My apologies, friends and family, for the complete lack of posting. It has been a whirlwind three days in Thimphu, with orientation, lectures, meals, sightseeing, hiking, buying kiras, and learning basic Dzongkha. The days are packed, and when I do have free time, it is spent getting to know the other students on the program. And the few moments I do have time to post, the Internet is often not working.
But hopefully, starting Sunday or Monday, that will change. We are heading out today on a three day, 14 hour drive through the Himalayas to the UWICE field station in Bumthang, where we will be living and studying for most of the semester. There will be limited Internet there, but I think once we have a more stable schedule, I will post more frequently. For now, know that in the next few days I will be seeing the most beautiful scenery in the world, and praying that my fellow passengers don’t get motion sick on the windy roads.
Yesterday I wrote a blog post in a Word document and I planned to post it when the Internet came back on. So here it is!
I have been in Bhutan for not even three days, and yet it seems like a lifetime. I am in a constant state of disbelief that I am here. That I am so lucky to be a Westerner in this place. That I get to study here, not just travel with a guide to designated areas. That I get to spend four months in the Himalayas.
The Himalayas are what shock me most. I can’t really fathom the size of these mountains. I feel like a little kid because every moment I get I am looking out the window or up at the sky, to the peaks with clouds curling over their tops.
We have had beautiful weather since we got here, which is very lucky, as it is still the monsoon season. It has been sunny and hot all three days, with clear blue skies that make the mountains stand out starkly.
This place is surreal. I have never felt gratitude so strongly, so viscerally. And the gratitude I feel is for this place and this experience and these four months. I don’t know if it sounds clichéd or silly, especially if you’re reading this in the US, but believe me that this is literally how I feel.
We had our second lecture for the class “Language and Culture of Bhutan” yesterday, at Buddha Dordendra, or Buddha Point as the Bhutanese call it. The statue is one of the tallest Buddhas in the world. You can see the statue, sitting cross-legged, from almost anywhere in Thimphu. It was started in 2007 and was expected to be complete by 2010, but they are still working. Vajrayana Buddhist statues cannot be empty, so they are going to fill the great cavern beneath the Buddha with meditation halls and hundreds of thousands of tiny statues. It is an awe-inspiring place, with gusts of wind and views of the entire valley. It’s so high that my ears popped on the ride up (and Thimphu itself – the valley – is already at 7,800 feet!). Sitting on the ground with a view of the Buddha high above, the lecture was about Vajrayana Buddhism, the sect that is practiced in Bhutan and is closely related to Tibetan and Tantric Buddhism.
Backing up slightly – we landed in Paro on Monday morning and spent that day and the next half day there, at a hotel where we were served ema datshi and rice and vegetables and daal. We gazed at the mountains and took a short walk to a ruined dzong, which is the large building in every district which is the seat of governmental and religious authority for the area.
On Tuesday we traveled an hour and a half on crazy mountain roads to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The city is nestled in a valley, and hence has grown along the valley and is much longer than it is wide (there is no way to grow a city straight up these mountains!). It wasn’t even a city, or the capital of the country, until the 1960s. But it is now bustling (I mean, compared to New York City it is the quietest and cleanest city in the world) and filled with gorgeous traditional Bhutanese architecture and shops with yards of fabric for kiras and ghos and no stoplights. Yes, that’s right, there are no stoplights in this capital city. And yet it is much more sane than any other city I’ve been in. You can easily cross even the busiest streets (called highways, which is laughable coming from America), which is a shock having experienced the danger that is Mumbai traffic.
That’s all for now! Tashi Delek.