Tuesday, 10/17/2017 - Paro, Bhutan: Reuniting with our Son Sonam TsheringWe didn't sleep much last night; a combination of jet lag and excitement to see our Bhutanese "son" Sonam Tshering after 10 years!
Sunita made us some fenugreek chappathi for the road, and after saying our farewells, Suresh drove us to the airport in Delhi. We left the house at 6 a.m., and arrived at around 9:15. Not bad for weekday traffic.
A man at the airport noticed Craig's cane, and asked which gate we were headed to. He said that it was a far walk, and offered to drive us in the golf cart. It was really nice of him to be so proactive, and we happily accepted the ride.
We got settled at the gate and were soon approached by a man from Mexico asking "Hablan Español?" I told him that I do speak some Spanish, and he proceeded to explain that his ticket to Kathmandu listed this as its boarding gate. Yet this gate was clearly marked for Paro. I accompanied him to the desk and explained the situation in English to the attendant. He told me that the man's gate had been changed, and he gave me the new number. I translated it into Spanish and the man thanked me. I was happy to be able to use my Spanish to help someone.
We chatted with an American couple, bonding with them over the fact that we couldn't connect to the airport wi-fi. We laughed about the fact that we would be fine if the airport didn't provide wi-fi at all. We had no explicit need for it right now. But the fact that it is available (and the wife was able to connect with her phone), and we just couldn't make use of it for some unknown reason, made us obsessed with trying to connect.
Craig looked down at the carpet and noticed some rubber debris. It was coming from his hiking boot. He examined the sole and realized that the adhesive had stopped working, and the sole was starting to flap. I had flashbacks to our trip to Vietnam, when my hiking boots started to disintegrate before we had even left the Boston airport! I guess you can tell that we don't hike very much these days. Our boots sit in the closet and we don't notice that they are deteriorating until we are traveling somewhere.
Our flight to Bhutan via Druk Air took off a few minutes prior to its 11:15 scheduled departure time. We were delighted to be on the left hand side of the plane, as we knew from experience that this would give us a view of the Himalayas. The mountains did not disappoint, and we got a spectacular view of Mt. Everest. We were a bit surprised to see some of the lower mountain slopes devoid of snow, and assumed it must be the result of climate change.
Soon the snow-capped Himalayas gave way and we could see the green Paro valley below us, with golden fields of red rice. This side of the plane also afforded us a better view of just how precarious the descent into Paro is, with the pilot practically threading the needle in a narrow mountain pass.
We landed, and as we disembarked, the sole of Craig's boot was only barely holding on in the very front. It was dangerous, especially with Craig's mobility issues. So he tore it off before disembarking and descending the stairs onto the tarmac. He walked across the tarmac without a rubber sole on his boot, carrying it in his hand instead.
We went through immigration, and collected our luggage all before our scheduled 3:05 p.m. arrival time. Our guide Kinley met us outside, presenting us with kataks (white welcome scarves). We met our driver Pema, who took us into town. By law, all buildings in Bhutan must be built in the traditional style. No skyscrapers or franchises here! The architecture is unique to the country and very pleasing to the eye.
Sonam Tshering had class at his college until 4 p.m., so Kinley brought us to the Brioche Cafe for a snack. The proprietor had worked in a five star restaurant, and bakes extremely delicate pastries. Kinley and Craig each got a milkshake and a piece of walnut pie. I had a strawberry lassi and a flaky lemon pastry with powdered sugar on top. Everything was delicious, and we enjoyed getting to know Kinley.
We stopped to exchange some money and buy some souvenirs at Bhutan Made One Stop Shop. There was an adorable cat inside who sat next to us, meowed, and rubbed against our legs.
We had arranged with Sonam Tshering to buy some traditional clothing while we were in Paro. Traditional clothes are worn in schools, government offices, and in professional and religious settings. When we had visited the country in 2007, I had the chance to try on a traditional ladies' outfit. We felt that it would be respectful of the culture to wear traditional clothing to the Shelmakha Tsechu (festival). Sonam agreed, and offered to help us to choose outfits to purchase.
Kinley sent a message to Sonam telling him to meet us at Lutay Handicraft Paro Bazar Shop No. 50 when he got out of class. We entered the store, and were shown to piles of colorful ghos. These are traditional men's attire, a robe-like garment cinched with a belt and worn with black knee socks. There were so many patterns and colors available: stripes, plaids, solids... in silks and cottons, fabrics of different weights, lined and unlined...we were completely overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. I chose a purple and olive green one and Craig put it on.
Meanwhile, the shopkeeper led me to the women's section. Women wear a kira, a long woven dress which fastens at the shoulders, with a short jacket. Due to my size, she explained that a half-kira would be better. This is just the lower portion, a wrap-around skirt. I chose a half-kira that I liked which was rather subdued in shades of lavender, pink, pale yellow, and white.
By now, Sonam Tshering had arrived. It was surreal to see him again, all grown up, after all this time. We were overcome with happiness, hardly believing that the long-awaited reunion was finally taking place.
He liked my half-kira, and we asked what he thought of the gho that Craig was wearing. He said that he thought he should get something brighter and more festive. We were happy for his advice, and he and Kinley set about finding something that fit those criteria. They found one which matched nicely with my half-kira and put it on him. They tucked and pleated and secured it with a woven belt.
Now came the hard part...finding a jacket to fit me. I tried on jacket after jacket, some cotton, others sumptuous silk. But none would close over my chest. The women working at the store giggled, and continued searching. I tried on a beautiful green silk one, but it just wasn't large enough.
I started to doubt whether we would ever find something. But then she presented me with one that did indeed fit, and it was the same pale pink as my half-kira. We were all quite relieved and shared quite. She then found a bright yellow silk underlayer with overly long sleeves. I layered the jackets and the woman folded back the sleeves of the yellow silk to make fancy cuffs. She then pinned them in place with safety pins. It felt comfortable and I liked the colors.
In the meanwhile, the guys were fastening two starched cotton cuffs to the ends of Craig's sleeves with safety pins. By the time we were both dressed, everyone was satisfied with our outfits, which matched one another quite nicely. It was a fun process, but someone is definitely going to need to help us get dressed for the festival, as there is a lot of wrapping, cinching, and pleating involved!
We bought the outfits along with a pair of black knee socks for Craig.
Next Pema drove us all to the Naksel Boutique Hotel and Spa, a community-based ecologically friendly hotel. The accommodations consist of a main building and small satellite buildings.
We sat down on couches in the lobby, cleaning up with warm hand towels and sipping hot cups of apple cider cinnamon tea while Kinley handled the check-in process. Ecclesiastes' "A Time for Everything" (adapted into the popular folk song "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)" by Pete Seeger) was painted on the wall in golden script. Around the corner was "The Greatest of These Is Love" from First Corinthians. It was interesting to see Biblical quotes on display in a country in which Christianity represents less than 1% of the population.
Kinley told us that he had arranged for our room, which was up a hill in a further building, to be swapped with one in the building across the parking lot from the main building. This would make it easier for Craig to walk to an from the restaurant, and we appreciated Kinley's thoughtfulness on this issue.
We got settled into room 602, which was quite spacious and well-appointed. It was very spa-like, with clean lines, lots of wood, and a patio. It even had a view of snow-capped Mount Chomolhari! We sat with Sonam in our little seating area. It was so nice to finally see him in person again, and we enjoyed chatting and getting reacquainted.
The three of us went to dinner at the hotel restaurant, which featured a lovely buffet including paneer butter masala, roti, battered fish, lamb in red wine sauce, mushroom soup, and Craig's favorite Bhutanese dish: ema datshi (chilies and cheese). Craig had a Red Panda beer and I had a hot alcoholic cider.
We chatted more with Sonam. He is a very warm-hearted, kind, generous, hard-working young man, and we are so proud of him. Tomorrow when he is done with class, we will travel together to Shelmakha for the festival. We will meet his extended family and friends, as well as our friend Karma Dorjee. And Sonam's family has been kind enough to let us stay at their house with them while there. We are really looking forward to it!
After dinner, Pema and Kinley brought Sonam back to his dorm, and we returned to our room. I logged in to Facebook to post some photos. While I was logged in, I received a message from Dorji Pelzang, our guide from our previous trip. We had kept in touch with him, and hoped to be able to see one another while we were in the country. But he told me that he had just undergone major ear surgery and was hospitalized in Thimpu. He asked when we were headed to Shelmakha, and we said tomorrow morning. He said that he would try to meet up with us somehow. It seemed unlikely to us that he could pull it off while recovering from a major operation, but it sure would be nice to reconnect with him!
Craig was already asleep, and I soon joined him, exhausted!
Naksel Boutique Hotel & Spa
Descending into Paro Valley
Arrival at Paro Airport
Kinley and Craig enjoying pastries at Brioche Cafe
Sonam Tshering helps his dad shop for a gho
Room #602, Naksel Boutique Hotel and Spa
Dinner with Sonam