Trish (@docartwheelswithme) — I'm a storyteller who can't do cartwheels to save my life. I’m a travel nerd who writes about under-the-radar corners & places on the fringe.
I loved how time slows in Bhutan, as though I stepped into a vacuum. This was taken at Rinpung Dzong in Paro, a monastery that also doubled as fortress back in the 17th century (I think). It also now serves a government administration function side-by-side with the monastery. It’s interesting to see the religious and the political meshed in so closely like this when everywhere else in the west, they’ve tried to yank the two apart. In Bhutan, it looks like it works though because it’s seems like Buddhism manifests in daily everyday life anyway. It probably won’t work out west, but here, I think it’s quite perfectly beautiful.
Being in the mountains makes me feel humbled and insignificant. I’m always in awe of the magnificent majesty of mountains and although I’m privileged to call the Sierras home, when I travel, I still seek mountains out. I think if I do a DNA test it will say 1% of Asian heritage, 99% mountains. Mountains are where I feel at home and where I feel I’m my best self. In the places in the world I’ve seen - Iceland, the Alps, the Peruvian Andes, the Argentine Patagonia, and recently the Himalayas - the story is the same. The globe is warming and the mountains are suffering because of it. And because we are interconnected, we are also suffering as a consequence. In the Himalayas, it is crazy to imagine that as snow has accumulated over thousands of years and have formed glaciers, they feed the biggest rivers in the world, and even in those landlocked mountain ranges, it gives life to rivers that terminate in the ocean. If I sit and mull over that, it just blows my mind. We all have read about climate change, but seeing it first-hand wrenches the gut even more. I don’t know if we are at a point of no return, but I do know that doing nothing is stupid and ignorant. If reducing your consumption is too much to ask, how about declining plastic bags at the store and eliminating single use plastic water bottles? #mountainsmatter
Devotion is a very tangible and real thing in Bhutan. This Ama was doing prostrations outside the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, prayer beads in hand, as she recited her mantras. Hands folded in prayer, a touch to the the forehead, a touch to the lips, a touch to the heart, and the entire body drops to the ground and lowers in humility. Then up they go and do it over, some 108 times. I feel like this intensity of devotion has been lost to industrialization and modernity, and it was almost shocking to see how alive and well it is here, and to such the degree that it was. Bhutan does many things differently and I can’t help but wonder if this practice of traditional Buddhism in this world going at breakneck and unstoppable speed holds many answers.
I had a dream last night. I dreamt I was paragliding. Either that or that I was a bird. I was soaring over Bhutan. Over lush meadows and rivers and rice fields and lakes and glaciers and ice fields. The dream was so vibrant, it was oozing with life and color. How is it that my subconscious is flooded with visions of this country still?
Is Bhutan the happiest place on earth? I don’t know. But what I do know is in Bhutan, I was filled with a deep and sustaining kind of happiness and calm. Call it osmosis, but like the Bhutanese, I’m content just to sit and breathe and lose myself. There were moments when I would catch myself in the mirror and I pause. Disencumbered from the trappings of real life, (whatever "real" means), untethered to a watch, a calendar - to time essentially, I was detached from an ego, from the version of myself attached to decisions, to people’s expectations, to control or any pretense of it. The person in the mirror looked careless and utterly happy. I’ve traveled far and wide, but no experience of a place was yet like this.
There are so many things this photo doesn’t convey. It was a such a still morning and other than the slow turning of a cow’s head, or the movement of a crow overhead, it gave me a sense that I had stepped into a still picture or a storybook. The sun had just come up and I was sitting on a concrete wall, legs dangling, feeling sublime to be a silent observer to life.
I realized that a month ago today already, my journey to Bhutan started. It’s hard to believe it’s that many weeks ago already because the experience still feels raw. People who know my independent streak could attest that I wouldn’t survive a guided tour. To be honest, I had the same apprehensions, but in Bhutan, that was the only way foreigners can travel (with few exceptions) so I swallowed the bitter pill. Luckily, I didn’t travel with any more than these two. I won’t deny that it took me at least two days to get adjusted to being escorted everywhere and being denied of spontaneous choice. But I was with these two relentlessly - through tough uphill hikes and dusty roads, through many monasteries and temples, through hairpin turns and mountain passes. They took such good care of me. They indulged me with Western food one evening in Thimphu (I kinda begged) and it is a delightful memory to watch them enjoy a cake (but not so much “Western-style” coffee and tea). They were the Bhutanese friends I wish I had and finally did. I became endeared to them. In Buddhism, life and rebirth is infinite and the only way out of this cycle of samsara is enlightenment. So throughout life, we very well could meet people who we have known in previous ones. These two felt like they could have been my brothers or cousins or childhood friends in a past life and that we are now just meeting again. Even if you don’t believe that, the notion sounds quite romantic, doesn’t it? My only hope is that I don’t have to wait until my next life to meet Sonam and Mister Ugyen again in Bhutan!
For some reason, it feels good to post this on a snowy, dreary Tuesday. This was taken a week ago in the less visited eastern shore of Oahu. I learned that “Aloha” in the native Hawaiian language has a very profound meaning. Loosely translated in English, it could mean “hello”, “goodbye” or “I love you”, but when the Hawaiians say it, they actually mean “I give my breath to you.” That’s just so beautiful. I give my breath to you.
We left Thimphu for Paro earlier than usual that day. Thimphu is exploding with growth. You can tell with the amount of new construction going on, especially in the north end of Thimphu. And with only two lanes of traffic, if you don’t time it right, you could be sitting in traffic, believe it or not. In a city with no traffic lights, that could be a test of patience. We were to hike the infamous Tiger’s Nest that day. I was trying to understand the value of money and asked what one can buy with several denominations of the Bhutanese currency, the ngultrum. 150 BTN (or $2) buys you vegetables or a bag of fresh apples. We happen to be passing along the roadside farm stands nearing Chuzom and those small local apples grown here are some of the best I’ve tasted. They were so good. We pulled over abruptly, which in any Western standard would be considered rather precarious. But those standards don’t apply here, I’ve realized that since arriving. There was a cow standing looking on curiously on one side of the road. A young mother holding a baby mans the stand next to it. The light coming from the east was about to burst from the mountains and it was such a profound moment for me, as many things here, and I don’t quite understand. And I’m just allowing the experience to run its course and posting my impressions and reflections here makes me feel better. I can’t gush about it too much with my friends anymore without getting eye-rolls so this right here is my indulgence.
I went to Home Goods yesterday in search of a soup blender. It was next to the grocery store, so why not? Holy cow! It was staggering all the crap on the shelves we don’t need and yet consume! Life-size reindeer, dancing Santas, all sorts of cutlery and dishes and glassware and electronics and gadgets and games and Christmas sweaters for dogs, and overall, in general terms, shit that nobody needs. I left in haste, overwhelmed. I didn’t need that stupid soup blender after all. I wonder if I sequester myself in a hermitage in the mountains, would life get any easier, happier?
In Bhutan, I didn’t need to set an alarm. I woke up with the rhythm of the mountains, to the chanting of birds. This was taken at first light in Punakha. I slept with my window open and right outside was this river. I scrambled out and put a jacket over my sleeping clothes and watched the sun make the valley, the rice paddies, the trees, glow golden. On the way back to my room, I had a minor altercation with a dog who gave me grief because maybe he’s not used to hotel guests wandering around early. Luckily my camera had a neck strap and I was ready to thrust it towards the dog to protect myself. Luckily it scurried away (or I scurried away) before any damage was done!
I am completely enamored by Bhutanese children. I sat in front of these kids at a festival in Central Bhutan and a few hours into it, we were taking selfies. I’ve published my first story and video about Bhutan on my blog, linked in my bio. It’s about the Black Necked Crane Festival in Phobjikha and my earnest wish to be Bhutanese for a day in a “kira”.