Tang

A place with roses and frost in the morning, sun not over the mountains yet –

rolling roads, where three new paths have been made because

cars just aren’t meant to be here

and there are bulls that stare at you

and dogs bigger than any you’ve seen here

so much milk tea that it makes your stomach ache

with the love from Bhutanese families who invite you into their home so you can ask them personal questions

whereas Americans feel affronted by the census

you know – privacy.

Tang feels like the dust and grass of Ugyen Choling,

the farmer who speaks Dzongkha, not English (of course), but who wants you to come back when you are happily married

and when you have a good job, to stay at his farmhouse

just to stay

to live

in Tang

he fed us tai-tai, fresh rice puffs from the tsechu

and heated them on his wood stove, which he offered because we were standing in the cold.

 

Tang feels like the village next to Laphang Community Forest

where the old woman pours buckwheat onto the red mat and whistles

do you know why? Hemanta asks, having wandered around the house, attracted by the sound.

She is calling the wind. She is calling the wind to dry her buckwheat.

This village is precarious, falling off the ridge into the valleys on either side

up on the top we had lunch – buckwheat pancakes with strawberry jam made here,

an egg, a boiled potato, vegetable curry, and mango juice that comes from The South…

This valley feels like crawling into a sleeping bag at night, when a room feels as cold as outside

and you drink Druk 11000, curled next to the woodstove that the man – brother, as Hemanta calls him –

whose smile lights up Bumthang, has just lit for us.

It feels like sore hips from sitting cross-legged on woven mats all day

listening to Brad ask about ecological knowledge

– they laugh about stinging nettle and never know maple –

and Chrisna speaks in Dzongkha and Nepali to old ladies who offer us ara at nine in the morning

nami sami kadrinchela, but no I’m not going to drink right now

and the babies we play with and the pears we are offered

and giving gifts with both hands and smiling at old women who are beaming at me

and knowing I know nothing about her, but what does she think of me?

She must know something good, to be so kind.

But maybe she just likes that I am here, and likes seeing my face

I sure like seeing her face, and watching the prayer beads glide through her fingers

as she answers my questions in Bumthap, giving me the gift of her life and experience through an interview that is poorly designed, in the grand scheme of things

– why am I not just asking about her life?

Tang is a place I want to be,

yes, I will stay with you during the winter when there is not much to do in the fields

and eat tai-tai and try to learn Dzongkha while I might teach you a little English

and your wife will come back from Thimphu so you are not so lonely and maybe some of your six children will visit.

Perhaps I will learn Dzongkha just so I can walk across the valley

and up the hill

and ask that lady to teach me how to call the wind.

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Directed Research

DR. It’s started. It’s a staple of every SFS program, and one of the selling points of the whole organization. Even more than our classes, during which we often had field exercises and lectures, DR is when we actually do field studies.

DR is not independent research, it’s directed. That means there are six groups of students, all of whom have a faculty advisor for the whole project (each professor has two groups). The groups are studying the concept of One-Health in Bumthang, avian diversity on the UWICE campus, the current social and ecological status of community forests, biodiversity on the UWICE campus compared to nearby community forests, medicinal plants and cordyceps and rural livelihoods, and a new index (created by the group) to measure wellbeing. Within each group, the students can pick their own topic of interest and design a project complete with their own objectives, hypotheses, methods, and analysis.

About a month ago we were all sorted into DR groups based on our preferences. I am really interested in the history of property rights in Bhutan, and especially the fact that all forests and natural resources were managed through common resource management systems until 1969, when the government passed the Forest Act, nationalizing all forests. Luckily I will be able to conduct research related to that topic. I’m in the community forests group and I’ll be investigating what type of property system community forests are, and how that property system is impacting the livelihoods of local people.

And we start today! After lunch my group is driving to Tang Valley, which is 2.5 hours away. We’re staying there for three days, conducting interviews and collecting data from the three community forests that are in that area. Wish us luck!

Punakha

Sorry it’s been so long! We’ve been back at UWICE since Sunday evening, and we’re all working hard on preparation for Directed Research (DR – which I will talk more about in my next post).

Until then, enjoy some photographs I took during our time in Punakha and Gasa!

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Punakha puppy

 

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Gasa Dzong

 

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Gasa Dzong

 

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Gasa Dzong

 

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Gasa Dzong

 

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Jigme Dorji National Park – the Mochhu River

 

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Punakha

 

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Punakha agriculture

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Punakha’s Buddhist nunnery

 

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The view from the nunnery

 

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Finals Week… (and a little about JDNP)

Hi everyone!

SFS Bhutan has finals this week, so I probably won’t be posting anything until we’re done with that and back in Bumthang (which will be on Sunday).

But I will tell you a little about last week’s trip to Jigme Dorji National Park in Gasa.

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A view from our hike after enjoying the hot springs

The moment we entered the park, I could sense that there were tigers here. And not just because I know there are tigers in the park – it was also the right habitat. The dense forest felt like a jungle, and as we made camp near a rocky riverbed, I could imagine a tiger peaking out at us from the other side of the river.

Gasa extends all the way up to the border with China (part of which is disputed territory). (Check out the map below – Gasa is the red district in the north.) On the second day, our only full day in JDNP, we drove three hours north to reach the famous Gasa hot springs, which did not disappoint. The view from the hot springs itself was incredible – we were looking straight up two imposing cliffs from the valley far below. We had a short but steep hike back up to the buses, and then drove to nearby Gasa Dzong. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, it was so cloudy that day that we did not see the snow-capped peaks that everyone had been looking forward to for weeks. But that’s ok – the view was still spectacular from the top of the dzong (just look up Gasa Dzong and you’ll see the view I’m talking about).

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We enjoyed milk tea and mushroom soup in the rain, courtesy of our fantastic cooks, and then drove the three hours back to our campsite, mostly in the dark forest, which was peaceful.

It was a terrific camping trip. And I think my heart still is, and may always partly be, in Gasa.

Bumthang → Punakha → Gasa

Yesterday we drove for 12 hours on the bumpy roads of central Bhutan to get from Bumthang to Punakha, which is farther west than our field station and closer to Thimphu. We’ll be here for about two weeks, during which time we will finish classes and take our final exams. We’re in Punakha for a change of scenery, to enjoy being in a different ecosystem (4,000 feet instead of 10,000), and to escape the Bumthang cold for a little while.

But… before we really settle into Punakha, we are going camping for two days (starting tomorrow) in Gasa, which is just north of Punakha. We’re hoping to see lots of snow-capped peaks and yaks while we’re there. Where we’re staying (and almost the entire district) is located inside Jigme Dorji National Park, which we had a lecture on today. Jigme Dorji is the only place on earth where tiger and snow leopard ranges overlap, and the two big cats peacefully coexist. How incredible…

I won’t be able to post for several days, but when I’m back, look forward to pictures of steamy Punakha and frigid Gasa!

A Bumthang Farm

On Friday we went on a FEX (field exercise) to a farm in nearby Tang valley. It was, as you can see from the pictures below, absolutely picturesque.

We have been learning about food security and self-sufficiency in Bhutan recently, and this visit put a face to what we have been learning about the complex dynamics between native land use and agriculture, international development money and agricultural schemes, and the tension between locally-grown organic food and imported, processed food.

We spoke with the farmer, with the help of our professor as interpreter, and heard about his own experience being a “progressive farmer” in the area – meaning he has accepted Swiss brown cows (which produce more milk than the indigenous breed of cow) from the Swiss Development Agency and he has joined a honeybee cooperative through which he sells his honey.

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The vegetable garden

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Chillies!

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A butter churn – the first one I’ve ever seen in real life

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Our professor (right) speaking with the Bumthap farmer

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The family also makes ara, which is a traditional alcoholic beverage consumed in Bhutan. This is one of our SFS/UWICE staff, Rinchen, demonstrating how they make ara.

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Tsechu Season

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu

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The tents of Jakar Tsechu

The tents of Jakar Tsechu

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Jakar Tsechu

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jakar Tsechu: Day 2

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Jambay Lhakhang Tsechu

Homestay!

On Sunday we did a homestay! We paired up and drove to various houses near campus, in Chamkhar and the surrounding villages. I was paired with my friend Brad, but we ended up joining another group of two because our host sisters were best friends, so we all hung out together.

It was a fantastic day, and so great to see Chamkhar from the point of view of young people who actually live there. One of the girls’ families owns a restaurant on the main street, so that’s where we spent most of the day. We ate breakfast with them, which was fried eggs, toast, and milk tea, and then spent time getting to know each other and playing cards because one of us chillups had brought a deck of cards as a gift for them. We taught them several card games, and they taught us some games that they play with their friends.

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Milk tea

         Both girls were both pretty shy and didn’t know what we wanted to do, so we told them we wanted to do whatever they would normally do on a Sunday. They took us on a walk to the nearby (tiny) Bumthang airport, along a pretty road by the Chamkhar Chhu. As we were walking back, a car whizzed by us and we waved to three of our friends who were doing a homestay together, getting a tour of the area from their host brother.

We wanted to help cook lunch, but unfortunately they only let us peel the potatoes, and then we watched a pretty crazy Bhutanese soap opera that we didn’t understand a word of. Lunch was deliciouskewa datshi (potato, chillies, and cheese), red rice, a carrot and cabbage dish, and buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat is the staple crop of Bumthang because it grows at high altitudes, and it has high nutritional content. I think buckwheat is delicious, but definitely an acquired taste. Some of the things people make out of buckwheat are noodles, pancakes, muffins, and cookies. Yum!

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Buckwheat pancakes

After lunch we met up with a large group of our host sisters’ friends, who all go to Jakar High School. We walked to the basketball court at the elementary school, which has a beautiful campus surrounded by the mountains. We played basketball with about ten young Bhutanese kids, some of their little siblings, and about eight of us chillups. It was great to hang out with a big group of friends and meet other people. Another group of chillups and their host siblings had made momos, which we all love, so we had a picnic as well.

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Momos

It was a fantastic experience, and I now feel more integrated with the community. I will definitely visit my host sisters again!

Check Out My Post on the SFS Blog!

Bhutan is one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. In Bhutan, scientists have cataloged 699 bird species, and expect that a total of approximately 770 species will be found in the country. In the United States, which is 210 times as large as Bhutan, there are a total of 800 bird species – almost the same number! In addition, Bhutan is home to the tiger, the one-horned rhino, the clouded leopard, the red panda, the snow leopard, and the Tibetan wolf, among countless other species…

http://explore.fieldstudies.org/blog/biodiversity-hotspot-bhutan?f%5B0%5D=field_center%3A623

A Small Taste of South Asian Music and Cinema

Our program has talked a lot about Bhutanese (and also Indian and Korean, as both influence Bhutan greatly) popular culture. We have talked among ourselves, with our culture teacher, and with young people we meet in Chamkhar. We find it really interesting to learn about the ways that Bhutan’s culture has been changing so quickly, even in the last ten years. This is h happening, in part, because of increasing development, modernization, and contact with the West, East Asia, and the rest of South Asia. Korean pop culture is particularly popular here, and lots of young Bhutanese have Korean hairstyles and listen to K Pop.

One can’t say whether this is good or bad. The most extreme story we have heard about the downsides of these cultural changes is that sometimes members of the same family literally do not speak a common language. This can happen when, for example, grandparents speak a local language, like Bumthap, and grandchildren living in the same house only speak Dzongkha and English.

I am sure a lot more research can be done on this subject, and many students in our program are interested in learning more. But, on a lighter note, we have also been the beneficiaries of fantastic South Asian culture. I’ll provide just two examples.

First: One of our professors is from south India and has a passion for Indian and Bengali cinema. Our program has hosted two events called “Nerd Night,” where any student or staff member can speak for five minutes about something random that interests them. Our professor spoke about Satyajit Ray, a twentieth-century Bengali filmmaker, writer, and lyricist. Ray’s first film, released in 1955, is called Pather Panchali. It was produced by the Government of West Bengal and is based on a 1929 Bengali novel of the same name. It is often featured in lists of the greatest films ever made, and we got to see it! A couple weeks after our professor told us about the film, he screened it in the auditorium of the Madanjeet Singh Center, and many people watched and enjoyed it. It’s engrossing and paints an incredible vivid picture of village life in West Bengal during the 1950s.

Second: All the students have come to love the popular Bhutanese song “Namkhai Tshentra,” which we learned the lyrics to in our Dzongkha class. We know a lot of the words but one line is particularly popular, and we like to sing it at random moments. We also love when the song plays in a shop or someone’s home, and we can sing along. It was particularly exciting when we saw it performed at the opening of the Gross National Happiness Center in Bumthang, which we attended last Sunday.

I highly recommend watching the movie if you can get your hands on it (I don’t know whether that’s difficult) and listening to the song!