Sunday, June 13: This was one of my favourite days in Bhutan. I went for a hike and picnic with my class, three hours uphill to a temple at Pongchula.
We decided just yesterday to do this outing, after I had informed my class that I would soon be going home to Canada for a few weeks. One boy suggested a picnic, and everyone liked the idea. Two possible suggestions were made: the Pongchula hike, or a shorter hike downhill to a place called Gongula, on the river. We had a vote, and I was surprised at how few kids voted for the river trip. I thought, “What kid wouldn’t want to go to play in a river on a hot summer day?” When I expressed my surprise, I was told that Gongula is haunted, and their parents wouldn’t let them go there. So Pongchula was chosen.
I asked what time we should meet. 7 a.m. was suggested, but one girl said that many of them have to do chores at their homes in the morning, so we decided on 8 a.m. Someone asked what we would do if it was raining in the morning, and a boy quickly responded, “We will cry.” We agreed that we would do the hike rain or shine, because the rain doesn’t usually last for long.
The kids said we should all take a “pack lunch” or a bunch of junk food. I went to town last night to buy samosas, but there were none left. I also tried to buy eggs for the picnic, but they weren’t available either. I ended up taking peanuts, carrots (which suddenly appeared in the market again yesterday), crackers and a huge bag of plums to share with the kids.
26 of 42 kids turned up for the hike. The weather was perfect. Sunny, with just a few billowy clouds. Hot, but with a pleasant breeze from time to time.
We hiked mostly along a farm road, and saw a few people out working in the fields. Most were digging up potatoes. They stopped long enough to wave to us and exchange pleasantries. We saw a man guiding a plough pulled by two oxen. He shouted for me to take his photo. I’ll add photos to this blog posting when I’m back on my own computer.
All along the way the kids would point out their homes off in the distance. Some of the kids walk two hours to school and two hours home each day.
I had taken a compass along, which was a big hit. When I asked the kids which way they thought north was, one of the girls pointed straight up in the air. Once they got an idea of north, south, east and west, they liked checking our direction each time we went around a bend in the road.
The kids insisted on taking turns to carry my knapsack, and to hold an umbrella over my head to shield me from the sun. I said that was quite unnecessary, but they could not be dissuaded. A boy also made me a crown of greenery to make me “queen of the forest”. As we walked, from time to time I would feel a hand rubbing or squeezing my upper arm, where there is the memory of a tricep muscle. I asked if they were making fun of my flab, but they said, “It is so soft, madam!” Yes, I know it is soft.
We saw a snake, a baby woodpecker, the biggest oak tree I have ever seen, and lots of wonderful flowers. The kids enjoyed picking berries along the way for me to sample. There were strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and golden berries, which were segmented like a raspberry. They were the ripest and tastiest.
We had to pick some small branches to add to a pile as we started the final ascent. I was told to make a wish as I added mine to the pile. Many of the kids wished for good results on their exams, which start next week.
At the top, we were greeted by two old men who live up there. The monks were away for the day, so the old men were our hosts. They didn’t speak a word of English, but they seemed delighted to have the kids there. We had our picnic, and shared with them. The kids had lots of fun playing simple games. I had taken a frisbee, which quickly landed on the roof. One of the men got a ladder so that Kinley Rabgay could climb up to retrieve it.
Another group of kids sat in a circle and played a very old game in which one kid walks around and drops a hanky behind someone. They have to jump up and race the other kid back to the empty spot.
A few girls were also playing their version of “jumpsie” or “yogi” with an elastic band rope. They are very skilful at this game.
After a couple of hours, we headed back down the hill. The only vehicle we saw was a truck, which stopped for us to hop in the back. We got a ride partway down, which added to the fun. We hopped off at Kadam, which is another temple. The kids wanted to visit there to turn the prayer wheels. While we were there, we were served juice and tea and biscuits. We were also given a huge bag of plums to take back with us.
It was a perfect day. We all agreed that when I return in August, we will do more hikes.