakfast) at the foot of Mt. Jhomolhari, the most sacred of Bhutanese mountains. According to Tibetans there are rainbow palaces on these peaks inhabited…Read More
I’m writing from 13,500 feet elevation with a bloated stomach (due to low air pressure combined with a huge gourmet breakfast) at the foot of Mt. Jhomolhari, the most sacred of Bhutanese mountains. According to Tibetans there are rainbow palaces on these peaks inhabited by goddesses and spirits, however these goddesses are part of Tibetan culture, just four miles away, as the bird flies across the Bhutan border and into China (Tibet). Tibet is the backside of this magnificent 24,130-foot mountain I’m gazing upon. I'm a tourist from Seattle in mid-trek with friend Ann, from Kentucky on a nine-day hike through the world’s best-preserved monarchy and by some accounts the most isolated culture left on the planet.
In order to get to Bhutan requires a mandatory flight on the royal Bhutan airline, the only airline serving Bhutan. We awaited the flight two days in Bangkok to get over jet lag and happened to stay at the Bangkok Hilton where there is a special place I’ve heard about but never visited in person. When the hotel was built the locals fought to preserve the last remaining fertility temple in Thailand. The temple consists of an altar surrounded by hundreds of penises of all shapes, sizes and colors carved from wood, rock and Styrofoam. The penises are accurate representations from the pleasure ridge around the head down to bulging veins. Some even have legs. One lonely, old growth tree remains of the great forest that once was Bangkok and is said to house a fertility spirit that still lives in the tree. Infertile women and couples in need come from all over the world in hope that praising the spirit and/or penises will bring them a child.
The fertility goddess predates Thai culture, was common to all humanity pre-domestication plants and animals; as I have found, it is very much still alive in Bhutan where yak-herding matriarchs use six-foot penises painted on their house, ribbons tied around a multi-colored shaft with semen exploding out across the wall, to ward off bad spirits and attract the fertility goddess. She, the goddess, only lost her power when farming was invented and a surplus of food appeared allowing populations to grow uncontrollably for the first time. The fertility goddess was then slain and replaced by the population control man-god and here we all are today with big daddy in the sky and big brother on the ground!
The flight to Bhutan took us over Burma and landed in Rangoon. Burma is an extremely remote country due to a very mountainous terrain. The flight went over thousands of third-growth forested valleys and I imagined the tribes still there! The next stop on the way was Dhaka, Bangladesh. Much of this hugely populated country lives at or just above water level in a super flat huge flood plain draining the Himalayan plateau. It was amazing to see from the plane and I can see now how during monsoon so many people die in floods, the slums looked frightful from even 2,000 feet in the plane above. This is one of the worlds poorest; most populated and recently rated the most corrupt country on earth. It has the worlds largest beach and mangrove swamp, and people say that it is interesting to see a place where there is absolutely no middle class, most are near starving poor and a few have extreme wealth, also there are famine alerts already this year for the upcoming monsoon.
The flight from Bangladesh to Bhutan included views of the largest Himalayan wall of ice, including the Everest Peak, what a wall of white! The steep decent into Paro, the only airport in Bhutan brought into view the 8,000 foot foothills with farming settlements and monasteries. The first few days before the trek were spent with Tashi, a good looking, bright brown eyed, 24 year old guide for the whole trip visiting monasteries housing young boy monks, and an old fort housing relics. Boy monks start their prison-like life at the ripe age of eight or so and spend the rest of their lives, owning only their rob, a towel that they eat off, and a small box with a few items that their family may have given them. For each meal (two a day), they earn 5 NU (11 cents), which they can spend however they choose. If a monk decides to quit, he also has a choice, a fine of 5,000 NU or a severe beating with a leather lash by two senior monks.
To speed up this journal, all I’ll say is that I saw some amazing lifestyles, forests, artifacts, cliffside monasteries, and the remote city of Paro, which is actually just one main street, Sunday market full of beautiful specimens of fruit and vegetables brought up from the Indian plain, 110 degree stone bath where heated rocks by firewood are placed in a water trough carved from a single log where you sit within, buttermilk (Yak milk) tea, monk ceremonies and chanting in preparation for the Kings arrival and rive alcohol with a farmer in his farmhouse. All of these place, people, images of Buddha, every aspect of life are threads in a continuous, living mythological weave where miracles are happening everyday; the next door dog is a reincarnation of a family member, yeti, ghosts, gods and spirits filling the invisible spaces between all things.
The trek starts at roads end outside Paro and included for two tourists (Ann and myself), 10 horses, two ex-monks (one food server, one horseman), another horseman, and Tashi, our personal guide. The poor horses are loaded with all our gear and their hay also to supplement their grazing of what little there is in the way of grass this late in the season. The trek began at Elevation 8,300 feet and wound through the countryside, across fields of rice and turnips, up a river valley and along a footpath to Tibet and above tree line. Near and above tree line is the land of Yak, blue sheep and semi-nomadic herders all set in wide open views of snow and glacier capped mountains, mostly rising above us to 16,500 feet. What a treat to walk unencumbered through three-house villages, where we treated one woman’s eye with medicine my mom gave me to take along, passing villagers on pilgrimage to the mountains, Indian and Nepali army camps, a charging yak bull and up and up to base camp. The bull got real nervous as Ann moved toward it to snap a photo and then came towards Dagay and me with a crazy look in its eyes. Dagay doesn’t speak a whole lot of English, but when he said "Yak coming," I was already in pole position to get behind the nearest big rock. I even cut off Dagays route to the rock and smashed his chi tea container in the process. I carry with me the newest of GPS devices (costing over $1,000 3 times an Indian annual salary) complete with base maps of the area, whereas printed maps of Bhutan are still illegal and inaccurate. The GPS gives me a great sense of my surroundings; even the guides were asking me questions about elevations and distances. Imagine endless isolated valleys with high passes connecting them, no roads for thousands of square miles, then there is China (Tibet) to the north, more endless remote settled valleys by semi-nomads, the trail we were on actually connects to the only road to Lhasa, just several miles away.
On the way to the first big pass, two lesbians from Boston and an altitude sick woman unable to walk and riding atop a horse and her husband from Seattle brought bad news of impassable pass conditions and too much ice for the horses to walk safely. We continued on anyway to base camp to spend two days hiking up the open slopes with yaks and blue sheep grazing on dried out, brown grass. Dagay, a former monk and server, joined me for a day hike where I reached the maximum elevation of 15,300 feet for the trip and Dagay and I sailed kites that floated up over the ice fields. Tashi and I agreed on an alternative route where we would backtrack a bit and head into three other, less traveled valleys, one with the promise of dancing girls at the end and a lower pass at 15,000 feet.