Breakfast on top of the world
We left our beautiful hotel at Dochula Pass Thursday morning after breakfast on the terrace overlooking the magnificent Himalayas. We had arisen early to watch the sun rise over the mounbtains. We were literally on top of the world! Just before we left, the hotel owner wanted to share an enormous thangka (religious painting on fabric often embroidered, as well), and had his entire hotel crew help to hoist up to the hotel roof a 20x20 thangka, the largest we've ever seen. The central deity was Padmasambhava.
Our drive today was about 5 hours through beautiful mountain woodland, along the National Highway (the only east/west road), with non-stop hairpin turns all the way. Up to Dochula Pass, the road is in good shape, but beyond Dochula, it begins to degrade. Periodically, we passed road upgrade projects, manned by Indians, here specifically for road buiulding.
We stopped for lunch at an inn with more fantastic views of snow-capped mountains, and then continued into Phobjika Valley where our next hotel awaited us. This valley is the winter home of the endangered black necked crane. They had all left for their summer home in Tibet at the end of March, but for
Padmasambhava thangka being unfurled
one which we were able to observe through telescopes at the Nature Center dedicated to them. We also viewed a film about the cranes there and purchased a copy.
After the Nature Center, we enjoyed a great walk back to our hotel, along the quiet country road through a tiny village. It was wonderful to mix with the locals and be able to observe rural life up close. The Bhutanese appear to be genuinely happy people, welcoming to foreigners and willing to connect. They seem to truly appreciate tourists and the financial contribution they make to the well-being of their country. It's a great feeling to be able to relax as a tourist, and stop feeling like an invader.
We also have had the opportunity, while driving, to question one of our Bhutanese guide, Tobgay, who is quite knowledgable, about several points of interest. One item had to do with the 2003 conflict with Indian insurgents. Tobgay's explanation was that Indian insurgents were headquatering in southern Bhutan, making forays of crime and violence over the border in India by night. The Indian government leaned on Bhutan to oust these insurgents, and as Bhutan has important trade and diplomatic
relations with India, the army, actually headed by the 4th king himself, headed south to accomplish the mission.
Another question we asked Tobgay was about the Nepali refugee situation about which we had read that Bhutan forced thousands of Nepali people living in Bhutan to leave the country, and that these folks were in terrible refugee camps in Nepal. Tobgay's story was that the Nepali who had lived in Bhutan for generations (and were known as southern Bhutanese) initiated leaving Bhutan, lured by "streets are paved with gold" stories from Nepali relatives in Nepal. The king bent over backwards attempting to convince them not to go, saying that Bhutan was the best country for true happiness. The Nepali insisted on leaving nonetheless. As time progressed, the king invited other Bhutanese people to re-settle the abandoned farms in the south. Also after time progressed, many Nepali became disillusioned with life outside Bhutan. Upon returning and finding their farms now in others' hands, many became violent, killing the settlers from the north. The king ousted them and this began the refugee camps. Finally, the king decided to create a system whereby Nepali could apply for re-entry and citizenship in Bhutan. The
Holly outside our hotel room
government sent 4 officials to Nepal to collect applicants data for the process. Upon arrival, the 4 officials were attacked and all had to be hospitalized. This was the last straw that caused the king to refuse to engage in any more negotiations. Both the Nepali and the king have written their stories to the United Nations, and apparently, the UN has accepted the Bhutan version as legitimate.
One last topic we asked Tobgay was about recycling and litter in Bhutan. There is not much litter in Bhuta, especially compared to India, but there are moments. Tobgay says the the older farmers who did not have the benefit of the education available to young people today are the primary culprits. The school curriculums are full with environmental awareness. He said that they do have recycling available for all the same things we have in the States. One example is that the government pays people for each bag of plastic bottles they turn in, plus plastic bags are illegal. Indeed, when we shopped, we were given reusable shopping bags such as those becoming popular in the States.
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