Monday, April 26, 2010

A Queens's Project, a Town Reborn and More

After a relatively late breakfast at 8:00, we are on the road again. I’m in Namgay’s car again; today with Eleanor. She is a very good photographer with a specialty of nature. She has made 19 trips to Africa and produces several “slide” shows a year that she shows around Dallas. She also competes vigorously, and has won some national PSA awards.

Our first stop is the 10,500 foot Dochula Pass. On this pass are the 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens. They were built in 2004 by the prior queen (fourth wife of the fourth king) “to celebrate the peace and stability that His Majesty has brought to the country. We stay for quite a while, photographing the chortens through the prayer flags, the chortens close up, and a small temple on the hill, also built by the same queen. Inside, some soldiers are on a ladder replacing lamps. The King and the Head Abbot (Bhutan’s spiritual leader) will be visiting soon and all must be ready. In Bhutan, the King and the Abbot are ranked equally, and we see two throne-like chairs next to each other where they will sit during the visit.

I go back down the hill to take some close up pictures of the chortens. On the way out Eleanor is photographing an old couple. After she is finished, I ask if they mind and I take some pictures of them. When I show them the pictures on the camera they both smile and tell me a little about themselves. He is 85 she is 83. Most Bhutanese are happy to pose for pictures and in many cases, a view of the picture on the camera LCD is their reward and brings out a big natural smile. Namgay suggested that Eleanore and I work as a team one taking a picture and showing it while the other captures the big natural smile.

We move on and around noon we come upon a house under construction using the Bhutanese Adobe wall technique. The framing is partially up and sand is poured into brick-like openings in the wall and then pounded with a wooden mallet to compress it. A lot of the work is done by women. Women are carrying filled bags of sand on their back up to the proper area of the frame and then dumping the sacks and returning for more. Another woman is pounding the sand into place with a wooden mallet.

After lunch, we move to the Punakha Dzong, which is the winter residence of the Head Abbot and the central body of 300 monks. We are lucky as the jacaranda trees fronting the dzong are in full bloom, giving us some really beautiful pictures. We go inside and take pictures of the monks scurrying around and are treated to the musical presentation from a tower as the monks pray inside the temple. We also catch many photos of the parade of 300 monks leaving their assembly hall after prayers.

Our final stop of the day is the village of Wangdue. As you can see in the photo, the central part consists of tightly packed wooden buildings. This old town will soon be no longer. It is crowed, and built on a high cliff above a river. There is a hydroelectric plant nearby. There is some fear that the town could fall down the cliff, in addition to the fire danger inherent in the closely packed buildings. A new town is presently being constructed a short distance away which will consist of three story concrete apartment buildings and shops. It will have safe running water and sewers, both of which are a rarity in Bhutan. After the new town is finished and the people moved the old town will be demolished. So the people will have a better life, but some old charm will be forever gone

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