Archive for the ‘Bhutan’ Category

Bhutan – Day One – The World’s Capital of Happiness

By Paul Largay   Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Paul Largay in Bhutan with a Monk

I have always dreamed of venturing to the furthest, most exotic regions of the earth and when a chance to visit Bhutan presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  What could be better than a country whose chief economical indicator is the GNH or the Gross National Happiness?    

As we left Delhi, we had great anticipation and a real sense of wonder for what lay ahead in Bhutan. The scene at the International terminal was much more chaotic than the domestic terminal. The airline recommendation was for coach class travelers to arrive three hours prior to departure and business class travelers to arrive two hours prior, so when we arrived and saw the scene at airport security, we quickly understood.  Had it not been for a friendly security guard taking pity on us, the flight would have left us behind and because of the limited schedule of Druk Airways (the national airline of Bhutan and ONLY carrier servicing the country) we would have been out of luck for at least (3) days.  The flight aboard Druk Airways was absolutely exceptional.  Very modern, extremely clean and incredibly friendly, as you would expect for Bhutan.  The flight to Paro took about 2 hours and is one of the most dramatic I’ve ever taken.  We paralleled the Himalayas and flew right past Mt. Everest and a number of others whose proximity and beauty made it appear as if they had been painted just for us.  The approach into Paro was not for the faint hearted flyer, since we weaved and bobbed in and out of one majestic peak after another.  After landing our guide said the compact runway was the last straight line we would see on our visit and he wasn’t kidding.  The distances between the valleys and points of interest in Bhutan are not vast and although the roads are well paved, there is one hairpin turn after another.  We travelled about ninety minutes from Paro to Thimphu and arrived at the beautiful Amankora property perched high in the hills overlooking the town.  The property is an intimate twenty room, artistically designed and engineered facility providing a world class spa and exceptional food.  Understated elegance at its best.

After a delicious lunch, we took mountain bikes into town for a city tour and were thrilled to visit a temple, handmade paper making facility and artist’s workshop, where the master painter creates many of the master pieces in the temples throughout the country. The hues and color intensities he creates in his paint colors are created from crushed rocks and is an incredibly labor intensive process.  The results were absolutely breath taking.

After only one day here in Bhutan, one quickly dismisses the significant travel distances required to witness the majestic country.  I now understand the beauty of the fact that Buddhist Religion totally encompasses the history, philosophy, and the culture of Bhutan.  From what I’ve seen thus far, this country is a great recipe for peace tranquility and happiness.

Bhutan – Day Two – Wonderfully Immersed in the Magnetic Charm

By Paul Largay   Sunday, February 28th, 2010
Bhutan Mountain Bike

Paul, Reenie & Kristen Enjoying a Mountain Bike Ride in Bhutan

The drama of the day built slowly as we finished our freshly cooked breakfast at Amankora, which is conveniently located in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.  The quality and variety of the menu items was very unexpected, but most appreciated and devoured. The anticipated day’s activities included a two hour climb to a sacred temple overlooking the valley and rushing river, followed by a mountain biking decent back into town to witness the weekly farmers market.  The market lasts for three days and is the place where all the villagers come to purchase their vegetables for the coming week.

The Bhutanese diet is based almost exclusively on vegetables and almost every recipe calls for the inclusion of red hot chili peppers.  The limited meat that the locals do consume is all imported from India, as the Buddhist religion prohibits the slaughter of any livestock.  The same is true for fish, as it is actually against the law to fish and cook anything which is caught.  After a rather difficult hike, we successfully reached the top and were rewarded with the sight of distant mountain views and a magnificent temple which we explored and were treated to an in depth history lesson in the beliefs and practices of the monks who dutifully watch over and protect the shrine.  Typically their tenure lasts for a period of three years, three months and three days.  The significance of the three is that it reminds them of the three important aspects of their existence and focus; mind,  body, and, soul.

In preparation for a sunset massage and celebratory dinner, the day’s activities were concluded by a visit to an animal preserve to view a very rare animal called a Takin, which frankly looks like a cow who has had the head of a goat grafted upon it.  This animal is rarely seen and it’s natural habitat is northern Bhutan, Tibet and the mountains of southern China.

Tomorrow we will be sad to say goodbye to the Thimphu community that has made us feel like we were long lost relatives but we have been assured by our guides that there’s more where that came from in the next valley in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Ever onward…

Bhutan – Day Three – Wondering how the day could possibly compete with the last two days….

By Paul Largay   Saturday, February 27th, 2010
Bhutan Discovery

Kristen, Peter, Reenie & Paul Hiking in Bhutan

Our day started off with yet ANOTHER fabulous breakfast and early morning four hour hike to a sacred temple overlooking the village of Thimphu.  The weather was divine and was only exceeded by the views we had earned as a result of our assent. 

After a gourmet picnic lunch on the summit, we all gleefully headed into town to purchase a personal Bhutanese ‘dress’ to wear at what we knew were some very special upcoming events.  The madness and mayhem that ensued during the purchase at the store could have provided for some exceptional late night comedy or conversely, resulted in a life sentence in one of the local lockups….can you say Midnight Express sequel!  The locals/ merchants were obviously as happy to see us arrive as they were to see us depart. 

Peter & Paul shopping for some local wears

Peter & Paul Shopping in Town

From the store we headed out on what had to be one of the most, unique drives/transfers of my life.  To reach the next Aman property we climbed/ traversed three dramatic mountain passes for five hours which afforded us panoramic views of the snow covered Himalayas bordering both Tibet and China.  How cool!

Throughout the course of the drive, I don’t think I have EVER felt so connected and so unexpectedly at peace to such a remote, yet mysteriously inviting locale.  Upon arriving in Gadgety we celebrated our patience with a glass of fine red wine and a tour around the eith room property.  The most amazing aspect was that aside from the generator, which provided light and electricity to our hotel, the entire community and town had no electricity or running water.  We couldn’t help but think about how incredible and enhanced the star gazing would be after dinner.

Bhutan – Day Four – And the fun continues….

By Paul Largay   Friday, February 26th, 2010
Bhutan Potato Shed

Dinner in the Potato Shed in Bhutan

Today has been completely monopolized by a six hour hike though some of the most beautiful and varied terrain imaginable. We trekked through river valleys, steep mountain passes and National Forrest lands that posed extremely tall majestic woodlands.  The altitude, over 10,000 ft., was at times a bit challenging, but with dogged determination, humor, and a wonderful picnic lunch we prevailed.  

Some of the true highlights of the climb were witnessing up close and personal the endangered bird, the Black Neck Crane, and an archery competition between local villagers.  Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and it was very evident as we watched young and old successfully hit their ’marks’ from vast distances easily exceeding the length of a football field.

Bhutan Celebration Dinner

Peter, Kristen, Paul & Reenie with a local musician at a Celebration Dinner in Bhutan

Our evening meal was one of the most unique transformational dining experiences I’ve ever had. We all dressed (with much help from the hotel staff!) in traditional Bhutanese attire and continued to a farmer’s antique potato shed which was perched high on a hillside. Since the town is without electricity, the shed was identified/located by means of a blazing signal bonfire.  Upon arriving we were greeted by the warmth of the roaring fire, a glass of local wine, and a strolling musician, gladly sharing some of the popular songs. The interior of the river rock and wooden shed was illuminated by more than one hundred white candles creatively and strategically positioned to cast a romantic shadow throughout the building.  The only element competing with the setting and ambiance was the abundance of wine and the meal itself, which was a seven course Bhutanese menu whose taste, variety and preparation were thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance.  Our evening concludes with us working in conjunction with the hotel staff to finalize our plans which include us cooking and serving our own sunrise breakfast for one hundred and twenty five monks in residence at the local monastery.

Bhutan – Day Five – Feeding the Monks

By Paul Largay   Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The wakeup call shattered the predawn serenity of our hotel room but we gladly arose as we were on a mission.  After friendly assistance with our local attire, we made our way to the monastery perched majestically on the hilltop to cook and serve breakfast for one hundred and twenty five monks. 

Upon arrival we were graciously greeted by the head monk and led to the cookhouse whose working conditions presented some unusual challenges.  First, there was no electricity and the source of heat for the (50) gallon pots of water were open fire pits fueled by large logs harvested from a nearby forest.  After stoking the flames, we proceeded to the temple where we joined all the resident monks in morning prayers, chants, meditation and celebration. 

We were truly humbled by having the privilege of the inside perspective and bearing witness to the sacrifice, dedication and commitment of the monks, many of whom had dedicated their lives to religious pursuits at age five and would continue their studies at this particular monastery for a minimum of (13) years before going out to the surrounding community to share their insights and acquired knowledge. 

Paul feeding the Monks in Bhutan

Paul Largay feeding the Monks in a Monestary in Bhutan

After sharing in the communal prayer session we served breakfast to the community, thanked them all for the opportunity to share the morning and some small, but enlightening, insights into their faith and religious rituals.  We are now preparing to leave our wonderful home at Amankora Gadgety and are headed to explore Amankora Panache with it’s lush valleys and hiking opportunities as well as the festivals and mask dancing.  We just can’t wait