Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 61 - Bhutan: Final Day 8 hike - floating statues & guaranteed fulfilled wishes


There were quite a few unique, interesting and quirky things about Bhutan. I shared a few within themes like food, architecture, phallus fascination, astrology, and government regulations. Here's a collection of final Bhutan random facts:

- Bhutan only got street numbers when Google maps came through to put them on the map. Before, directions were probably something like, she livres near Dorji with the 5 kids on the corner next to the store.

- Supposedly no recreational drugs in Bhutan, although they feed the pigs marijuana. Those are some happy & hungry pigs!

- Both men and women can have multiple spouses! Equality around. (But I'm not sure how often it happens for women.)

- 1% of hydro power is used by the 20 Bhutanese provinces. The remaining 99% is exported to India.

- Bhutanese love their holidays - more than Brits. They have 197 Public holidays (includes Sat and Sun).

DAY 8 Activity: High altitude hike with no tourists

After saying goodbye to Katie and Jill, Dorji and i set off for a hike outside of Paro valley to Chumphu Nye.

It's actually considered a pilgrimage for Bhutanese with holy sites along the flat, mossy tree-lined trail,
leading to a steep uphill to a temple at over 3600 meters.

The ancient 17th century temple has so many valuables inside and is so remote, they have a guard with a gun to protect against thievery. (I guess robbery still happens at the happiest place on earth.)

Inside the temple, where you cannot take pictures, there's a life size statue, which is said to be floating. (I was unable to prove this because it's in a glass case and draped with cloth.)

In addition, any wish you make here, is said to come true. (So yes, I made one.)

There was also a monastery up there, and the boys in the picture below were the youngest monks I saw in Bhutan (remember once a monk always a monk).

The view of the Bhutanese Himalayas gave me a great preview of the views on my upcoming hike in the Nepalese Himalayas and prepped me for acclimatization.

We also did not see 1 tourist along the way!! It was an overall perfect way to say goodbye to the serene and beautiful landscape of Bhutan.

NEXT STOP: Fly to Kathmandu, Nepal before I take off for an 18 day hike

Day 60 - Bhutan: Day 7 hike to the guidebook cover feature photo


If I were to want to make a living in Bhutan, I would definitely become an astrologist. They basically are the go-to people for all decisions - from marriage to work to to travel. You name it.

Each person is said to have 2 bad days a month. The astrologist is consulted on what these days are and then all big decisions or activities should be avoided on those 2 days. How much would i love to use the excuse, "Sorry, I can't come in for that meeting today. Its my unlucky bad day."

If you must travel on your bad day, best to bring your astrologer with you so he can perform rituals and say prayers to reverse the bad day.

DAY 7 Activity: Hike to the Lonely Planet Cover - Tiger's Nest

Tigers Nest, featured on the front of Bhutan guidebooks, is a temple built into the side of a mountain at 3120 meters. It was built in the 7th century and expanded in the 17th century. I could not stop taking photos at every angle of this ancient and enchanting temple.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 59: Bhutan - Day 6 Snowmen & Headstands

The King studied in San Francisco and is supposedly a very down-to-earth man who likes to mountain bike. However there are some things in Bhutan that are run like a tight ship. Here are a few government regulations that stuck out:

* Dry Tuesday: All bars are closed on Tuesdays and restaurants can't sell liquor.
* With a concern that that there will be too many cars on the road in the future, the government banned the import of cars for 3 years and put a 200% car tax if you buy a car. also, they hope to have 100% electric cars, starting with taxis, in 10 years! (according to Dorji)
* You can smoke in Bhutan, but only if you're willing to pay a tax And you're limited to 200 cigarettes per month.

By far my favorite morning in Bhutan, I woke up to a winter wonderland. It was the 1st snow of the season!

Dorji and the daughter of our host and I went outside to take pictures of the fresh snow that sparkled in the morning sun. We built a snowman, who the little girl called Alah (baby)

and I did a headstand to the snow gods.

It was entertaining how many things were impacted by the first snow. The national museum was closed. WiFi was shutdown everywhere. The art center was closed. Pretty much everyone had the right to have the excuse to not do a thing or shoiw up to normal obligations because of the snow. So we followed suit and had a lazy day in Paro (Bhutan's capitol), resting up for our big hike.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Day 58: Bhutan - Day 5: Architecture & homebrew rice liquor at a farmstay

More bhutan posts and everest base camp post to come after I return!

Wish me luck!!!


Ok I'm back. Let me catch up my Bhutan posts before I move on to Nepal!!


The government has regulated housing so all architectural design is the same - from houses to offices to even gas stations.  Each will be similar structures with wood borders decorated with painted flowers. (And also phalluses - if you're lucky.)

What's fascinating is that there are no nails used, an architectural style called Dovetail architecture.

Traditional home are 3 stories with the first story for cake and chickens, the 2nd story for storage and the 3rd story for the kitchen and bedrooms.


Today was a rocky long driving day on windy, bumpy roads. At one point, Katie, who gets car sick, had her head out the window while driving like Dumb and Dumber to get fresh air and to avoid spewing. I kindly did not document this.

We finally arrived to our farmhouse stay of our driver's sister-in-law. The 3 of us slept on mattresses on the floor of the room with the altar. 

 Our home cooked meal included chili cheese of course and their locally brewed rice liquor with scrambled eggs served in it!

Day 57: Bhutan - Day 4 walking, jumping & biking + the Local Cuisine


The Bhutanese cuisine seems to have a similar theme at each meal, each day. For breakfast: Bhutanese rice, a curry (more like broth) with chili paste, rice noodles and dried beef with chili. For lunch & dinner, Bhutanese rice, fried spinach with chilies,cauliflower with chilies, and my favorite dish, chili & cheese. so basically, if you can't handle chili spice, you might go hungry.

The biggest shocker is there literally is NO Burmese sweet. They have processed cookies, candy & biscuits that the younger generation is growing up with...and surprise, surprise, Bhutan is having the 1st occurrences of childhood obesity. But the only 'sweet' is chugo -dried cheese that you suck on - and its not even a sweet!


We visited another temple at the Gangtey monastery. I hate to say it, but yes, there is such a thing as being templed out.

We tried the local betal nut (no tobacco is put in the betal chew in bhutan). i spat out red juices for a bit until i spit it all out after feeling slightly light-headed. You can't say we did not try it!

We leisurely strolled through pine forests and along the Gangtey valley, a glacial valley with only cattle grazing and some black-neck cranes flying by. So peaceful that we decided to do a jumping shot...

Lunch was at a farmhouse where i ate my favorite chili cheese dish to date. i'm coming quite the connoisseur as it is served at every lunch and dinner.

Next up was adventure in Bhutan with a 2hour mountain bike ride along dirt and rocky roads to a village where the local men were playing the national sport, archery.

Not a bad day in Bhutan!

NEXT UP: Day 5 Long travel day

Day 56: Bhutan - Day 3 & The Phallus Fascination

I promise I'm not being like a teenage boy imitating Beevus & butthead, 'hehehe, uh, that looks like a penis' as i stare at a vague resemblance of a phallic like object. No joke, there really are penises popping up everywhere in Bhutan - from wood carved statues in temples to paintings decorating the exterior of houses and buildings. We're talking intricate drawings at massive sizes and some animated with eyes and arms.
Its believed the phallus wards off evil and bad luck for the family. Our guide also proposed the theory that the phallus is shameful, so if put on the walls, the hope is they will not bring further shame upon themselves or their family.

Yes, that is a penis on the building in front of Katie. 

We drove 3 hours to Punakha, crossing the Dochula Pass and arrived to the peak with a viewpoint of the Bhutanese Himalayas. Here's a magnified view of the highest peak.
 We walked through rice fields to visit Temple Chummie Chukhang, the temple of the Divine Madmen, Drukpa Kunley. People come to this temple because its believed to make barren women fertile or they come with their children to thank the Buddha and Divine Saint. When we were there a monk around the age of 11 blessed a mother and a 6 year old daughter with a wood-carved phallus the size of my forearm.

We visited another operational fort....

 ...and a tantric temple. Tantricism is commonly misrepresented as only having to do with sexual practices. While there is an element of 'cosmic' sexuality to the practice, I did a little research and the idea is that salvation results from the merging of 2 primary cosmic aspects, male & female, but the focus is not sex. The practice centers around the use of mudras, yogi postures, controlled breathing, repetitive mantras, etc. But this does not mean you will not see some gods or beings carved or painted in various sexual positions inside the temples...

There was an elderly man outside of the temple with beads chanting his mantras into the early evening. 

NEXT STOP: Bhutan Day 4 & Fun Fact: Bhutanese Cuisine

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 55 - Bhutan: Day 2 Paying the Monk Tax, 3 years of Silence & more...

With 2 Buddhas, thousands of Gods and hundreds of thousands of saints, each corresponding to intricate stories and specific rituals, i.e subduing of the demons and spinning prayer wheels clockwise (see mini-prayer wheels below), etc, I can barely
absorb it all to distill it down to a few fun facts. But here's my best attempt at what I got for you....

* Meat eating Buddhists
* In the 1600's, there was a monk tax, which required each family to send 1 child to become a monk. While this has stopped, parents still can decide if they want their child to be a monk. I saw monks as young as 10yrs old! Remember, unlike the rest of SEA: once a monk, always a monk. No sex, drugs, alcohol, late sleep-ins or other un-monklike actions...
                                                             ...until perhaps your next life.

* 7000+ Stupas with Buddhist shrine temples holding invaluable antiques, jewels, gold buddah statues, etc, dating as far back as 7th century. It's forbidden to take photos inside, so I can only try to describe the interior. Sandalwood incense aroma, gold-plated columns, intricately carved & painted wood, Buddah & God shrines with gifts of packaged junk food, saffron infused holy water, altars decorated with colorful flowers made of butter,
1000+ Buddahs or paintings lined the walls of the 2-3 stories & colorful silk ties hang from the ceiling. Here's an example from a craft workshop: 


* Clockwise walking around stupas 108 times
* Reciting mantra prayers while counting beads or spinning prayer wheels clockwise 108 times

* Hoisting at least 108 prayer flags for the deceased to help the dead find the right path in the next life (although there's concerns that the forest will be gone within the next 20 years if this practice continues.


We started Day 2 with a hike up to the Tango Monastery (2400 meters) built by a 16th century monk. He is believed to have reincarnated into Desi Tenzin Ragye, who is now 18 years old and will become the next appointed head of monks once he completes his training. What does his training entail? Only  3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of silent mediation. He has a few more years to go...

We visited the Buddha Dordenma statue, which will be the largest Buddha statue in the world once it's completed (169 feet). It will house over 100,000 Buddha statues.

We also stopped by a wildlife conservatory to see Bhutan's national animal, the Takin (mix between an ox and a Goat).

NEXT STOP: the phallus fascination

Friday, March 7, 2014

Day 54 - Bhutan: 8 Auspicious Days in Bhutan

How auspicious that I have 8 days in Bhutan in accordance with the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism!

Bhutan is pronounced BOO - TAN (as in the Spanish word for bread (pan) not as in how you look after a day at the beach). For those of you who are too lazy to pull up Google Maps, visualize China/Tibet and India with Bhutan landlocked between and Nepal nearby to the West.

My friends, Jill and Katie, are joining me in Bhutan to soak in the landscape and culture. For each of the 8 days, I will share my newly learned fun facts about Bhutan and photos of the day's activities.


* Population 700,000+
* Monarchy - Currently on King #5 (34), who went to school in San Francisco, is a mountain biker, down-to-earth and looks like an Asian Ken doll, but sorry ladies, he's recently married to a 23 year old.
* In 2008, the limit for tourists was 85,000 per year. The limit was removed and in 2013, 200,000 tourists visited Bhutan. For context, Angkor Wat in Cambodia gets over 2 million tourists per year.


Pilots have to be specially trained to land into Paro airport in Bhutan. With one of the shortest runways in the world and the tight quarters of landing into a wind tunneled valley between the Himalayan Mountains, Paro airport wins the award for the Top 10 scariest airports in the world. Although i think my flight on March 10 to Lukla, Nepal might take the cake for the most terrifying airport to fly into.

View from my window as we descend into Paro airport with the tree-lined mountains appearing as if they are in brushing distance to the wings:

I will out Katie and reveal that she thought the stewardess was wearing a photo button of her and her boyfriend....and that would be a no. It was the King and Queen as kindly clarified by her Butanese neighbor. We survived the flight and this time easily identified the King and Queen on a Billboard at the airport arrival. (Picture to come)

We walked along our first of many bridges covered with prayer flags, and visited our first of many temples.

In the late afternoon,  we visited Thimpu Dzong, Bhutan's Capitol Hill, which houses the King's office and Monk residence.

NEXT STOP: Day 2 in Bhutan - Religious Fun Facts