February 13th, 2011
Hello officially from Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon!
This might be a longer email so I'll warn you now. Just read however much you want (a.k.a. one sentence).
My entry to the Paro Valley was amazing, as I mentioned. Stepping off the plane was so surreal, I can't believe I'm living here! We've been thrown into the throng of orientation schedules so I've been rather busy and also the internet likes to cut out during my free time for some reason. I'll run through some of the highlights.
The morning after flying in half of us hiked up to the Tiger's Nest. This is the location of a cave where Guru Rimpoche (the Guru who is hailed as the bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan) meditated and quelled all the demons in the area. It is the holiest place in Bhutan and it is insanely beautiful. But first you have to climb about 1500ft to get to it. Certainly overcoming the altitude was half the battle (step-step-suck wind-step-suck wind-fall over). But it was a great introduction to the Bhutanese landscape because there are prayer flags EVERYWHERE and insane hills and just breathtaking sights around every corner, it's really indescribable.
After a day we moved to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. I quickly got two gos tailored for myself. The go is the national dress of the men in Bhutan and is definitely the most useful/awesome thing you could ever wear. Let me break it down. First off, it comes down to your knees and all you have to wear is underwear so it's like wearing a robe. Then, there's a fold over your belt that is designed to be big enough to carry a bowl and a knife traditionally. In reality, you just shove all your crap in there; it's hilarious to see Bhutanese men whip cellphones out of these things. Some of them are super skinny but look huge because they have tons of stuff in the pouch fold. Then, the undershirt doubles as a hankerchief napkin (finally!). So I got one that's a bit more normal colors, then I got another one that's really bright colors because, hey, I'm in Bhutan and I'm gonna rock a go. The girl version is the keira and isn't nearly as cool or useful but I will say looks amazing.
A few days ago a group of us hiked up to Buddha Point which is a point high up on the mountains surrounding the Thimpu valley where they have constructed a ginormous Buddha. This thing is around 100ft tall and is covered in gold. Again, another sight that is pretty indescribable. This day was followed up by another hiking day planned by a few of us. We were originally going to drive up to a trailhead and hike for 4-5 hours. Unfortunately, we were stopped at an immigration checkpoint (apparently these things dot the landscape) and were regretfully rebuked. But they did allow us an hour and half into the "restricted" zone to check out a beautiful temple and a small hill that is dotted with over 50 chortens (small structures that are devoted to deities). Following this quick visit, we descended to the nearest town and jumped out of the taxis and decided to just ask locals where to hike. As the taxis pulled away, we were pointed in the direction of a gompa (monastery) at the top of the mountains enveloping the valley. Well, after 2 long hours of heavy breathing and breathtaking sights, we made it to this secluded monastery where we were greeted with the utmost hospitality, were invited inside, and shown the temple rooms. I will have to explain the innards of a temple in a coming email because they are just so amazing it would take an extra page to describe. Following the monastery visit, we descended with the quizzical thought of "how to get home?". But not to worry, as soon as we hit the road we quickly flagged down some cars and hitch-hiked our way back into Thimpu. Ugyen was our savior (for at least three of us) and spent the whole time explaining the various landmarks of the valley as we descended on the capital.
Since the hike, and actually since when I began writing this mass email, we have begun to move toward our placements. Today we visited Punakha en route. Punakha is yet another beautiful/amazing valley with terraced fields, huge monoliths randomly placed amongst the landscape, a great turquoise river, and the biggest/most important Dzong in the country. A Dzong is the administrative building of every Dzongkhag, or district. At the Dzong, a Dzongda, or district leader, presides over affairs and most business is conducted in Dzongkha, the language of Bhutan. As you can tell, it's all pretty confusing and complicated. Every Dzong, which were originally fortresses to repel invaders, has two sections of the compound; one dedicated to administrative tidings and the other devoted to the order of monks. Now the Punakha Dzong is important because it is the winter quarters for the monk-body which pretty much runs all of the religious aspects of the country. It is home to some 150 - 200 monks. The structure is overwhelming and very imposing. It sits inbetween two rivers who join just downstream from the Dzong. They are called the male and female river. The whole structure is intricately detailed with paintings of Buddha, local Gurus, lamas, and icons of Buddhism. It is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in my life and I have no idea how it is not considered a wonder of the world.
At present I am in a village near Wangdi which is the main town of my Dzongkhag (district) of Wangduephodrang (pronounced WONG-DEE-FO-DRONG). Tomorrow the other teachers head off on a 4 day bus trip to the far east while 4 of us are shuttled to our placements. I am being placed in Samtengang (Sahm-tay-gong) Middle Secondary School which is about 1 hour from Wangdi. Our director forced me to go to the local market to stock up on vegetables and food because where I am going no food is currently growing. Also, the nearest market is an hours walk from my door so I'll be getting some good exercise in my attempts to stay fed. I've been told that my placement is beautiful (which is a theme of Bhutan), that there is a nice lake in my village, and that I am at the top of a mountain. So I am definitely excited and really intrigued as to what this place will actually look like. My accomodation is one large room with a bathroom and shower room and I was told to 'construct' my kitchen somewhere in this room. It's all pretty hilarious and you get used to the idea of just going with the flow and making things work with whatever resources you have. I'm not too worried about it.
Anyway, I'll let you know how the village life is after getting settled and finally being able to unpack (living out of a bag sucks a big one). I'm impressed if you have read this far and I hope you are all doing terrificly well. I'm excited to finally get underway with my purpose here and I can't wait to share it with all of you.
I wish you all the best and Tashi Delek!