Bhutan Last Part
It's been almost three years now since I returned from my visit to the Himalayas. The whole time I wanted to finish this series, write about the rest of my time there. But as so often, something got in the way.
So apologies for mostly describing pictures now owed to my very sparse memory.
Puppets and Archers
A friend took me to Garizompa near Thimphu where once a year, where we waited in line with hundreds of people to stick money into the dresses of full-sized puppets of important figures, including the currently residing king.
It was a whole festival with music and dancing and food but these puppets were the main thing.
Some day I heard commotion from the arching ground that I passed frequently and realized I haven't watched a single arching competition - Bhutan's national sport - so I went in. I was surprised by how far away the targe were. A 1x1m wooden slate in a 200-300 meters distance. And the opposing team was dancing around it only to behind cover if the arrow looked like it's getting close - apparently to distract the archer.
And of course every hit was celebrated by singing and dancing.
After a long cold winter, the hiking season finally started for me and I manage to do 3 multi-day hikes (if you count 2 as "multi").
The first one was with three Bhutanese friends along the "Druk Path" from Thimphu to Paro.
It started on a beautiful spring day.
We found a nice place to pitch our tents near a lake. Just as we were done, we heard the first thunder. Luckily, we were near a cliff which we thought might shield us from lightning so we moved the tents as close to it as we could. As we cooked our first dinner in the mountains, it got dark enough to see the lightning. We started counting the seconds. Still over 30 between the flash and the roar. Nothing to worry about.
It also started to get colder. To cold for me to sleep alone in my tent, so I squeezed in with the other three.
The thunder was approaching now. 10 seconds. Then 5. At some point it was right above us. Nobody spoke a word. We all counted in silence. I only stopped picturing our demise when I reached "10" again. What a night.
And what a morning! We were completely snowed in. And as we marched on, it continued snowing the whole day with only occasional breaks in the clouds.
After 13 hours of hiking, we finally reached our second camping spot, which featured a natural shelter to sit and cook under without being constantly snowed on.
On our final stretch, we finally got some more sun and also a little friend who followed us. Every group we met going in the other direction was asking us, where our horses are. Turns out it's unusual to hike through the Bhutanese mountains with only what you can carry on your back. But we made it.
Richer for the experience, I started planning the next hike. It was actually the plan of an Indian girl I met on a day hike, who had a friend visiting - a real nature guy according to her.
I met him in the Ambient Cafe and where we waited for our guide. Since there are no hiking maps and most trails are pretty lonely (Druk Path being the big exception), we figured better to have somebody with us who knows the way.
With him, we discussed possible tracks, dates and transportation. At some point he asked "How many horses do you have?". We had none. "Then how are you gonna carry the rice cooker?" he asked visibly confused. We didn't intend to bring one. "Then how are you gonna cook the rice?" he wondered in disbelief. We told him we didn't plan to eat rice. "Then I'm not coming."
That's how we lost our guide. We called around to see if anybody else would be willing to come with us. But from everyone we heard the same "No horses? No rice? No way!"
We decided to still give it a try. We had all the food and equipment already anyways. Worst case, we turn around and trace back our GPS track.
A couple of days later, a cab driver dropped us of at the beginning of a five day track to Dagala.
And as soon as we started walking, the rain started pouring and forced out to stop early at the first flat patch of mountain we found after a couple of hours.
We countinued the next day through rain and clouds until it got so foggy that we couldn't see the path anymore.
The next morning we dicovered that we were in a beatiful valley and we even had a couple of hours of sun to enjoy it. For example with an early morning swim under a waterfall.
Bit since we weren't sure where the path continued, were exhausted by two days of constant rain and it didn't look like the weather was improving, we decided to stay in the valley for a day, have a nice walk around, and turn back the next day.
We even found a hut.
Phajoding to Buddha Point
After we dried of a bit, we decided to use our left over food and gas and go for a smaller hike. Just up to the Phajoding - the monastery just about Thimphu - and back down over Buddha Dordenma the next day.
Nothing special except for the spectacular view from Phajoding. And we even made pancakes. Turns out that's a great way to make sure you use all of your gas.
Apart from hiking, I also helped to build movies.bt - the Bhutanese movie database. I am surprised to see that as of February 2020, the website is still online and has even expanded quite a bit.
Here is one of my teammates.
I also became fascinated by the concept of complementary currency and started groupcash. Looking for possible applications, my friend from the Druk Path managed to arrange a pilot project with his employer - who happened to be the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan aka the national bank.
Every year, the RMA's Social Club participates in the national Tree Planting Day and this year every participant got a digital certificate, cryptographically signed by the national bank.
Since I left a month later, nothing came out of it of course. But I got a whole day of tree planting out of it and made loads of new friends.
And just to round things of, I ended my Bhutan journey like I started with, with a Startup Weekend. I'm still a little bit proud that this time our project - a peer-to-peer bike rental platform - even had one whole paying customer.
My Final Weeks
My last weeks in Bhutan I spent doing all the things that I enjoyed the most. Exploring the areas around Thimphu, spending time with my niece, and supporting Happy Chips.
Monk in Tango
After months of working on it, my sister actually managed through a friend to arrange for me the possibility of spending two weeks in a Buddhist monastery. It was a true honor.
I was welcomed warmly, got my own room, and was able to participate in all activities (as far as my abilities allowed). My days looked somewhat like this: I got up with the daily gong at five, spent one hour chanting and meditating, had rice for breakfast, spent a couple of hours reading, walking or meditating, had rice for lunch, gave English lessons, meditated some more, had rice for dinner, and went to bed with the setting sun.
Since I'm worried that I'll never publish this otherwise, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After Tango I only had about a week left. So I had one last good-bye party, gave Jimmey a final rub, and headed to Paro.
An amazing time, that I wish I would have written more about when it wasn't years ago. But I hope these words and pictures give somewhat an impression of my time there.
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