Kemcho at Prayer wheel in Trongza
This morning we drove out of the Bumthang Valley and headed back towards Trongsa and on to Phobjikha, the home of the endangered black cranes (who are currently residing in their Summer Home, Tibet…)
Kemcho was very quiet and a bit on edge this morning (although he has seemed a bit different lately, we are not sure if he is pissed off about something or just tired of shuttling around tourists…)
After the inevitable long, winding drive through the hills and valleys (sometimes I swear you can be driving and look across the valley and see the road not more than a mile or two away and then an hour later you are driving where you were previously looking) we made it to the Trongsa Dzong for a visit.
It is a very large and old Dzong with a narrow courtyard and some very regal looking roosters. I probably should have mentioned before, but Kemcho and Tashi, like most Bhutanese, are very spiritual, formal and religious when visiting the monasteries and Dzong’s and always chant mantras and doven with their heads to the floor or statues and donate at every temple. It is so different from the “once a week” religion so often practiced in America and kind of refreshing.
Cindy at Trongsa Dzong
After Trongsa, we drove to the same “Fly Lunch Place” where we met the Aussies on the way out to Bumthang. The great-great-grandchildren of last week’s flies were busy dive bombing our tea and lunch again. The most amusing part of lunch is shown in the shot of the tin roof of the restaurant, covered in air-dried beef with one of the employees sleeping on the right side of the picture to scare away the drooling crows in the foreground (there were a bunch more but they temporarily flew off when we approached to take the picture).
Rooster at Trongsa Dzong
We walked down the road a bit to see the Chendbji Chorten, an eighteenth century Stupa based on a similar temple called Swayambunath in Kathmandu, Nepal (of which we have a picture adorning our mantle at home for those of you locals). It was built by a Tibetan Lama to cover the remains of an evil spirit killed on this spot. Buddha eyes are always cool and photogenic so we had to restrain ourselves and only upload the one shot here but, if you are so inclined, ask to see the others when visiting Newport…
From Trongsa, it was a slow, circuitous drive over another pass into Phobjikha where there is a Black Crane Observatory and a beautiful, remote and virtually uninhabited valley. The Black Crane’s are an endangered species with less than a thousand individuals left in the wild.
They spend the winters in several locations in Bhutan and the summers in Tibet. Unfortunately for us, they were not currently here (although strangely enough, later on a drive back to Thimphu, we saw a baby Crane, probably not black, who was either lost or abandoned hanging out with several cattle trying to breast feed - quite bizarre.) Kemcho was quiet the whole drive and things were a bit uncomfortable. He had mentioned however that the Phobjikha Hotel was his favorite hotel in Bhutan. It ended up being a really nice location and was probably the best place we stayed in all of Bhutan. The valley is extremely environmentally conscious for the cranes and there is no electricity other than solar and occasional generator, with electricity only available after 6:00pm and lights out at 9:30.
The golden thing on top of all the Dzongs that we forgot to ask the name of...
As you can see from the picture of the room, it is really quaint and comfy and has an in-room pot-belly stove for warmth. We wish we could have stayed here longer. In honor of Milt, before dinner we had “just a touch of Coronation Whiskey”.
After a couple of days of very little interaction with Kemcho, he ended up talking to us non-stop for several hours once we arrived, telling tales of boarding school, Bhutanese politics and just about every subject under the sun. We weren’t sure what inspired him to return to his friendly side but it was quite welcome. At dinner, we ended up talking to a young photographer originally from New York but currently residing in Istanbul, Turkey named Lynsey Addario. She has been covering the Middle East and Africa including Darfour, Iraq and Iran as an independent photographer, mostly for the NY Times.
Apparently, the National Geographic has wanted to hire her for several jobs for a while but things have never worked out until now. They sent her to Bhutan for a month and she goes back soon to see if they like her shots. If they do, she will come back for another month and the shoot should be published next June. As soon as we have a reasonable internet connection, we will check out her website at www.lynseyaddario.com but feel free to look in the meantime. She was really nice and funny and the first American (albeit living in Turkey) that we have seen in a while. When we were walking back to our room, there was a strange looking laptop thing sitting out in the open air hall. It ended up being her satellite laptop which she uses to upload her photos from all over the world. She said we could check email or whatever if we wanted to but, having been drinking with Kemcho, declined.
The Fly Lunch Place guy protecting drying beef from drooling attack crows...
We ended up talking with her for quite a while and the subject of guides and their sensitivity came up. She told us that she had finally had to sit her guide down and have a heart to heart with him because he clammed up for several days when she inadvertently chastised/criticized/pissed him off. This helped explain why perhaps Kemcho has been so quiet.
Buddha Eyes at Chendbji Chorten
When we got back to our room, the fire in the pot-belly stove was glowing and there were hot water bottles under the covers at the foot of our beds to make for a toasty night’s sleep.
Tomorrow we sadly head back over the pass into Western Bhutan and Thimphu for the end of our Bhutanese travels.