Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chili on the willy

The Director General (DG) of the organization has got a promotion, well done DG! He and the misses are packing their bags off to greener pastures.  To send him on his way he kindly had an event to celebrate the occasion.

I was left behind at the office.

Little old me was not extended an invite.  On their realization that I was on my lonesome, a driver was dispatch to collect from the office.  We stopped on-route to pick up a scarf from a clothes store.  I was given a crash course on how to present this white silk scarf embroidered with eight auspicious lucky signs.  I arrived and was greeted by the DG on the lawn where tents had been erected for the occasion.  He is wearing a pure silk, brightly hand embroidered, gho with leather knee high embroidered boots, a sword attached to his belt ran from his hip to his shin.  The sword was presented to him, similar to a knighthood, by the king.  He escorts me into his home, leads me down a long corridor to a room at the far end.  I enter this small room, with traditional bright Bhutanese hangings adorning the walls.  The patchwork of yellow, red, blue, green and white are found throughout many building.  Butter lamps (gold chalices) line, three or four deep, in neat rows along two tables against the walls, burn off the oil placed within with an aromatic smell.  I have entered the prayer room.  I have the silk scarf in the left hand, neatly folded in a particular manner along one seam.  The DG turns to face me, I stand before him and gently toss the scarf across my right forearm while keeping hold of the other end with my left hand and in Dzongkha (the native dialect) I congratulate him, I bow low and extend my arms to offer him the scarf.

I have taken part in my first official celebration.

I return to the party outside were we drink, snack and chat.  Food is a buffet and chillies once again are the order of the day.  There is a red and green chilli salad, I kid you not…all chilli with a dressing.  Then there is also pork and chillies, I swear I had to search for a few morsels of pork underneath a mountain of chilli.  I was warned off the natural yoghurt as it is an acquired taste, something I should try another time.  I return with my pork marinated in chilli and the Bhutanese red rice and yes that’s because of its colour, quite nice actually.  Some of the traditional dancers and singers entertain us as we relax (check out the vid http://youtu.be/WomBWkAIR3U).

I have also moved into a noice apartment in, what I’m sure, is the Beverly Hills of Thimphu, also pictured and much nicer than the previous apartment.  Gone are my days of Bhutan clubbing!  I did find myself drinking straight whiskey in “Tiger Bar” last Friday and signing “With or Without You” on the Karaoke machine.  Bhutan LOVES karaoke, it’s a pity about my singing.  I just got the internet connected at home last night and so I get to update you all.  I did spend all last weekend scrubbing the place and I’ve thoroughly disinfected it and am ready for visitors.  It’s all going well and next week I plan to visit the neighboring town of Paro in the east for their festival or Tsechu.

As promised, check me out in my gho!

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Its all Go, I mean gho

Over the weekend I walked up the Tashichho Dzong or “The Fortress of the Glorious Religion” nestled neatly in a valley beside the crystal clear water of the Wang Chhu River, it serves as both the government’s administration centre, in south of the rectangular building, and a monastic centre in the northern section.  This outer building surrounds a courtyard in which you find a central building and the king’s office.  It’s a majestic building and open to tourists at the weekend.  This central building is probably six to seven stories high while the surrounding buildings are three to five stories high.  It was all build in the 17th century and as still is the tradition, no plans were made and no nails or metal of any kind is used in its construction.  The chief engineer knew how he wanted it designed, in his head and that was enough.  Its solid stone walls are capped with ornate wooden structures and roofs.  The highest points, at the four corners of the structure and the central king’s office, are capped with gold and red roofs.  Entering the main courtyard you cannot be but impressed by the imposing structure and is white washed walls.  These craftsmen are to be admired.

While I was in the Dzong I entered the main temple were around thirty young red robed, shaven head monks, some as young as 11 I’d imagine, were chanting and praying.  Five drums and two 3 meter long horns kept the chanting in time while incense burned in front of a 6 meter high Buddha.  The sound and smell was hypnotic.

These monks, who are in training, are part of the group that remained in Thimphu for the winter.  As we make our way into spring the local guys find it hard and each morning a member of staff usually has to dress me again to the laughs of my co-workers in the middle of the office.  I wear knee length socks and have large white cuffs.  Sounds interesting eh!  Photo’s to follow next week.

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Fabulously Slimming

The people are quite reserved, sincere and gentle in their manner.  They are thoughtful, my meaning, they take their time in answering questions, thinking before speaking.  Something I could learn from.  I’m part of quite a young team, all are below the age of 35.  In general they are very respectful of seniority, bowing low on meeting.  Handshakes confirmed by placing your second over the back of their first hand are common. Direct eye contact for people in high standing seems to be avoided.  I believe that this is to do with the strong Buddhist culture where deities – demy gods – can be found around the country.  People do not make eye contact with these deities.  I’m sure I come across a little rude….I’m now bowing a little lower.

The newly married King and Queen are revered along with the rest of the Royal Family.  Photos are displayed with pride on the front of many buildings around the city and on work colleague’s desks.  We are currently on the fifth king who can only marry once due to a rule in the countries new constitution.  His father, king four, has four Queens.  All, I’m told, are sisters (same father and mother) and of those Queens he has had eleven children.  He got is speak in before the new rule was created, lucky man.

Marriage is interesting.  When a couple meets they decide to get married and that’s it, they’re married.  No ceremony, it is just announced.  Polygamy and polyandry were practiced throughout the country at one time.  Talking to my colleagues at work polygamy is still practiced but only on the agreement by the husband’s first wife.  As for multiple husbands, I’ll have to report back on that.  I have a feeling it doesn’t occur very often.  It was once traditional that young men in the east of the country would slip away from their homes in the dead of night and travel to the surrounding villages and court girls by window shopping…..climbing in the window of single ladies for some “courtship”.  If the lad does not return home to his parents’ house they can assume marriage.  Of course if the advances are unwanted the girls need only let out a roar to have her parents chase him from the house.  This tradition is dying out but it is interesting to note that inheritance still passes along the female line.  The men will move into live with this wife and her family.  The daughters in the family will be left the land, house and valuables.

I lay here in bed writing this where I’ve been most of the day.  I’m currently in my acclimatisation phase in getting use to the local food and hygiene, its fabulously slimming so far.  I think for the coming weeks I’ll be cooking my own food.  It’s all to be expected really and I’m sure I’ll be as right as rain soon enough.  Anyway that’s it from me, I have a rendez-vous with my toilet.

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Thank God I brought ear plugs

From New Delhi the plane went north west towards Kathmandu, then due east to Bhutan.  My window seat on the left side of the plane gave me a bird’s eye view of the Himalayas; it lived up the name of the most spectacular flight routes in the world.  It was surreal flying by the world’s highest peaks including the dominant Mount Everest perched in the clouds.  As we approached Paro airport the captain informed the cabin that we would be landing in the next 5 mins and warning not to be alarmed by the landing maneuver.  We were still at a very high altitude, traveling in an easterly direction the plane veers north and at the same point nose dives at a somewhat alarming angle.  Descending at a pace we rapidly approach the Himalayas (no runway in sight).  Within 1-2 minutes the wings are what appears to be meters for the tree lined mountain slopes, swooping into the Paro Valley.  White knuckled the plane wings level out but we are still nose diving towards the unseen runway.  It’s all over in a matter of seconds as we land safely….thank Jazus.  I have since found out only 8 pilots in the world can land at Paro due to its difficulties.

The airport building itself is beautiful, ornate wood carvings and stone, what I know now as typical of Bhutan.  The second thing I notice is the airport staff (male) are all dressed in the traditional Gho.  It’s liked a knee length bathrobe, tied at the waist by a belt.  As we disembark all the tourists are dotted about the pavement taking pictures of the terminal and the air craft.  There is none of usual directioning of the ground handlers stopping you or rushing you along.

We are met by our driver once thru boarder control and we load up our Toyota twin cab and hit the road.  Thimphu is an hour’s drive.  By the time we reach the city limits, the mixture of sleep deprivation, the constant twists and turns of the road, tuck fumes is making me quite nauseous.

Thimphu is a very small city; it feels no bigger than my home town in Ireland.  The architecture is fascinating.  A picture paints a thousand words so I’ll add a few for you to check out.  I arrive at my accommodation.  I’m in a common 5 story building on the top floor.  At 2,700 meters the climb with my bags feels every bit of the high altitude.  Somehow I thought I wouldn’t really feel it but I was wrong.  I settle myself in and go to bed.  I have a lot of sleep to catch up on.

We are currently looking for other accommodation.  While this apartment has all the basics the nightclub and a mix of other small problems aren’t appealing when I have to live here for a year.  I have already viewed a much nicer place which I may take.

While mountains surround the city, the peaks have very little snow, if any.  It is remarkably dry, so much so for the past two evenings the city has been draped in smoke from surrounding wild fires, none of which threaten the city (yet).  Since we are still north of the equator our seasons are the same as Europe and North America.  While it gets below freezing at night it warms up to the mid-teens during the day.

I’m conscious of not rabbiting on but I have to mention the dogs.  Since this is a Buddhist country it is seen as a sin to hurt or kill animals and so there are dogs everywhere.  You don’t notice them during the day but once night falls if all goes off.  The dogs are mostly wild and travel the city in packs.  They are all quite friendly and I don’t feel like they’re going to rip the arm off me just yet but the barking and howling at night is unbelievable.  Not just one dog barking here and there it’s like a chorus of 15-20 dogs barking at any one time.  It goes on all night.  Thank God I brought ear plugs!

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On Route

Its  nearly 3am in the morning here in New Delhi Airport as I wait for another few hours to catch my flight to Paro, the only international airport in Bhutan.  Only one airline services Bhutan and that is Druk Air.  I got my transit visa thru India at the last minute.  I had a trade show in New York for the last three days prior to flying it.  It was beneficial to me but I’m not too sure how good it was for business.

I was spoilt on the last night by Ash and saying goodbye was one of the hardest things I’ve done.  I have to get to work now on confirming his travel in May (or so).

Looking forward to touching down, traveling the hour or so to Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, were I hope there is a bed for me to crash in.  My boss is traveling in on the same flight.  The accommodation details are vague at best but I’m leaving it in her hands to get me to my place.  I was informed a couple of weeks ago that the accommodation has a “disco” in the basement, which the company was unaware of when booking it.  I’ll see what it’s like, frankly the way I feel at the moment it could be a 24/7 rave and I couldn’t give a dam, I’d happily snooze thru it.  I’ll can change location if I need to in the coming weeks.

Thimphu has a population of approx. 90,000 peeps and growing.  It’s so small I’m told everywhere in the City is walking distance.  It is reportedly the only capital city in the world that does not have any traffic lights.  They installed one set of lights a few years back but were removed due to the level of complaints.  The people found them too impersonal.  Other than that, I know a river runs thru it.

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