Monday, October 17, 2011

Bumthang, Tsechu and The Royal Wedding... oh my! (part 1)

Ok, so I understand that I clearly suck at writing blogs.  I get distracted, I get busy, I have a million excuses!  However, the last 2 weeks have just been too fantastic for me to let slip.  (A quick warning... this will be a loooong blog, but at least I'm finally writing!)

It all started when only a couple days before our mid-term break we find out that we have been invited to Bumthang, Bhutan by Dasho Colonel Khado who's daughter actually went to Wheaton as well.


If you're not aware of the geography of Bhutan, most of the country is made up of himalayan mountains and valleys.  This means that the one "highway" that connects the country is essentially all switchbacks, tight curves, and almost entirely one lane.  One of the key things I've learned about Bhutan is that you should enjoy the view from cars, but a) never look down and b) never pay attention to the driver, especially of a city bus.  On our trip the driver would be on the phone and/or texting while navigating the insane road and honking each time he would go around a corner to try to avoid hitting the unseen car wrapping around the cliff on the other side. (This was only somewhat successful, we never hit anything but boy did we get close!)

Now, all of this is to explain that although Bhutan is approximately the same size as Switzerland, the road conditions do not allow for a typical road trip speed.  Bumthang is about 250km but takes about 12 hours to drive by bus.  Part of this drive was spent listening to sub-standard hindi music at full volume, then later (still at full volume) we listened to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry... I love Gaga, but there was just something wrong with listening to her while amidst the mountains of Bhutan.

Bumthang is called "Mini-switzerland" by many of the Bhutanese for several obvious reasons.  The beautiful mountains.  The cheese.  And the beer all small local production.  In fact, a swiss man settled there years ago and started a cheese factory still in existence today (we actually met him).  Bumthang was a whirlwind trip but was absolutely fantastic.  We met a family of Americans the first night at dinner.  They are from Vermont and would toured with us.

Before we left we were told we would not be hiking on this trip, it would be a nice relaxing vacation after mid terms.  Part of this was true as we got to stay the first 2 nights in a beautiful hotel.  However, our first day we went for quite the "not hike," just an hour walk we were told... an hour walk straight uphill through the forest with almost no path that actually took us about two hours.  But, once we got to the monastery at the top, the view was incredible.  When I am able to download pictures I have plenty because I can't describe it in words.  In the afternoon we stopped at a nunnery and the women of the group got to sit in on one of the classes which was really cool.

On our way back to the town, several of us decided to sit/stand in the back of the pick up truck.  Aaron Bos-Lun and I stood holding on to the frame with the wind in our faces and had an awesome talk about life and our futures.  It was one of my favorite moments in Bhutan: thanks Aaron!

That night we had dinner at the Swiss guest house.  It was delicious.  Some of the best food I've had in a while and was just a generally great time.  This included Dasho (Bhutanese title like the British Sir) Khado's favorite beverage.  Ara is essentially Bhutanese moonshine and is served in a variety of ways.  The Dasho's method of choice is literally fried with a scrambled egg, butter, and honey.   Like many foreign delicacies, I think it is an acquired taste.  (Did I mention that it is so potent that he actually lights it on fire, not once but at least 3 times before serving it?)  One of the funniest parts was when Dasho (who is a large man whom we have nicknamed the Bhutanese Santa Claus) saw that I took my Ara shot without the egg, grabbed my glass with my hand still attached and tipped it back so I would have to eat the egg?

The next day we visited a families home for lunch and went to a nice handicrafts shop which was really nice.  Then we drove for about an hour to a small village where we would spend the night in a farm house with a family.  It was a beautiful quiet village and a nice end to our time in Bumthang before our 12 hour bus ride back.

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