zaterdag 31 oktober 2009

Back in belgium...

Some recomforting words from Belgium to the bhutanese friends, and a final blog post of the best weeks of our stay in Bhutan.

This should be the end of my adventures in Bhutan (for now) though I am planning to contact the 'orde van Architecten' in Belgium in order to get an official internship status with the Bhutan project. IF I get this done, I will be back soon :-)

The last weeks in Bhutan were intense, we had little time to write blogs,...

3 main things kept us busy. First of all, our project with a deadline on the 21th of October, Deusuray the Hindi, Nepali festival we are preparing and our long discusses trip to Phadjoding and Sikota.

It took us weeks to decide to go for this walk. And it took us even longer to fix a guide to come with us. Everyone seemed to be pleased to help with friends, brothers, uncles,... but tourist season made it almost impossible to find anyone to come with us. Going alone is one option. Visiting a former friend of Marc Dujardin was another option. Dago Binda, an old friend of Marc, who always worked in the tourist business, and who is now running the biggest tourist company in Bhutan (Etho Metho) is our last hope.

We visit her, she pics up the phone, calls some friends,... 15 minutes later we are standing face to face with Pendin. A small Bhutanese cook, ready to guide us in the Himalaya. He will carry the pots and pans, we have to find some food (Durga...) and ‘mama’ will help us with a super professional tent and some mats.

except that the mats seemed to good, to warm and to big, so we left them at Durga’s.... (Bad idea...)

Saturday morning, Pendin, Maarten and I are dropped at the BBS-tower, just outside Thimphu, to start our trip. The bags are heavier than I taught, specially because of the climb we have to make to reach the first viewpoint. After 4 hours, an exhausting walk, great views,... we finally reach Phadjoding. The monastery at 3400m. A beautiful spot, and a sudden cold is facing us. We meet some world bank trekkers, even less equipped than us, with the goal to go to the lake and back.... we have our doubts. We decide to go a little higher since we have some more energy, and the walk ahead is still long. We stop for lunch at an old house, were we meet a meditating monk. He was living here since 11 years, and Pendin was a regular visiter of his house. Roshan and the gang told us that after Phadjoding we had one hour to walk until we reached the lake. Full of energy and hope I pull myself together and start walking. Pendin suddenly killed my good mood by saying that the lake was on a 5 hours walk from this point. We were now heading the peak of 4300m, followed by some ups and downs, to reach the lake by dawn. I needed some Kit-Kats to handle this good news...

But we make it to the peak. And yes, now we know why they wear those ugly ‘thermic underwear...’ it dries fast!!!! But, the road behind us was amazing, and the road ahead was even better. Walking in the Himalaya is hard, but it is certainly worth it!!!!

The landscape in front of us was filled with old Rhododendrons, sadly not full of colors.

At 5 o’clock, just before dawn we reach the lake. The lake not blue like I imagined, but black looks a bit scary. We will not sleep next to the lake, but just above it. Evil spirits could... Pendin will make us some fire for the tea, we get some wood and fix our tent. The tent looks great, but the tent with mats would look even better! It is cold, freezing cold. Pendin is already cooking some datsee, and one thing we miss is a good glass of warming alcohol... while looking at the stars around the fire... It is only when we go for a sleep that we feel the hight, the cold and the freezing ground! I hear Maarten is having some problems breathing, but I envy him because he is sleeping! My favorite position (on my trekking-bag) is found at around 1 o’clock, but sleeping won’t be for tonight... When I open the tent at 5 o’clock in the morning i figure out why... The tent is white, everything around us is white. It has been freezing all night long! So keep it in mind, don’t go for a trekking in the Himalaya wit a sleeping bag for +8°, without mats!!

Luckily we have Pendin who is already making tea. The view around makes me happy and I feel ‘ready’ to walk up and own again... :-)

I take my camera for some fast clicks around the lake, and again it amazes how beautiful the view is. Those mountains around seem so close, almost reachable. I feel on the top of the world! and I am on the top of the world! I hope this won’t be my last trip in the Himalaya!

The walk back home is hard again. Even if we don’t have to climb as much, I feel empty. No energy, and no air because of the altitude is killing me.

I hang my prayer flags (for you all) around a small lake. I hope they will send some good words in the world. Again we have a short stop at the monk's place for some noodles and tea. And we finish our trip with a quick visit to the 3 temples of Phadjoding. (Dit kloostercomplex is door UNESCO opgenomen in de lijst van meest bedreigde religieuze monumenten ter wereld.)

Back home we have only one wish ‘a steam bath at the Taj Hotel’, and yes, it feels great!

But, no time to lose, Dewali is waiting.

Deusuray or Dewali is a significant 5-day festival in Hinduism, occurring between the end of September and early November. Together with Ujjwal, Roshan, Kapil, Om, Ashis, Mama, the bangladeshi guys,... We are preparing the biggest intercultural singing group of Bhutan since one week. We meet at Ujjwal’s place, for some K5 and cute hats at jackets. We all look great and ready for some singing!

It is traditional for adherents of Diwali to light small clay lamps filled with oil to signify good over evil within an individual. During Diwali, many wear new clothes and share sweets/snacks with each other.

In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana (the Demon Kin, and also the demons KING) - the ruler of Lanka in the epic story of Ramayana.

Normally Sunday is a boy’s night only, for Kala and me they did an exception :-). Ujjwal, the star singer of our group took care of the Deusi-song. We (Maarten and I) took care of the fist song and all together we did 3 more songs. In a Deusi song you can write about anything, as long as each line ends with the word `Deusi' or `Deosuray'. So after every line of Ujjwal, we all sang Deosuray. That way we went door to door in 6 houses, from home to home, blessing the homes and families in return for money, and refreshments ;-). And yes we became better and better... I wonder why... At 5 o’clock in the morning, after a tiring trek and no sleep, we both crash into our beds. What a weekend!!

I can say, THE BEST WEEKEND! Thank you all guys!

The week that will follow is called the ‘uitwerkweek’ known in Belgium as the ‘non-stop-working-week’ which it was (except for the evenings...) My project is almost finished. Maarten’s also. On Wednesday we have the big presentation day, on Friday we leave Bhutan, on Saturday we are back in Belgium.

What a months! I certainly enjoyed it, I learned a lot, I fell in love with Bhutan. Don’t worry guys, I will be back!

xx kisses from Belgium

horses for tourists on the trek

view on Thimphu

Me... on the top of the world

older picture on the trek wit Roshan and Maarten

Maarten and Pendin

Wow views...



Wow view n°350

Frozen tent

demon lake

Dewali friends!!!

woensdag 14 oktober 2009

after many days...

Weeks are going so fast! There are 10 days left for us in Bhutan, ans so much more to do!

Last week we had a couple of nice evenings at Sonam's, and at Durga's with Roshan, Wajui,...
We also had a goodbuydinner with Dumber and his friends... in a not so cozy restaurant/hotel :-)
They are leaving for Phuentsholing (southern Bhutan) for a 2 weeks 3d max training. Zeg nu nog dat ze hier achter staan :-)

This week we had a second meeting with Adikari. We tell him how much it will cost to stay, he tells us what to do for the next 3 weeks. And it is a lot! The project should be finished for the 23th of october. It means plans, sections, details, facade, materials, landscape...
I had some difficulties to find my way through all those ornament (nowadays made in concrete). I proposed them to go back in time and build in mud again. They all seemed to find it a good idea, but who will help me with those details?!

A Bhutanese working day is a strange thing. The term work is not yet defined, so you can define it as you like. This is also what they do in the government offices. Everyone arrives in the office at 9-10, around 11 they may go to 'the bank' which actually means 'shopping'! At around 12 we order our first Samossa, and later maybe a second. Tea break at 12.30, lunch at 13 until 14.30. When they all come in the office they ask us what we had for lunch, if people were nice, if the service was good?
Between 15 and 16 we have a working hour :-) and finally we conclude with a cup of tea, some talking about the dinner of tonight and at 17 everyone goes home.
Between all this we try do some real work like every good working Belgian citizen. And my project is rising!

On Thursday we also went to 'the bank' but on an official visit. The ministry was invited by the Royal Institute of management for a lecture about Buddhism and happiness. Renate Ogilvie from the World Happiness Forum in Australia, a women with an impressive curriculum. Strange touch that she came talking about wearing condoms and not taking drugs... (would the director have something to do with this?) Apart from this she did a great talk about many different subjects, all related to Buddhism, Bhutan, New Bhutan an Happiness.

Our one before last weekend...

We planned to go for a trek on satherday and sunday but Roshan changed our mind. On friday evening we could fine the usual Tashi-cell group at Durga's ( Tashi-cell, the second cellphone company in Bhutan... ) The found back a schoolfriend from India after 7 years. The were as happy as a group of little kids with a new toy. After 'enough' drinks we decide to mix cultures in the club 34, the famous club next to the OM bar. The Indian guy teaches us his Panjabi dance, we try to dance on the local Bhutanese music. We have fun until 2, maybe better that we decided not to go for the trekking. 'Mama', one of the friends promises us a tent and some other goodies for the trek that we now have moved to next weekend (our last weekend).

Now that we don't have to go for trekking, we need to find some gifts to bring home. We go to the handicrafts market, the local market, and another market not far from Simthokah. On our way back Durga's little car has a flat tire. Which we changed in exactly 10 minutes. In the afternoon we decide to go and see the huge Buddha, who is watching over Thimphu. The Buddha is an ambitious Chinese project, they want to have the biggest Buddha in the world. We have a 2 hours walk, with a GREAT shortcut (climbing on hands and feet, surrounded by garbage) :-)
And finally we arrive at the famous forbidden site. Except that we are undisciplined Belgians and that we do not care about the rules. We go in, take pictures of the Buddha, the building, and the future face of the Buddha. Suddenly a monk comes towards us, presenting us some candy. The candy brings us to the designer of the Buddha, 'his majesty Tsering Wangdi Rinpoche'. He explained us his ambitious project, we listened, took some pictures and hurried down before dark.
Bhutan has a great climate in september october, but now that we are reaching the last weeks it starts to get cold at night. Going up was no problem, but going down I was freezing! Suddenly a big car stopped in front of us, the Rinpoche proposed us a lift to Wine n Dine. No way that I would refuse this!

Finally Roshan proposed us an alternative for our trek. He would take us on sunday to a mountain just above Thimphu. A climb of approximately 1500m.
We have an appointment at around 8.30, we finally meet up at 11. While waiting for the sleeping Roshan we went to the memorialshorten to see the Dungste Rinpoche, who actually didn't arrive yet. People were singing, waiting, walking around the shorten and offering all kind of foods. Outside, people were fighting to get in for some blessing. Imagine people fighting to get in the church :-)
People get crazy, close there shops, dress up, and wait hours in the burning sun, just to meet the great Rinpoche.

At 11, we finally get a call from Roshan, waiting for us at Durga's (probably with a terrible headache). A Taxi brings us to the foot of the mountain, and we start a great but exhausting trip to the top of the mountain (3600m). During our trek we can still here people praying and making music for the Rinpoche. After 3h30, we reach the pick nick spot. A great place, with a fabulous view on Thimphu. It was worth it! We try to take some picture of the three of us, without any positive result :-), and continue our trek. This time we face the way down. Often more difficult than the way up... Wajui is waiting for us down the mountain, and brings us home for a short fresh up. (one hour in Bhutanese time :-) )
We are invited for the next sunday's festival called Deushi. Kind of 'driekoningen zingen' in Belgium. In the evening we get a guitar, some food, some drinks and we rehearse for next weekend. Many rehearsals will follow this week :-)

donderdag 8 oktober 2009

traveling in Asia!

We are so lucky we postponed our stay in Bhutan!!
We had the worst trip ever to come to Bhutan. Leaving yesterday would have made it the worst trip ever to Belgium!!
The weather here for the moment is the worst they have ever seen. Rain is falling, falling, falling!
Streets are closed, rural area's suffer of mudflows,...
And on top of all this: DRUKAIR IS NOT FLYING!!!
So Axel, don't be sad, I wouldn't have been home today... :-)

maandag 5 oktober 2009


This weekend was the lazy weekend.
As I mentioned before, the ministry asked us to extend our stay in Bhutan. I thought about it and realized that I had no obligations in Belgium for the moment. I have the opportunity to build my first building in Bhutan, why wouldn't I do it? So both of us took the decision to stay until the 23th of october, which is actually only 2 weeks more. But it makes a 2 month Bhutan, and enough time to finish the plans, section, elevations, detail,... the ask us to make.

Because of this decision we had to go for some shopping. Imagine being in a country for two months with 5 T-shirts, 2 pairs of shoes (waarvan 1 paar trekboots), one jeans, one skirt, 2 dresses and some trekking clothes. The hell! I bought a T-shirt and a pair of high heels. Finding high heels for a size 41 in a country like Bhutan is difficult!! I found 40, and will squeeze my feet :-)
Next shopping day: a second jeans, an other T-shirt,...

Friday evening we went to the famous OM-bar. We figured that now we stay until the 23th of October we should meet some people, and finally fix an audience with the King! In the OM-bar with Sonam and her friend we meet the by us well know figure; the son of the Kings younger sister.
Maybe our key to the palace :-) (en socializen maar!!!)

Satherday evening was defined by myself as dry-day, by Dumber as drinking-day! I had to fight to keep my glass empty during our diner. We finally didn't made it to our bed before 2. :-)
We love the weekends!!

On sunday, we taught to go and meditate for some hours. We went to the oldest Dzong of Bhutan, The Simtokha Dzong. The palace of the profound meaning of secret mantras. The monastery founded in 1629 by the first Zhabdrung and founder of Bhutan. The Dzong became the first Dzong with administrative facilities combined with the monastic body.

finally the trip to Bumthang

Leaving from Thimphu at 7o clock was the aim. Bumthang was the goal!
The evening before leaving we organized a last dinner with Campbell, our Australian friend leaving on saturday, back to his home town. We will miss him and our civilized conversations!

6.30, the time I wanted to wake up, Mr Tsirring was already standing in front of my door. The trip would be a trip of 300km, in Bhutanese norms, at least 8 hours driving.

Our first stop, dochu la which sadly enough was clouded, but not less beautiful. We continue towards Rukubji, THE city of Marc Dujardin. He lived here for two weeks, but analyzed the village during some time. A nice little traditional village, with some great houses. And dough even here sadly enough they start building in concrete. The easy way out!
The former town chief and friend of Marc invited us in his house. The house with the typical, way to steep stair, small dark little rooms and of course the altar with the pictures of the whole family.

the view on the way to Rukubji


We continue to Trongsa, to eat some spicy food, and head towards Yotong la (3425m), the second viewpoint of our trip. And again, bad luck, clouds everywhere. But Tsirring is still happy, is still in love with the King, and sings 'hey there delayla'!
The story about the king is amazing! I tried to record it, and hope to find a way to post it here because the theories are great! You have to know that they have a democracy since 2 years, and so the whole country had to vote. That rural people don't know that the world is round, that in Bhutan 95% of the people have at least 8 pictures of the King in their living room, and finally, that the Kings color is Yellow.
Knowing this the only possible winning party was of course the yellow one. This is the reason why they prohibited the parties to use a color. :-) These people are lovely!!

12 hours later, in Jakar, our final destination we reach our LODGE! A big mansion with 20 rooms, all empty, just for us! I chose a room, the guys chose a room for there conquests. 8 o clock, we go out for a drink and some karaoke, some pool, another drink and again some karaoke. I thought I was a bad singer, maybe here I found my calling.

Next morning, without a headache, but with some stomach ache (probably a reaction on all the spicy food we ate in the past weeks), we visit the Burning lake, Pema Lingpa's swimming pool.
And Tamshing Goemba. (Temple of the good message) Personally the temple I liked the most in Bhutan. Old, peaceful, nicely decorated (original paintings),...

Bumthang is as well the city of Guru Rimpoche. Known as the Guru who captured the demon of the early king of Bumthang and converted it to Buddhism. He meditated in Bumthang, leaving an imprint of his body in the rock, now surrounded by the Kurjey Goemba. Guru Rimpoche from Nepal who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.
Tsirring has only one goal while visiting all the temples, getting blessed and bring some blessed water home, to bless his baby. Next to this temple, Tsirring finally found his holy water, at the source of Kurjey. People walk 20km to reach this source, while carrying liters of water... We drunk from it and were again blessed for some hours. :-)

Jampey Lhakhang an other great temple, has some great stories and off course was visited by Guru Rimpoche and possesses an imprint of his foot inside. Inside there are three steps representing the ages. On of the steps, representing the past age, descended in the ground already. The next step, representing the present age is at the same level as the floor. The top step represents the new age. Bhutanese people believe that when the second step sinks into the ground, the gods will become human and the world as it is now will end. Wars and other bad things would not be from this world anymore. The temple is also known for its late night ritual dances. On of these dances are the naked dances, one of the famous fertility rites. (don't ask :-) )

We return to our mansion, for some ritual drink called 11000. Tsirring, away from home since 2 days goes crazy!
Talks about woman, beer, his past as a womanizer,... We leave the mansion for some food, and off course some karaoke and pool. Belgium against Bhutan, Belgium wins the first round, the second round was lost.
The next day we have a quiet breakfast... We start our trip at 11 O clock. After some emergency stops along the road we reach Trongsa. We visit the Trongsa Dzong and the defense castle, transformed in a museum. Pele la, the mountain top, clouded on the way to Bumthang, was now as clear as possible. Far far away we can see the Jomalhari (7314m), the highest mountain of Bhutan, surrounded by other great mountains.
We finally reach Thimphu at 10 O clock in the evening.

Jomalhari in de verte

We now saw almost whole of Bhutan.

vrijdag 2 oktober 2009

some pictures of the Bumthang trip...

Finally, Rukubji!! In front of the Trongsa Dzong

Burning lake and the greatest monastery we saw!
Monk and Maarten...

Prayer wheel in Jakar
What alcohol can do...
Me-Tsirring-Maarten :-)
The day after... and also the reason why we drove 12h
... The tower: Only Bhutanese museum
Trongsa Dzong
On the way back to Thimphu...
Finally, when we came home we still had 3 days of holiday, during these days we visited the Thimphu-Drubchen, a festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche. People everywhere, tourist with big lenses all over the place,...
A great festival!!!!