Welcome to the Common Sense and Whiskey Companion:
Here are some photos from Common Sense and Whiskey, chapter 4, Bhutan. Our visit was in June, 1997.
You can buy professional prints of most of these photos in the Bhutan Gallery.
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Or, go back to Chapter 3: Papua New Guinea, or on to Chapter 5: The Trans-Siberian Railroad
Thimpu, the capital of the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan, from across the Wang Chhu, or Thimpu River.
Hanging around at the soccer match with these monks down at the Thimpu stadium. You could hear the stadium cheer from every corner of Thimpu.
Paddies run right up to the edge of the Royal compound outside Thimpu, Bhutan.
Monks at he Queens’ personal monastery, on a bluff over Thimpu town, Thimpu, Bhutan.
As we walked in, a young woman threw dice onto a plate held by a monk. Phruba observed for a while.
“That girl has exams starting tomorrow. She is seeing if she will do well.”
Up the hill, past the embassies of Bangladesh and Denmark and the Little Dragon Montessori School, was a sanctuary for the mysterious cross between the sheep and yak - not the shack - the Golden Takin.
Indigenous Art School, Thimpu, Bhutan. Trying to keep traditional ways alive, the government brings children who show talent here from all over the country to learn to draw the traditional religious thangkas, or paintings, and to learn carving and sculpting.
We stopped methodically at year 1 year 2 year 3 year 4 year 5 and so on up to eight. Smiling boys in robes at dusty wood benches.
They worked in natural light.
Weighing skinned chickens and fish at the Phuntsho Meat Shop, Thimpu.
Neither tumultuous, chaotic nor edgy, the polite weekend market sold no disgusting pounded meats or goats’ heads or bowls full of crawling bugs. Everybody wore their traditional clothes and chewed betel.
Boy and scales at the weekly produce market.
One guy sat sorting fat green chillies. He’d pause and turn, spit betel juice in his right hand, shake it behind him, and dig right back into the chillies.
A factory for handmade things. Only in Bhutan.
Twenty or thirty people mashed the bark into pulp. They wet it, dried it, rolled it, spread it, and eventually produced coarse papers, some embedded with leaves or rose petals.
Rolling out of town on our way upcountry, we stopped for this nice view, through prayer flags, above Thimpu.
At an immigration checkpoint, here's a prayer wheel turned by water power. This is terribly auspicious for the guy who built it because the more you turn a prayer wheel the better. He’s set for life, or at least the life of the stream.
After a long drive, a stop in Wangdi Phodrang, Bhutan’s main military town. Indian troops train the Bhutanese army. A sign reads, “Join the Army and Serve the Nation.”
Wangdi was lined with ramshackle Indian-style trading stalls that Barbara Crossette (in her book So Close to Heaven
) kindly observed, “defy all attempts to define them as quaint.”
Stupa outside a village called Rukubji.
We stopped to visit with some local folks.
The Trongsa dzong is the heart of the nation. All kings do a stint here as governor before accession to the throne.
Up the muddy path, then up the nearly vertical monastic ladder steps, seven monks were just preparing to conduct a ceremony for the living, the dying and the dead, complete with horns, bells and drum.
They said we could stay and served yak butter tea. They chanted endless passages from memory, the natural afternoon light flooding through the windows, and made music until far after we had climbed back down the hill.
Our encounter with the Pele Pass.
Slapping sticks of dynamite on the rock, holding it in place with mud. Phruba, Mirja and I scurried back. Jigme rolled the van back around the corner to a place with no rocks above it. The blast rocked down and back up the valley and rocked us in our chests. It shook smaller pines out of the ground and sent them skittering down the hill in a hundred places. It cracked the rock.
Forty five minutes later a call went out. They’d pried and stacked enough of the boulder away that we could just squeeze though, barely.
This is the Punakha Dzong, where the guards, one of them with a fifteen inch dagger on the end of his rifle, were just boys. I asked Phruba what kind of guards they were. “Royal Bhutan Police,” he exclaimed. “Most of them are over fifteen years old.”
Inside the Punakha Dzong.
Punakha sits at the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers.
Bridge across the Mo, which coursed full-speed not two meters below your feet. It was at its highest just now, during the monsoon.
Phruba grinned. “This river also flows to the Brahmaputra. It is our water that floods Bangladesh.”
On the way back to Thimpu, a dart match in the mud, the local team in a tight match with the bad guys in the village of Thinlet Gang.
The cheering section was just a wee bit damp.
The archery finals had the whole town turned out. They pitted Druk Air versus the Agriculture Ministry, these two teams winnowed from the original eight. Rain couldn’t dampen spirits, but not a gho on the grounds smelled fresh.
Pageantry at the archery finals.
Along the hike uo to Tiger's Nest.
Phruba and Mirja on the way to the Tiger's Nest.
This lookout point was the terminus for all but pilgrims and monks.