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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Bhutan Diary-3 -Dochula Pass


We were fortunate that we were travelling through Bhutan in October, when the weather was clear and bright. Dochula Pass, about an hour’s drive from Thimphu , on the way to Punakha, is best visited at this time. Then, you are able to see the majestic Himalayan ranges all around, the snow capped peaks adding to the allure .

 

Here, on a green hillock, 108 stupas have been erected in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who had fought against the Assamese rebels who had built a base there to direct their insurgency against India. Queen Ashi Dorji had commissioned it.

 

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I should have stood in one place and wielded the camera , instead of trying to capture the scene while walking .Even so, I guess you may be able to get an idea of the ambience of this beautiful spot in the following two videos

 

 

 

There is also a beautiful temple called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Temple at the Dochula Pass , which has been built in honour of the fourth Druk Gyalpo (head of Bhutan), Jigme Singme  Wangchuk.

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In December, the annual Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival is held in the open environs of this place and they say that if travelling to Bhutan  during that time , this event should not be missed , for it would envelop the art and culture of Bhutan during those days for the benefit of those who participate.

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Later, we  sat in the nice cosy cafeteria, after going around and slouching on the sun-bathed grass of the hillock, drinking tea and eating fresh cream rolls, while soaking in yet again the panoramic view of the mountains and the cypress trees on the slopes, through the glass windows. Flags were festooned all over , fluttering in the breeze. They were blue (sky),white(clouds), red(fire) green(Water) and yellow(earth)in colour depicting the elements.

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Flags were festooned all over , fluttering in the breeze. They were blue (sky),white(clouds), red(fire) green(Water) and yellow(earth)in colour depicting the elements. Buddhist mantras were inscribed on them and they are believed to bring in good fortune.

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And here’s a video clip of our drive back from the Dochula Pass.

 

More in my next blog.:-)

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2018 in Travel

 

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Bhutan Diary-2 -Driving through


“Khozazampo”  Hello (Greeting)

“Kathi joomo”? (Where are you going?)

“Na thathu Thimphu jui. Na nava Paro jui” (We are going now to Thimphu. We will go to Paro tomorrow.)

“Bhutan Leshimdu” (We like Bhutan)

“Bhutan , nima tatumdu…chyure chomme” (In Bhutan it is hot during the day . In the night it is cold)

Smatterings of Bhutanese picked up from Wangchuk , who drove us to Thimphu from Phuentsholing and through it the next day and thence to Punakha and Paro and back to Phuentsholing.

map of Bhutan

As you can see, our itinerary covered only the South-West part of Bhutan.. I hadn’t really taken a look at the map before we had started out. If I had, I would have realised that most of the forest cover extended beyond this area , covering a major part of this country. It would also have left me better prepared for the comparitivly lesser green territory that we passed through. Lesser green as compared to the images one had installed in the mind whenever one read about how ecologically conservative  the development policy of the land has been.

The road trip was magical even then. Wangchuk had a collection of Bhutanese melodies on his pen drive and it gave an additional ambience to the experience. The roads were almost empty, once we left the city precincts , with an occasional vehicle overtaking us or approaching us from the opposite direction. Autorikshaws, an identifying feature of the roads in India, were altogether absent.

At this time of the year, at the beginning of Winter, during the day, sunlight poured down through the clear blue skies,creating patches of dazzling brightness interspersed with shadows at different turns of the road that wound its way round the mountain slopes.

Bhutanese labourers engaged in the building of roads and other construction activities earned around Rs.700 if they were men and around Rs.500 if they were females. Workers came from outside too, mainly India and Bangladesh.

Did corruption exist?, I asked Wangchuk.

The occurence was rare, he replied. Government officials caught taking bribes would be straightaway sacked, without even a pension.

There were no hoardings anywhere in sight. The people we passed by, were all wearing traditional clothes, the knee-length gho for men and the wrap-around skirts called kira for women. Even school uniforms were in the same traditional style.

We stopped for lunch and tea here and there at quaint eating places. Every building that we entered, even the monasteries , had the photos of the royal family decorating the walls. Clearly the loyalty was indisputable.

“The king is like God to us “, Wangchuk explained.

Did they have something akin to blasphemy laws? Did they have the freedom to utter anything against their king?, I was cuirous.

“Who would want to?” Wangchuk replied. “He gives us everything that we need ”

I recalled an article written by Professor Thurman in the local newspaper I found at the hotel reception that very morning. He was singing praises of the constitutional monarchy of Bhutan that was built on the bedrock of the principles of transcendental individualism, non-violence, learning, voluntary altruism and constitutional democracy.

After returning from Bhutan, I tried googling for that write-up and was pleasantly surprised that it turned up in a jiffy. Here is the link:

Turning to monarchy fortuitous for Bhutan, says Prof  Thurman

It was true…there was no evidence of any aggressiveness anywhere. There were lots of smiling faces. Their voices had a gentle timbre. The whole atmosphere was unhurried and non-competitive. Nothing exemplified that better than the pace at which Wangchuk ferried us across , with his frequent reminders that we could ask him to stop anywhere we wanted to take in the view or capture the scenes in our camera.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Bhutan Diary-Part 1


A  country where developmental goals and achievements are measured in terms of Gross National Happiness, where utmost concern is directed towards environmental sustainability, where the philosophy of dharma is invoked in governance, where loyalty and love and faith in the monarch is invested to a degree that is only next to Buddha and the Rimpoches , where the air is fresh and largely unpolluted, where mountains and valleys and rivers make up most of the undulating terrain, where people live unhurried , honest lives……Bhutan had to be an inviting destination.

 

The trip had been planned months ago as a fairly decent package deal. We were to  be picked up at Bagdogra airport and the whole itinerary thereafter would be taken care of, only minus lunch and dinner.

The drive from Bagdogra to the Bhutan border at Phuentsholing,  was tedious, with interminable traffic moving without any lane sense  causing jams at several places. Long lines of trucks went past , carrying cement and boulders . Phuentsholing was the industrial area of Bhutan and construction material constituted a major chunk of exports to India and Bangladesh. At stretches where the roads were clear, our vehicle was zipping past . Seated in front, I noticed the needle touching  120 several times.

 

We checked in to the hotel assigned  in the free zone area of Phuentsholing, tired after after the long day and full of anticipation for what was ahead.

 

Wangchuk greeted us at the reception  the next morning ,wearing the  traditional knee-length robe, “gho” and a very pleasant countenance. He would be our driver and escort for the rest of the trip. He facilitated the necessary clearances from the Immigration office and then we were off to Thimphu.

The new road, which wound lower down the mountain slopes , had been inaugurated  less than a year ago. It would have taken us longer to reach our destination had we gone along the older route which was in the higher reaches.  The day was clear and the sun bright and very warm.  All along the way, flags of many hues fluttered in the wind. They were considered auspicious  and an ubiquitous feature throughout the land.  Structures that looked like bus shelters, dotted the roadside at regular intervals and women sat selling vegetables and long clusters of something white that looked like erasers. It was  dried yak  cheese , rubbery and tasteless, we found, when we tried it out on the return trip. Chewing on it was “time-pass”, Wangchuk told us .

Here and there , the colours of Autumn were still hanging on the trees, giving visual relief to the bare mountains and rocky ledges that hung over the road. We were slightly disappointed that the route was not as verdant as we expected. But then, many of the distant mountains seemed to have ample tree cover.

Wangchuk drove the vehicle at a slow pace, the needle on the speedometer rarely going beyoind 40.  We stopped for lunch on the way. Food was very basic , rice, chappattis , dal and vegetables and this was to be so throughout our stay .  We were told to avoid the non-vegetarian dishes on the menu , as animal slaughter was more or less banned in Bhutan and what was available was the stuff that came from India , with the likelihood of having been stored in the freezers for a considerable amount of time.

 

Smoking in Bhutan is banned too and smuggling cigarettes treated as a serious offence. There was no ban on alchohol though, the logic being that the former was not just injurious to the person who consumed it, but also to the others around . I guess the same logic applies to  a similar custom among the followers of the Sikh religion.

 

All farming in Bhutan stays free of chemicals . Wangchuk deplored the fact that everything that was grown and sent to the markets in India was completely organic , but when during the lean season they had to buy stuff from the markets in India for use in Bhutan, they got vegetables and fruits that was steeped in pesticides.

 

After checking in at the hotel in Thimphu by evening, we took a slow stroll in the neighbourhood. The architectural style of all the buildings, we noticed, was predominantly similar. It had to be so, as per the guidelines of the government . Residential houses in the rural areas rarely went beyond two storeys and in the cities the prescribed limit was six storeys. There were no high rises at all.

 

Even being the capital city, the place was not crowded. The total population of Bhutan is just about 8 lakhs and so the lack of hustle and bustle was not surprising. Moreover , the government was doing everything they could to discourage migration from the rural areas to the cities. There were schools and hospitals everywhere in the rural areas. Education and medical facilities were completely free. There was a land ceiling act in place which allowed individual ownership up to 25 acres only. Of course families owning more land generally assigned ownership to individual members  to retain the whole of the property between themselves. Those without any land to their name were allotted up to four acres by the Government. Those orphaned and elderly and without any means of sustenance were given free rations and also housing .

 

The livelihood of more than  60% of the Bhutanese population depends on agriculture. Irrigation where necessary, is provided at very subsidised rates . Holdings are marginal, by and large and so mechanised farming is slow to take hold, although the Government does provide use of tractors free of cost, Wangchuk told us. Rice and maize and potatoes are the major crops grown for domestic consumption , apples, oranges and cardamom being the cash crops.

 

By five thirty , it had started to become dark and we walked back to the hotel as the temperatures suddenly started dropping . Dinner washed down with lemon tea later, we snuggled inside the warmth of our quilts , winding up our first day in Thimphu.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in Travel

 

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