Bhutan

Monday 10/08/07 - Setting off on a trek from Genekha

Craig had a hard time sleeping. Occasionally we would hear horse sounds in the distance, and at one point Craig heard a dog digging, and it sounded so near that he thought a dog was trying to tunnel under the tent! We woke up in the morning at 6:45 am and heard the sounds of kids walking to school. We quickly got out of the tent in the hopes of seeing our friends. All of the kids were dressed in kiras and ghos and looked really cute. We saw one little boy from last night, and he said hello. Yeshey gave us basins of hot water for washing our faces. It felt very refreshing. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, with fog having settled in the valley overnight. We saw Yeshi Pelden and said goodbye and wished her a nice day. She is very sweet. A few minutes later we spotted “our” girls, Phub Dem and Passang Dem. Passang gave us one of the photos of prayer flags from her photo album, saying "You gave us photos, would you like this photo, ma'am?" These children are so thoughtful and sweet! I gave each of them a hug and we said goodbye and wished them a good day. They thanked us and told us how nice it was to meet us. We waved as they walked off to school.

Breakfast was now ready, and we ate at the table outside, looking out over the picturesque mountains and valleys. One of the dogs laid next to the table, keeping us company. It was so idyllic. We ate omelettes, chum thup, toast, and tea. Craig finally had an appetite and was able to eat a healthy portion, which was a good portent for the day's hike. The school has boarders (who live in the hostel) as well as day scholars who live in their homes, and we saw many day scholars walking past the hostel down the dirt road on their way to school. They were intrigued by the sight of our camp, and waved as they passed.

Yeshey packed up the kitchen, and the horsemen packed up camp and loaded the horses. We packed our big packs and gave them to the horsemen, keeping what we would need for the day's hike in our daypacks. Before we knew it, the lead horseman (who wanted the "snap" with us) was gone to meet another group, and his helpers would be accompanying us. We felt bad that we never got the snap, and hadn't gotten to say goodbye.

Dorji told us that he had lost his wallet yesterday on the trail. The Bhutanese believe that if you lose something of value, it means that bad luck was following you. The bad luck took your possession, but that prevents something even worse from happening. So although it was bad fortune and we all felt sad for Dorji, even he himself said that we probably got out easy, and the consequences could have been worse.

We set out at 9:10 along the dirt road. We actually met up with the lead horseman and his new group after a few minutes, and were able to get that snap with him after all! He put his arms around us for the photo. We would send the photo to Dorji so that he could deliver it to the horseman. After about 20 minutes of walking, we came upon the Genekha Lower Secondary School.We saw a concrete basin with a spigot and hose, and Dorji explained that this was the government-supplied water. The first school building we saw was a long, narrow, one-story building which housed classes 3, 4, and 5. We created quite a stir and kids waved and called to us through the windows and door until their teachers arrived in the classroom and settled them down. We would have needed permission from the principal to visit classrooms, but he was teaching and we weren't able to get to see him.

We walked around the grounds and we saw that they were in the midst of building a brand new hostel right next door to the school, with a new dining hall, bathrooms, etc. When it is complete, kids would live there instead of a 20 minute walk away. This would allow them to attend classes in the evening as well, and would give more flexibility. Dorji explained a bit about how the school calendar works. Students attend school Monday through Friday, with a half day on Saturday. Saturday is casual day so that they have a chance to wash and dry their school uniforms over the weekend. School runs from February to early December.

We then stood outside a quad which had some more modern two-story buildings. The courtyard had a tall flagpole flying the Bhutanese flag. One group of children came outside on break. They gathered around us with interest. They were so little! Dorji asked them which class they were in, and they replied that they were “PP” (pre-primary). They were so cute. It was time for us to move on and leave them to their regular school day. As we walked away, we waved to them. They waved back and called after us "Bye bye! See you!" They continued waving until we were out of sight. and called to us and waved as we walked away “Bye bye! See you later!”

We continued walking along the road, passing pretty farmhouses which had red chilies drying on the roof to be eaten in winter. I’m sure that those tin roofs get very hot in the sun and do a good job of drying the peppers. We saw one house which I had noticed from the van yesterday – its entire roof was covered with chilis. I had to get a picture of that. The scenery was absolutely gorgeous: mountains, valleys, farmhouses, and terraced fields. Some fields were entirely bright yellow from the mustard plants growing there. There were also ruins of old houses which had been destroyed by earthquakes or fire. They looked like ruined mud structures.The sun was not out today, which made the temperature quite comfortable for walking. It sprinkled rain occasionally. We reached the place where the dirt road met the tarmac road.

At 11:00, as we walked down a hill, we ran into a man to whom Dorji said hello. It turned out that this was a local man whom Dorji had hired from town to bring us tea and a pack lunch. We sat on the side of the road and drank tea, and in his typical way, Dorji apologized that there were no biscuits to go with the tea. Who needed biscuits? Having a thermos full of hot tea delivered to you on the side of the road was treat enough! And let me take this opportunity to give a little bit of detail about Bhutanese thermoses. These were some serious thermoses, and everyone seemed to own them. They were big metal thermoses which were elaborately painted. They were so omnipresent that we were tempted to buy one as a souvenir - they are so quirkily Bhutanese! But they are too big to be carried home with the amount of luggage that we already had with us. After our tea break, we set off again as a foursome. We realized that we had only passed three vehicles since we had left camp. The area was so isolated.

At noon on the dot (Dorji is very punctual with eating schedules) we stopped for lunch at an area that had a view of the road far below. We could see the horses and horseman, whom had gained quite a lead on us while we were visiting the school. Dorji had given the horsemen and Yeshey instructions to find a good camping spot, but we had no idea where that would be. At our lunch spot, there were segments of cement pipe which reminded us of scenes in the movie "Tsotsi" where homeless kids live in those pipes in South African slums. Craig climbed into one of the pipes for a photo. Our lunch had been packed in a set of stacking, nesting metal containers. We had seen these on television before. Indian businessmen's lunches are delivered to them in these containers. We ate red rice, a mixture of chilies, garlic, and cheese, and broccoli. They gave us small plastic bottles of litchi juice with foil tops. The juice was very sweet and was a nice treat. Craig had an appetite once again and ate a healthy portion. We crossed our fingers that his health troubles were over.

We continued walking down the mountain and soon got to a chorten which indicated that we had reached the main road. There was a short stretch where the road was quite busy and there was a lot of construction going on. Indian road crews (men, women, and children) were doing manual labor. There was a lot of traffic; mostly Tata brand trucks which were decorated with Hindu religious paintings, garland, etc, but which belched pulluting exhaust into the pristine Bhutanese landscape. The traffic was crazy and we had to beware of the trucks. We must have looked pretty funny hiking down the street, and some of Dorji's colleagues passed by in a van and waved to him. The Indian road crews mostly laughed at us. Some children and women were friendly and smiled and waved. We saw one Tata truck which had overturned. It would be difficult to right it, but at least noone seemed to be hurt. Craig thought it was karma for the fact that they were making fun of us.

We rounded a bend and couldn’t believe our eyes – there was the blue cooking tent, perched atop a mountainside, overlooking the river and the road, just above an Indian work encampment. It was surreal. We scurried up the steep hill, arriving at our three-level terraced encampment at 1:15. First were the cooking and dining tents. Above that was Dorji’s tent, and above that was our tent and the outhouse tent. It was a fantastic set-up. Of course, as soon as we arrived, they had tea ready for us. A cow eyed the kitchen tent with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. He wandered off toward where the horses were tied for the night but kept his distance, apparently intimidated. We sat in the dining tent and had cookies and dried fried rice as a snack with our tea. We chatted with Dorji for a while. He told us that Yeshey and the horsemen had chosen this spot because there wouldn't be any other suitable camping spots for many kilometers. With a little bit of ingenuity, they had transformed a hillside into a camp. We headed back to our tent to relax and fill out postcards. It was the perfect time to do this, as we would be returning to Thimpu to pick up the rest of our luggage and could mail them then. We could smell garlic wafting up from Yeshey's mess tent, and we knew we would be in for a very enjoyable dinner.

After finishing the postcards we headed back to the dining tent. The slope between our tent and the dining tent was quite steep, and I was pleased that the outhouse tent was on the same level as our tent, so a midnight toilet trip wouldn't send me careening down the mountainside! We sat at the table in the dining ten, and I wrote in the journal while Craig read from Dorji’s Buddhism book. As the sun sank in the sky, Yeshey set up a lantern. Craig read to me by lanternlight, which was very cozy. We had dinner and chatted with Dorji. We ate a very tasty garlic-filled chicken soup, rice, a mixture of chillies, potato, and cheese, and spiced beef with radishes. The radishes in Bhutan are different than those we are used to in the states. They are huge and carrot-shaped. These were sliced and mixed in with the beef, and it was delicious! As we ate, one of the camp staff was fingering prayer beads and chanting softly. It was very mesmerizing and calming. Dorji told us the story of Buddha after dinner. Religion really is integrated into the daily lives of the Bhutanese.

When it was time for bed (8:00), we exited the tent and put on our headlamps. As we turned, our lights must have flashed down at the night watchman at the Indian work camp below, because he flashed his light at us in a friendly goodnight gesture. We smiled and flashed our headlamps a final time. We walked up to our tent, and used the outhouse tent before settling in for the night. I thought it was really cute that they had used a small forked stick as a toilet paper holder. I had developed a cough since arriving in Bhutan, and we joked that it was the "Khumbu Cough" (an ailment which afflicts climbers on Mount Everest - we were in the Himalayas after all!) and for some reason my right knee was very stiff and sore. Once inside our tent, Craig read from the Buddhism book. I wrote in the journal but I was very sleepy and kept dozing off. It was headlamps-out at 9:00.
Genekha campsite

Genekha campsite

Phub Dem and Passang Dem, heading to school

Phub Dem and Passang Dem, heading to school

Breakfast at camp

Breakfast at camp

Bhutanese farmland

Bhutanese farmland

Bhutanese farmland

Bhutanese farmland

Drying chilis on the roof

Drying chilis on the roof

View of the road construction from our camp

View of the road construction from our camp

Hillside camp

Hillside camp

Reading Budda by lantern light

Reading Budda by lantern light

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