North America, Asia · 19 Days · 124 Moments · November 2017

Brad and Karen's Adventure in Bhutan


26 November 2017

It's always a bummer saying goodbye at the airport. Here we are bidding adieu to our friend and Nepal host, Tek Bahadur Dong of OneSeed Expeditions, at Kathmandu airport a few days ago. He and OneSeed (oneseedexpeditions.com) delivered ANOTHER experience of a lifetime, and we are so grateful for all the kindnesses extended to us throughout our trip, and for all the attention paid to the details. We also are indebted to OneSeed's partner, Bhutan Wilderness (bhutanwilderness.com), and everyone there -- Tenzin Wangchuck, Kesang Tshering and others -- who ensured our safety and comfort on the trek (and provided the spectacular weather). We couldn't have planned and executed this trip by ourselves, and we are thankful for the many, many actions and considerations undertaken on our behalf by these two fine organizations. To see more photos from our trek, check out the OneSeed Bhutan group on Facebook; Tenzin got some great shots that we missed. Mt. Kilamanjaro in 2018, anyone?

25 November 2017

MEMO TO BELAGGIO: The competition is fierce. Check Facebook in a few days for amazing video.
Surprise, surprise. We're killing time at a French wine bar. We're waiting for the downpour and lightning to stop so we can take dusk photos, have dinner and get back to the airport.
It's called The Planet, but everyone calls it the Floating Baby.
The birders take their hobby seriously. They're tracking the movements of a certain monitor lizard. Not really ... they're stalking a kingfisher.
Oddest looking otter we've ever seen. (It's actually a monitor lizard).
Singapore is an amazing place. We have 18 hours here ... but we need way more.

24 November 2017

Karen enjoying a glass of (very good) wine at the Garden of Dreams cafe.
Spending some time before tonight's flight to Singapore. This is a rooftop shot from the main square in Kathmandu. The devastation from the 2015 earthquake is everywhere, and it's gratifying to see other nations chipping in to restore the temples. It may be 5 to 10 years before the job is done.

23 November 2017

Kids like waving, yelling "hi" at us, even grabbing our hands in friendship on the street. It's pretty neat.
Someone was moving furniture on a local bus and tying up traffic. The people moving the furniture didn't mind.
A street scene on the walk home from dinner.
For dinner, we returned to the Dhokaine restaurant, where we celebrated our anniversary last year.
FINALLY at the hotel in Kathmandu, and our welcome tea just arrived. It's Thanksgiving today, and we are grateful for this wonderful vacation experience, for our families, and for our friends who enrich our lives. We'll be going for a nice dinner near our hotel tonight to celebrate the holiday, then explore more of Kathmandu tomorrow, before catching our flight to Singapore.
After nearly 5 hours of waiting at the airport, we're finally on the plane. Can you you tell the "Karening" that's been going on?
Thanksgiving is looking up. Turns out, the coffee shop was just closed for lunch, which brightened Brad's mood a little.
Ugh. Our flight to Kathmandu keeps getting delayed. And the only place for good coffee and tea in the airport is closed. And there's no such thing as a United Airlines lounge. At least the airline handed out free Winkles in the waiting area to everyone on the flight. They're kind of like the Ding Dong snacks we had as kids, only not as big, and not nearly as delicious. We are expecting our Thanksgiving meals get better.
On the way to the airport for our flight back to Kathmandu, we stopped at the second-oldest temple in the country.

22 November 2017

We're now back in Paro, where our Bhutan adventure first began. This is the dzong we visited after we first landed a couple weeks ago. The first shot has a green tone because the flash was accidentally on.
A local tradition is the hot stone bath. We went to "The Farmhouse," where we soaked for an hour in wooden tubs whose mountain water was super heated by red-hot rocks from an outdoor fire pit. When the water cooled, we just yelled "stone!" and an attendant came with either a large rock or a shovel of smaller rocks.
As we drove across the pass between the Haa and Paro valleys, we were able to look back on the heart of our trek, Jhomolari. Too bad about the power tower and lines marring the view.
It was our last full day in Bhutan today, and we took the long road to Paro, via the Haa Valley. There's no such thing as a level road here, and this one had plenty of ups and downs and hard curves. But it was richly rewarding in beauty as we motored through a mostly agricultural area that has been open to tourists for less than 20 years. This is the dzong in Haa town, which is undergoing renovation. The highlight of the afternoon was lunch in town, where local delicacies were fresh made, including the regional version of momos, which are best enjoyed soaked in broth.

21 November 2017

This is the dzong. We only have videos from an elaborate ceremony, so you'll have to check Facebook in a few days to see them.
Rice farmers on the outskirts of the Thimphu dzong and royal residence.
Archery is the national sport/obsession of the Bhutanese. We came across a 37-team tournament. Each team member shoots at a tiny target 150 meters away. When one hits the mark, the opposing team honors the effort with a celebratory dance and song. We have video, but you'll need to see it on Facebook, since Journi doesn"t accommodate video. Click on this pic to see the arrow just taking flight.
Bamboo scaffolding downtown, across the street from our espresso/tea stop.
This is a baby talkin, which looks like it has the head of a goat and the body of a cow. Talkins are endangered, and the government has established a preserve to help prevent their further demise.
We're not at the chorten/senior center anymore. These are drivers for our outfitter, Wilderness Bhutan. The one on the right, Kesang, was our personal driver, and he bumped into his bud while we were exploring.
Her mom wanted nothing to do with me, but she delighted in having her photo taken.
I love this guy.
This cute little girl was eating an orange while her mother circled the stupa.
The chorten was fascinating, not only for those circling it while praying, but also because it acts as a sort of local senior center. They congregate, spin their prayer wheels, click their prayer beads, and gossip. And they love having their picture taken and having it shown back to them. They break into laughter and share the pic with their friends, and the laughter spreads. It was a delight to circle the chorten in our own prayers, stop and snap the following pics. Their happiness was ours this day.
Now we're at the chorten, or temple, in Thimphu.
Karen and Tenzin at the top of the Buddha staircase. He's in the traditional attire most men wear.
A fun photo from the bottom of the long staircase to the largest Buddha.
We are now in Thimphu and seeing the sites. This is the largest Buddha statue in the world. It overlooks the entire valley.

20 November 2017

A Himalayan traffic jam on the white-knuckle road to Thimphu.
We were met by the driver with delicious pastries and local beer. Don't cringe ... it was a taste sensation. We're now on our way to the next phase of our adventure: The capitol, Thimphu.
Last day on the trail. We're now on the way to meet our ride that will take us to Thimphu.

19 November 2017

Coming into Dom Chisu, in this beautiful river canyon.
Some things can't be put on mules. The guys packing construction material into the mountains are studs.
On the road again ... heading to Dom Chisa.
Making sure we are able to keep taking pictures. It's a solar panel that charges our mobile devices and batteries.
Oh, a sunny morning cannot be beat ... especially when you have a kind crew taking care of your every need.

18 November 2017

Evening beard check.
The headwaters of the Thimphu River.
The view from the other side of the pass, and the beginning of the long descent to Shodu.
You need to click on the next two photos ... they're panoramas from the pass.
Made it! A time for celebration and reflection for being so fortunate to experience such a "high."
Nearing the pass.
Leaving the Lingshi Valley, icy rivers and all. Spirits are high.
We're now on the way to Shodu, by way of the Yeli-La pass. The river is a cross between water and ice. But the sun is warm on our backs.

17 November 2017

A temple on a side trip to the village of Lingshi.
But when the sun hits, it is glorious.
This was our two-night home in Lingshi. We spent the extra day to be sure we were properly acclimated for the next day's ascent of Yeli-La pass, at about 16,300 feet. It's in a deep, narrow valley, meaning the shade comes early in the afternoon, turning everything cold until the sun hits in the morning. Can you see the morning frost in these pics?

16 November 2017

Those are the Tiger Mountains in the distance.
Along the way there was a family with twins heading to lower elevations for the winter.
The winds were so fierce that we didn't have the luxury of celebrating the crossing of the pass. We'd have another chance in a couple days.
Our horses and mules catching up with us as we near the pass.
Now we're on the way to the Lingshi Valley, one of the epic segments of the trip. It was a looooooong ascent to the 16,000-foot Nyile-La pass that was howling with wind, and then a loooooooong descent to the valley. At the start, we came across locals milking yaks and stacking dried dung piles for their winter fires.

15 November 2017

Descending back to camp.
This is one of the twin lakes that was the destination of our side trip during our layover at Jhomlari Base Camp. 14,500 feet.
Click on this photo. It's a panorama from where we had lunch. Sure beats the cafeteria at work. Tibet is on the other side.
We had a layover day at Jhomolari Base Camp and set out for a hike to the Twin Lakes. This guy greeted us early on. He's a domesticated yak, so everything was cool. The stray yaks can be bullies, and we had to give them wide berth a couple times in the next few days.

14 November 2017

Our parking place for the next two nights at Jhomolari Base Camp, 13,200 feet. Right after we arrived, we saw a small'ish avalanche. Don't worry, the base of the mountain is still a few hours' hike away.
The mountain, the dzong and the trekker.
The mountain and the remains of a dzong.
With our assistant guide, Karma. Trust us, he's the 'good' Karma.

13 November 2017

Our first view of Mt. Jhomolari, a sacred place for Buddhists.

12 November 2017

Our first camp, Shangkarap. which gave us a taste of how cold it can get at night in the Himalayas just a month before the official start of winter. It's situated on the Paro River at the bottom of a deep canyon. We had our own tent, plus our dining tent, the cooking tent, and the latrine tent. Is it any wonder it takes nine horses and mules to haul our gear and food for the entire trek?
This is the very beginning of our trek -- giving us a very small taste of what's to come.

11 November 2017

One more from the dzong, this one in full afternoon sun. Since we are off to start our trek this morning, this may be the last you hear from us for the next 10 days or so, since we doubt there will be any wi-fi on the trail. Look for us to connect again from our hotel in Thimphu.
An oak forest.
Our guide, Tenzin, ran into an old friend on the trail.
Now THIS is why we travel! We had the good fortune of hiking to one of the iconic monasteries in Bhutan, Tiger's Nest. Ever since putting the Himalayas on our bucket list, we've wanted to come here. With a 2,000-foot elevation gain, it was a good tuneup following all that sedate plane travel, and for next 10 days of trekking. We were rewarded at the top with unbelievable views of the 16th-century monastery atop a shear granite cliff, surrounded by oak and cypress forests. It's a site venerated by Buddhists, and we saw many local families, from babies to grandmothers, making their spiritual pilgrimages. It's actually a cluster of monasteries, and we were touched to spend some time one of them just being. The energy from our surroundings, while visitors presented their offerings and prayed, and while monks tended to their rituals, was invigorating. We'll let the photos tell today's story (in the first photo, Tiger's Nest is near the top right).

10 November 2017

Here's one from yesterday ... the city of Paro, which has only two main streets and is home to the country's only international airport. Last night was our first night in Bhutan, and the silence was deafening. No freeway or street or neighbor noises ... only the occasional, and distant, dog barking. Today is our true anniversary, and what a day to celebrate it. There's not a cloud in the sky, and our destination is Tiger's Nest monastery, where we hope to get a couple nice photos. Then dinner in Paro. Then our trek begins the morning after that. Bring it on.
When we got to our room in Paro, there was a Happy Honeymoon message spelled out in rose petals on our bed. And our porter shook our hands and wished us a long and happy life together. We didn't ask him to spell out "anniversary" instead. Tomorrow is the walk to Tiger's Nest, perhaps the most photographed place in the country.
This is an ancient fortress, or dzong, overlooking the Paro Valley, now a Buddhist monastary.
We've been in Bhutan for just a few hours, and we are blown away. First, the plane ride from Kathmandu was an E ticket ride. We got an aerial view of the Himalayas. And then there was a long, very low, approach to landing with a sharp, last-minute bank to the left that was quite unexpected. We met our guide, Tenzin, outside baggage claim, then drove to a fortress/temple/monastery overlooking the valley, then into the very small downtown of Paro, which has existed since only 1985, when the country's only international airport was built, so we could hit the ATM. It is a night-and-day difference from Kathmandu. Gone are the crowds, the chaotic traffic, and dusty, diesel-smelling air. In their place is a sense of calm and order, surrounded by forested mountains and laced with clear rivers. The weather was warm and sunny, a nice harbinger of things to come.
We went for a morning stroll past the Patan vegetable sellers and came across these two schoolgirls who wanted to practice their English. Karen chatted with them, then gave them our marigold necklaces, which are used as Hindu prayer offerings. Brad was occupied at the time. He was on the phone canceling his debit card since someone just tried using it to buy two airplane tickets. Thank goodness for fraud-alert emails (and for backup credit cards).

9 November 2017

And you think you have it tough? Scenes from the public water well. Some wash clothes. Some collect cooking and cleaning water. And some families bathe in it.
... and the local fish market.
The local meat market ...
We did this same shot last year ... but still great to see the temples of Patan.
Here's the pic of our anniversary pastry.

8 November 2017

This may be a record for us ... 24 hours on planes, plus layovers in Seoul and Singapore. Those airplane seats are modern torture devices. Check out the pouches of wine you can get in Singapore. When we finally arrived at our hotel in Kathmandu, our host, Tek, remembered that we're celebrating our anniversary on this trip and shared a delicious chocolate pastry with us. Tonight, we'll do dinner at a new restaurant and stroll the cultural sites in the Patan district. Our flying isn't done yet. Tomorrow, we fly to Paro, Bhutan, where the real fun begins.
Our packs missed their beer. They already are on their way to the plane and are checked through to Kathmandu. We tried to sweet talk our way into first class, explaining that we're celebrating our 22nd anniversary, but the ticket agent said it would cost us $2,000 more. So economy class it is to Seoul, Singapore and Kathmandu. This thing is happening!
They are just waiting for their airport shuttle pickup. The Tom Bradley terminal at LAX is their absolute favorite place to go. It means a beer and a long plane ride are in their immediate future. NOTE TO READERS: If you want see enlargements of any photos, just click on them. Woot woot!