guyglodis learningwarereviews humanscaleseating Cheap NFL Jerseys Cheap Jerseys Wholesale NFL Jerseys arizonacardinalsjerseyspop atlantafalconsjerseyspop baltimoreravensjerseyspop buffalobillsjerseyspop carolinapanthersjerseyspop chicagobearsjerseyspop cincinnatibengalsjerseyspop clevelandbrownsjerseyspop dallascowboysjerseyspop denverbroncosjerseyspop detroitlionsjerseyspop greenbaypackersjerseyspop houstontexansjerseyspop indianapoliscoltsjerseyspop jacksonvillejaguarsjerseyspop kansascitychiefsjerseyspop miamidolphinsjerseyspop minnesotavikingsjerseyspop newenglandpatriotsjerseyspop neworleanssaintsjerseyspop newyorkgiantsjerseyspop newyorkjetsjerseyspop oaklandraidersjerseyspop philadelphiaeaglesjerseyspop pittsburghsteelersjerseyspop sandiegochargersjerseyspop sanfrancisco49ersjerseyspop seattleseahawksjerseyspop losangelesramsjerseyspop tampabaybuccaneersjerseyspop tennesseetitansjerseyspop washingtonredskinsjerseyspop

A Down-To-Earth Monarch, and Hiking to Heaven

Written by DanielaZavala. Posted in Blog

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Published on November 30, 2009 with No Comments

“Good morning! Here is breakfast,” announced Tsewang, Lotay’s uncle.

He carried a tray with bread, jam, tea, eggs, and honey. His wife Ugyen also brought a tray with milk, cereal, porridge, and bananas. All just for me!

I met Ugyen the night before, but this was my first time meeting Tsewang. He chatted with me while I had breakfast.

Tsewang was in his mid forties, although he looked younger. He had been married twice, and he had six kids, three from each marriage. His English was as good as Lotay’s and Fin’s.

He also had a tourist company and ran a bed-and-breakfast with his wife. He used to travel internationally a lot while he worked for the museum’s exhibitions abroad.

“Before 1999, there were only 30 tourist companies, but now there are over 500. But we, Bhutanese, are not interested in massive tourism. Our culture is very fragile, and we want to protect it. We don’t want what has happened in Nepal and India to happen in Bhutan; we have learned from those experiences,” explained Tsewang.

I told him that I didn’t like tours, but that I was very happy in Bhutan. “I feel that Lotay is my host, not just a tour guide,” I said.

“We try to be hosts to our guests, not tourist guides. For us, it is important that people who come to visit are happy,” affirmed Tsewang.

“Before Bhutan, I disliked tours, and I considered monarchies useless, but I have even changed my opinion about monarchies. I am very impressed that the king gave up his power to the people, and that he worked so hard to bring democracy to the country. It is remarkable,” I said.

“Our king is a good young man. He is now in the east of the country, making sure that people are receiving the relief efforts.” Tsewang was referring to the earthquake that had hit Bhutan a few weeks ago.

“Is he that accessible to the people?” I asked.

“Oh, yes. There was a fire in Haa, our village, and people called the authorities, but they responded that the trucks didn’t have water. They called the king; of course, the king didn’t pick up the phone, but he got the message. Within an hour, he was in Haa,” Tsewang responded.

Before I came to Bhutan, my boss encouraged me to ask for an audience with the king. He was fascinated by Bhutan and its efforts to protect the environment. I could have sent a letter requesting an interview so I could write a travel story about Bhutan and its young king. But I didn’t think the monarch would be that accessible, and more importantly, I have always believed that to get to know the heart and soul of a country, I must be in contact with the locals, the people who are the majority of the country, not the privileged minority who are hardly exposed to the real world or the reality of the people in their own land. In my mind, it was more important to spend a day with the Bhutanese people of the village than with the king.

But after visiting Bhutan and learning about the monarchy, all that it’s done for its people, for the protection of the environment and their cultural heritage, I wished I had at least made the attempt. Talking to the king would have been fascinating.

“The king was educated in England and the United States, right? I admire that he came back to Bhutan. He could have stayed there as other young monarchs have,” I said.

“Bhutanese people travel a lot, but we always come back to Bhutan. We have strong family ties. An uncle is not just a distant relative. If something happens to you, your uncle or your aunt becomes your father or your mother. We care very much about family,” Tsewang explained.

I looked at Lotay and Fin; both spent several years in the United States and are now back in Bhutan. I have been living in the US for seven years, and I cannot imagine being back in Venezuela. I don’t fit there anymore; I have my life, my heart, and my dreams in the United States. Yet, I admire Lotay and Fin for returning to their homeland.

“Is that all? You didn’t eat much,” said Lotay’s uncle.

I had never eaten so much on a vacation!

Lotay arrived, and I said goodbye to Tsewang. “Please thank your wife on my behalf. She has been very nice,” I said.

And then, Lotay and I were on our way to the Tiger’s Nest.

The famous monastery near Paro was built in the eighth century. We had about an hour drive from Thimphu to get there.

We made it to the main entrance, started hiking through a pine forest, and ran into a few streams. I imagined that it was going to be packed with tourists, but it wasn’t busy at all.

I was wearing sportswear, and Lotay wore his traditional gho. It had to be uncomfortable to hike with such a tight garment around his waist! But that tight belt created a large pouch in the robe, where Lotay kept chocolates, the keys to the car, and even my video camera! At least he wore sports shoes. But on our way up, we ran into Bhutanese men wearing the gho with formal dress shoes. It was a dirty and steep road, yet it seemed they wanted to look their best. Later, Lotay told me that the Taksang or Tiger’s Nest is an important Buddhist pilgrimage temple for the Bhutanese people and Buddhists around the world.

I was particularly moved by an old, tiny Bhutanese man. He was about 80 years old, had a hump, and hiked with a cane. It was a tough climb, and I wondered if this fragile man would make it to the top—the monastery was about an hour and a half hike, on a cliff at 3,120 meters in elevation.

I was blessed with another blue, cloudless sky. The weather was cool. I breathed in the scent of the pine trees and the pure air.

About twenty minutes later, we encountered thousands of hanging prayer flags, some women selling souvenirs on the road, and a large prayer wheel painted in bright colors on the ridge. We could catch a glimpse of the Tiger’s Nest, but it still looked small. A short walk away was the cafeteria. From the view point of the cafeteria, the famous monastery started showing its charm. After more steep hiking, a spectacular view of the Tiger’s Nest unfolded. Clinging to the edge of a sheer rock, the famous monastery showed its true dimensions. It was unbelievable to see this massive construction growing out of such a random place. Although it looked close, we still had a long way to go.

“Lunchtime is between one and two,” said Lotay as he picked up the pace. I followed him. We had twenty minutes to make it to the top.

We descended and passed a beautiful, high waterfall, just to climb yet more sharp stairs to the entrance.

There are two important temples within the monastery. We took our shoes off and went inside the shrine, where there was an old statue of Guru Rinpoche.

“It is said that statue of Guru Rinpoche talked to the people who carried it. Back then, there was no path; people had to carry him through the trees, but it said it was okay, he would be here,” explained Lotay.

The legend says Guru Rinpoche flew to the monastery on the back of a tigress, and that he meditated in a cave there for three months.

Lotay did his prostrations and took me to another temple, which was supposed to be the meditation room. A statue of the Buddha of Longevity stood in the middle of the shrine. Lotay started doing prostrations again.

Although I was raised Catholic and I go to church most Sundays, I have always felt a profound peace and presence of God in the temples of different religions around the world. I felt it in the Golden Temple surrounded by Sikhs; I felt it during a Buddhist ceremony in Dharmasala through the chant of dozens of monks; I felt it in the Blue Mosque in Turkey with the Muslims.

Today, I had that special feeling again, so I put my hands in the Buddhist prayer position, closed my eyes, and did the prostrations. A monk gave me holy water, and as Lotay and the other Buddhists did, I drank it and put the rest on my head.

When we left the temple, I saw the fragile man who was hiking with a cane. He had made it all the way up to the monastery, and he didn’t arrive much later than us. The power of faith . . .

We started our descent and made several stops along the way. We couldn’t get enough of this amazing place. It was as if the monastery was stuck to the face of the cliff. Just magical. There were also some white, smaller buildings built into the crevices of the sheer rock.

We ran into the Japanese tourist again. Again, he looked unhappy. He told Lotay to tell his guide and the Danish tourist that he was going to stay until the sun pointed straight at the monastery. He said he was okay, but he sounded frustrated.

The monastery was so majestic, the view of the valley so stunning, and the surroundings so striking, I wondered how he could still be unhappy.

I wasn’t happy with Nima in Tibet, but that didn’t ruin my journey across the Tibetan plateau. I felt sorry for the Japanese man.

Lotay and I continued our descent and ran into the old man again. I asked Lotay if it was okay to take a photo of him. Lotay asked. The old man accepted and smiled.

Preparing for the photo, he took a fox-fur hat out of his pocket, put it on, and smiled at the camera. I posed with him as well, and when I showed him the photos, he was so thrilled he couldn’t stop smiling. I melted; this man’s warm and sincere smile had just stolen my heart.

As we continued our descent, Lotay was quiet, focused on each step. He told me that we should keep some distance between us due to the dust. I walked down a bit faster.

I put my iPod on and played some Tibetan chats. I could still hear the sound of the streams. As I walked, I closed my eyes a couple times and felt the nature around me. I was so happy, and at peace. This hike was probably the highlight of my trip to Bhutan.

By the time we arrived at the parking lot, we were starving. Another huge lunch awaited us.

Just when I thought we were done for the day, I realized it wasn’t over yet.
“We are now going to the Ruins of Drugyel Dzong,” announced Lotay.

We took a curved road up the mountains, making a quick stop at the massive, crumbling fort. Built in the seventeenth century, it was in ruins. But it gave us a good view of Mt. Jhomolhari also known as “the Goddess of the Mountains.”

Inside the abandoned fortress were a banquet tent and some lamps.

Lotay spoke with an old man, who said there was going to be a special dinner for the guests of a resort that cost $1,000 per night.

We jumped back in the car. We had made it through the itinerary.

In a few hours, I will be leaving Bhutan. But for the moment—as good bathroom and living room singers—Lotay and I will continue to sing in the car.

Be Sociable, Share!

Share this Article

No Comments

There are currently no comments on A Down-To-Earth Monarch, and Hiking to Heaven. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment