Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The highlight of the trip

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:30 PM 0 comments

Finally the highlight of the trip. We stopped for an early lunch at a new hotel just outside Paro, right at the start of the trail to the Tatksang Monastery. The hotel was beautifully decorated in Bhutanese style. Of course. Fantastic veggies again. The chicken this time was curry. The garlic beans were gone in an instance. At the hotel, we lifted up our heads to admire the Monastery perched on the side of the hill, high up in front of us. It seemed so tiny and oh so far up. It reminded me of Meteora. Then we began our hours long hike up 900m to the Dzong, the Tiger's Nest. The first part of the hike wasnt too bad. It's steep but not long. It took me about an hour. At the halfway point, we stopped to rest at the teahouse and I had free lentil soup that was very salty, excellent to replenish the electrolyte. The view of the Dzong from here was really not close enough or as impressive as I've expected. I was a bit disappointed. From the online images I've seen I thought this area bigger with closer view of the Tiger's Nest. The next section was really steep but shorter it seemed, but still it only took me about 45 minutes. The view became better and better as we climbed higher and higher. Then came the 478 stairs down. At this point the view of the Dzong was stunning. We paused for photos. At the bottom of the stairs, more stairs led to the Dzong's entrance. Up we went. The terrace of the Dzong offered a sweeping breathtaking view of the Paro valley. I couldnt believe we've actually climbed all the way up. The Dzong consisted of 3 separate halls and the cave where Guru Rinpoche flew to on the back of a tiger. Nothing too impressiv inside. So why there was a guard at the entrance to make sure no one went in with a camera, and we had to leave our belongings at the lockers? Back down it took me about 1 hr. All the reviews I've read over estimated the time and the difficulty of this hike. Nonetheless it was a good thing I brought my hiking boots. I also bought a hiking stick in the shape of a phallus. Everyone made fun of my hiking stick. I gave it to L who wanted to take it home. I did carry-on only for this trip so I couldnt take the stick home anyway.

By the time we returned to Paro, it was already dark. On our way to the hike, we drove through the town of Paro and the buildings on the main street were very beautiful, Bhutanese style, and I had wanted to take photos of them. But now it was dark and we wanted to do some more shopping. We had some time to browse the shops and the Dzong was illuminated at night but my poor camera just couldnt get enough
light for a photo. Pity. We dined at a local restaurant, very small, at the heart of town. The chicken this time was boneless. Namgay and the driver Dam ate with us finally. They even ordered a spicy curry for themselves.

Thus ended the month of October and our visit to Bhutan. Good wholesome food, lousy breakfasts and hotels, but gorgeous unique architecture. Excellent hospitality, refreshing mountain air, beautiful unpolluted nature, friendly people. Fantastic country indeed. That last evening I watched the Bhutanese TV showing the young king and his various visits to different parts of the country. He showed a genuine concern for his people and land, and his unique idea of Growth National Happiness did seem to work, as hard as their lives might be, the people seemed happy and the country clean, unpolluted and unspoiled. The last Shangri-la indeed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thimphu

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:00 PM 0 comments

While in Thimphu, Sandy wreck havoc on the east coast. I saw it on CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera. Thinking of the Goose and tried to email him but the internet was not cooperating. Went down for breakfast around 7 but the girl at the restaurant said breakfast was at 7:30. Only gave me coffee. Really had to wait till past 7:30 for my toast and plain omelette. Times like these I really hoped for a McDonalds. But they only had KFC. No Starbucks or any other chains here. Yes, pristine and untainted, but sometimes a McDonalds could save the day.

Thimphu was big and sprawling as compared to the towns we've been. There's a big golden Buddha up on the hill that offered a nice view of the capital city, and the area was still under construction. The seat of the government was an enormous Dzong beautifully decorated. The young king lived in a modest house next to it. A 9 par golf course was right beside the Dzong. We visited a traditional handicraft shop with apprentices working their crafts. I bought a lot of stuff there. We went to the zoo to see the Takin, the Bhutanese national animal, body of a cow and head of a goat. Very ugly if you ask me. For dinner we went to the Bhutan Kitchen, a local restaurant, great truly Bhutanese food, which included crispy seaweed. Yummy. And accompanied by the melody of a Bhutanese harp. Best dinner we had yet. But didnt like Thimphu that much. Then again, I've never enjoyed capital cities.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

my first butter tea

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

I burned my toast this morning. Should have known not to tamper with the strange toaster. I'm tired of toast and plain omelette for breakfast every morning. The lunches and dinners were so good, whatever happened to breakfast?

Before the terrible long drive back to Thimphu, we visited a farm house today and I had my first butter tea. It was salty and buttery but I actually quite liked it. Like coca tea, the first few sips didnt quite agree with me, but after a few more sips, you'd begin to get addicted to it. The farm house of course was all for tourists. I didnt much care for it.

The drive to thimphu was long and tiring. We pretty much went back the same way we came. There was only 1 highway. The one lane highway. Lunch was at the Wangdue Phodrang village with the burned down monastery. Lunch was good and we discovered they had peach flavored lipton iced tea. I was so tired of sprite and coke and welcomed the iced tea wholeheartedly. The hotel Wangchuk in Thimphu was the worse hotel we had so far. My room had dirty smelly bathroom with dead flies. It was a top corner room with windows on 2 sides. However, the curtains had holes and they didnt sufficiently cover the window, so I felt like being in a fishbowl when the lights were on. But the room was pretty good size and it did have a view of the mountain. The ever incessant noise continued. There's an electric heater but it couldnt provide enough warmth. Had to pull extra duvets to keep warm. Dinner was poor at this hotel. There's a pork dish with more fat than meat. No tea was offered after the meal. The reception was always empty. The girls spent their time chatting at the bar and not attending the reception. There was free computer with internet but the connection was unreliable.

Before dinner we went out to walk the town. The main road was just behind the hotel. shops lined both side of the street. Lots of souvenir shops and a mall. E mentioned the Taj hotel, the biggest and grandest of the town. We went in to check the lobby. It was finely decorated but not big. The hotel had the shape of a dzong. Very pleasing to the eye. It was nice to finally be able to go for a walk and had something to do after dinner. Most of the shops were still open. I planned on doing all my souvenir shopping here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

phobjika

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Fear of the suicide shower came to nothing because in the morning, there was no water in the bathroom. So I resorted to shower next door at E's room.

No need to complain about this as we're leaving anyway. Long drive today to the town of black necked cranes, Phobjika, through high passes. Had tea and biscuits at a teahouse with immense glorious views of the Bhutanese Himalyas. The day was cold but crystal clear blue sky. Really loved that place. The hotel the Dewachen Resort was a gorgeous building, each room had a direct view of the mountains. We were offered lunch which was again the same thing but the green beans were outstandingly done. The rooms had a wood burning stove that needed to be fed every 20 minutes or so. Above it, a hot pot of water was boiling. Wood logs were pilled high just outside the room. The shower had a window with a view. The towels were snow white and fluffy. The sitting area with 2 sofas was comfy. Really enjoyed this room. We spotted a few cranes. They were short little things with red tops and black bills and heads. The Hippo was not much of a bird watching person so I wasnt as thrilled as the rest of the group. The highlight of the area (well, aside from the cranes that is) was the Gangtey Monastery, perched at the end of the small village. There was a festival that evening and they brought in rowdy horses to the monastery which scared half of us to death. Inside, the monks were chanting and playing the trumpets. We hiked back to our resort, a nice easy walk really, through the peaceful valley. We were preparing for the strenuous hike to the Tiger's Nest on the last day of the trip.

The late afternoon sun hit the fields making everything shine in golden colors, even the golden retriever lying on the field. The dinner buffet at this resort was subpar but nonetheless satisfying. Nothing else to do, I retired to my room to continue my reading of the sexy book. when asked what I was reading, V laughed out loud and from then on, they made fun of my reading this book, and said I returned to my room early every evening because of the book. I was quite enjoying the book to be honest. the writing was amateurish and childish but it did have a plot and for light travel reading, it was perfect. It's erotica, so it spiced up my travels. When I opened the bed covers and climbed in, the smell hit me. The bedsheet smelled of slept in. So I put on my jacket and ventured out to ask them to change the sheets. Everything was locked down. No lights in the hallways. No lights in the main building. A big padlock locked the front door. The sheets on the other bed was also smelly. So I had no choice but to sleep in sheets that smelled like armpits. It's really too bad because the room was wonderful and warm with the stove. And the first night with no noise. No dogs. No people talking. Absolute quiet. It could have been heaven if not for the smelly bedsheets. But of course there's no heaven.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My first Dzong

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:30 PM 0 comments

Breakfast again was a bowl of oatmeal and toast. We asked for eggs. This time we had a choice of fried, scrambled or omelette. And omelette came with a choice of mushroom, tomato or cheese. A slight improvement.

This morning we visited the local produce market. Chilis, tomatoes, fruits and green veggies everywhere. Some veggies I've never seen before. The guava scent caught my nose and I bought some. I've never had white guavas before. These tasted fantastic and the smell was heavenly. Next we visited our first Dzong. The Punakha Dzong, situated on the sandbank at the confluence of the Mochu and Pochu (mother and father) rivers, was the grandest of the Bhutanese monastic architecture. It contained a collection of tiered halls, inner courtyards and golden spires
and a big golden handsome buddha in the main temple. It absolutely completely blew the Hippo away. Too bad we werent allowed to take pictures of the inside of the monastery. The walls had images that depicted the life of Buddha. We lunched in the Punakha town in a local restaurant that had images of the Bhutanese young king and his bride. He's really handsome. His face showed compassion, modesty and serenity. She's gorgeous. Lunch again was chicken, chili and cheese and a variety of cooked veggies and a deep fried spinach that was heavenly savory. The town was small but filled with Bhutanese style buildings.

In the afternoon we hiked up to the Khamsum Yuley Chorten, a 3 tier monastery that had a top terrace that provided a spectacular view of the Mochu river valley below and distant hills and golden fields. This place was stunning in the afternoon sun. Peaceful serenity, good for the soul. Totally pristine. The last Shangri-la. The last untainted unspoiled place on earth. I think the Bhutanese government got it right. It mandated a required minimum spending per day and all visitors must have a local guide, thus no riff raffs, no cheap hikers to pollute the land. Contrast it to the dump of Kathmandu, Bhutan remained unadulterated.

Back at the hotel resort for dinner, the same old food again, ever so tasty, ever so wholesome and satisfying. There's a greek guy traveling on his own with his own computer to blog his wanderings. A gorgeous lonesome fellow and very very polite and quite friendly. The girls in my group, talked and wondered about him, all too shy and reserved, so the Hippo went over to chat him up. He was nice and offered the Hippo a sexy smile. They wondered about the Hippo's courage, but hey, it was just a guy.

Tonight they moved me to a new room, right above the main building, next to the loud restaurant and bar. The noise was constant but the room had a nice view of the mountain. However, the bathroom had a suicide shower. The hot water tank was plugged in to the outlet just below the showerhead. With water running, it sure will electrocute me. So much for a nicer room. My laundry (1 pair of jeans, 1 sweatshirt and 1 tshirt) was done when I returned to the hotel in the early evening. It cost 200 ngultrum . A mere 4 bucks!

I continue to read Fifty Shades of Grey under the bright light in the room amidst the noise from the hotel restaurant, bar and gazebo below me.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

To Punakha

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:00 PM 0 comments

Breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal, juice and toast. There were apples and small bananas that looked like plantains on the table. the oatmeal tasted salty and adding jam and bananas only made it worse. We asked for eggs and finally some plain omelette came in a slow pace.

The morning was crisp and cold. The valley under a blanket of thin fog. And I remembered someone who said about the mornings in Bhutan.

Today we traveled to Punakha. We went past the Paro Dzong and the airport again, then past Thimphu, the capital, and climbed up to 3200m, passing through fields blanketed in rice terraces, and scattered villages. I just couldnt get enough of the Bhutanese houses. They are unlike anything I've seen. All have windows framed in the Bhutanese architecture and a roof that extended out like in Bhuddist temples. We made a stop at the Dochu La Pass with a grand monastery and a group of 180 chortens and prayer flags everywhere. The day was clear but the distant Himalyas were covered in morning clouds. We lunched near the Pass and the buffet lunch was again chicken, with loads of veggies and lentil soup, very very good. We continued our journey descending into the Punakha valley, and the climate turned warmer, and the landscaped changed from forests of pine and oak, rhododendron, alder and cypress to tropical cactus, oranges and bamboo. We stopped to make a short hike to the Chimmi Lhakhang, the 'Mad Monk' Monastery, built in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the controversial monk who was believed to have subdued the demon of the Dochu La. The trek took us through the village surrounded by golden fields of hay. The monastery was also called the fertility monastery and here the Pallus was everywhere, painted in every house. People came to be blessed by the monk anointing you with a wooden phallus. We caught the young apprentice monks chanting their mantras in the monastery. Our hotel the Meri Puensum Resort was a beautiful stone structure including an enormous prayer wheel, situated on the side of the hill. The rooms were in small buildings scattered on the side of the hill, some offering grand views of the river valley below. We were again offered tea and biscuits, this time in a big gazebo in front of the main building. A very nice area to relax and take in the view. However, my room offered no view and a wall in front of the window. Dinner again was chicken (what's with their chicken dish with bones), rice, noodles and never ending veggies and chili and cheese. I didnt mind the lack of variety as the food tasted superb and was very satisfying. Again the evening was cold and the room didnt have any heat. But under the extra duvet, I was warm. I've really enjoyed this first day of travel in Bhutan.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paro over the Himalyas

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Someone long ago told me about the Himalyan Kingdoms. She said she specially liked Bhutan because one morning she woke up and saw the mist in the quiet of the morning. It was so heavenly beautiful. Every since then Bhutan was on my list and I dont know why it took me so long to finally decided to go. I thought I was done with traveling this year after the Caucasus, but out of a whim, I've decided to make the Himalyan Kingdoms this year.

Everyone who's been to Bhutan had told me how they loved that place. And about the thrilling flight to Paro. Since Paro was nestled among hills, the plane had to descend rapidly and maneuver among the hills. Only 8 pilots were qualified to fly in and out of Paro. And so I was specially looking forward to the adventure. I got a window seat on the left side to make sure I get to see the Himalyas this time.

Once past the security check-in at the KTM Tribhuvan airport, it was confusing. People everywhere and no monitors to tell you which gate to embark. Suddenly Paro was announced from one of the gates and we went in. Druk Air, the Royal Bhutan Airlines, the only airline that flies to Bhutan, had excellent service. As we flew by the Himalyas, the pilot announced the appearance of the famous peaks, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, all the familiar names. We were given drinks and a box of munchies, sandwich, cookie and peanuts. The descend into Paro was abrupt and the plane was so close to the hills, I could wave to a man walking his dog. Then suddenly the plane banked right and touched down. Compared to the heat and dust of KTM, Paro's mountain air was fresh and cool. The airport was the most beautiful in the world. The terminal was built in Bhutanese traditional building architecture, with the Bhutanese window frames. There's a wrap around balcony on the inside of the terminal building, every inch painted. Everything and everywhere was clean and orderly. Our local guide Namgay was there to greet us. He and the driver both wore the traditional customs. He told us they were required to wear the traditional wear when they work. Welcome to Bhutan! Now the real vacation started!

On our way to our hotel, along the gorgeous clear Paro Chhu river, we stopped at vintage points to photograph the Paro Dzong. Imposing gorgeous building. All along our way, we saw Bhutanese houses with architecture unlike anything I've ever seen. By law the houses must have the design of the traditional style with the bhutanese window frames, and painted with buddhist motifs and religious symbols, like the white tiger and phallus. The road was narrow, only 1 lane but paved, unbroken and clean. Our hotel, the Dechen Hill Resort sat on the hill side offering views of the valley and the Paro town below. The day was cool with clear blue sky. We were offered tea and sugar crackers at the hotel reception.The crackers were wonderful. My room was big but very cold. The bathroom was antique and not very clean. Later V and I walked up the hill to check out the 5 star hotels. Dinner that evening was a hot soup and a never ending flow of chicken, cooked veggies, chili and cheese (the local favorite)and red rice. I've never had red rice before. The resort hotel was comfortable but noisy at night as all the dogs who slept during the warmth of the day, became alive at night. They barked and howled and walked around all night long. I could hear them pawing in front of my room, which was on the ground floor. They sounded right next to me when I finally retired to bed, so I've moved to the bed furthest from the window. Even with the electric fire on, the room was freezing so I've pulled the 2 woolen blankets from the extra bed and I was still cold. Under 4 heavy woolen blankets, it reminded me of my first night in Patagonia, in the ever hateful hotel there.

Everyone visiting Bhutan was required to spend a minimum of $250USD and must have a local guide, so all our meals were included. The food was excellent and the service and hospitality so far far exceeded any I've experienced anywhere in the world. So perhaps people didnt exaggerate when they said they loved Bhutan.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

give herself agonizing grief

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

The Hippo must hate herself very much to give herself agonizing grief. Months before departure agonizing through wardrobe, how much to bring, weather conditions, had kept her up at night. Then when the time came, she dreaded going. Was this a vacation? A asked me if I were excited when he took me to the airport. I think this was probably the first time I didnt look forward to the trip and I wasnt really into it. The 12 hrs flight to Seoul was long but not terrible. Singapore airlines had good service. They even came out to the waiting line at the check-in counter to greet you. A hot towel to start things off and they gave you a pair of socks and tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, in a cute Givenchy bag. At Incheon, we had to get out of the plane only to board again in 1 hr. So alone in Changi at the transit hotel with nothing to do. Tried to sleep but couldnt. The airport at this hour of the night was quiet. I loved it. I walked everywhere and not a sound, most stores were closed, only an occasional passenger sleeping on the floor or an aiport staff still working. Flight to KTM was stuck on the front row again with crying babies. The Himalyas were on the right side and I was on the left. No views. My airport pickup didnt show up and I had to get a taxi to the hotel. Kathmandu was dirty, dusty, broken roads, people, cows and traffic everywhere. How do the people live like that? The taxi driver asked for a tip. Gave him a dollar and he looked at me like "that's it?". I didnt pay him any attention. I hate it when they ask for tips. I grabbed my bag and walked in to the hotel. My airport pickup was there and asked where were you? I said I've waited and didnt see you. He said he was there. Liar. Not really having fun yet. So what's the point?

I've checked out the Shanker hotel online before I came. It had bad reviews about the staff always asking for tips. It's an old palace converted into hotel. One of the floors had arched windows that were basically on floor level. They had converted 1 floor with high ceilings into 2. And I was given one of these rooms. The room itself was actually pretty nice but the window was low, with no view, making the room claustrophobic and dark. But for one night, I didnt mind too much. Everything in the hotel was old but the decor was great. It had a front garden with gazebos and a very nice swimming pool with a bar. The food wasnt bad either and by our standards, very cheap. Not a bad hotel if you didnt mind the noise as the walls werent insulated. The staff was friendly, over friendly actually. Everyone greeted you with a Namaste every time they saw you. I had one extra day here at the end of the trip and I intent to spend it in the garden with a cup of tea, writing my travel blog and chilling out.

 

HippoBlog Copyright © 2012 Design by Antonia Sundrani- Vinte e poucos