India and Bhutan: 10/13/2017 - 10/25/2017

Wednesday, 10/18/2017 - Paro: Meeting Dorji Pelzang; Shelmakha: Meeting the Family, Observing Pre-Tsechu Pujas, Welcome Party

I woke up early with a very bad headache. I had been drinking plenty of water to try to prevent dehydration. Sometimes this happens to me, a combination of jet lag and dehydration. Add in the high altitude (Paro is at over 7000 feet), and I was feeling miserable. I went into the bathroom and vomited several times. This was exactly the same thing that happened to me when we arrived in China in 2014. A hot shower had helped back then, so I took one and then headed back to bed. I just needed to sleep it off. Today we would be going to meet Sonam's family for the beginning of the festival, so I couldn't afford to be sick. I tried not to get too worked up about it, and just gave my body the rest that it needed.

In the meanwhile, Craig got up, showered, and shaved. He made us each a cup of instant coffee with the electric kettle. Instant coffee never tastes as good as it does when you are jet-lagged, and I gratefully drank it.

My head was feeling much better, so I got up and we got ready to head over to breakfast, which is served from 7 - 9 a.m. I looked at our alarm clock and saw that it was 8:30. Perfect timing. I gathered my camera and my phone. I could see the time on my phone, 9:00 a.m. What? Momentary panic. We had forgotten to set our alarm clock ahead by 30 minutes when we arrived from India. Breakfast was closing!

We raced over to the dining room, apologizing and explaining that we were still on Delhi time. We arrived at 9:02, and the staff were very accommodating and kind. They gave knowing smiles and we realized that this is probably a fairly common occurrence. They seated us at a table with a view of Mount Chomolhari. The omelet chef was still available, and she made us each a delicious fluffy omelet. We also had coffee, French toast, toast, "chicken ham" (?), mango juice, vanilla sponge, sausage, and Emmental cheese.

After a quick but satisfying breakfast, we went back to the room and packed up. Luckily we were traveling by car and not airplane, so we could spread out into multiple bags and we didn't need to pack for security.

We had to abandon Craig's boots here. There was no way that we could repair them while on the trip, and there was no sense in lugging a big pair of heavy boots around the country if they couldn't be worn. He left the boots in the room along with the sole. If anyone wanted to repair them and could make use of them, they were welcome to them. I had abandoned my similarly impaired hiking boots in Sa Pa Vietnam.

When all was said and done, we were only 10 minutes late meeting Kinley and Pema to leave for Shelmakha. As we wound down the hotel driveway and toward town, we passed farmhouses with paintings of whimsical phalluses (called "po" in the Dzongkha language) adorning the exterior walls to protect the house from evil spirits. Having been to Bhutan previously, this was not as surprising as it had been when we first encountered in ten years ago. In the U.S.A., you only see this kind of thing as vulgar, primitive style graffiti. Here it is a legitimate subject for paintings and wood carvings, though they do have some fun with it, adding in various details which draw a chuckle.

Pema drove us past fields where farmers were harvesting their rice and laying it out to dry. Scarecrows in the fields protect against wild hogs in addition to birds.

We drove to Paro College of Education to pick up Sonam. He lives in the dorms which are right below Paro Dzong. We entered the Nyamai Zam footbridge, a cantilevered wooden bridge connecting two stocky guard towers on either side of the Paro Chu River. From the bridge we could see the Paro Rinpung Dzong (a combination monastery/fortress/government building dating back to the 17th century) on the hillside above us.

Above the dzong was the National Museum, housed in the historic Ta Dzong which was built in 1641. It is a tall, round structure which used function as a watchtower. The walls are 2.5 meters thick!! We visited the museum on our prior visit. Kinley explained that it was now closed due to damage sustained in the 2015 earthquake which devastated Nepal.

I turned around to see a handsome young man standing on the bridge. It was our son, Sonam Tshering, just back from purchasing some snacks for the journey. We spent a few minutes admiring the view. The weather was warmer than we had anticipated, and the clear turquoise water of the Paro River looked cool and inviting. I daydreamed about jumping right in. Sonam explained that the bridge, museum, and dzong are lit up at night, and we decided that we should try to come back in the evening on the weekend to see them.

Craig admired the size of the gate on the footbridge. We inspected the angled slits in the walls of the guardhouses for archers to shoot arrows outward while stopping incoming arrows. There was a painting of Guru Rinpoche (or the "moustache man" as Sonam affectionately calls him), the 8th century Buddhist master who brought the faith to Bhutan. Sonam pointed out some very ironic graffiti on the wall of the guard tower: "Do not write on wall." We all had a good laugh.

With my rough morning at the hotel, I hadn't been able to really contact Dorji Pelzang about meeting up. But it turned out that Kinley is his cousin. Dorji had contacted Kinley, saying that he was out of the hospital and wanted to meet up today. We were excited to hear this, but didn't know any of the details.

As we were driving out of Paro, there was some chatter on the phone and Pema pulled the van to the side of the road. Dorji was parked behind us. He got out of the car and we greeted each other fondly. It turns out that he sort of broke out of the hospital in Thimpu to see us while recovering from major surgery. He was experiencing post-operative pain, and his doctor was in Paro today. So he got a day pass from the hospital to visit his doctor, and that also allowed him to say hello to us. We were very touched by his determination to see us, if a little worried about his recovery. He gave us some lovely and practical gifts that his wife had picked out for us...a lovely handbag, laptop pouch, and wallet made of local woven textiles.

We reminisced about the old times, Dorji saying that he remembered us as the only tourists to trek along the road for three days. We were supposed to hike to Shelmakha over a high mountain pass, but the altitude had bothered Craig and he became quite dizzy and started to see double. In hindsight, it may have been related to his then-undiagnosed MS. We decided to hike along the road instead...less steep and less altitude change. It was a unique experience, and we got to interact with many Indian road crews of men and women who were doing construction.

We reminded Dorji of calling into the radio station and talking on-air. We reminisced about our lengthy drive across the country. Back then there had only been a single airport, located in Paro. Mountainous roads were the only way to get to other parts of the country. Now there are four airports in various corners of the country. Dorji mentioned that now the rural roads are in much worse shape than they were 10 years ago, and that driving across the length of the country now would be dangerous.

It was so nice to see him, and we appreciated the fact that he went to such lengths to make it happen. We thanked him and said farewell as he headed to his doctor's appointment so that he could then return to the hospital to spend the night.

We continued on, stopping at the confluence where the Paro Chu River and Thimpu Chu River converge into the Wang Chu River. We had hiked here via the road on our prior trip with Dorji. This area is also on the border between two dzonkhags (districts): Paro and Chhukha. We spun a large prayer wheel for good merit, and I walked across the bridge to get some photos. There was a young cow lounging on the side of the road.Colorful prayer flags fluttered in the wind, carrying their prayers to heaven. The turquoise color of the water was so beautiful, flowing through rocky gorges, past stupas.

Then we got back into the car and drove the remaining way to Shelmakha. It was a steep road, and the last time we were here it was raining and too slippery for driving. But today the weather was beautiful, with bright sunlight, and we made our way up the bumpy series of narrow hairpin turns. I probably should have taken some motion sickness medication before the ride, as the strong sun and switchbacks induced a slight nauseous feeling. Luckily, closing my eyes helped.

We stopped at a chorten that we had visited on the prior trip. Then the view had been obscured by dense fog, but today we had a gorgeous, expansive vista. We could see the river below, as well as green mountainsides dotted with monasteries. There were many long poles with tall white prayer flags fluttering in the wind. This particular type of prayer flag (known as a darchog) is erected by families in honor of a deceased loved one. While we were stopped there, several vehicles passed by and people waved and called out to Sonam. Many people with familial roots in the village were returning for the annual tsechu (festival).

We got back into the car and continued up the road, through Shelmagankha village, and eventually reaching Shelmakha (Shelgoen). We passed the lhakhang (Buddhist monastery), which had been rebuilt since our last visit. The sun was shining and everything looked amazingly vibrant, perhaps due to the thin atmosphere at this altitude.

Sonam's family home is right next to the lhakhang and festival grounds. So many people were arriving that it created a traffic jam in the little village, and lack of parking made some areas impassable. Our large van could not make it all the way to the house, so we went the rest of the way on foot.

Sonam took us around to the back of the traditional farmhouse. The lower level, traditionally used as a home for livestock, had been enclosed and renovated into an apartment with a separate entrance. Sonam's "Apa" (dad) emerged from the apartment, and looked a little startled. He smiled and greeted us briefly, and then hurried off. It seemed a little bit abrupt, especially after waiting so long to meet him, but it soon became clear what was happening. He wanted to formally greet us by placing luxurious silk kataks (white silk welcome scarves) around our necks, but the kataks had been upstairs. He soon returned and bestowed them to us with a big smile on his face.

He and Sonam led us into the apartment. It was so perfect, and they had just recently renovated it. There was a bedroom which was decorated with thangkas (Buddhist tapestries). On a table there was an assortment of beverages including local wine and local whiskey, water, and several types of fruit juice. Sonam brought in the bag of snacks he had purchased in Paro and left them for us: nuts, potato chips, trail mix, etc.

In addition to our bedroom, the lower level contained a sitting room with a couch, coffee table, and several chairs. There was the shell of a kitchen, and a bathroom with an Eastern style toilet and sink.

Upstairs was a Western style toilet (a.k.a. the "long toilet"), main kitchen, living room, and other bedrooms. Rather than needing to climb a steep traditional Bhutanese staircase/ladder hewn out of a single log, there was a set of concrete stairs with handrails. It worked out perfectly in terms of accessibility for Craig.

Although Apa and his siblings were born here in Shelmakha, as was Sonam's mother, they and their children moved away and settled elsewhere. Shelmakha has a rule (which is unique even in Bhutan) that anyone with Shelmakha registered as their ancestral home is obligated to return to the village for the annual tsechu. If you are not able to attend for any reason, you must pay a penalthy of 500 ngultrum (approximately $8) per day that they are absent. The money goes into funding the tsechu.

Sonam's parents had four sons: Jamtsho, Dendhup, Kezang, and Sonam. Unfortunately, Kezang passed away several years ago. Sonam showed us the darchog prayer flags that the family erected on the mountainside above the home in his memory. We paid our respects, sad that we would never get a chance to meet this young man.

Apa's sister and her husband passed away at a young age, after having six children: Tandin Dorji, Phub Pem, Lhaki Yangzom, Gyem Thinley, Tenzin Dorji, and Kinley Zangmo. After the loss of their parents, they were essentially raised by Apa. Sonam considers them as his brothers and sisters, even though they are technically his cousins (this caused some confusion early on, when we were trying to figure out their familial relationships).

Property is passed down matrilineally, and eldest daughter Phub Pem inherited this house from Apa's sister. None of the family live here now. They have hired a caretaker named Passa to look after the house, and they only return once or maybe twice per year maximum. The family provides Passa and his family living quarters adjacent to ours on the ground floor, and they also provide them with farmland to cultivate.

Apa had been the first of the family to arrive, and had immediately set to work opening the house, cleaning, and preparing for the annual reunion which would soon commence. He would also serve as the chef for the next three days, preparing food with love for the entire family.

Apa brought a thermos of milk tea to us in our sitting room and poured us each a cup. He served us potatoes mixed with cheese and chilis as well as white rice. It was a nice lunch. Guide Kinley and driver Pema joined us for lunch, and we discussed the plan for the next couple of days.

Bhutan engages in "High value low impact" tourism. What this means is that there is a minimum daily price of U.S. $250 / day which must be paid regardless of activity / accommodation. People trekking and sleeping in tents along the way still pay $250 per day even though they have no hotel room. But for that money, you get very good service. You get a guide for the duration of your trip, and you get whatever else you need (camping equipment, cook, horses, porters, etc.) You can't really just go to Bhutan and wing it; they need to approve your itinerary, and you can't really deviate from it without permission.

When Sonam's family invited us to stay at their home, the tour company was a bit nervous. They were unsure about accessibility for Craig's mobility problems, as well as food hygeine, etc., in a private home. They got in touch with Sonam and vetted everything with him. They booked us a hotel room just in case we needed it. As our guide for the trip, Kinley felt responsible for us and wanted to stay with us.

We felt that this was superfluous, as we were perfectly comfortable staying in the family's capable hands for these next three days. But we understood that it was a highly unusual situation. Most tourists here do not do this. Kinley and Pema wanted to be available in case we needed them for anything at all. But once Kinley met the family and saw the accommodations, he was immediately impressed and put at ease. He saw that Craig wouldn't have a problem with accessibility, and that the food preparations were sanitary and hygeinic. They even had indoor plumbing as opposed to the ubiquitous outhouse!

Apa apologetically told Kinley and Pema that there would be around 20 people sleeping in the house tonight, and there wouldn't really be a comfortable place for them to fit.

Kinley asked how we felt about it. If we wanted them to stay, they would be happy to sleep in the van. We insisted that we were totally comfortable staying in the family's care. He and Pema could return home to Thimpu to spend some time with their families, coming back to collect us on Saturday morning. Everyone was satisfied with this decision, and they would head to Thimpu after this afternoon's pujas.

We got settled in our room as the family started to arrive at the house. Visitors came to our door to introduce themselves, and we met Kinley Zangmo and her adorable daughter Bumchu (age "6+"). They live in Bangkok, and haven't made it back to Shelmakha for the festival in several years. They found themselves in Bhutan just prior to the festival for Bumchu's dad's work. He had to return to Bangkok, but Kinley decided to stay a few extra days with Bumchu so that she could attend the festival and reunite with the family. Having only corresponded on Facebook up until now, it was nice to finally meet them in person!

We walked next door to the lhakhang so observe the pujas (ceremonies) that will open the tsechu. It was the first time that we had seen the new flagstone festival grounds. When we had visited in 2007, the courtyard had been grass. The weather had been rainy, and it turned to mud. It became slippery and dangerous for dancers, as well as dirtying the elaborate costumes. This was a vast improvement.

Also new was the lhakhang (monastery). It had very recently been rebuilt in the same footprint, but the design of the building was different than its predecessor. We entered and climbed a set of stairs. We took off our shoes and entered the main hall. It was a hive of activity inside.

The wooden building was reverberating with stuccato chanting interspersed with music. The musical instruments included drums on poles with drumsticks made of hook-shaped metal, dungchen horns (long bronze trumpets), cymbals, and kang dung (trumpets made from human femurs). People whooped and hollered.

The village Buddhist lama (the same man who was in this role 10 years ago) was dressed in a gorgeous red silk costume, and his hat was topped with a carved wooden skull and a peacock feather. Others were dressed as soldiers with helmets and shields. There were several barechested men wearing tiger print skirts and the mask of a mahakala (wrathful deity).

Villagers were praying and making offerings at an altar decorated with ceremonial cakes. Apa was participating, dressed in the crimson robes of a lay monk.

The elderly lama attained an almost trancelike state as he danced to the rhythm of the chanting.

Everyone proceeded outside, and they carried the ceremonial cakes and an effigy with them. The lama and the dancers congregated on the flagstone courtyard. One of the people in a soldier costume was carrying a flaming torch and shot fire at the ground.

We ran into Dasho Karma Dorjee, former Secretary of Tourism and Industry, with whom we had spent a lot of time during our 2007 visit. He has studied in the United States, and had even spent some time in Boston. We have kept in touch with him over the years, and he is incredibly kind. It was so nice to see him!

The lama and dancers then proceeded down the hill, where they would continue the ceremony about a kilometer away. The crowd followed them, but Sonam and Dasho were concerned about Craig walking there and back, and insisted that we stay behind so as not to tire him out too much.

This turned out nicely, as Sonam showed us various aspects of the festival preparations. He took us into a dressing room where various masks and musical instruments were patiently waiting to be called into action. We could smell varnish - some of the carved painted wooden ritual masks must have just been completed!

There were large elaborate mahakala masks, each with three large eyeballs, long white fangs, and a crown made up of 5 small skulls. There were atsara masks with red skin, prominent noses, and thick black eyebrows and moustaches. There were also animal masks, including deer, dogs, dragons, etc. My favorites were the skeleton masks which reminded me of Mexican Dia de los Muertos calavera masks. Sonam picked one up and tried it on for a photo op.

Sonam then led us into the small kitchen on the side of one of the buildings. A large fire burned in a cement walled fire pit. A husband and wife tended to the cooking and smiled as Sonam explained that a different family is in charge of preparing food for the festival each year. Huge cauldrons cooked on a sheet of steel laid over the fire. It was quite warm inside, and a bit smoky.

We spun the large prayer wheel next to the lhakang. We then entered a small building across the courtyard. There were many butter lamps burning inside. Butter lamps used to reside inside of lhakhangs, but they have been known to cause fires which have destroyed monasteries and the sacred objects within. So they have taken to building separate structures to house the butter lamps and keep the lhakhangs out of harm's way.

We entered the small building and were amazed by how warm it was in there! There were dozens of brass chalices filled with clarified butter. Small ones had a single wick and burn for a single day. Larger ones have two wicks and burn for two days. The lamps were small, but taken together they generate a surprising amount of heat. Craig and I said a prayer and we each lit a butter lamp. We then each lit one of two wicks on a larger one.

By now the lama and dancers had returned. They congregated below the courtyard. There were so many more cars here than there had been ten years ago. The area below the tsechu grounds had turned into an impromptu parking lot. The remainder of this ceremony would be performed there. At one point, the lama sat down for a rest on the tailgate of a pickup truck. We smiled at the thought of the lama tailgating.

They asked a few people to move their vehicles, since the ritual involved making a fire, and they needed a little space. Sonam informed us that we must stand off to the side in order to observe this puja. The lama would be expelling bad spirits from the village, and we wouldn't want them to attach themselves to us on the way out.

This reminded me of a visit to Ecuador when Sisa was ill and a shaman visited the house. He got rid of her "mal aire" (bad air), and we couldn't go outside at the time lest it afflict us. We needed to stay in a sealed room until he gave the ok that it was safe.

It was quite windy as the lama danced with a bell in one hand and a dagger in the other, ceremonially killing an effigy of an evil spirit, burying and burning it. Men blew dungchen horns in a dirge-like manner in between verses of chanting, while others played cymbals or beat drums. The flames threatened to get out of hand with the wind fanning them, so it wasn't long before attendants poured water from pewter teapots to extinguish the fire.

We met Sonam's eldest brother Jamtsho and his young son Kinley.

Then we walked back to the house. Sonam's "Ama" (Mom), cousins Phub Pem, and Lhaki, and sister-in-law Tshering were standing side by side, blocking the stairway. They smiled and waved, explaining that they needed to finish cleaning and preparing. Sonam took Craig's arm and led him carefully through the maze of parked cars and around to the back of the house. We entered our apartment and relaxed in the sitting area. Tshering came down to serve us milk tea and delicious macaroni and cheese with chili peppers that she had prepared for us.

Soon Dasho appeared at the door, and came in to visit with us. It was great to get to catch up with him again after all these years. He is such an intelligent and down to earth man. We talked about the current state of American politics, as well as catching up on what he has been doing. He thinks that we must have been Buddhists in a past life to have formed such a strong connection with Bhutan and having returned after 10 years.

Kinley Zangmo came downstairs to say hello, and Dasho informed us that she had been a wonderful actress in several movies and serials. She is far too humble to ever bring it up herself, but she acknowledged that she had a fairly successful acting career prior to getting married. She laughed saying that daughter Bumchu doesn't like watching the movies, because she is pretending to be in love with someone who isn't Bumchu's dad. Kinley would send us a Youtube link to a music video from her 2008 film Satharringsa, a Bhutanese movie which was shot in India.

We were summoned upstairs. Sonam once again helped Craig to navigate through the parked cars around to the front of the house and up the staircase. As we entered the main room, we were surrounded by dozens of people. We were directed toward a cake which said "Welcome Dear Mom and Dad". We were overcome with emotion. So this is why the women wouldn't let us go upstairs when we got back. They were setting up this lovely surprise! And Sonam had bought the cake in Paro this morning and had worked with Kinley and Pema to smuggle it here without us seeing it! We had been so absorbed in the day's activities that we had never suspected a thing. So much thought had gone into this, and we were so humbled. The hospitality of the whole extended family was amazing!

The cake had a dozen candles, which they lit for us. Sonam instructed Craig to blow out the candles, and for me to cut the cake. Sonam fed each of his elders a piece, starting with us.

Sonam's brother Dendhup and his wife Tshering have a young son nicknamed Bue who turned 3 years old less than a month ago. We had seen photos and videos of his birthday party on Facebook. When he saw our cake and candles, he was reminded of his party, and insisted that Tshering (aka "MAMAAA!") relight the candles so that he could blow them out. She tried to placate him by lighting a couple of candles, but he would have none of it. They all needed to be lit. It was adorable and we all shared lots of laughs as Bue triumphantly blew out all of the candles.

They led us over to a soft sleeping pad on the floor where we sat next to the wood stove. We met the rest of the family. Everyone was extremely friendly. The family members who are most confident in their English made sure to talk to us often and make sure that we were comfortable. Sonam's cousin Tenzin Dorji (the teacher) chatted with Craig, and Kinley Zangmo took me under her wing. They served us a bottle of local Bhutanese Zumzin peach wine.

Bumchu snuggled in between us and chatted up a storm. She is incredibly precocious and not shy in the least. Kinley Zangmo told us that when she first friended us on Facebook, Bumchu saw our photo. Kinley had not told her anything about us at the time. Bumchu pointed to our picture and said "I know them." Kinley asked how she could possibly know us. Bumchu responded, "I know them in my heart." Wow, she's a deep kid, and maybe it lends credence to the Buddhist theories.

We distributed gifts to the family. We called the kids up one by one, starting with Bumchu and Pema (Jamtsho's daughter). Once little Bue realized that gifts were being distributed, he made a beeline straight to me before I even called him. As far as he was concerned, this whole occasion was just an extension of his birthday.

We also distributed some Boston Baked Bean candy. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Pilgrims learned how to prepare baked beans from the Native Americans in the early 1600's. A century later, Boston became a distiller of rum made by fermenting molasses. Molasses was in plentiful supply, and was added to the local baked bean recipe to produce what has become known as Boston Baked Beans. The recipe persists to this day, and is responsible for Boston's nickname of "Beantown." A candy version was created in 1924 that consisted of peanuts covered in a dark red candy shell that resembles a baked bean. Since this candy has its roots in our area, we thought it would be a fun treat to share.

Boston Baked Beans
By Renee Comet (Photographer) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Boston Baked Beans Candy
Ferrara Candy Company

Sonam's cousin Tandin Dorji works at a soft drink company, and had supplied much soda for the family. He also brought a small amplifier and microphone. Before we knew it, the family burst into karaoke and dancing. Some of the guys (most specifically Sonam's couain Gyem Thinley) really hammed it up. They did some well-choreographed numbers, and much laughter ensued.

With everyone's busy schedules, it had been a long time since the entire clan had been together for the festival: Sonam's nuclear family as well as all 6 cousins and their families. There was sheer joy and familiarity in their interactions, and we were very lucky that somehow we were able to be a part of it. They called me up to dance with them, and I tried to follow along. Traditional Bhutanese dances are quite subtle, but they were listening to pop songs and dancing in a more modern style. There was a lot of good natured teasing amongst family members, and it was incredibly entertaining.

The highlight was the "bedbug dance". One person at a time dances, miming like they are scratching bug bites. Depending how much the person gets into the spirit of the dance, it can be considerably more demonstrative than their usual dance styles. When the person had finished their "solo," they tap someone else, thereby symbolically infecting them with the bedbugs. The next person then dances, and so on. Most people were very good sports and participated, including Apa. I love to dance, so when Jamtsho tagged me, I went right up. Afterwards, I nominated Sonam, who busted out some retro '80's robot moves. How old school! We were all laughing so hard. There were probably at least 30 people by now, and the love and laughter in the house was intoxicating.

After the dance party, dinner was served. Apa had prepared it with love, and it consisted of rice, sausage, fried cheese, veggies, and red chilies. It was delicious! Although they traditionally eat with their hands, they provided us each with a spoon.

After dinner, the women gathered in one of the bedrooms to practice steps for dancing at the tsechu tomorrow. Sonam's cousins' daughters took the lead here: Tshering Yangzom, Kezang Choden, and Chimi Omoo. Bumchu saw me with the camera and asked if I was going to record them. "All of us, including me," she instructed. Bue entered the room as well, and danced around with sunglasses on. His voice has an adorable squeak to it.

Tomorrow would be a big day. The family had to report to the festival grounds at 5 a.m. for attendance head-count. We went to bed at around 10 o'clock. We said our goodnights. Everyone of Sonam's generation started to call us Mom and Dad, and their kids called us Grandma and Grandpa. It warmed our hearts. We retired down to our room. Sonam helped Craig down the stairs and used his phone as a flashlight to light our path around to our apartment at the back of the house. He made sure that we had everything we needed.

He intended to go to bed now too, because we were. We insisted that he go back upstairs and socialize with his family. He doesn't get to see them all very often. We were just going to sleep anyway, and we knew where to find him if we needed anything. He eventually agreed, saying that he should practice some of those dance steps for tomorrow.

We were tired, so we fell right asleep. I didn't even type up the day's notes, my usual post-bed ritual. If I was going to stay up, I would have rather spent time with the family. But I needed the rest. Although it was chilly outside and the house had no heat aside from the wood burning camp stove upstairs, we were nice and toasty in bed with the warm blankets that they had provided. In fact, Craig didn't even wear the warmest pajamas that he had brought, since his lighter pair was sifficient.

Before we fell asleep, we heard a ruckus upstairs. We found out the next day from Sonam that as they laid out their sleeping mays on the floor, a mouse had scurried through the room. This had startled everyone and elicited shrieks.

When we got up during the night to use the bathroom, Sonam was sleeping on the couch. We noticed that he had kept his light on all night so that we wouldn't need to make our way through the darkness. He is so sweet and selfless!



Shelmakha (altitude ~8500 feet)
With our dear son Sonam Tshering on Nyamai Zam footbridge

With our dear son Sonam Tshering on Nyamai Zam footbridge

Nyamai Zam footbridge

Nyamai Zam footbridge

Sonam is amused by ironic graffiti: Don't write on wall!

Sonam is amused by ironic graffiti inside the footbridge: Don't write on wall!

Meeting our dear friend Dorji Pelzang

Meeting our dear friend Dorji Pelzang

Chorten on the road to Shelmakha

Chorten on the road to Shelmakha (photo courtesy of Sonam Tshering)

Apa and Sonam

Apa and Sonam

Lama (center), musicans, and masked dancers in the lhakhang

Lama (center), musicans, and masked dancers in the lhakhang

Effigy and ritual cakes, with masked mahakala dancers in the background

Effigy and ritual cakes, with masked mahakala dancers in the background

The lama dances in the courtyard

The lama dances in the courtyard

Skeleton masks and drums

Skeleton masks and drums

Selfie in front of the lhakhang

Selfie in front of the lhakhang (photo courtesy of Sonam Tshering)

Tsechu grounds

Tsechu grounds

Butter lamps

Butter lamps

Craig and Sonam

Craig and Sonam

The lama tailgating

The lama tailgating

Sonam, Craig, Steph, and Jamtsho

Sonam, Craig, Steph, and Jamtsho (photo courtesy of the family)

Ama, Phub Phem, Lhaki, and Tshering block our access to the house while they set up a surprise

Ama, Phub Phem, Lhaki, and Tshering block our access to the house while they set up a surprise

Dasho Karma Dorjee

Dasho Karma Dorjee

Our surprise welcome cake

Our surprise welcome cake

Lhaki, Ama, Steph, Kinley (reflection), Craig, Sonam, and Apa

Lhaki, Ama, Steph, Kinley (reflection), Craig, Sonam, and Apa

Preparing to cut the cake while Craig blows out the candles

Preparing to cut the cake while Craig blows out the candles

Sonam feeds Mom a piece of cake

Sonam feeds Mom a piece of cake

The cake is repurposed for Bue's birthday

The cake is repurposed for Bue's birthday

Grandpa, Bumchu, and Grandma

Grandpa, Bumchu, and Grandma (photo courtesy of the family)

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