Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hoi An & Hue: Where we slept, ate, and shopped

An Air Asia promotion (RM 59 one way) in 2011 enticed us to travel to DaNang in 2012. We split our time between Hoi An (3 nights) and Hue (4 nights). Our biggest problem - not enough time to try all the tempting foods or to fill up on dishes that hard to find in KL.

We used Booking.Com for the Hoi An hotel and Agoda for the Hue Hotel. We looked for a reasonably priced hotel close to the city center. We read reviews to identify hotels with great prices and serious flaws. Both hotels included breakfast (individually prepared eggs, a Vietnamese noodle dish, fruits, bread, and cheese), WiFi, and cable television. The down side of eat breakfast at the hotel is that we lost 7 opportunities to indulge in a morning pho or banh mi. Both hotels had complimentary fruit plates and complementary water.

Elephants in Bangkok and Romantic Swans in Hoi An
Hard to shower & ruin the artistry

In Hoi An we stayed at the Hai Au Hotel (USD 37). It arranged our airport pick up (USD 16) and our later trip to DaNang's railroad station. The front desk staff was exuberant. They learned our names immediately, oriented us to the city, arranged tours, and answered questions. The readily gave advice on various plans. For example, we booked a 5:00 a.m. tour for My Son. The staff told us that the heat could become oppressive if we tried a later start. A staff member called us at 4:30 a.m., waited with us until the bus came, and told us that we would have food on the bus and also be back in time for the hotel breakfast. The hotel was fine, but it is the staff that would bring us back there.. (Nothing to do with the hotel but too memorable to ignore was our My Son tour guide - he  gave a largely scatological presentation, full of innuendos, on the lingam.)

In Hue we stayed at the Camillia (USD 32).Very different from the Hai Au, more like a business hotel. Our room was spacious with a complete range of amenities. For some reason the hotel had adopted a love theme. Its breakfast/dining room was in pink. Fortunately it had a good view of the city to distract us from the decor. We used their travel desk to buy stamps, arrange a tour guide and driver to visit the emperors' tombs (our guide's  English was mediocre) and book a car back to DaNang. The staff were pleasant, but the travel staff did not have the finally tuned sense of how to match a tourist with available tours and services.

Food and Restaurants 

Everywhere pho is sold and served on the street. In 2002 when we visited Hanoi we were reluctant to sit on a small stool next to the road. Not this time! We didn't eat pho in Hoi An because we were either coming from a meal or on our way to one.  Hue was a different. Hue restaurant menus tended to give generic descriptions, so we easily changed our plans if something else came up. Hoi An restaurant menus  gave full details - a much more seductive approach that had us salivating throughout the day. In both places we had dishes that we virtually dissected to identify the ingredients including the spices. Restaurant prices, especially alcohol and beer (USD 0.75), are 1/3 to 1/2 the price of comparable KL restaurants.

Where we ate
Good local recommendation  (From Camillia Hotel, turn left, walk
several blocks, Chau Loan Pho on right hand side - near corner)
Not as iconic as the pho are the lemon juice drinks - cool, biting and refreshing. On a similar vein I found mocktails and combination fruit drinks too sweet.

On a walking tour of Hoi An we stopped at a merchant's house (over 200 years old). A family member was making these white rose dumplings. This family is the only one that makes them and sells them to Hoi An restaurants. A treat exclusive to Hoi An.

We ate at the Secret Garden, were so happy with the meal we returned later for another dinner. On our second visit we revisited two dishes from our first meal and found them equally satisfying.

 5 rainbow salad  revisited - sea food (shrimp, octopus, calamari) carrots,
cabbages, spring onions, lime fish sauce dressing sprinkled with 

Sour beef roll ups (again)
Snake Head fish (yes, it can be eaten and
it is delicious)

Fish Remains

Not pictured was a seafood soup. It had calamari, octopus, and shrimp in a flavorful seafood broth and consistency similar to egg drop soup, not to track down a recipe for the various items.

In between dinners at the Secret Garden we ate at the Sakura restaurant. It was close to an ice cream stand, which we intended to visit after the meal.  We had a (1) mango seafood salad, (2) green salad with sour sauce, (3) tiger prawns stuffed with crab, and (4) grilled fish fillet in banana leaf. The "sour sauce" was a nice tangy vinaigrette. Everything was well prepared and tasty. We never got around to eating ice cream.

Grilled fish in a banana leaf

Tiger Prawns - aptly named

In Hue we scanned the menu at L'Aubergine, saw the tarte flambe and vowed to visit when we were ready for a "snack". Our snack evolved into a lunch with grilled chicken with lemon leaves and a tomato salad. The tarte flambe was fine, but it was the chicken and tomato salad that brought us back a second time. The tomatoes in the tomato salad tasted like tomatoes used to taste. The second time we reluctantly skipped the chicken and had chicken with chili and lemon grass and caramelized fish. No complaints if we had more time we would have explored more of the menu. (The biggest issue was to eat a "regular" meal or search out another bowl of pho.)

Caramelized fish

Grilled chicken with lemon leaves

Chicken with chili and lemon grass. The 'flower" is fashioned
from the outside of a tomato. 
For our last meal we went to the Villa Hue, run by the Hue Tourism College. The winner of the evening was the beef la lot (la lot are wrapped with betel nut leaves - although the menu described the leaves as "herbs"). Our major disappointment was that they were out of the three flavor creme brulees (ginger, cinnamon, - can't remember the third). Our conclusion is that Sunday may not be the best night to go if you crave something on the menu.

Here the beef la lot looks like slugs - really tasty

Hungry yet? You can see why we have been cooking a lot of Vietnamese meals since we returned.


Hoi An is described as a "shopper's paradise." It certainly seems so if you want clothes or shoes or want to have something made. A glance in a shop window will bring out a staff member say "take a look" or the more striking "buy something." We did want to pick up some things for our "gift drawer" to have an inventory of holiday gifts and small token gifts.

On the food side we bought 100 gram bags of Trung Nguyen (easier to get recommendations for snacks than for coffee; Trung Nguyen seemed to dominate the market) along with several traditional coffee pots. (We bargained and got the pots for about USD 1.50  b/c we were buying several.) In Hoi An we bought Banh Dau Xanh a biscotti-like cookie (USD 1.50 for the cookies or USD 2.00 if they are in a box). In Hue we bought Dac San Hue, a sesame seed candy (sweet and gummy) (USD 0.60 in a grocery store, more at mini-marks and still more at the airport). We also bought Hee Dau Phong similar to a peanut brittle. Tasty, but pieces where not individually wrapped that meant tossing left overs in a purse was a bad idea. For ourselves we bought different coffee blends, nuoc mam, chili sauce, and chili pho sauce.

In Hoi An we also bought some kitchen tools - a scrapper that has proved to be excellent to julienne carrots,  and cucumbers, a gadget to make decorative spring onions (it will be the first to go) and an industrial strength peeler.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Delhi: Beyond tourism

Doug, Niraj (cook), Vivak (cook's assistant)
All one needs to visit New Delhi
When we travel to South Asia, we are happy when we can detour to New Delhi to visit Snehal and her family. We enjoy their company and we learn so much. This time was no different.

We flew from Paro to Kolkata arriving at 9:30 a.m. We debated if we could make a 11:45 a.m. flight to New Delhi. We had to clear immigration, retrieve our baggage, go from the international terminal to the domestic terminal, check in, and go through security. The IndiGo fare was too good for us not to take the risk. We cleared security, bought lunch, and still had an hour before boarding. Who would have believed this was Kolkata?

IndiGo check in (Air Asia travelers weep with envy)
A detour to show what I meant by Air Asia reference
Snehal took us to SOIL School for Inspired Leadership, where she is a faculty member. SOIL "aims to build competent, compassionate and inspiring leaders." The mood was somber. Two days before a riot occurred at a Suzuki factory, the general manager was murdered, and others employees were severely injured.. Several faculty members had been consulting with management, including the murdered manager, and labor to resolve tensions at the factory. The faculty consultants, whose values reflect SOIL's goals, were Indians with senior management experience and rooted in the nation's culture.Labor-management violence is not uncommon and may be blamed on economic disparity's. In a conversation at SOIL caste was also mentioned as a possible contributing issue. 

Conversation with a few SOIL faculty
The faculty members were still processing the general manager's murder and the conditions of injured workers. I hope that someday they can step back, review the consultation meetings, reflect on what they learned about consulting, and write their observations. The story of the consultation at Suzuki and their reflections is a story worth telling.

In the afternoon we went to the Rural Development Programme, a project of the Navjyoti Foundation. There Saina R. Bharachi told us the story of Navjvoti's founding and development. Kiran Bedi, India's first woman police officer, started out by opening detox centers for drug addicts at police stations under her jurisdiction. As the detox program was implement the need for other programs to combat poverty and empower India's poor became apparent, The number and type of projects grew, including a community college. With a google search you can learn more about the Navjvoti. What you may not learn is that: it uses data to study its impact and take actions to improve its effectiveness, it empowers women to use their voice to influence local governance; it engages volunteers in a country that does not have a reputation for volunteerism. Volunteers are drawn in by Dr. Beid's reputation, those served by Navjyoti, and others inspired by the foundation's work.If we lived in India we would volunteer in a heartbeat.

Court yard - bricks are made from mud
(attractive, but not long lived)

Garden - we drank juice made from its organic lemons

Model created by program participants -
challenges to the well-being of women persist

Another - laws made, broken, adjudicated

After a full day we went to dinner at the nearby 56 Ristorante Italiano. The service was attentive - they even adjusted my fruit drink to make it less sweet. Before we left we were given an evaluation form - and in our favorite Indian tradition, the waiter took it and read it and shared it with the other waiters. 

Tilting glasses for the boys' drinks
The next morning we we headed to Central Market for shopping. Shopping with Snehal is a treat - she has an eye for what looks good and is reasonably priced. Since the market's stalls don't open until 11 we started at FabIndia. It was our first and last stop. I went through stacks of tops - some I rejected immediately, others were "maybe," and others definite "yes.". As my pile of "yeses" grew reassigning the "maybes" was easy. I went in intending to buy three tops and walked out with seven. Doug added to his wardrobe as well.  Now before we go to India we check out the locations of Apollo for drugs and FabIndia for clothes.

Shopping in Central Market
A final note on Central Market. We picked up momos from a stand - sadly they weren't even close to the Bhutanese version,

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bhutan - Where we stayed & ate

The details of our trip were totally handled by our friend. He helped us buy air tickets through Atlas Tour & Travel. We met with Langa Dorji, the Atlas CEO, twice. First, to reimburse him for our air tickets, and later to pick up a small gift to deliver to a Bhutanese student who lives in KL. The Atlas website is informative. Based on our visits and the website we recommend checking out the agency. In addition to packaged tours the agency designs individual tours.

Our friend chose the hotels usually by asking colleagues and friends for their recommendations. Most of the hotels are  listed in Lonely Planet as were the places we ate. With the exception of the Hotel Druk (USD $100/night deluxe) we spent between USD 20 - 40 per night. Meals were not included. Welcoming tea or early morning tea was added to bills (about USD1 to USD2 per cup).Our rooms were discounted (no travel agent's discount, low season, and a local host). What separated some of the hotels was the quality of their showers - one had a handheld shower head and others had a rainfall shower heads. Except in Thimphu most of the places we stayed had few guests. Rooms were often pine paneled and were cozy. They reminded us of ski lodge rooms.

We often stayed at resorts; I think of resorts having a swimming pool and other on-site recreation. Not sure what defined a resort in Bhutan - all the places we stayed had a detached bathroom and hot water, a restaurant, and a small handicraft shop. No swimming pools or other evident recreation. Of course with the surroundings who needed them?

As for food Bhutan reminded us of Portugal, that is, a handful of tasty dishes. Longer menus usually included Indian and Chinese dishes. We eat relatively little meat in our daily life. So we gravitated toward a vegetarian diet, and the vegetarian offerings were more tempting than the meat. We became fans of kewa datshi (potatoes and cheese) and had it once or twice on most days. Momos were  also very tasty. (We tried momos at New Delhi's Central Market, not nearly as good. The best part with one exception, everything was well prepared and tasty - and no stomach problems anywhere.

ATM were available in Para, Thimphu, Trongsa, in Bajo area, and Jakar.


Valley View Resort (2 nights): We had pleasant wood paneled room with a nice view of the valley (although most rooms don't have valley view). We had 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, and 1 dinner. All the food was freshly prepared. It was the right season for incredibly sweet and tasty mangoes. Helpful staff - I was awed by how the staff (all women) lifted our suitcases and bounded up the stairs to our room. Wifi was not available and no television in room.
Our room was at the end (right), dining hall was down the

View from our room
Phuentshok Juney Hotel (1 night): In downtown Paro. A pleasant hotel tending toward upmarket (]except for the Hotel Druk and this hotel only a bar of soap was provided in the bathroom. Since we had our own shampoo and the like, we didn't notice exactly what was there). One flight of steps to lobby and two more to our room. Even the staff that carried our luggage were winded. We ordered a fixed price Indian dinner - a pleasant farewell dinner to Bhutan and Rattu. Wifi was available - service was a bit spot probably b/c of room's location (corner room facing Main Street) - a television with satellite was in the room.

Explorers Pizza & Cafe: A pleasant place in the center of Paro where we stopped for a late afternoon pizza (first of three pizzas)


Druk Hotel (2 nights): An upmarket (for us) hotel USD100 for a deluxe room. A welcoming basket of fruit, a full set of bathroom accessories (lotion, toothbrush, etc.), satellite tv, and good wifi. Good location - we could walk almost everywhere. At breakfast we ordered parathas, but when we were told that they would 20 minutes to prepare we switched to eggs and toast.  (For photos see 17 July entry on Thimphu)

Wangchuk Hotel (1 night). Markedly cheaper than the Druk but its better days are behind it. Construction going on right outside by our room, but it ended up not being a concern. An advantage of not using cranes and heavy construction equipment. Our room was tiny. The staff was the most distracted that we encountered on the trip - no help with luggage and we practically had to chase down the waitstaff to get breakfast. We met and had an interesting conversation with conference attenders from Afghanistan. So price, location (near center of town) and interesting guests made the stay okay. Wifi in the room.


Hotel Jumolhari (2 dinners): We waited nearly an hour the first time, pre-ordered the 2nd time (several hours ahead) much shorter wait. Good chicken kabobs, kewa datshi, naan, and vegetable dishes. Beer came in liter bottles (Austrians at a neigbhoring table couldn't resist snapping a picture of a bottle). Also has a number of western dishes included grilled cheese sandwich, but we didn't check them out.

Seasons Pizzeria (1 lunch): The one place I would run back to if I were in Thimphu. We had a good pizza; the salads and pastas listed on the menu looked tempting. A good culinary change of pace.

Others: Rice Bowl (1 dinner) A Chinese restaurant - the vegetable items we ordered were good, the chicken was underspiced for our taste. Zone (1 lunch) an ambiance that reminded us of our backpacker days in Indonesia


Yueloki (1 night - mobile: 17851193/17874116; fax 022-442553): This was our favorite place - it reminded us of  a country inn. Rooms were not much different from other places, but we were in the country and the views were seductive. Food service was a cross between family style and buffet - a few dishes were placed on a table (nothing cooling in a chafing dish). The shower was great - hot water with a rain shower head.


We spent 4 nights at a guest house (not listed in Lonely Planet) near the location of the new city. Given the price (heavily discounted) it was okay. We should have noticed when we looked at the room was that the shower was located by the bathroom door (separated by 0.5 meters from the drain) hence floor tended to be wet and slippery. Toilet's flushing mechanism didn't work - we had to resolve it by dumping a bucket of water in the toilet; annoying late at night. The hot water was unreliable. Meals were fine. Late in our stay a group of tourists came. The good part - they requested a dance performance, they got it, and we saw it. The other part - we had buffet at dinner okay (but not my favorite way of eating). The breakfast buffet was mediocre; with the benefit of hindsight we should have asked for freshly cooked eggs and toast. Breakfast was typical: juice, fresh fruit, eggs, toast, and corn flakes. When I asked for chili sauce to go with the eggs they brought Sing Cheung chili sauce made in Kolkata. I was hooked - heavy on the vinegar and light on the sugar - have searched in KL. No luck. Hope I can find it when we next go to India. The toast serving here and else where was four pieces The staff were very nice and worked long days. The night of the dance performance the same folks who had been at breakfast were still working after 10.

We got a mini-tour of Jakar's Amankora Hotel since it had no guests at the time. At USD1300 single/1400 double per night  (all meals included) it is well out of our price range. The rooms were large and tasteful. There are no signs so that guests feel like it is a home. It is a place that should appeal to people who want privacy. While money may make travel easier, no private planes in Bhutan and bumpy roads are probably unavoidable.

Tashi Ninjay Guest House (1 night not in Lonely Planet) in the heart of the city. We could walk to the
Dzong and check out Trongsa restaurants and shops. Our room had a balcony which overlooked the Dzong. We decided to skip having dinner prepared for us and went to some place cheaper (and less food). Our well cooked breakfast with muesli was perhaps the best of the trip. Like Yueloki we could enjoy breakfast and a great view at the same time. 
Tashi Ninjay Guest House dining room


Early in the trip we ate at the Oyster House Restaurant. We puzzled over the name, since oysters weren't on the menu and I am not sure that they are the menus anywhere in Bhutan. The restaurant was recommended by locals. It had an extensive menu (Bhutanese, Chinese and Indian). The room next to the dining room has a huge snooker table. On our way back we ate at a corner restaurant and ordered noodles. They were greasy, lucky I was hungery. For dinner we ate an Indian meal at the Norling Hotel.


Hotel Tashing (1 night): We had lunch here after we visited the Dzong (the one that was burnt down). We sat in a small dinner room and Rattu chatted with an older man (even older than we are) who told him to make sure that we had a good experience. The hotel is a basic budget hotel, and clean and safe. It first I thought that we were the only guests (a look at downstairs rooms that had bathtubs were too deserted to consider). A few other guests showed up. The dining room did a steady business. Although the town has moved the people working on the Dzong's reconstruction and possibly long-term clients seem to keep in business. The staff member with the best English had quirky (in a good way) personality. For example, Rattu was not present when the tea came. She assured us that she knew how he would drink it because he was Bhutanese.

Meals on the Road:

We had three meals on the road. One was for noodles in an area outside Thimphu. Unfortunately we forgot to note the name and exact location. The noodles are only available in the particular area and only in the morning. The broth was hot with the right amount of spice. I skipped eating the beef  - I find meat in the morning unappealing. Wish we could have tried this dish more than once.

The View Point Resort (between Wangdue and Thimphu) It was a cloudy day - so no view. Lunch was buffet-style; small containers so a high turnover. Earlier in our trip a hotel manager complained about customers of a given nationality, "They say only one is eating the buffet, but actually three share." So we were amused when a man said that only one person (his wife or girl friend was eating) and then he proceeded to put part of the meal on his plate.

Chumey Nature Resort (between Trongsa and Wangdue). We had 5 dishes rice plus vegetables. The vegetables were fresh and well prepared. Seemed very healthy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Last days in Bhutan - Back to Thimphu

Buddha in the background and we are hoping for everlasting
happiness and enlightenment
We drove out of Thimphu at 8:00 a.m. to escape Pedestrian Day and a week later, again on Tuesday, we headed back.. Once we were in Thimphu, but before reaching the police barrier we stopped at a handmade paper factory. The trip to the factory was to see how handmade paper was made to and buy our last souvenir/gift.

Rattu gave us the best buying souvenir advice ever (I will follow it in the future), - spend one day "window shopping." We did. We listed things we wanted to buy, where we could buy them in Thimphu and their prices. As we traveled  in Central Bhutan we bought most of the items locally.

The Junghi paper factory is typical of South East Asian factories, that is, one would never guess that the unassuming building houses a factory. We wandered in, found the manager (or he found us), shook our hands, made a few seconds of small talk, and then he invited us to look around. One of the staff members came over to explain various parts of the process. (I will rely on pictures to show part of the process; the link above leads to a fuller description.)

The first thing that hit my eye as we went to the side of the factory was not the vats of fiber that were being soaked and soften. It was the lady taking advantage of the water to shower. She continued bathing oblivious to our presence, and we tried to ignore her.

From fiber to pulp
A piece of paper emerges
Spraying water to create a dappled pattern

Some final products that incorporate leaves

We then tested the limits of Pedestrian Day - tourists get a pass in Central Bhutan, but not in the capital. We drove to the Police Station to see if we could get permission. Like police stations everywhere the man in charge was in a meeting. He finally emerged, but Thimphu is not Punakha. Our three options were: to walk, to have tea and wait until 6:00, or take a taxi. Taxis were lined up waiting for hapless people who didn't want to walk or wait until 6.

The next morning we went to the Post Office to take advantage of DHL's rate of USD30 to mail a box of souvenirs. In the back was a shop with stamps, coins, and Gross National Happiness tee-shirts. Once our business was completed we went to the new offices of the Royal Bank of Bhutan. After the small paper factory, the old post office building, the various dzongs, and small cluttered shops the modern interior of the bank was a surprise. It was open and airy and customers and managers could get around easily.

Our last tourist stop was to see the statue of Buddha that overlooks the city. As we drove along we had some final views of Thimphu. The picture shows the government complex.

As we drove we chatted with Rattu's sister-in-law who "dreams"  to work for awhile in the United States and experience its culture. To give her information to  fulfill her dream legally I been learning about US immigration policies. We had suggested that she might be an au pair or nannies. Not good advice, au pairs must be between 18-26 years old, and nannies have to have relevant training and experience. In our conversation we tried to strike a balance between being encouraging and communicating that the US is expensive and immigrants working in low skill jobs are often exploited.

The statue of Buddha (the Buddha Dordenma Project "Fulfilling the great wish of all sentient beings for everlasting happiness and enlightenment") that overlooks the city is massive. While the statue is complete the Buddha's throne is not. The throne will contain three meditation halls and each will house "Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in auspicious directions, effortlessly invoking visitors' inherent Buddha nature as if they entered pure Buddha realms" (from the Dordenma Project web page).

Our last stop was to the studio of Sukbir Bishwa ( located a few meters from the paper factory. We finalized the purchase of a painting that we had spotted the day before.Since the monks are shy of having their pictures take we thought that a gathering of monks would keep our memories fresh and vibrant. 

Our trip was drawing to a close. We returned to Paro, had a farewell dinner, and left for the airport around 6:00 a.m. For two weeks Rattu, who had taken leave from work, had shared time, his country and his thoughts with us. Words are inadequate to describe what this trip and his friendship meant to us. For over two weeks what we learned and experienced went beyond mere tourism. To any reader of this blog we hope that you share a similar friendship that opens up new worlds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Temples, Temples and still more Temples

Bhutan is the last remaining Buddhist Kingdom.  Sikkim, and Nepal are no longer kingdoms.  So we expected to visit many temples and monasteries.  However I was not prepared for how the sights, sounds, and smells of temples and monasteries would become commonplace and part of our daily lives. I will narrate this sections of the blog chronologically, so please pardon this writer if he repeats himself.

Paro Rigung Dzong

Paro Rigung Dzong

Shortly after landing in Paro (and we had already seen several temples/monasteries perched on mountain sides and ridges during our landing approach) we were driven by our host, Rattu, into Paro town.  On our way we stopped to view our first dzong.  A dzong is a combination building, part administrative and part religious.  The Paro Ripung Dzong sits on a promontory overlooking the town of Paro, the valley, and is visible from almost any point in the valley.  I was to learn that dzongs are always located in key defensive positions, usually with rivers on two sides.  To gain entrance to the Dzong you either walked across a bridge, or as we did, drove around to the back and parked with the rest of the administrative staff.  However, this was a quiet dzong.  We did not hear monks chanting nor did we hear temple horns.  Now while dzongs are magnificent building, build on challenging geography, and build to defend the local warlord (in ancient times) they are not indestructible.  They are subject to earthquakes, and more importantly fires.
Later the same afternoon we went to the burned out Drukgyel dzong.

Tiger's Nest

Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest)

The next day we were challenged physically in our ride/hike to the Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest).  Besides its remote location, it was where the sounds of Tibetan/Bhutanese temple horns first penetrated my ears.  They sound in a low register announcing prayers, opening closing of the monastery, and accompanying services.  Their reverberation mimics the deep throat singing heard in the monasteries.

It was here in the Tiger's Nest that we began to appreciate the smell of butter.  Rattu carried with him several  kg of processed "palm oil" for burning in the butter lamps.  Palm oil is a substitute for the costly cow and yak butter that is used on the altars.  What I noticed were plenty of fire extinguishers and new electrical wiring.  The monks of Bhutan appear to be taking fire prevention safety seriously.  It was here that I began to appreciate the sheer number of monks in monasteries.  We encountered numerous monks while ascending the mountain, and on the long staircase to Tiger's Nest.  Even some of the young monks were breathing as hard as Liz and I.  Each of the individual temple rooms was staffed by at least two monks, and there appeared to be many more behind the scenes.  On our way down the mountain, we met a young woman who was ascending to visit her uncle, a monk, and provide him with food and other supplies.  She said she made the trip at least monthly.

Tsitu Goemba

Tsitu Goemba

The final monastery visited in Paro was the Tsitu Goemba.  A small Goemba just outside of Paro, it sits above rice paddy fields.  The walls surrounding the Goemba are filled with niches containing prayer wheels.  We circled the Goemba spinning each and every wheel.  It was relatively early in the morning and we had to find the monk to open the sanctuary.  Otherwise this was a quiet Goemba, but there are plans on expanding it over the next few years.

Out trip through Thimphu did not include any temple, or monastery visits.  Those would wait until our return 10 days later.

Workers near Dachu La Chorten

Dachu La

Unfortunately I have no pictures from this monument and the vehicles surrounding it.  The monument is comprised of a group of 108 chortens arranged on a small hillock with a road surround it.  As we would find on our way east, many chortens have roadways circling them so drivers can do their turns (sometimes as many as three).  At Dachu La I saw a truck marked Danger Explosives.  Another sign on the drivers door indicated "absolutely no riders", and leaning out the windows were three small children.  I guess family are not considered riders.  This collection of chortens was created to atone for the deaths during the fight against Assamese rebels who were using Bhutan as a refuge from their war in Assam state in India.  On a hill beside the chortens is a new temple commissioned by the 4th King of Bhutan.  The interior is striking with the modern motif murals on the walls.  A mixture of traditional motifs and modern images.  We noted members of the armed forces of Bhutan working on the plaza surrounding the temple.  Below is a royal guest house.

Remains of Wangdue Dzong

Wangdue Dzong

About less than a month prior to our arrival in Bhutan, the Wangdue  Dzong burned to the ground.  The fire raged for several days.  Some of the religious items were saved, but overall it is a major cultural disaster for Bhutan.  A further description of the Wangdue Dzong are contained in an earlier blog.

Khewang Lhakhang

The Khewang Lhakhang is found in the middle of the Phobjikha valley.  This 15th century tsechu is small, but interesting.  A monastery accompanies the tsechu with many young monks (elementary school age) present.  One wonders about the level of education these young men receive.  See our blog on the Black-necked Cranes for further information.

Bhumtang Valley

The bhumtang valley is the cultural/religious heartland of Bhutan.  It has many famous monasteries and tsechus.  Many Bhutanese take pilgrimages to the temples here.  Some tsechus are supported by Royalty and others are built by prosperous Bhutanese merchants.

Kurjey Lhakhang

Kurjey Lhakhang complex is located in the Chakhar Valley on the west side of the river.  Three Lhakhang form the main complex.  The Sanvay Lhakang is a large multistory building.  The second floor sanctuary contains display cases on the exterior walls with 1,000 Buddha statues.  I will leave the counting to contestants in the Amazing Race.  We were able to make three rounds of the three Buddhas.  While there several young monks were cleaning the facility.  Then a group of young monks arrived, several busloads of college students filed in.  We were invited to stay and a "big" Llama presided over a ceremony charging the students with good behavior in their future with the civil service.  Watching the service was interesting. Attached Bhutan Youtube video. Six to eight youthful monks chanted, several additional youthful monks played temple horns (some brass, and some double reed).  One older monk wearing a shell necklace came in and out supervising the young monks.  He occasionally chanted using a deep rattling sound which I assume is throat singing.  We saw this same grouping of young monks, instrumentalists, and supervisor in several different sanctuaries. Attached Bhutan Youtube video.  In some cases the supervisor appeared to be waking the younger monks.

Monks chanting during a ceremony

 In the Sampa Lhundrup Lhakhang, we encountered a ceremony we were told will remove the vows of celibacy.  Several monks who had decided to marry had joined together to pay for the ceremony which would include 1,000 repetitions of a series of prayers.  We decided to leave after 30 minutes or so.

Another significant temple is the Jampey Lhakhang complex.  This temple was build by Guru Rinpoche on the same day as the Tiger's Nest, several hundred km distant.  We took several rounds of the temple, and the interior altar.  Our guide told us that retired people come to the temple early in the morning to take their rounds.

Turning Prayer Wheels while doing rounds in a monastery.  Note the murals on  the left.

Monks at worship.  Note the temple horns.

On the eastern side of the valley we visited the Tamshing Goemba.  Besides the main sanctuary with representations of Guru Rinpoche, there are statues of Maitreya and Sakyamuni.  Surrounding the altar is a rather dark passageway to facilitate the making of rounds.  The murals on the walls are in bad disrepair.  A second level with low ceilings and murals on the walls.  The Tamshing Goemba is also a monastery school.  Literally scores of elementary school aged boys dressed in maroon monk robes live there.  They take part in the services in the main sanctuary.

Lhodrak Kharchhu Lhakhang monastery college dormatories

The Lhodrak Kharchhu Lhakhang monastery college occupies a bluff above Jakar on the eastern side of the valley.  It has large assembly halls, sanctuaries, many dormitories and a beautiful view of Jakar town.

A Monk at the Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong and Tower of Trongsa

Both of these facilities have sanctuaries.  The Trongsa Dzong had numerous sanctuaries deep within the structure in upper courtyards.  In  December or early January a five-day festival held in the Dzong.  The monks perform dances in the courtyards of the Dzong.  On the top floor of the Tower of Trongsa is a small sanctuary.  Although photos are not allowed of the sanctuary, the views of the Dzong below are great.

A Buddha under construction at Buddha Viewpoint Thimphu 

Buddha Viewpoint

The golden Buddha of Thimphu, the Buddha Viewpoint, is high over the city of Thimphu.  It is currently under construction, but can be seen  from any point in Thimphu.  It will be interesting to see what else is developed on the site.