Saturday, April 9, 2016
BHUTAN AND BURMA 2016
Bangkok, jumping off point for the above, is only a 9 hour direct flight so this seemed like a doddle.
I had a day flight to Bangkok where I spent the night and had reflexology for an hour - this involves a foot massage and it was excellent. More than I can say for the street food.
Next morning, early flight to Paro in Bhutan with a short stop in India. The flight only took a few hours and I was met at the airport by my driver and my guide. They wore national dress - a knee length gown with white cuffs, long black socks and shoes. All government employees must wear national dress.
Bhutan was closed to tourists until 1974 when 22 people arrived from Austria and were the first to
pay the US$200-250 (depending on the season) for the privilege of visiting this cut off kingdom. I had heard about it on my world travels but decided it was far too expensive for me.
I took a seven day tour and the cost included visa, flights from Bangkok, all entrances, all meals, car, driver and guide and even bottled water and coffee at any time. In fact, it seemed very reasonable.
The only people who escape this entrance fee are from India which is a 6 hour drive away.
We drove from the airport in Paro to the main town of Thimphu where we visited the homeopathic hospital. I was able to speak to a young doctor for a while - I asked how they treated cancer and she
said with herbs but people never came back - recovery or death? I asked about oracles and she said she could not recommend them as they were in the East of the country with the nomads and they liked to open up veins. She added that AIDS was not uncommon.
We visited a few museums, zongs (fortresses) and temples - the Buddhism practised here is from Tibet which can be seen over the Himalayas. The king's palace was pointed out - quite small and right on the river. He and his queen have just had a baby boy. I opted to wear national dress - top and skirt which kept falling down. In fact on the last day it fell off in the temple.
My hotel room was more of a suite and overlooked the archery ground. This is the favourite sport in Bhutan. I had an early dinner and rested up as I knew the temperature would drop to zero overnight.
The guide suggested visiting a temple at the top of a mountain and I realised how out of condition I was as I had to rest continually. I was thrilled to learn half way up that it was closed.
We went over the mountains to visit the phallus temple. A monk was in charge of handing out a 3 ft wooden phallus with a bow around it. to anyone who wanted to get pregnant - it involved walking around the temple three times.
My guide, Pema, told me it worked because he heard that an American woman tried it some years ago and after 9 months she got pregnant - the baby looked just like the guide! The village was covered in phallus signs - very amusing.
The hotel this time was an eco resort and the electricity predictably went out at night. We were there to visit a temple that was hosting a temple festival- Gangtey Goempa built in the 17th century. It was wonderful to watch the monks dancing. When we passed over the mountains again, we had a brilliant view of the Himalayas covered in snow. We visited Punakha zong sitting on two rivers and temples. We admired the peach trees that were flowering with pink and white.
We spent the night at a spa resort and were up next morning ready to do another big walk to Tiger's Nest, a small monastery built on the side of a mountain that took 6 hours to walk to - I did 2 hours and stopped for lunch at the cafe.
Next day I was in great anticipation to see an important temple festival - I had always wanted to see this as Tibet can no longer do this - monasteries have been destroyed along with everything else.
The monks wore amazing outfits and masks - the dances are supposed to represent what we will see in the afterlife so that we know what to expect - the dances included the Black Hat Dance. There was the largest thanka or painting on one wall of the temple and within an hour they had managed to roll it up.
The day was devoted to mask dances and was a fitting end to my trip as this was the real reason for me coming to Bhutan. I flew back to Bangkok for the night and another early flight to Yangon (Rangoon). I was met at the airport once again by guide and driver and caught up with my friend Thelma at our splendid hotel in the middle of town.
We visited a few temples and had a late afternoon tour of the magnificent Shwe Dagon temple which seemed to have a lot more fold than the first time I saw it in 1978. Things had certainly changed a lot
and roads had been built where once I slogged up a mountain.
We were lucky enough to see about a dozen novice monks varying in age from about 12 to 3 arriving under parasols on horses. Every male becomes a monk for as short as a week, a few months or his whole life. They are not forced to stay if they don't want to. It was like watching a confirmation ceremony with proud parents being photographer with their son. On our travels we saw lots of monks with their begging bowls and people anxious to feed them and so gain something for their good deed in the afterlife.
Next morning we took a short flight to Bagan where 2200 temples dating back to 9th century sit shimmering in the boiling hot sun. This is where I almost passed out in 1978 due to the outrageous heat. We had an early morning flight over the temples - best way to see everything - and landed on a beach near the Irrawaddy river to drink champagne and eat croissants.
Another short flight to Mandalay, more temples and buddhas. I was starting to get templed out and cranky. It was getting hotter. We went to an island by boat and then travelled in a bumpy pony and trap to see yet more temples. I came close, once again, to fainting from the heat and stopped and lay down whilst Thelma climbed a brilliant white pagoda around noon!!
I decided that my travelling days were over - 100 countries in 50 years. Another short flight brought
us to Lake Inle which was mercifully cooler - about 28 deg. Our hotel was quite sumptuous but the
food was rubbish. By now I was eating Indian food where possible and otherwise not eating much - limp vegetables in a sloppy Chinese sauce is not my idea of good food. The lake is famous for the fishermen who use one leg to paddle.
Then it was back to Yangon where we took a train ride round town on an awful rickety train - mercifully we only did a short journey and the driver picked us up - Yangon was full of wonderful colonial buildings. The fact that my father was in Burma from 1942-45 made it mean something to me. I cant imagine how he managed in the heat - dystentry, hookworm and heaven knows what.
I had a night in Bangkok in a deluxe room at the Holiday Inn - I was able to eat Japanese food for dinner. I decided to spend a few hours at the Grand Palace which was a disaster - absolutely full of Chinese tourists - what a crush.
I flew back to Sydney Qantas business class - disappointing and not worth the money. I will just have to sit up next time - it is only 9 hours after all.