Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Kingdom of Bhutan

Sandwhiched betweent eh two Asian giants India and China, Bhutan has kept its soviernty by preserving the unique aspects of its culture that differentiate it from Tibet and by remaining cut off from the modern world until the early 1960's. on the Eastern slopes of the Himalayan foothills, Bhutan looks much like the Pacific Northwest, covered with trees and blessed with blissfully clean air and water. Bhutan is the only country in the world without a traffic light; national mandate keeps the country above a 60% forest cover (presently at 72%); the small population of 600,000 to 680,000 (estimates vary) are required to observe traditional dress in all governement buildings including schools-- though most people wear the robe like outfits and long elegant skirts for women everyday. Bhutan has the unique position of joining in the modern world in the late 20th century: it is able to by-pass outdated or destructive technology and jump the linear history of time to pick and choose the aspects fo modernity it pleases; thus, 100% of its electricity is from hydropower, the surrplus of which it sells to India to make up the mmajority of its GDP, as 80% of the population are subsistence farmers. But GDP is not a large concern of this country. Indeed, the 5th King, responsible for the gift of democracy to his people, has decided to measure the value of his country using Gross National Happiness (GNH) and reject the materialistic competition of the rest of the world. Fortunately for me, a pillar of this attempt to redefine society rests on education that centers around a quest for happiness, inner development and contemplative practices stemming from the country's Tibetan Buddhist heritage. Seems like Ive come to the perfect country in which to do research and I didnt even know it. But more to come on that later when i start my four week independent study.
I've been in Bhutan for almost a week now, and I'm already trying to work out a way to come back. Getting around $200 a day tourist fee might be a bit difficult, but I'll find a way. In a word this country is breathtaking. When I stepped off the plane I immediately drew in a huge breath of freash mountain air-- such a contrast to the dust and smog of Kathmandu. The himalayan foothills that constitute the entire country are covered in trees and drapped by a sky that puts on a show every day- rainbows, beams of light busting through the clouds lighting up piney mountainsides. On our second day in the country the weather went back and forth between sunny skies and snow as we road horses up to one of Bhutan's most spectacular monasteries, the Taktsang, or Tigers Nest, a stone building carved onto a cliff wall high above the forrested valley below. It was amazing, and the sights spectacular. I strongly encourage anyone who has the money or knowhow to visit Bhutan, theres just nothing like it. I'd say the best description would be if Asian Buddhists built a small villiage using traditional German architecture in a deep valley in Colorado. Yeah...
Anyway, I'm bored of writing and I'm sure by now you're bored of reading so I'm going to stop this blog post here, most to come the next chance I get. I'm off to take a (free*) warm shower for the first time since leaving New York (*upon landing back in Kathmandu from a week in a village in Eastern Nepal to find my family had no water, I paid Rs.100 [about $1.25] for a hot shower a a public bath)
Take care,

p.s. sorry I tried to load photos on to this post but the internet was too slow. perhaps I'll revise in the future. Until then I'll put some on facebook eventually...

Monday, March 7, 2011

A week in pictures

A week in pictures

 Thousands of sadhus gather at the Pashnupati ghats on March 2nd for Mahashivarati to celebrate the birthday of Shiva, the Hindu God of distruction
They conduct rituals including copious amounts of marijuana while Hindu boys and western onlookers wander through their makeshift camps

 Dusk at the ghats-- burning bodies thrown into a sacred river

 Meanwhile, Tibetans on the other side of town are setting up for Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Tashi Delek, year of the Femal Iron Rabbit, year 2138! This is the alter set up in my room, the shrine room, stacked high with sweets and other offerings.
 A close up of one of the stacks of goodies-- candy, biscuits, bananas, oranges, kapseh (fried dough)
 Offering bowls of the usual water, but now also nuts, dried cheese and fruit, butter sculptures, fruit...
The trash pile/public toilet on my way to school-- sketch at night
Anyone else think that "hilarious" was a strange adjective to describe cookies?
2011 in the states, 2138 in Tibet, and its currently 2067 in Nepal... man I'm confused.
Vegetable sellers...
Fruit stands... so beautiful and tempting, but dont eat the non-peelable fruit!

Kapseh and candy for breakfast. Tibetans do dessert in the morning
Chang- Tibetan wine/alcohol like substance-- most families wake up at 4 or 5 on Losar to drink a cup, I had mine at breakfast. The floating bits are dried and fried cheese. Surprisingly unoffensive.
My little sister zhang-mo broek her arm walking down the stairs! but shes still smiling :-)
Lots of momos- tibetan dumplings- for dinner on the second night of losar
Momo making
Tibetan script caligraphy class followed by chang, Tibetan music, and dancing. As my host father says "Too much chang and later dancing!"
We played cards for alomst 5 hours on the first day of Losar, when everyone stays inside with their families. i lost 30 rupies, but my host sister lost 200!

An attempt to draw the buddha eyes so prevelent around here made for a very sad looking Buddha...
I made pasta for my family on the last day of Losar-- and took this picture for my mother, as i believe we have one of Torie that looks quite similar.
Little girls in traditional Tibetan dress for Losar!
The monk procession including a photo of the Dalai Lama
The final destination of the procession-- chanting and prayers on the last day of Losar. The end.

And now I'm off to Bhutan for almost two months, touring around the country with my class and then set free for my independent study project-- a look at Bhutanese education and what it might have to offer the West-- for four more weeks. I dont know if I'll have internet, but I'll post if I can. If not, look for another post when I return in May! Happy trails,