Bhutan: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I miss Bhutan. I think about the country nearly everyday. Sure I’ve been writing blogs since my return from my travels there (October 2011), which obviously makes me think about the country. But I think about Bhutan more than just for writing my blogs. I think about it on a deeper level. And I miss the country.

Bhutan Rainbow

What I miss most are the people. Everyone I met was extremely gracious, friendly, and genuine. I feel like I have made some life-long friends. I spent the most time with my guides, three of them, all fantastic leaders, answering my questions and taking me everywhere. Along with the guides, I had three very careful drivers, and equally as great as my guides. I appreciated meeting staff at all the hotels and restaurants, people in the stores, and even just meeting people randomly, whether walking around, in villages, or in temples and monasteries. I have even made some more friends on Facebook since my return.

Bhutan Rainbow

The children of Bhutan bring wonderful memories to me. Many of them were so enthusiastic when it came to photographing them, giving big smiles, and wanting another picture taken after seeing themselves in my camera. One child in particular, the daughter of one of my guides, was my gracious host the day I witnessed the dancing and singing rehearsal in preparation for the wedding of the King and Queen of Bhutan.

Speaking of the King and Queen of Bhutan, having the privilege of meeting them was truly an honor. A once-in-a-lifetime memory.

Bhutan Rainbow

I also miss the Buddhist religion. Deeply rooted in the hearts of the Bhutanese, I could feel their religion permeate their lives. Their devotion, deep beliefs, honor, and respect of their religion makes this country quite special.

Even the visual displays of the religion are wonderful to see throughout the country, and I miss the reminders. Whether it be the temples and monasteries. The prayer flags and prayer wheels. The chortens, arts and crafts, or festivals. A deep sense of belonging is what I felt as I traveled throughout the country.

Bhutan Rainbow

The scenery is also something I miss. The snow covered mountains of the Himalayas. The village of Laya. The fields of various vegetables and grains growing. The red of the chilies hanging everywhere to dry. The blue skies. The fresh air.

I want to go back to this country. I want to delve further into the religion, learn more about the people, the land, and the country.

Bhutan Rainbow

I’m not sure what it was, but throughout my travels there, I saw several rainbows. Sure, I see rainbows at home. But there was something deeper about seeing them in Bhutan. The first one I saw was on my first day in the country. It was like some sort of symbol emerged from the sky for me. I didn’t know exactly what it meant then and still really don’t now. What I do know is that as I write this blog from my desk at home and gaze out the window, somewhere on the other side of this great planet, somewhere over the rainbow, is a country that I miss.

Sweet (and memorable) Travels!

Four Friends in Bhutan: The Spirit of Cooperation

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

There is a very important fable in Bhutan. The story has four characters – an elephant, a monkey, a hare, and a bird. Four animals. Seemingly very different from one another. But through the spirit of cooperation, they become four friends.

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

The first time I heard about the fable was before I traveled to Bhutan. I was reading books about the country, and from “Treasures of The Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan” written by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, a former Queen of Bhutan, she told the story. Immediately, I loved it and its symbolism:

An elephant, a monkey, a hare, and a bird, perched acrobat-fashion one on top of the other, standing under a tall tree laden with fruit. The fable relates how the elephant, though strong and mighty, needs the agile monkey to help him reach the fruit on the tree. But, it continues, there would be no tree if the bird hadn’t eaten a seed to begin with and then deposited it on the soil in its droppings; and the seed would not have grown into a tree had the hare not protected and nurtured its roots underground. The elephant, the monkey, the hare, and the bird also symbolize, respectively, the four terrestrial habitats – the ground, the air, the underground, and the sky. The fable underlines the virtue of cooperation, and the connections and interdependence between all creatures great and small, and all the elements, in nature’s cycle.

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

Everywhere in Bhutan you see artistic interpretations of this fable. In paintings, in sculptures, in wood carvings, in appliqués, and embedded in fabric. These artistic interpretations are found in homes, in monasteries and temples, and even in hotels. The fable is entitled The Four Friends, or the Four Harmonious Friends.

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

In doing other research on this fable, both during my travels, and upon my return, I discovered other deeper meanings of the four animals. “The elephant represents our body, the monkey represents the restless mind, the rabbit represents emotions, and the bird is the soul.” And one of my Bhutanese guides also told me that the animals represent four qualities that are essential in life: elephant – strength; monkey – wisdom; hare – speed; bird – vision. I imagine he meant this not only on a physical level, but on a spiritual level as well.

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

“In Bhutan, the story gives a national identity for people to live in harmony with nature, for people to cooperate with each other even with cultural differences, and for families to work together. A conservation ethic has arisen based on [the fable] that influences Bhutan’s national policies.”

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

I did a trek in Bhutan, to the remote Himalayan village of Laya at over 12,500 feet in the northwestern part of the country. Two and a half long days of trekking in each direction, as there are no roads leading to the village. Along with me were three other women, only one of whom I knew before we met in Bhutan. Throughout our trek, through our support of each other, and through our spirit of cooperation, we became four friends.

Bhutan Four Friends Fable

Sweet (and cooperating) Travels!

Fable Quote from:

Treasures of the Thunder Dragon Wangchuck

Other quotes from: a rushabhgandhi blog

The Unique, Beautiful Women of Laya, Bhutan

Bhutan Laya Women

They wear their long black hair topped with conical-shaped hats. Their clothes are made out of yak wool. They wear jewelry made of items such as silver and turquoise on their backs.

They are the unique, beautiful women of Laya, Bhutan.

Bhutan Laya Women

In the remote Himalayan village of Laya at over 12,500 feet in northwestern Bhutan, the women have worn their unique style of dress for centuries. Along with the Layap’s distinctive language and customs, this style of dress reflects culture, tradition, religion, and history.

It is believed that a very important figure in Bhutanese history and religion, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, first entered Bhutan in Laya. Shabdrung was a Tibetan Buddhist lama who unified Bhutan, and is the great leader of the Drukpa school of Mahayana Buddhism, which is followed in Bhutan. One of my Bhutanese guides told me that the style of dress that the women of Laya wear shows that “they follow Shabdrung.”

Bhutan Laya Women

The conical-shaped hats are made of darkened bamboo strips that are woven together. I asked another one of my Bhutanese guides the significance of these conical-shaped hats, and he replied that, “If they fail to wear the hats they believe they will upset the village spirits.”

Bhutan Laya Women Conical Hat

The hats are adorned with a pointed spike at the top, and colorful beadwork in the back consisting of about 30 or more strands of white, red, orange, and blue beads. I asked if there was significance to the pointed spike at the top, and one of my Bhutanese guides replied, “Regarding the pointed stick at the top, there is no such reason as per my knowledge. It simply shows that it is a unique hat to Laya.”

Bhutan Laya WomenThis Laya woman is selling the conical-shaped hats.

The yak wool clothes include a jacket (called khenja) that is black with silver trim, and a long black ankle-lenght skirt (called the zoom) which contains earth-toned vertical stripes of brown, orange, rust, and mustard. One of my guides told me that the clothes are made of yak wool to “help with the extreme weather and the long trade missions” of the Layap.

Bhutan Laya Women

These Layap women were working hard, breaking up the ground in order to clear an area of a field so that animals won’t cross into the crops. All the while they were wearing their traditional clothing. (Although the hats were kept safely off to the side.)

During my visit to the scenic village of Laya, it was quite amazing to see all the beautiful women wearing their unique clothing. Unlike fashion of today that goes in and out of style every few years, the women of Laya respect their culture, tradition, religion, and history over the centuries.

Sweet Travels!

Some of the information in this blog was provided to me by two of my Bhutanese guides, Tobgay. And Pema Wangchuk. Thanks to you both!

Bhutan: The Layap’s Way of Life is Movement

Laya Bhutan Tsenda Gang with Prayer Flags

Laya is a remote Himalayan village at over 12,500 feet in northwestern Bhutan. Laya is so remote that there are no roads leading to the village; thus there are no cars. Instead, several trekking routes lead to Laya. On the route I took, a trail that has been used for centuries, it took two and a half days to walk there.

Laya Bhutan Masang Gang with Prayer Flags Laya Bhutan Masang Gang Morning
Two similar views of Masang Gang (approx 23,300 feet) in the background of Laya. Second photo taken during the morning hours.

The Layap (people from Laya) have their own distinct language, customs, and dress than the rest of Bhutan. This is because the Layap are ethnically related to Tibetans, as they were banished from Tibet in the 15th century, moving into Bhutan at that time. The Layap live today mostly as they have lived for centuries.

Laya Bhutan Tesnda GangTsenda Gang (approx 23,500 feet, might also be known as Tiger Mountain) in background of Laya. First photo of blog also of Tsenda Gang.

The Layap refer to their home as a “bey-yul,” a hidden paradise, protected by an ancient gate that leads to their village. Laya is surrounded by a few of Bhutan’s greatest snow-covered mountains, some at over 23,000 feet. We camped in the field of a Layap family home, were surrounded by hillsides scattered with stone-walled homes, and were lucky enough that these snow-covered mountains appeared during our stay in the village. What beautiful scenery!

Laya Bhutan Tsenda Gang from AboveTsenda Gang amongst the clouds with view of Laya from a hillside.

Laya is known as Bhutan’s primary yak herding and breeding area, which is their main source of income. The yaks are used for items such as food (yak butter, cheese, and meat) and yak wool (used to make fabric for clothes, ropes, blankets, and tents). The Layap also grow turnips, mustard, barley, wheat, and other crops.

With an approximate population of 1,000, the Layap are a semi-nomadic people. They move between yak camps, the village itself, and down to towns at lower altitude in the winter, where the Layap will stay with host families, and exchange labor and yak products for a place to stay. One of my Bhutanese guides told me that “the Layap’s way of life is movement.”

Laya Bhutan Masang Gang with Monastery

Laya Bhutan Masang Gang Morning ViewMasang Gang in background of Laya. Monastery can be seen in left of first photo. Second photo taken in the morning hours.

After being away for a week on this trek, with a full day in Laya, and two and a half days of trekking on each end, I seemed to have gotten accustomed to not being around roads and cars. I seemed to have adapted to the remoteness of Laya. I literally forgot about cars, and did not think about them for that week. That is, until I saw my first car, which actually stunned me for a moment. It made me realize that there is a place on this Earth, deep in the Himalayas, that is worth the walk to get to. A beautiful place that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

Sweet (and remote) Travels!

Some of the information in this blog provided to me by two of my Bhutanese guides, Tobgay. And Pema Wangchuk. Thanks to you both!

Bhutan: Bags are Packed!

Preliminary itinerary created. Time off work requested. Deposit check paid. Bags are packed. I’m going to Bhutan! Well, ok, maybe the bags aren’t packet yet. But I am going to Bhutan!

Bhutan. Land of the Thunder Dragon. A place where their quality of life is measured by Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross Domestic Product. Where they’ve been considered the eighth happiest country on this planet. Nestled in the Himalayas, surrounded by Tibet, Nepal, India, and China. Where Buddhism is the main religion and agriculture is a way of life. Sprinkled with temples and monasteries and prayer flags and prayer wheels. Where thirteen traditional arts and crafts are mastered. Where archery is the national sport and the takin is the national animal. Where trekking is common, and festivals abound.

Flag of Bhutan

Bhutan’s National Flag

In October of this year, I will be joining Beth Whitman of Wanderlust and Lipstick, and WanderTours, on her Bhutan Laya Trek.  But I’m planning on extending her trip, however, arriving in Bhutan a few days ahead in order to experience a festival and a few additional places. And after the Laya Trek trip, I will stay longer in the country and venture to the middle to gather other happy experiences.

Bhutan Takin Jigme Dorji National Park

Bhutan’s National Animal, The Takin

Please stay tuned for blogs about my planning of this trip, how it came to be, research that I am doing to learn more about the country, and how I prepare over the next six months until departure.

Blue Himalyan Poppy Bhutan National Flower

Bhutan’s National Flower, The Blue Poppy

Of course, I shall continue to blog about past trips to Vietnam, to Europe, to the Galapagos, and other assorted travels.

Sweet (and Happy) Travels!

Photo Credits: All from Wikipedia.