And then.....

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bhutan - Tashi, cookies and tea

Seems about time now that you should meet my friend, Tashi. Tashi is a highly respected naturalist in Bhutan who has authored the book A Field Guide to the Mammals of Bhutan. He is also a passionate advocate for GNH. How lucky I am then that he will be the writer of the text in the book about GNH ! ( The book is mentioned early on in these posts about Bhutan.)
I was fortunate too to have had Tashi with me, guiding me in every sense, for the majority of the time that I was in Bhutan.

Followiing the visit to the middle school, we were giving the girls from the neighboring farm houses a ride home from school. (These are the girls pictured in a lower blog about a visit to the farmhouse next to the hotel.) As we approached the hotel, a very upscale hotel I must add, Tashi suggested we invite the girls in for tea and cookies.
These girls had walked right past this hotel from the day of it's first stake. They had seen it rise on a spot long favored for overlooking the valley and had surely seen a stucture, while respectiful of local architecture, quite unlike any building that they had ever seen.
One of them had a brother who worked in housekeeping and both surely must have known others who worked at the hotel in some capacity.
I am fairly certain, though, that they never imagined going inside and surely never imagined being served tea there. Although the girls were practically speechless with anxiety, they did join us. I like to think that they were happy. At the very least the experience gave the girls something cool to talk about.

I have friends going to Bhutan in a few days who will deliver, along with lots of other images for the schools and other villagers, the above picture at the Gantay Amankora.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bhutan - Happiness

A little bit of boy happiness!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

bhutan - Phobjika

Beautiful jewelry for women is an important aspect of the culture of Bhutan. The jewelry above, while surely expensive and highly valued, was apparently part of the daily dress of the woman pictured cooking dinner below.
If you will look closely will see a brown and white bead that stands out as different from the others.
This bead signifies great protection. There are 3 kinds, the plastic tourist version, a glass more generally used version and the rare antique version. Perhaps something was lost in translation but I was told that the rare bead costs around $500,000 USD.
There is a story attached to this bead. In a large plane crash in Indonesia there was one survivor - a Bhutanese man wearing the bead.
The pin seen near the woman's shoulder is one of a pair called komas. The koma is used to clasp the womans dress, kira, at the shoulder.
A kira FYI is one piece of woven cloth about the size of a single bed sheet that is wrapped in such a way as to create the beautiful long dresses that all Bhutanese women wear. An elaborate kira can take a whole year to weave. It would take equally as long were I to try to dress myself in one.

Bhutan - Phobjika

How can a stove be exciting? In rural Phobjika, the introduction of the clay stove above by a royal government agency is a big and exciting deal. The clay stove uses a good deal less fuel than the old metal stove that is presently in every home in the area. It has a much larger cooking surface. Equal in significance, it doesn't smoke. There is little doubt in my mind that the old stoves generally produce enough smoke into the homes to do significant damage to the health of the residents.
( I found the smoke in the home of the family pictured below overwhelming and was there during the prepartion of only one meal).
In this case the new stove appears to be good governance, a pillar of GNH, in that it is the manifestation of a government contributing to the well being of individuals.

There is something interesting, though, in the fact that the woman above was making the meal on both stoves. May be a viable reason, may be just human natures reaction to change.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bhutan - Phobjika

So why will there be no electricity in Phobjika ? Because Phobjika, situated in the valley below the Gantay Gompa, is the winter grounds of the black necked cranes. Electric lines might imperil these special birds.

To the villagers, the arrival of the black necked cranes is an event that holds great significance. As well as heralding the beginning of winter, some believe these endangered birds to be the re-incarnation of two dieties who are said to be protectors of the beautiful valley.
When both arriving and leaving, these graceful birds will circle the Gompa three times. To the locals, this represents the honoring of the three sacred Jewels of Buddhism - the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha - and the request and gratitude for their care during their stay.

Being in Phobjika in late May, I was unable to actually see the cranes but visited the display about them at the small, attractive office of the Royal Society for Protection of Nature.( RSPN has an interesting site where you will learn more about the cranes. ) . At the office I met Dago Tshering the field coordinator for RSPN who, after showing me about the museum, kindly took me to visit a local family so that I might see an example of their solar light.

Dago at the RSPN office
a family at lunch beneath the solar light for the house.

Dago also showed me on of the new clay stoves being employed in the village. Clay stove is NEXT!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Bhutan - Phobjika

These two girls, both middle schoolers, took me to the home of the girl on the right. While the family was not expecting a western visitor - indeed, this may never have happened before - they were gracious in inviting me in and showing me around.

The house was sizeable in that the family dwelling was on the top floor over the barn area below. This arrangement is typical, I think, for Bhutanese farmhouses.
Although electricity is being extended to parts of rural Bhutan it is not in Phobjika * nor will it be, so this house was quite dark. Rice was being prepared for the noon meal on the small stove seen above and smoke permeated the main room. There was a cupboard against the wall of this room and mats that would be unrolled for the meal were stored against the wall. An adjoining room held the family altar.

The following is from my friend, and published writer, Sangay Wangchuck:

An altar for a Bhutanese Buddhist is one of the ways that the
parents bring the children in line with the religion. Young children would
normally be asked to do the daily morning offerings which consists of water
offering, incense and tea offering. Parents would also ask the children to
offer the first harvest on the altar as a mark of gratitude. Even in urbans
like Thimphu, we do the same. We buy fresh fruits, wash them and ask the
children to offer some on the altar before we consume the rest. We have the
elaborate altars in our old homes and in urban areas, rich folks would have
exquisite altars. For common folks even a calender depicting a deity or a
Buddha would suffice.

In a future post I pass on more about altars and more from Sangay.

* why electricity will not come to Gantay and Phobjika will follow next! You might be surprise ( and impressed ) by the reasoning.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bhutan - Phobjika

The road to my hotel stopped at the hotel but a short walk past the end of the road there is the farm house of the family pictured above.

The girl holding the baby is the family's neighbor and best friend of the girl on the left of the family photo.

Both girls go to Gangtay middle school ( see below ) and like so many of the valley's children, the girls walk many miles, rain or shine, to and from school.

Having given the girls a ride home from school, I was invited to visit their home. It was lunch time and the men had not yet come in from the fields. In the house I was offered yak butter tea and shown the family altar room. I will post a picture of the altar next as well as a few more pics from the visit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

At the top of the three ladder climb I came to a beautifully painted balcony, lit from the windows in the ceiling above and tightly hugging the four walls of the space.

As I looked over into the darkness I could imagine the Buddha statuary below on the first floor. I imagined some to be, as I had seen in other monastaries, well over a 10 - 15 feet in height.

Even in the darkness it may have been possible to see outlines of the Buddhas but for the workers situated on thin planks about five or six feet below the bottom of the balcony. In the barest illlumination there under the balconies, they were continuing the stencil painting that you see in the first picture here along side the foreman.

It was more than dim where they were - too dark for any pictures - and rainy day cold. The sight of the men at work in the dark and cold on that precarious scaffolding three levels above the ground floor stunned me. The image is still vivid in my mind's eye. What was more memorable, though, was this: the men were singing and when they weren't singing they were joking and laughing. I will not make explicit what is implicit here about happiness but I am moved enough by the memory to testify with more than little emotion that these men appeared to be, indeed, happy.

Picture one is the foreman. ( The image of me hanging over the edge of the balcony to take this picture must reside in your imagination.)
Picture two is stencils and things used to make them that i found on the floor of a little room off of the space described above.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

With the interior of the gompa too dark for pictures or to see anything at all really, I went up three floors on thin little ladders to the top floor where light was available from windows near the top of the pitched ceiling. The above picture will give you an idea of what the trip was like. Lest you are thinking drop down attic stairs I want to reiterate that the ascent/descent is THREE very tall floors. Am I proud of my prowess? Um hum.

bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

Inside the gompa was a bit like inside a person, dark! Without electricity, the enormous space was lit only by the light from the windows.
More to follow.

bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

On my way up to the gompa I came across these timbers being hauled and loaded onto a truck. The workers, as is the case on most hard labor projects in the country, as from India.
The timber had been cut and trimmed on the spot, then loaded onto the truck and would be hauled up the hill to the gompa. There it would be further hewn by hand and eventually become part of the reconstructed gompa. It was strange for my western eye to see so much being done by hand. The lumber shed in front of the gompa was very large and to my knowledge there was no power saw, certainly no whine of one while I was there.

Next we go inside!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

Once at the top of the hill, I found the gompa under going major reconstruction.

The gompa, as are many roads and sites in Bhutan, is sprucing up it's appearance and inner workings in preparation for the the coronation of the new king in the spring of 2008. The coronation, the first in a long time, will be a momentous occasion for the country.

The new king will be the fifth king and a direct descendent of the previous four monarchs. HM Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, son of HM Jigme Singje Wangchuck " the father of GNH" may very well be known as "the father of Democratic Bhutan" as the country will become democratic for the first time in it's history as his reign begins.

While the Bhutanese are understandably anxious about this pending major governmental shift, they are enthralled about the coronation. You can, no doubt, xpect to see quite a bit of press about Bhutan in 08!

I will tell you a little about the reconstruction of the gompa tomorrow.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

In the little village before the gompa, there is a tiny store, the only one I saw like it, with candy and other glitter wrapped junk food. Monks, old and young gathered here, hung on the open window and waited for their turn to buy treats.
I didn't get a chance to find out what these treats cost but was told that, in general, monks get an allowance of about 10 dollars a month to buy all of their necessities. Even with so tiny an allowance, monks appear to join the rest of us in considering a bit of sugary/salty junk to be necessary.
There is no football or soccer field at Gantay Gompa, no basket ball hoop or volley ball net. The game above - kicking a plastic bag - went on for some time and never stopped evoking high glee. I am inspired to try this game but am lacking takers at the moment.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

Along the walk to the gompa.

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

Lots of walking to and fro as the monks come to the little village by the gompa for supplies. Perhaps you, like me, have a preconception that monks aren't just guys, aren't at all interested in guy toys.

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa's Chortan

Before climbing the hill to the Gantay Gompa and the little settlement that preceeds, it one is met by the chorten above. A chorten is a religious structure, also known as a stupa, that usually contains scared relics. They dot the landscape and hold an emotional significance.

The preceeding is a quote about chortens from the queen's book A PORTRAIT OF BHUTAN.

They are built for a variety of reasons - to honour a great king, saint or lama, to commemorate a departed soul, to ward off evil spirits or danger ( which is why they are often built on mountain passes or steep cliffs ) or to mark an important event or a great victory. If one walks past a chorten, one must do so keeping it on one's right, and walk round it in a clockwise direction - to do otherwise invites bad luck!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bhutan - Buddhism, Gantay Gompa

The monastary, Gantay Gompa, sits high over looking the glacial valley of Phobjika below.
The monastary, now undergoing massive reconstruction, was built in 1613 and is one of the most famous monastaries in Bhutan.
Above you will see the long view and also the dirt road approach to the gompa itself.
If you are as romantic as I am about places that look like this you will, as I surely did, have a sense of a most magical place.
I suppose the magic that was immediately experienced was that we made it up the muddy road, mostly traveled ny foot, in a car. I am sure, though, that there is quite a bit more magic abounding in that place, remote and serene as it is.
There is much of interest about this monastary. We will jump right into some of it tomorrow.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bhutan - Education

Above the entire student body with faculty assembled beneath the country's flag that represents " Land of the Thunder Dragon".
Also above red jacketed American photographer.

Next - we will return to aspects of the Bhutanese educational system in time but, while we are here in Gantay, I would like to tell you about the village itself which is called Phobjika and about the Gantay Gompa ( monastery ).

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Bhutan - Education

Gantay Middle School in B & W.
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