I was meant to write my last post before I left Bhutan. But anyone who has witnessed the organization with which I leave countries will understand why that didn’t happen.
Leaving Bhutan was harder for me than I thought it would be. A few things have changed in the (just over) six months since I arrived in my little yellow hobbit hole with a backpack full of thermal underwear. My hair has grown out enough to make me start resembling a woman again. I like to think I am a little bit wiser. I am certainly fitter. I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore. I can play a few chords on the guitar.
I’ve never been good with end-of-eras. It’s like going through growing pains until you get to the next one, and even though you know that’s going to be a great one, you’re still not quite ready to let go. Bhutan – aggressive street dogs and all – has been the most wonderful home to me.
In starting to write what will probably be my last post, I realised there is so much I wanted to write about but didn’t. So some of that is just going to go in here – as unrelated anecdotes, connected only by their status as something I will miss or just thought was awesome.
1) Tuesdays with this guy:
Sometimes you create ritual happy hours. In London it was Thursday afternoons where I’d get the 60p hot chocolate before my favourite class. In Bhutan, one has been Tuesday evenings with Lama Shenpen. He’s from Swansea, UK, but has spent 28 years studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. He’s been in Bhutan for about 6, teaching meditation and working with kids who have gang related or other drug problems.
On Tuesday evenings, for an hour, he has open meditation classes. We meditate for 10 minutes; he reads from teachings for 10 minutes and discusses them – repeating for an hour. I always felt like whatever he was teaching that day was something that really helped me in my thinking.
He gave me a fist-pump when we said goodbye.
2) Wearing Kiras to work
I never managed to post about the national dress – the Kira (worn below – please excuse the selfie) and Gho (the male equivalent – Andre now owns one).
The amazing thing about the Kira is that you can wear so many colours and be formal. In fact, some of the most formal Kiras are the most colourful, and have taken years to hand-weave and embroider (I was not wearing those, incidentally, as they can cost up to $10 000). I had a few beautifully colourful ones though. You can get them sewn into the style that they were traditionally folded, or spend at least 10minutes trying to fold them correctly in the morning (I did both).
3) The food
But I have LOVED the food in Bhutan. And while the Aussies will tease me for having Druk Pizza on speed dial, I have actually fallen in love with the local cuisine. One thing that you will often hear here is that “chillie is a vegetable.” When cooked in cheese, it makes a dish called Ema Dasti, one which has wormed its way into my heart and found a place on my most-loved-foods list. Dasti means cheese. So actually, any of the Datsi’s are right up there. Shamu (mushroom) dasti; kewa (potato) datsi… .
Momos. These are Tibetan dumplings filled with deliciousness (cheese, onion, stuff). You dip them in a chillie sauce called Eze.
Food shopping at the market. This was also usually one of my happy hours, too. There are rows and rows of organic veggies, farm produce, and fruits. Locals would always tell you to buy from “upstairs” as the lower floor produce is imported from India. I could get more fruit and veg than I could eat for a week, fumbling up the hill with full hands, for about R150 ($15).
In the corner of the market is a small, noisy and colourful taste-heaven called Momo Corner. I can’t shake the feeling of sincere regret of only having tried their momos on my last weekend.
I also have to thank my friends Nick and Jigme who made sure I had the most delicious last Bhutanese supper.
Also, I will miss only being able to get beers in 650ml bottles:
4) That it’s not with the homour of a 13 year old school-boy that there are giant penises drawn everywhere.
Yes. There are giant phalluses drawn everywhere. Like this:
They are a symbol of protection. I’m actually going to be lazy and just quote from a Huff Post article:
“The popularity of phallic worship is attributed to the 15th-century Buddhist teacher, Drukpa Kunley, popularly known as the “Divine Madman.” A 2011 study titled “Bhutan’s Pervasive Phallus” by French historian Francoise Pommaret and Bhutanese scholar Tashi Tobgay, says the belief in the phallus’ ability to ward off evil spirits and transform them into protective deities is traced to Drukpa Kunley, who subdued demonesses with his “thunderbolt.”
His unconventional teachings, often fraught with sexual overtones, are said to have simplified Tantric Buddhism. “The best wine lies at the bottom of the pail,” he is quoted as saying, “and happiness lies below the navel.””
My friend Karma, quoted in the article, actually wrote a book about it, which looks like this (you can buy awesome wooden phalluses that look like these):
5) The mountains
It’s probably at this point that I should say this list of things is not in any specific order. Because my love for these mountains is immense. I’ve often heard myself whisper aloud – this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Generally, one day a weekend was spent disappearing into them with friends
Occasionally running into scenes like this:
Or Wangchuck 1 and 2 (left) , who live in the monastery above Thimphu:
Sometimes you would have to pinch yourself.
6) The honesty.
Cab drivers, food sellers, etc, will never try to rip you off.
7) The people.
You know who you are. And I’m going to try not let the last of this blog get too ‘dear diary” so I will just leave it at this: The group of people I was lucky enough to meet – both local and from all around the world – have been like a family. I have found that my six months was basically cut into three states: 1) chilling alone 2) head hurting (in a good way) from conversations about how to save the world or 3) laughing uncontrollably. Or combination of any of these. Above all I am thankful for our paths having crossed and the general good times that were had at the crossing.