Bhutan

Saturday 10/20/07 - Mongar to Trashigang, Sherubtse College

We woke up at 6:30 am and showered, making the entire floor of the bathroom very wet. We went downstairs for our appointed 7:30 breakfast time, but nobody else was around and breakfast didn't seem to be ready. So we walked outside to take some photos of town. The morning light was gorgeous and we had some very nice views of the surrounding mountains as small wispy white clouds clung to them against a bright blue sky. Children were walking to school for their 1/2 day of Saturday classes. We walked toward the Mongar Lower Secondary School entrance, saying good morning to the children that we passed. We recognized many of them as part of our entourage from last night. We also passed some Indian workers and Bhutanese locals getting ready for the day, brushing their teeth, etc. Most of them smiled and greeted us.

As we were walking back toward the hotel, three little girls were walking in front of us. They kept peeking back at us, stopping when we stopped, but not catching our eye, and trying to look as though they were very nonchalant. Eventually I was able to approach them and I asked if they wanted a photo, which they did. I asked if they were "PP" (pre-primary) and they said yes and got quite excited. They were so cute. When we parted ways they waved as we walked away. We went to the vegetable market and a when we said hello to one of the women selling vegetables, she smiled and taught us to say good morning in dzongkha. There was a lot of excellent looking produce in the market. We could see their dzong in the distance, but apparently it is no longer open to the public.

At 8:10 we went back to the hotel. We sat with the Brits and ate a breakfast of toast, two different cheeses, marmalade, rice, chilis, and tea. Craig and I had Mirindas to drink. I tried to pay our drink bill but they wouldn't accept U.S. dollars (we were now running low on ngultrums). Dorji was surprised that they didn't accept our money, but we gave him our U.S. money and he paid them in ngultrums, so it all worked out in the end. But we were starting to think we might need to exchange some more money, as we would only be going further off the tourist track from here on in.

We left Mongar right on schedule at 9:00 and kept pace with the Brits' bus in case anything happened to either vehicle. As we wound our way through the mountains we had one last glance back at Mongar nestled into the landscape. We stopped for pictures at a large brand spanking new chorten. An older man was circling it clockwise while spinning a prayer wheel. We continued on our way and noticed a small boy squatting on the side of the road to go to the bathroom. We passed over a one lane bridge, and talked with Dorji about the logistics of the road systems in Bhutan. This conversation topic led to others, and we had quite an enjoyable chat with him about all sorts of things. With such good conversation, the fisr two hours of the drive seemed to fly by.

At around 11:30, we stopped to see some folks distilling lemon grass oil to be used in perfumes, etc. It was very interesting. A man and his son were sitting on the platform of the little distillery shack, and they explained the process to Dorji, who translated for us. They were filling a Tata truck with the waste grass. A man and his children from across the street came over and posed for a photo before we hopped back into the van.

We reached the Chazam Bridge ("Cha" means iron and "zam" means bridge in dzongkha), which had a View of Trashigang Dzong above, at noon. The bridge was "guarded" by a statue of a dog (I actually mistook it for a lion, but hey, it was stylized). Jigme let us off on one side of the bridge and we walked across while taking photos of the river gorge. Jigme and Dorji rode in the van to the other side of the bridge, where a checkpoint was located. Dorji and Jigme presented our paperwork, and explained our itinerary. Dorji had hoped to take us to the town of Trashi Yangtse tomorrow, but that wasn't specifically stated on our visa itinerary (nor was it on the Brits', and they wanted to go there as well). It couldn't be sorted out right now because it was the weekend. This didn't bode well, as it was now Saturday and the day we wanted the visa for was Sunday...so most likely none of the offices would be open at all to authorize this. But we were content to wait and see, with Dorji planning to contact Etho Metho Tours to try to get it straightened out if possible. Because it hadn't been on our itinerary to begin with, we didn't feel like we were missing out on something we had been looking forward to. But Dorji insisted that it was one of the best places to see in the area, so we would be happy to go there if at all possible.

We drove the rest of the way to Trashigang town, which was perched on a hillside. It had very windy, narrow streets, and looked like the kind of place that it would be best to explore on foot. Steps led straight up the hillside so that people could climb the hill without walking on the narrow shoulder of the dangerous roads. We looked around expectantly at little guest houses and shops, wondering where our home for the next two nights would be found. To our surprise, we drove through the town and continued up the hill. Then we arrived. The Druk Deothjung Resort Kyidling had two perpendicular wings, an indoor dining area, and an outdoor dining area covered by a pergola. Our room was small and dingy, with a dark blue carpet, turquoise painted walls, and dark window coverings. There were two twin beds, and there was barely enough room to walk around/between them. There was no place to put our backpacks. I ended up putting mine on the floor between the two beds, and Craig propped his up against the wall in a corner. The bathroom had the same configuration as the previous hotel, and had the added bonus of containing a half-used bar of soap. Craig and I found it more amusing than anything else. The accommodations weren't the best, but it's what we had been warned to expect. As long as we had a place to sleep, it was fine with us. The hotel grounds had a beautiful view of the Trashigang Dzong below. It had towered above us from the bridge at Chazam, but now we were looking down on it. It was really visible with its bright yellow roof.

We ate a quick lunch at 1:00 in the indoor dining area with the Brits - chilis and cheese, potatoes and cheese, red rice, veggies, and beef. We drank water and tea, and had fruit for dessert. I changed my clothes and we headed to Sherubtse College at 1:45. Dorji's friend Kunga is a student there, and she agreed to show us around. It is the only college in the country, and I had read about it in Jamie Zeppa's book "Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan." She had taught there after her initial posting as a class II teacher in Pemagatshel.

We arrived at the college (founded in 1978 in the town of Kanglung) at around 2:30 pm. Kunga met us in the parking lot. She and Dorji had attended high school together, but they hadn't seen one another in two years. She was very sweet. She is in her second year of honors geography studies. The college has around 1000 students, both day scholars and boarders. Boarders in the lower hostels eat in the dining hall, but students in the upper hostels (where Kunga lives) have a kitchen on each floor and cook for themselves. Kunga showed us around the gorgeous tree-lined campus. There was a very picturesque clock tower in the middle of campus. We passed the interesting juxtaposition of a modern racing motorcycle parked in front of a large prayer wheel. The base of the prayer wheel was painted with "Contributed by the Batch of 2005." We thought this was cute..."batch" instead of "class". It was like they were a sheet of cookies baking in the oven, and when they were finished cooking they graduated.

It was Saturday, but we were able to go into a lecture hall and her geography classroom (a small classroom with blue plastic chairs and folding tables, with maps hung on the walls). we were able to peek through a window of the library. We went up to the soccer field and got to meet the athletic director. He was very nice and we had a nice chat about the college and Bhutan in general. He explained that the college was founded by Jesuit monks from Canada who helped to spread education across Bhutan. From the athletic fields we had a view up the mountain to the hostels, and the moon was visible in the sky just above the buildings. It was quite pretty. The sun had that excessive brightness to it that only occurs at high altitudes.

I had to use the bathroom, but the public bathrooms were locked on the weekend. Kunga invited me to her hostel to use their bathroom. We drove up the hill to her three story hostel, which had a gorgeous view of the mountains. Men couldn't enter, so the boys stayed in the car. We went upstairs and I used the bathroom, and then Kunga brought me to her room. There were two beds, and posters of Avril Levigne and Bhutanese and Indian film stars were hung on the walls, next to hand-written poems about friendship, and drawings of Tweety Bird and Sylvester. I met her sister and friends and roommate. They weren't much different than American college girls. They were the most stylish young women we had seen in Bhutan so far (excluding Eutha in Thimpu). When they opened one of their two closets it was piled to the ceiling with neatly folded western clothes, kiras, accessories, and innumerable shoes. They had crates full of hair and skin care products. Being a college student transcends cultures. They were real girlie girls.

I asked if they were required to wear kiras to class, and they said yes. Kunga asked if I had ever worn a kira, and I said that I hadn't. The girls asked if I would like to try one on. I said sure, and they scrambled to try to get one to fit me. I ran down to the van to get the camera from Craig. I thought I would just try it on and get a photo so Craig could see later on. They found a skirt with orange, purple, yellow, and black horizontal stripes and said "It's too big for us but too small for you." The skirt is supposed to attach above your shoulders with metal clasps, and reach down to the floor. They managed to make it work by belting it around my waist and forgetting about the shoulders. From my waist, it reached to the floor. I felt like a giant. They tried several silk jackets and decided on a lavendar one with a royal blue lining. They fastened my jacket with a brooch. It gaped so they also used a safety pin. It felt surprisingly comfortable. They asked "Do you want to go like this?" I was confused. "Three of us are going to take you to our picnic spot." Sure, I would go in the kira. Kunga changed from her jeans into curduroys, added a belt and scarf, spritzed herself with perfume, and we headed downstairs and met up with the boys at the van. Dorji was surprised to see me in the kira.

Kunga, her sister Namgay, and their friend Kinley accompanied us up the mountain. The scenery was beautiful, and as we climbed, we could see the college campus below us. We stopped at an Indian army commissary (a sign read "DET IMTRAT (East): Welcome to Heaven in the Land of the Thunder Dragon") where the girls could buy supplies at a subsidized price. They stocked up on shampoo, skin lotion, perfume, etc., as well as some food items. We then continued up to their picnic spot. We drove down an airplane runway (in this area it is difficult to find suitably flat land, so they build runways where they can) and into a dirt lot where we parked the car. People were performing a puja (ritual) and some were camping there. There was a pretty little lake with lot of prayer flags topped with ravens. We must have looked like an odd assortment of people: a Bhutanese man in a gho, an American woman in a kira, three Bhutanese college students in western clothes, and Craig in his western clothes. The clouds enveloped us and the whole place was very ethereal and surreal. It was chilly and breezy but I was very comfortable in my clothes plus the added layers of the kira. I offered my fleece to Kinley who was cold. She kept refusing it, and saying that I should wear it instead. I finally convinced her that I was warm enough, and she took it reluctantly at first, but soon sniggled right into it. Jigme was freezing and pulled part of his gho up to protect his head from the wind. We took photos and walked around the lake. A dog drank from the reflective watersIt was very serene and heavenly, and we were quite pleased that Kunga and her friends had brought us there.

We returned to the car and drove back down the mountainside to the college. The views were spectacular, with the moon overhead. While Dorji and Kunga chatted, I went inside with Kinley and Namgay to change out of the kira. They offered me tea and would have entertained me all night, but I thanked them and said that I probably needed to get going. We met the others at the van, said goodbye and departed for Trashigang once again. Dorji got onto his cell phone on the ride, and we heard him say "friends from the USA...we only have three more days together...I will miss them..." It turned out that he had surreptitiously called into Kuzoo FM's "Heart to Heart" show and had requested Don Williams' song "Desperately" to be dedicated to us and Kunga. Jigme pulled over and Dorji hopped out of the van when he got on the air. I found Craig's mp3 recorder and handed it to him so he could record this as well. Dorji hopped back in as the song started and he was very happy that he had surprised us.

We got back to the hotel, freshened up, and headed outside at 7 o'clock. Dinner was ready and we sat in the open air. Dorji came to eat with us. One guide was joking that the dinner was all green. We had vegetable soup, red rice, pork, Chinese veggies, spinach, and broccoli. Craig commented that there were no chilis and cheese, and how which he always enjoyed so much. The guides overheard and it seems that someone mentioned it to the kitchen staff, because a few minutes later Dorji appeared with some small bowls of chilis and cheese. Craig had a Druk 11000 beer. I ordered a Fanta or Mirinda but was brought a Pepsi. That was fine with me. We ate and chatted. Dorji had been listening to Kuzoo right before dinner, and Kunga had heard his dedication, and called in herself. She dedicated the ever-popular Enrique "Somebody's Me" to him and gave her regards to us on-air as well. It was so sweet.

Tony stopped over for a chat. Our room keys had a carved wooden key chain shaped like the head of an atsara (big-nosed clowns from Buddhist festivals). Tony thought it looked rather like himself, and he posed with it in profile next to him. He was hysterical, and to this day we have our suspicions that he really was Michael Palin, traveling incognito. After all, we never saw the two of them together in the same place! I ordered a second Pepsi and they said they didn't have one. After Dorji spoke with them it turned out that they didn't have another one in a plastic bottle, but they did have one in a glass bottle. Hey, a Pepsi is a Pepsi to me, but to them it was a different item entirely. It was funny. I wrote in the journal at the table and we retired to our room to bed at 10:30. My cold was much better today; I was feeling almost 100% once again.
Pre-primary girls in Mongar

Pre-primary girls in Mongar


Mongar market

Mongar market


Lemongrass distillery

Lemongrass distillery


Dorji and Kunga at Sherubtse College

Dorji and Kunga at Sherubtse College


Sherubtse campus

Sherubtse campus


View from Kunga's dorm

View from Kunga's dorm


Kinley, Kunga's roommate, and Namgay dress Steph in a kira

Kinley, Kunga's roommate, and Namgay dress Steph in a kira


View from mountain roads above Sherubtse College


View from mountain roads above Sherubtse College


Craig, Dorji, and Steph at the picnic spot

Craig, Dorji, and Steph at the picnic spot


Dog drinks from the pond at the picnic spot

Dog drinks from the pond at the picnic spot


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