Larry getting "Steam Treatement" at traditional Bhutanese Medical Clinic for his aging, post trek knees....
Well when we arrived last night, we had a buffet dinner at the hotel and decided to sample some of the local suds, trying Druk Premium Lager (not bad for a lager and Cindy liked it) and Red Panda (which was somewhat of a wheat beer, Heffeweisen and too [take that Barb!] sweet). Based on how expensive things are in Bhutan (handicrafts are very expensive here), we were afraid that beer might not be in the budget (God forbid!) but were pleasantly surprised when it ended up being even cheaper than India J. Actually, the good thing about Bhutan is, since we already pre-paid for the entire trip including accommodation, travel and lodging, it feels like we aren’t spending anything so we have plenty for beer and other necessities!
Well today was "sightseeing in Thimphu" day which was somewhat a hit or miss affair with highlights below.
First stop was the zoo, really a small sanctuary for the national animal called the Takin which is a kind of bizarre looking animal that has the body of a cow and the head of a goat. It was a nice, cool drive up into the hills and I kind of like the shot of the Takin here.
Traffic Cop in Thimphu
After that, it was off to a traditional hospital where we thought we were going to learn a bit about traditional Tibetan medicine, herbs, etc. Kemcho had a better idea! Why don’t we have my achy old knees looked at? The next thing you know, we are cutting in front of all the locals (Kemcho explaining that "we have lots of sightseeing to do today" and us feeling like retards) and I get examined by a nice Bhutanese lady in a lab coat. She asks Kemcho questions, he translates and then re-translates my responses and she prescribes some holistic medicine and "Steam Treatment". We walk to another building and once again, Kemcho doesn’t want us to wait and manages to convince them to move us up.
At one point, he opened one door and the Queen Grandmother is having a treatment. Thankfully, he didn’t try to cut in front of her! When she walked out, everyone bowed there heads, including Cindy who occasionally peaked and accidentally made eye contact with her. As you can see from my stellar picture, I basically sat there for 15 minutes with a pressure cooker filled with water and herbs under the counter steaming away through a drippy, rubber tube stuck through a 2x4 with holes in it. Meanwhile, Kemcho went to get my medicines which ended up being three little bags of 21 pills, reddish brown rabbit pellets for the morning, dark "deer shit" (this is what Kemcho called them…) pellets for the afternoon and some herbal caplets full of unknown, brownish powder for night.
Plum's Cafe in Thimphu - probably not related to Plums in Costa Mesa, CA
Next it was off to a local artist school where art is broken into thirteen different disciplines. Mostly it was kids running around and gardening but we saw some nice sculpture, painting and weavings.
We stopped at a local shop that sold really nice but really expensive things. Several people had warned us that handicrafts were really expensive there compared to Nepal or India. We saw the national library that actually has tons of really cool old "books" that are actually housed in skinny, long wooden frames ornately wrapped in silk and written in Bhutanese script which is really pretty (and of course completely incomprehensible). I asked Kemcho if he can read and write that and he said of course. In addition he speaks English, Hindi, Bengali, Japanese, all the regional Bhutanese languages and can read Sanskrit (talk about making us feel stupid!). He has been a guide since 1994 and has three cute little boys. Apparently his wife runs the best beauty salon in Thimphu (all of the Queens get their hair coiffed there) so perhaps when we head back to Thimphu I will see what she can do for me.
Takin in Thimphu
Old Man praying in Thimphu
It ends up that Tashi our driver is actually Kencho’s (owner of Snow White Tours) younger brother and we think he is just filling in because of it being busy. He is 24 and loves all the same music as I do and has been playing Staind, Audioslave, Guns and Roses and Metallica since we arrived.
After the Library we visited the "Folk Heritage Museum" which is a restored old nineteenth century wood and mud Bhutanese house. It is set up as a traditional house complete with hand hewn ladders going up each floor, animal quarters, kitchen, gardens, etc. and was pretty interesting (again no pix). Next was a visit to the textile museum where we first watched a 20 minute video that was interesting but had my eyes drooping (perhaps it was the steam?) followed by lots of examples of weavings and traditional clothes.
The last stop before lunch was at the post office to look at stamps. The Bhutanese are very into their stamps and have a pretty cool collection of everything from Bhutanese Dancers to bugs to sporting events.
Thimphu Dzong Courtyard
Well all that sightseeing worked up an appetite, so we went to a local restaurant humorously enough called Plum's Café in downtown Thimphu. There is a Plum’s Café in Costa Mesa, five minutes from our house that we eat at sometimes. I am going to have to teach them how to make the tasty and spicy Ema Datsi chili dish. The food was actually pretty good.
After lunch it was a visit to a Paper Factory where they make nice looking hand made paper from tree bark pulp.
At least at this place, we sort of got a demonstration of how the paper is made which was kind of interesting. Next was a Jewelry factory where everybody was gone (although I did find wild marijuana growing out front - perhaps that was why no one was working.)
Monks at Thimphu Dzong
We dropped by the Memorial Chorten for the third King of Bhutan which was being renovated but had the interesting old man walking around the building praying. There is something magic about the number 108 and the rosaries that they carry have 108 beads and, if they are really devoted, they walk around the building 108 times. I don’t have the patience…
Apparently you can’t go to the main Dzong in Thimphu until after 5:00 pm because the King or Prince might still be working so we took a break and visited the local Youth Center where there was a job fair going on.
Having been unemployed for just about a year now (six for Cindy), I thought I would check out the big board and see if there was anything I could do here. Luckily for me, I was either under-qualified, to old or both ;-)
Monks at Thimphu Dzong
We went to Tashichho Dzong the "Fortress of the Glorious Religion" built in 1641 which houses the main governmental and monk bodies. It is being renovated for the celebrations in 2008 as well but is a large, imposing building. We like watching the monks wander around the grounds. The King neglected to come say hello to us so we headed back to the hotel for a break before dinner.
Kemcho and Tashi took us to what appeared to be a fancy, local restaurant called the Tibetan Kitchen. First things first, Kemcho wanted us to try Ara which is a Bhutanese drink brewed from wheat that tastes somewhat like Sake. The food was good and the atmosphere was great. Afterwards, we retired back to the Pedling Hotel which seems to peddle in both obnoxious barking dogs (last night they barked incessantly until midnight and tonight they started even later) and terribly uncomfortable twin beds. With what you have to pay to visit Bhutan, you would hope that the hotels would be nice with clean bathrooms and comfy beds but, at least so far, no such luck. We would kill for a "Lilton" at this point!