Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Photo-a-day

The most exciting thing that happened to me today is that without any fanfare, explanation or reason, our broadband internet started working again. For six or more weeks we've been out a connection except for about three random days in that time, and I can't tell you how frustrating it is!

We have tried every avenue to fix the problem including buying a new Bhutanese modem (to replace our flash Australian wifi modem), numerous visits from Bhutan Telecom to our house, and numerous visits from Bob to the Bhutan Telecom office in Chamkar. In the end an assumption was made by all that it was our computer that was the problem, and Bob has spent hours over the past few days using the computer at the post office to research buying a new computer to be shipped here from overseas.

And then, on a whim, I plugged in the modem this morning and it worked. I have no idea why! No one here can give any explanation, and in fact when I questioned my colleagues today they said "Oh yes, my internet hasn't been working for a while either", but no one seems too disturbed about it!

So I am very happy to post my photos today, quite a few of which I wasn't able to upload onto the facebook page through the month. Is it really going to be August tomorrow?

1 - Happiness
Happiness is good friends, good food, beautiful scenery.

2 - Shoes
Shoes at Semtokha Dzong

3 - Cold
When we reached the ridge above Tharpa Ling, the wind was cold!

4 - Red, White and Blue
Om Mani Padme Hum painted on the rock wall at a temple above Tharpa Ling

5 - Love
We stopped at Lobesa en route to Thimphu to buy sweets and icecreams as an afternoon pick-me-up - 8 hours of driving down, 3 to go!

6. Fave Smell
Waking up in Matt and Lucy's place in Chemgang to the smell of fresh pancakes and my favourite Earl Grey Tea!

7 - Where you are
Pedestrian Day in Thimphu, the streets are closed so people can walk and play in the streets of the capital every month!

8. Path
We stayed at Gangtey Palace in Paro with enchanted gardens and lovely cobblestone paths.

9 - Three Things
Three water-powered prayer wheels on the walk up to Tiger's Nest.

10 - Smooth
The slide at the children's playground in Thimphu.

11- I wore this
Bob bought me a new double dorji amulet at Paro Dzong to add to my growing collection of blessing strings.

12 - A Bad Habit
This lady is preparing 'doma' - betel nut - to sell. It has a mild intoxicating effect to those (most Bhutanese) who chew it through the day.

13 - 4 O'Clock
What a lovely moment to capture forever! Enjoying tea and biscuits on the grass in the afternoon sunshine with Senge at Phobjika.

14 - Edible
This freshly slaughtered meat is being put out to dry in the sun. This is edible for Bhutanese, but as it was swarming with flies I'm glad to be vegetarian!

15 - Outside the Window
Looking through the windscreen of our hired car as we go over the Lowa-La pass.

16 - Bottle
We came back from Thimphu with a couple of boxes of luxury imported foods to last the final 5  months. Will two bottles of olives get us through?

17 - Inspiration
School began with two days of gardening - here the students are planting hazelnut seedlings which is the new cash crop Bhutan hopes to make money with in the future.

18 - Number
The Dzongkha number chart on my classroom wall.
19 - Building
This photo is not from the day, but I couldn't resist showing one of the worlds most impressive, unusual and fascinating buildings - Tiger's Nest Monastery.

20 - Hot
I have become addicted to chilli and even make chilli fried rice for breakfast most mornings!

21 - Fave food
It's not my favourite food in the world (could be a tight competition between Japanese and Indian), but these are my favourite Bhutanese foods - momos, kewadatsi and puris.

22 - Grey
Crossing the grey bridge in grey weather to the grey stone house where one of our teachers was hosting a baby shower after school.

23 - I Drew This
Inspirational signs I made for the library door.

24 - D is for...
Door - the High School Library Door is beautifully decorated.

25 - Ground
Students cutting the grass by hand with sickles - with all the monsoon rain the grass is growing quicker than they can cut it so they are out every morning doing this before school.

26 - Everyday
Everyday in Bhutanese homes, schools, temples etc water bowls are offered to the Buddha. Each bowl represents a different precious thing to offer the Buddha such as beautiful fragrance.

27 - Black and White
I had wanting to photograph this wooden ladder that leads up to one of our neighbour's homes.

28 - This is new
These potatoes were freshly harvested by one of my student's families from their field over the road and she brought us these at the end of the day.

29 - Perspective
This sunflower appears to be towering over the Himalayas in the background.
30 - Friendship
The children here all walk to and from home together in small friendship groups. I remember doing this when I was little.
31 - Workspace
So happy that our home workspace is in action again - for how long is anyone's guess!

Here's to staying online for at least a few days so we can catch up with everyone!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Homeward Bound

After driving to Thimphu in one eleven hour day we decided to break up the return trip by having a couple of nights stop along the way home.
A fellow BCF teacher, also called Andrea returned from Bangkok and met us for our final granola, yoghurt and banana breakfast at the Ambient Cafe in Thimphu. We arranged to drive with her that afternoon to her home in Tashidingkha, a twenty minute or so drive from Punakha high on the hill.
We arrived at her place in the late afternoon, the day before the big national election was to take place all over Bhutan. Most Bhutanese returned to their villages, and Andrea’s neighbours who live in Thimphu had returned to their family home and invited us all for tea. Their home was large and old with beautiful wooden shutters that slid open allowing an expansive, glass-free view down to Punakha as the sun set. The caretaker of their home who lives there permanently prepared dinner for us all and we took it back to eat at Andrea’s simple but comfortable traditional two storey home.
Waking up in the morning, we enjoyed breakfast and then Bob took the boys down to the nearby stream and as it was so hot they stripped off for a swim. The heat took me by surprise – I hadn’t felt so warm in Bhutan and as I only had jeans and long sleeve shirts to wear I felt very hot.

The morning view outside Andrea's window.

Andrea gave the boys a Canada frisbee to play with on the grass.

The view down to Punakha (and the Dzong in the distant background).

A bit hard to see, but Andrea's house is high above the rice paddies.

Andrea and I talked about how we’ve adapted to a simple life here with few possessions and thus little clutter in our homes and I do think it will be hard to go home and unpack all the stuff of life that we have stored away, and yet survived quite happily without all year.
Our mission for the day was to drive to Phobjika Valley, about a four hour drive away. We hoped to see our friend Senge there as he had been staying at Gangtey Monastery high above the valley.
Being election day, it was quiet on the roads and not a single shop was open along the way. It seemed like a day for socialising, with people sitting around in groups outside homes by the road, enjoying the national holiday and the chance to get together with family.
The drive into Phobjika was very special – as soon as you cross the Lowa-la pass the valley opens wide and green. Gangtey Village was not far away and as we drove down the narrow main street, who should we see sitting out the front of a shop chewing doma, surrounded by locals and throwing a baby in the air: Senge!

The view of Gangtey Village.

We crept up and surprised him – and he took us for a walk up to Gangtey Goempa – built in the 1600s. It seemed so old, but has been undergoing restoration so around the outside were beautifully ornate art works. If we had been there the previous day, we would have seen Senge in his element – inside the temple participating in a day-long puja. But it was lucky for us that he was free and pulled some strings to find the key for a temple up a high ladder above the main prayer-hall. On the altar is a funeral chorten for the original founder of the monastery – his body in sitting meditation posture is preserved inside the chorten. If we hadn’t had a guide we’d never have known.
We all headed back to the van and drove down the hill into the Phobjika valley. The wide valley is grassy and cows were grazing lazily in the afternoon sunshine. We located the guesthouse that we had been recommended – Yue-Lo-Ki and were not disappointed. As the only guests we were given the best corner room – with large windows facing out to the valley. The room was lined with polished pine and had an enormous bathroom.

We ordered tea and biscuits and sat on the grass in the garden as the afternoon sun cast a spectacular golden glow on our surroundings – a very special afternoon. We went for a short walk up the farm road and returned for dinner – our last carefree day of holidays.

Bob got a bit chilly on the walk so Senge lent him his outer robe. What do you think?

Senge planned to return to the monastery but after having hot chocolate and biscuits and the night getting pitch black dark outside, we couldn’t send him walking eight kms through the valley back to the monastery as he wanted – and so luckily we had a room large enough for everyone and he stayed to the boys’ delight (we didn’t want Senge to get in trouble again for solo walking adventures).
View from our room.

Breakfast with the boys.

Art work in the hotel dining room of the famous black-necked cranes.

A model black-necked crane at the information centre.

Driving out of Phobjika.

We were blessed with such beautiful weather for our holiday.

One last glance at the gorgeous Phobjika Valley.

Our wheels!

At the Lowa-La pass leaving Phobjika.

After breakfast we dropped Senge off at Gangtey and then it was onwards to Rukubji to catch up with BCF teacher Valerie. She spent her holidays travelling in eastern Bhutan and had just arrived home. Rukubji is a picturesque village that can be seen below the main highway when you pass, and having passed a few times now, we were happy to have the time to look around and catch up with Valerie.
We drove down the steep rocky road to the village and parked under a tree. The sun was so hot – and when Valerie met us she said it was the hottest day Rukubji had seen all year. She took us looking through the village of homes that are clustered together – a fairly unique layout in Bhutan. We saw gardens bursting with cabbages and a woman who was laying out freshly slaughtered beef to dry in the sun.

Villagers taking a break with a heavy load of potatoes.

Rukubji has a suspension bridge too and we crossed the river to the school where Valerie teaches and lives in teacher’s accommodation.

Valerie and the boys on the bridge.

Her home is new and similar to ours, although as she lives alone her home is not cluttered with all the stuff we have. As we looked around suddenly the rain poured down and so we rushed back to the car so we could leave before the road out turned to slush!

We had lunch at the restaurant at Chazam nearby where travellers stop coming to and from Thimphu. A little further down the road there are a couple of shops that sell handwoven  baskets, and after seeing some beautiful examples at Andrea’s place I wanted to buy a couple of small ones that somehow I’ll be able to fit into our luggage to take back to Australia.

We made good time home after that with a quick stop at Trongsa to buy fruit and vegetables and then home sweet home in time for dinner. The boys were really happy to be back to their familiar things and as always at the end of a holiday it was lovely to climb into our own beds.