Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

I was checking the search engine referrals on my blog last night, when I saw ‘Wangdue Phodrang fire’. A short search later I saw the sad news that back in June a devastating fire raised the dzong (fortress), which contained the regional administrative headquarters and a monastery school, to the ground.

This photo makes me very sad:

Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan, on fire

Read more about the fire here and here here

As a place I remember fondly from my trip to Bhutan, I decided to post a few photos of how it was.

The two trainee monks who had just had a very un-monklike fight:

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Young Buddhist monks, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

(This photo is also one of my 7 Super Shots post, which includes a lovely memory of my Grandma related to this photo.)

The main courtyard of the monastery:

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Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

The main courtyard of the monastery:

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Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

High up at the far end of the inner courtyard, the skeletons are there to remind you to live your life well as it will be over sooner than you know it (sage advice):

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Inner courtyard, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

And finally, the sweetest little monk ever:

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The sweetest little monk ever, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

I hear two good things: that many of the treasures were saved, and there are fund raising initiatives in place to rebuild it. Please add comments and links if you know anything about this. Thank you.

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7 Super Shots

I am taking part in Hostelbookers 7 super shots thread, because they’ve started lots of travel bloggers scouring their digital photo archives on dark winter evenings (if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is) with this winning idea to inspire those with itchy feet.

Here’s my two penn’orth:

1) A photo that…takes my breath away
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland. It was an October afternoon, a couple of degrees above zero and blowing in a force 4-5 gale off the sea. But still it’s so beautiful that a couple of friends and I spent nearly two hours here taking photos. Just as we though we’d captured the sunset, someone set the sky on fire…

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland

 

2) A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
A baby Orangutan flicking a crafty ‘v’ sign on his cheek at me. This youngster and his parents oozed character, and make for some fabulous photos.

Baby organutan, Lok Kawi zoo, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

 

3) A photo that…makes me dream
Back to dear, lovely Iceland again. This time to Grundarfjörður, on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. Out hiking in a rainstorm west of the Kirkjufell, a small glacier-carved mountain now forming a peninsula at the edge of the fjord, I stumbled upon some lovely wooden cottages. Maybe one day I will own my own cabin around here…

Wooden cabins, Kirkjufell, Grundarfjörður, Iceland

 

4) A photo that…makes me think
My trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau remains one of the most moving days of my life. I spent most of the day in tears at the awful things that humans can do to other humans, and the sheer scale of the loss of life. These small stones, lovingly inscribed with names and dates of those lost by their dependents and placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, stun me every time I look back at the photo.

Memorial stones on the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

 

5) A photo that…makes my mouth water
In stark contrast to the above, a very simple shot of my friend Jamie thinking just how much he would love a Pieminister pie at that moment in time. The added bonus is that this was taken at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, one of my favourite places in the world, at the stall next to the also-legendary Brothers Cider Bar in the West Holts.

Do you know what...? I love Pieminister!

 

6) A photo that…tells a story
These two young novice monks, at Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan, look all sweetness and light. But until about three seconds before I took this photo, they were having the most violent and un-monklike fight in the monastery’s courtyard!

Novice monks, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

A secondary story is that this was one of my Grandma’s favourite photos from my travels. I spent several hours at her house with the laptop talking her through my photos, but she was captivated by these monks above almost anything else (even the Great Wall Of China, which she had always wanted to visit but never did). I hear she told my Dad and many friends who visited her about “those two little lads who were growing up to be monks”.

 

7) A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)
This ‘accolade’ simply has to go to my photo of the stunning Yamdrok-tso lake, in Tibet. I often have this photo as my desktop background on my work computer, and people cannot believe it was taken with a compact camera, and has not been digitally enhanced (or even cropped) in any way. I was just lucky, and in a supremely beautiful place.

Yamdrok-tso, Tibet

 

This photo tag game has been going for a couple of weeks now, so I’m going to nominate 5 posts I’ve seen that I really like (and that inspired me to blog my own – thank you!):

  1. Cam & Nicole at Travelling Canucks and their 7 super shots
  2. Alex at Virtual Wayfarer and his 7 super shots
  3. Erin at De La Pura Vida and her 7 super shots (particularly love that baby sloth!)
  4. Cathy at Traveling With Sweeney and her 7 super shots
  5. Anja at Hitting The Road and her 7 super shots

Day 38: the end of a week in beautiful Bhutan

DAY 37: was all about seeing the sights of Thimpu.

We spent the day seeing what the Bhutanese capital has to offer, oh, and almost seeing the Elvis/Fonz impersonator King when his motorcade drove past. Blacked out windows, though…

Bhutan didn’t have roads until the 1960s, only has 2.5km of dual carriageway, and does not have a single set of traffic lights (apart from a short-lived experiment, which confused all and sundry). Instead, the major traffic junctions in the capital have “dancing” Policemen in Jacko gloves!

Dancing Policemen, Bhutan’s nearest thing to traffic lights, Thimpu

Here’s the Dzong (=Fortress), now an administrative centre.

Thimpu Dzong (fortress), Bhutan

The largest book in the world, 2.13 metres wide, is in the National Library. I had to ask Abhi, our Nepalese tour leader (who’s about 5 foot 10) to pose next to it to get a true sense of scale.

Allegedly the biggest book in the world, Bhutan

They also have Steve McManaman, circa I think World Cup France 98, on stamps. I have no idea why!

Steve McManaman stamps, Bhutan

 

DAY 38: was mainly filled with a hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, which clings to the side of a rocky hill.

Looking up towards Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan

It was a very steep climb to the top, about 3,200m above sea level, but the views both of the monastery and the Paro valley floor are worth it.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan

In the morning, I fly to Delhi.

Day 36: thinkin’ in Thimpu

Okay, so today is the day of the General Election back home, and I’m actually (for the first time) feeling a bit homesick. Not because I’m missing anybody or anything, purely because the political situation seems interesting enough that I would like to observe.

Anyways…since the last post I’ve been having a wander through the lovely, beautiful and happy place that is Bhutan (and there aren’t an awful lot of internet connections, so I’ve not been able to tell you about it on my way).

Day 33 and 34:

We left Paro (the airport town) to drive through Thimpu (the capital), and then onwards to Punakha, the former capital city.

After lunch, and checking into our hotel, we visited a couple of monasteries and the spectacular c17th fortrees (Dzong) in Punakha, which looked beautiful amongst the Jacaranda trees along the river.

Jacaranda trees, Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Many houses and businesses in the Punakha valley feature phallic symbols painted on the walls, as a fertility ritual.

Phallic fertility symbols, Punakha valley, Bhutan

This was started “The Divine Madman” (well, a self-styled reincarnation of the c.15th Bhutanese legend)  (I found a book on the legend in Thimpu, now in my rucksack).

I’ve also met “The Divine Madman” (well, a self-styled reincarnation of the c.15th Bhutanese legend) in our host “Uncle” at Hotel YT in Punakha. It was obviously easier for me to get a job behind the bar….

“Uncle YT”, and my temporary Bhutanese bar job

Note the spirit called ‘White Mischief’ (front right). It sure was…also, it was one of our travel group’s Birthday, so “dinner” took more of a cake-and-alcohol turn:

Dinner of Bhutanese beer, 25-year-old whiskey and arrack!

The next day, we (groggily!) hiked up to Khasum Yulley Namgyal Chorten high on a hill beyond Punakha. And some of us (well, me) hiked up even further to the Queen Mother of Bhutan’s Summer House. Absolutely zero security, too. It’s the happy place, remember…

Khasum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, Bhutan

We also had a potentially ill-advised go at the national sport of Archery (suprisingly, no-one got killed!) and a beautiful riverside picnic, then visited Punakha Dzong properly. I made some sound recordings of the ceremonial brass horns inside the main temple, but sharing them with you would involve me working out how to upload them. Another day…

Day 35:

The day started with the short drive to Wangdue Phodrang, and a visit to the monastery. It’s amazing how young children are sent to monastery school, and mostly because their parents can’t afford to feed and clothe them. This lad was only just six, and I just wanted to scoop him up and give him a massive hug;

Trainee monk, Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan

Wangdue Phodrang town itself is perched on a hilltop, almost above the clouds. The sights and vibrant colours of the market were stunning:

Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan

Driving onwards to Gangtey (via a tea-stop amusingly called ‘Nob-ding’!), we had chance encounter with the recently (2 weeks ago, and on a tour around Bhutan) deceased body of the latest re-incarnation of Guru Rinpoche and his funeral cortege and celebrations.

Monks and mourners outside the memorial service, Gangtey, Bhutan

The evening was spent at a homestay in the Gangtey Valley, where I was lucky enough to sleep in the family’s prayer room. Really quite something, and clearly not going to happen again in a hurry. These experiences are why I love to travel.

Day 36:

Now we’re back west, in the capital city of Thimpu. We’re halfway through our 2 days here to see the capital and it’s Dzong, parliament, markets…more to come tomorrow.

One of my favourite photos from the market was this kid happily playing with cardboard, whilst his mother sold vegetables:

Bhutanese kid-in-a-box, Thimpu market

Earlier I had time to buy some of the lovely Bhutanese national dress as a souvenir:

Okay the half-kira isn’t tied too well, but you should get the gist (and a laugh)…!

Two and a bit days before I leave Bhutan, a week before I’m back in London. This isn’t right, right…?!

And, as a closing gambit, I have mostly been listening to Elbow’s ‘The Seldom-Seen Kid’ (particularly ‘One Day Like This’) and Frank Turner’s ‘Love, Ire And Song’. So many times that I suspect that those albums will always be synonymous with this trip. This is not a bad thing.