Tag Archives: Paro

Tigers Roar

The Thongdrel is over 400 years old, four stories in height and about 25m wide as it is hoisted up on the front of the monastery building.  It depicts Guru Rinpoche (the second reincarnation of Buddha) and his bringing Buddhism to Bhutan.  It is unrolled by monks in the top floor of the monastery who winch the Thongdrel up as a team of around fifty people at base of the building slowly unroll it with every heave.  A single drum beat is played very slowly.  The moment it reaches the top the hundreds of people who have gathered to witness this event prostrate before it.  Its 3am in the morning and the Land of the Thunder Dragon lives up to its name as the thunder rumbles overhead and the rain descends.  It’s an auspicious sign, cleansing the sins of the people present.  Many of these people have travelled for days, some by foot, from all over the country and from all over the world to witness this.  I can only look on with respect.  They then form an orderly queue and wait, some for hours, to touch the Thongdrel and receive a blessing.  This spectacle has played out like this for over 400 years.

I leave at 7am to return to the traditional farmhouse in which I’m staying for the night/morning.  The Thongdrel was taken down within a couple of hours, for fear the ancient tapestry might be damaged by the rays of the morning sun.

At 9.30am I can sleep in no longer, I can hear soothing tones of a horn coming from within the building.  The smell of incense fills my room.  I get dressed and make my way into a reception room which is next to my bedroom and I’m greeted by the farmhouse owner.  Off the reception room is the altar room, it seems every house has one but this is essentially two rooms and quite large.  Four monks are chanting rhythmically to the sounds of two horns and a drum.  Three of the monks are wearing the normal maroon attire while the fourth, on a raised platform is wearing orange and yellow, signifying his importance.  He appears to be in his late twenties or early thirties.  This is a very special occasion the owner tells me, the high Lama, who arrived with his team earlier in the morning is believe to be the partial reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche (Buddha) himself and his ceremony in the house will last for about six hours.  Offerings of food, water and incense are all laid out to the gods and I am taught how to correctly prostate myself before the altar and to the high Lama.  He does not speak but smiles at my efforts.

It’s a country that is still extremely spiritual.  I am surprised by the number of youth joining the religious order; some look as young as ten years of age.  Many have come from some of the poorest families and it appears to be common that one member of a family will join an order.  It will be interesting to see how many will in the next ten years.  The youth at the moment are looking towards countries like South Korea and Japan for inspiration, skinny jeans are in, groups of guys wear over styled hair and spirituality and Buddhism is taking a back seat.

Strangely, I can’t help but feel I’ve seen this before.  Ireland and Bhutan bare stark similarities, I feel a certain sadness in the inevitable.  As the Celtic Tiger raged, Ireland faced the same important decisions that Bhutan faces today.  Ireland gripped capitalism or maybe capitalism gripped Ireland, took her (Ireland) for a cheap ride and kicked her out the next morning.  I think she is now doing the walk of shame, and slinking back to sobering reality.

In the case of Bhutan, it is flirting with the big C (capitalism).  In recent years, imports from India have soared and with the Bhutan Ngultrum pegged to the Indian Rupee it has made the currency artificially high.  Cheap money and loans within the banking system have driven consumerism in the country and its dependence on India for everything from cars and milk, to cheap labour and rice – many items that Bhutan could easily produce itself .  And so, within the last few weeks Bhutan has made the difficult decision to limit access to the Indian Rupee.  It seems that it is possible to learn from the experiences of others, and the Government is now trying to plug the holes and wean itself off the reliance on India.  Fortunate perhaps, but at the same time, this foresight is having huge repercussions.  Imports of basics from India are now on the rise, my tins of baked beans have gone up by 20% (mum, send me beans please!) along with many other more essential items, the cheap Indian labour is also under strain.  Many Indians workers are not migrating to Bhutan for work as their employers can no longer pay them in Rupee’s.

While the roar of my own home’s Celtic Tiger’s has caught a cold and now whimpers, I admire the steps in which the Land of the Thunder Dragon embraces its past as it grapples with the tough decisions that will shape its future.  Thankfully when they talk about tiger’s roar, they are very much of the real variety, one they are very careful to nurture.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , ,