After we landed in Bhutan Sunday, Tenzin and Gembo, the driver, took us on a winding drive through two river valleys to Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital. Bhutan has about 800,000 people, over 100,000 live in Thimpu. The city is growing like crazy, with lots of construction. All buildings have to be in traditional style on the outside, but they look like any other construction site on the inside. Although today, Maria pointed out one that was still mostly a skeleton, but had its roofline decorated in the Tibetan/Bhutanese style.
After we got here, Tenzin took us on a walk around the neighborhood. At 7000 feet, the air is fresh and cool, traffic is orderly (there are no traffic lights in the country, and only one intersection that has a traffic cop, gracefully waving the cars through). We happened upon an archery match. Archery is the national sport. The two teams of 11 on each side were using their handmade bamboo bows and arrow to shoot at a target 430 feet away. As soon as the shooter loosed an arrow, we lost sight of it. If they hit the target, which they did with surprising regularity, the team would shout, gather in a circle, sing and do a little dance that would bring a big penalty in the NFL.
After archery, we walked to the weekend market. Every Saturday and Sunday, farmers bring in their products, grains and vegetables and fruits and spices and sell them in the market. Lots of colorful hustle and bustle. But, to no avail. The food here is quite lousy. Tough, not a lot of flavor, repetetive. Not like the never ending culinary delights of India.
There are lots of stray dogs in the streets. Docile during the day, they sleep in the sun. At night they all bark. All night. Fortunately, we’re on a high floor, so we were able to sleep through it.
This morning, we drove to a memorial shrine, or “stupa” where the 3rd king is memorialized. He died in the early 1970s when he was in his 40s. But who cares about that. This was an opportunity to see many Buddhist worshipers at the shrine. Prayer wheels, strings of 108 beads for reciting the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra, all in native dress, statues of demons and the Buddha. Buddhism was imported from Tibet around 700 AD and retains a distinct Tibetan flavor.
After that, we drove up 1000 feet above the valley to a gigantic statue of the Buddha and accompanying shrine with a huge plaza in front, paved with polished stone. The statue is covered with gold leaf. This is the gift of a rich Chinese guy. It’s still under construction, so noisy, not very peaceful. We listened to a bunch of contradictory stuff about the merits of selflessness in the midst of this $100,000,000 project in a poor country. It is beautiful, however, and 500 years from now people will come to see it and marvel. The views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below were spectacular.
Down and back up to a sanctuary of the Takin, an animal that looks like a cross between a cow and a sheep with a bit of deer tossed in. The little herd was far from the fence, but we were able to see a few with the help of the camera’s zoom lens.
After another bad meal for lunch, this time at an old guesthouse, we took a nap and visited a local crafts market for some souvineer shopping. Tonight, we’re getting picked up for dinner at a local family’s house. Were getting divided into two groups of four, each group going to a different home. Tenzin will not be going with us, so it’ll be a good face-to-face visit.
Everyone is fluent in English. All schooling is delivered in English. Kids on the street say, “hi”, and at one point a young boy no more than 7 accidentally stepped on the back of my shoe. Without hesitation, he said “sorry, excuse me!” with a very good accent.
Tomorrow morning we leave for a tented camp in the boonies at 10,000 feet, with no wifi. So I’ll continue the updates, but won’t be able to send them until we’re back online, maybe in 4 days, maybe in a week. This will be the longest drive of the trip, 7-1/2 hours on bad roads to go 40 miles. Plus breaks. From 7000 feet we climb to a pass at 9300 feet, then down to 4000 feet, then back up to 9000+ feet to the camp which, from the sounds of things will not be as nice as the Serengeti camp. This one is pretty new, so still has some kinks to work out, apparently.