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Archive for August, 2009

Memories of Bhutan

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Rdside Prayer WheelNow that I’m back in the office, my visit to Bhutan seems surreal. Did I really fly halfway around the world to visit this fascinating country? If it wasn’t for my photographs as proof, I don’t think I’d believe that I was really there.

I’ll miss seeing prayer wheels alongside the roads, but I won’t actually miss the winding roads themselves. I’ll miss the lush, green high mountains; the bright colors of the local dress; the beautiful temples so full of history and wonder; and the local people. For me, it’s always the people.2local women

Each time I travel, I take such joy in meeting the locals, looking into their faces and trying to imagine the story each face tells. Early in the trip, I came across these two women who were part of a larger group sitting with their backs up against the base of a large prayer wheel. I can imagine them sitting there every day while they chew on betal nuts, twirl their prayer wheels and finger their prayer beads. We shared a few smiles and they happily let me take their photos. I felt enriched by the short exchange.

Prayer Wheels-localsI’m excited about the opportunity to sponsor a UW trip to Bhutan so that our alumni will be encouraged to also discover this unique country. In the next month, I’ll be working with our tour operator to confirm an itinerary and tour inclusions. Once our program is set, we will have it posted up on our website and we’ll be ready to take reservations.  I hope you’ll be able to join us on our fall 2010 alumni tour to Bhutan.

Hiking to Tiger's Nest (Taktsang Monastery)

Monday, August 17th, 2009

For years I’ve seen photographs of a monastary way up in the sky,  tightly hugging a cliff, usually photographed surrounded by mist.

The Monastery in the Sky

The Monastery in the Sky

It looked so mysterious and exotic that I immediately wanted to know where it was located because to me it spoke of traveling to faraway destinations. Upon hearing it was in Bhutan, a country I knew little about, it seemed even further away than I imagined and I certainly never dreamed that one day I would actually hike the hillside to reach this very special place.

Frankly, I can’t come up with the right words to describe the experience of arriving at this monastary by foot. I can’t say it was an easy experience as you have to hike up a continual incline, beginning at approximately 7,500 ft., all the way to 9,000 ft. up in the sky. Just getting to the first viewpoint was an exertion and my years of having a desk job seemed to have caught up with me.

The Final Stairs

The Final Stairs

I began the second half of the hike with good intentions but after taking a few breaths and finding myself struggling to breathe, I announced to my travel companions to go on ahead without me. After they continued, I decided I would keep taking  slow steps and would see just how far I could go. Step-by-step,  walking more slowly than I can ever remember, I kept moving ahead, stopping often.  Suddenly, I arrived at the second viewpoint and there was a startling close view of the Tiger’s Nest – it seemed like I could almost reach out and touch it.

To reach it, I still had to walk down many, many narrow stairs, across a tigers nest -hikersbridge (with mist from the waterfall kissing my face), up another flight of stairs, through a wooden gate and finally – the entrance. To my surprise and the surprise of my companions, I had made it to the monastary in the sky!

Every single step and breath were worth this wonderful accomplishment. I will always cherish this day.

TigersNest1

Our Day in Punakha

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

me and monk boyToday was magic – just absolutely magic. We walked across a suspension bridge, with prayer flags flapping in the wind. Then continued through rice paddies and up a hill (passing a few cows along the way) to visit the impressive Khamsum Yuelly Namgyal Chorten (Stupa). In the temple, we climbed three flights of steep stairs that were well worth the effort when we witnessed the incredible view of the Punakha Valley below!

Our afternoon walk was a leisurely one, once again through rice paddies, and up to the temple dedicated to Lam Drukpa Kuenly – View from Templeotherwise known as the “mad monk.”  With jasmine scenting our final few steps, we arrived at the temple to be greeted by a small group of very friendly Twainese who were traveling with a monk. A group member approached me with a huge smile and proceeded to tell me that the monk’s mother had come to this temple years ago to pray for a son. Not long after, she received her wish. Her next story concerned a female member of their group who had been to this temple previously and had also successfully prayed for a son. It was in this manner that I learned the special significance of this temple. From our guide, we heard many amusing stories of the “mad monk” and just how the temple’s reputation came about.

prayer flagsTraveling in Bhutan in the shoulder season has had its rewards. Yes, the mist may have obscured our view of the Himalayas at the top of the pass, but there are few other tourists and minimal traffic. It has not been uncommon for us to be the only travelers at a restaurant or local site. This is sure to change as Bhutan increases in popularity and tourists begin arriving during all seasons of the year.

Gross National Happiness

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

It’s incredibly refreshing to be traveling in a country where you’re not

Bhutanese Man Outside Memorial Chorten

Bhutanese Man Outside Memorial Chorten

besieged by begging children; hassled by vendors selling cheap souvenirs; and affronted by shopkeepers who are always  able to offer you a “good” price. And, the locals still enjoy having their photo taken.

Today was an amazing day of experiences as toured around the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu. First we watched part of an exciting archery tournament. Then we visited an art school where children were studying painting, wood carving, sculpture, metal-smithing, embroidery and other art forms.  A stop at the Takin nature reserve gave us a glimpse of the Bhutan national animal which is purportedly a cross between a cow and a goat (it’s a long story). Then it was  visits to the the textile museum, national handicrafts museum, Zilukha nunnery, paper-making factory, Memorial monksChorten and the highlight for me, a visit and walk around the grounds of the Tashichhodzong. We had our first real glimpse of Bhutanese monks and were treated to the sounds of chanting.

All this in one day you say? Even though Thimphu is the largest city, everything is a mere 5 – 10 minute drive away.

The jetlag is catching up with me and I’m off to sleep to ready myself for our upcoming drive to Punakha. We’ll be traversing over the Dochu-La pass (10,000 ft.) and have been promised spectacular views of the Himalayas.

Bhutan..here I come!

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve been accused of being rather blase about my travels. After traveling Dzong-flowersfor more than 25 years as part of my profession, international is no longer a novelty and I simply take it for granted…until now. Bhutan is a destination that has intrigued me for years and I am completely and utterly excited that I am hoping on a plane tomorrow to head that direction. It’s been interesting to announce this trip to family and friends. First, they usually give me a strange look and either ask “which country is that in?” or “isn’t it over by….” to my most favorite reaction provided by my dad. When I told him I was going to Bhutan…he paused…then asked me where the heck Bamboo was!

The next 12 days will be a whirlwind of long flights, rushed sightseeing, and many, many hotel inspections – all in the preparation of finalizing a special tour itinerary to offer to our alumni and friends in the fall of 2010. I hope to have the opportunity to blog while traveling, so stay tuned!

Iceland – A Few Photos

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Iceland 2009 104-singlefallOur alumni group recently returned from a fascinating trip to Iceland. While I would surmise that there’s plenty of water in “Ice”land, at least during the summertime melt, I just never pictured such a stunning  array of waterfalls. Our UW lecturer, Terje Leiren, shared a few photos with me and I just had to share them with you.

Professor Leiren also shared with us a very poignant moment that Iceland 2009-multifallstook place. The group discovered that a group member’s grandparents were from Iceland and with a five minute deviation to the tour, she was able to stop and walk upon the family farm. While the actual farmhouse was no longer standing, on the hillside next to a growing rhubarb patch, she discovered the old foundation…what a heartwarming addition to the tour.

Iceland 2009 024 (2)