Sunday, April 25, 2010
April 21 - From Prayer Flags to Prayer Wheels
I awoke at 5:15 and by 6:00 had a quick cup of coffee and we were on our way. Our destination was Chelila Pass, 12000 feet high, where we would have breakfast. I was in Namgay’s car with James as my companion. We started out of town and up the windy road. All roads in Bhutan are windy. There is a short stretch in Paro alongside the runway that is supposed to be the longest straight stretch in Bhutan. The skies were blue with lots of nice cumulus clouds, that make a good backdrop for photos.
We were on the road for a half hour when we spotted our first group of prayer flags. We stopped the car and went out to photo graph them. This is the great benefit of this trip. When we see something, we can get out and photograph without holding up a whole busload of people. James is a very artistic photographer and had a plan in mind for his prayer flags. We spent about a half hour walking around and photographing them from various angles and in various groupings.
On the road again, until we came to a small shrine by a stream. A wheel in the stream drove a prayer wheel above in the shrine. There was an altar with many miniature stupas, called tsa-tsa. There was also a field of prayer flags. Again another stop for photography.
Other photo opportunities along the road were a group of yaks with bulls, a mother, and a calf, and the yak herder’s lonely house. Yak herders may have two houses, one high during the summer, and one lower for the winter months as they follow the herd.
Finally, at 9:20, after almost three hours on the road, we reached the pass. Robin and Eleanor had since stopped for breakfast and photography and gone on. John and Marcia were finishing breakfast as we arrived. The crew had a hearty breakfast prepared for us with cashew porridge, juice, coffee, sandwiches, and rice to which peppers could be added to taste. The pass was filled with many fields of prayer flags. In the photo, you can see just a part, along with a communications tower, and an electric transmission line. This photo is somehow a metaphor for Bhutan. The strong religious influence, the modernization, and the transmission line, representing Bhutan’s main export, electricity to India.
India and Bhutan have a very close relationship. India supplies many of Bhutan’s teachers and also many laborers on India funded infrastructure projects. The Bhutanese nugultrum (Nu) is pegged to the Indian rupee, and rupees are used as well as Nu in Bhutan.
After breakfast, we returned down from the pass almost to Paro, where we took the new Paro – Thimphu road to Thimphu. This new road cut the travel time between the two main cities in western Bhutan to one hour from two hours. It is mostly two lane, but smooth and in good condition. We saw laborers patching one section on our way.
Arriving in Thimphu, we saw workers on a ceremonial arch, one of many being prepared to welcome guests from South Asian countries for the South Asian Association Regional Conference (SAARC) to be held in Thimphu on April 28, 29. Hosting this conference is a great honor for Bhutan, and Thimphu, the capital is busy preparing with arches and other welcoming signs.
We arrived and checked in to the Kisa Hotel just in time for our 1:00 lunch. The Kisa is a fully modern hotel, probably the best in Bhutan, and accommodations are equivalent to a western name brand hotel. This is probably a portent of things to come in Bhutan, as a McKinsey study told them to build more western hotels if they wanted to increase their tourist traffic. Robin says this is a good time to come as Bhutan will be changed in the future.
This was only the morning. In the afternoon we visited the national handicraft school, where young people learn the traditional crafts, such as woodworking, embroidery, painting of religious pictures, sculpture, and more. We were able to enter the classes and photograph the students at work.
Afterwards we visited the Memorial Choten (temple) where residents come to chant their daily prayers while spinning large prayer wheels outside.
For dinner, we all went to Thimphu’s best pizzeria to have a really delicious pizza. And then to bed to prepare for our next exciting day.