Thursday, August 19, 2010

Back Again

I arrived back in Bhutan August 6th, and back to my home in Mongar four days later. I had a great holiday in Canada with family and friends, which was exactly what I needed. Not to mention the steaks, good wine, coffee, and other delights. I feel energized and enthused once again. Upon my return here, I received a very warm welcome from neighbours, staff and students. It feels good to be back.

I have some blog catching up to do. I want to start by telling you about my trip back to Canada. By the way, to get permission to extend my holiday beyond the usual two week summer break, I had to apply for EOL (Extraordinary Leave!) It was quite a process, with letters and approvals at various levels. It finally came through at the last minute. Well actually, after the last minute, because I didn't get it until I was back in Canada.

I had been dreading the two day bus ride back to Thimpu, thinking of those winding roads, possible landslides, and upset stomachs. As it turned out, the bus ride could not have been better. At first it seemed that I was not even going to get a bus ticket when I needed one. Then I managed to book one a day early, squeezed into the back seat of the bus. I knew that would not be pleasant, but I was desperate. Then, thankfully, I got "upgraded" to the front seat, beside the driver. It was awesome! The windows are huge, so I had a wonderful view of the landscape unfolding before me. Great spot from which to take photos. Also no problem with motion sickness in that location.

When we had made the trip east at the end of February, it was towards the end of winter, and there wasn't much green to be seen. On this trip west at the end of June, following a couple of months of warm and often wet weather, the landscape was beautifully lush. We went through different types of vegetation, from subtropical to Alpine forest. There were many high, narrow waterfalls cascading onto or near the road. There were no landslides, but a couple of dicey, muddy sections. Apparently in July, sections of road were closed for almost a week due to landslides. I'm glad I missed that!

A young man sitting behind me looked after me during the bus ride. Whenever the bus stopped, he would let me know if it was for fooding or toileting. He also translated for the driver, who didn't speak English. He and I were invited to eat with the driver every time we stopped for fooding. I offered to pay, but the driver wouldn't let me.

For toileting, the bus would just stop at the side of the road, and everyone would get off. The men would walk in one direction, the women the other. We would just crouch at the edge of the road because there was nowhere to go. Just a cliff going up on one side, and down on the other.

About an hour after one of these stops, we stopped again for fooding, and afterwards I was waiting beside the bus chatting to my buddy and some of his friends, all on holiday from Sherubtse College. I felt a little tickle on the bottom of my foot, and as I rubbed my instep on my other knee, one of the young men quickly wrapped his arm around my shoulders, with the words, "It will be alright madam." Another young man grabbed my foot, and ripped off a huge leech! It probably wasn't huge to start with, but it was after gorging on my blood for an hour! If I had seen it on me, I would have freaked out, so I am very thankful that they noticed it before I did. It bled a lot, but it didn't hurt.

Although the trip from Mongar to Thimphu is only 500 km, it takes almost 20 hours due to the road constantly winding down one mountain and up the next. That is an average of 25 kmph! Consequently, the bus stops for the night in Jakar, Bumthang, about halfway. Some people go and spend the night with friends and relatives, while others go to guesthouses. My friend Dema, Chimi’s mum, picked me up and took me to her place. She lives in a small monastery, where her husband was the Rimpoche until his death about 12 years ago. My room was beside the main room with beautiful statues of Buddha and Guru Rimpoche. I sat in there soaking up the peaceful vibes for an hour or more. The monastery is written up in my Lonely Planet Guide as Deothang Lakhang. Dema was amazed to see her home in my book.

After the second day on the bus, we arrived in Thimphu. I had arranged to meet Lynda and Andrea there. They are two of the Canadian teachers who live closest to Thimphu, and I hadn’t seen them since February. We had lots of fun in the “big city”. We even went to a spa and had an assortment of treatments at incredibly cheap prices.

I also spent an enjoyable night in Paro with Nancy and Roy, two other Canadian teachers who were teaching at the Teachers’ College. From there it was a short drive to the airport the next morning. Three flights, and then home.

This last shot is in Delhi, where I spent the day. It was 45 degrees celsius. That is why my face matches my blouse.

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