Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

Bhutan 1

on April 7, 2013

Towards the end of 2010 on a cold winter’s day in the north of England, a magazine dropped through our door. It wasn’t for us – our friend who lives with us subscribes to it, so the magazine lay untouched for a day or two until Tod picked it up & flicked idly through it.
We were sitting in the conservatory at the time, and the rain was hammering on the roof, reminding us how bleak an English winter can be.
I glanced across at Tod and the photo on the front of the magazine caught my attention. I craned my neck to see better as Tod closed the mag and himself stared at the photo.
I went over and sat by him and together we looked closely at the photo of probably the most amazing Buddhist Temple we had ever seen.
It was perched on the side of a mountain, hanging on above a sheer drop of thousands of feet, clinging by some miracle to rock and thin air.
“Where is it?” Tod asked, and I just knew that he didn’t really care WHERE it was, he just wanted to go there.
“Strangely, it doesn’t say” I told him, “I’ll email the mag and find out.”
So that was it. This remarkable spine-tingling, soul-touching Monastery was added to our list of ‘things to do’.
It is known as Tiger’s Nest, or Tiger’s Den, and is situated at 10,000ft in the country of Bhutan which, oddly enough is near Nepal.
We knew next to nothing about Bhutan, except this:
In 2009 while we were living and teaching English in the remote village of Salle in Nepal we spent a lot of time with Kalyani, who was then the village school headmistress.
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before laughter was never far away when the 3 of us were together.She has a wicked sense of humour.
There were already 3 teachers at the school, and a fourth joined while we were there. He was a young man from Bhutan, who came with a sad story.
He and his family were refugees now living in Kathmandu, following a land slip in Bhutan which had completely removed the family house and land.
We do not know why they then relocated to Nepal, but they did so, and he then got the job as a teacher in Salle.
Unfortunately he was a somewhat gauche and difficult young man, who did not endear himself to the village by demanding 4 sacks of rice for his monthly salary, rather than the standard 3.
“Maybe he has a piggy appetite!” Kalyani told us, “How can he eat so much?”
Her aggrieved tone made us laugh, and we had some fun speculating on what he was doing with the extra sack of rice.
But unfortunately for the young man the food in the village, or it might have been the water, did not agree with him, and he seemed to be constantly suffering from an upset stomach.
His route to the school passed by the house we were staying in and he took to waiting for us outside, and walking with us. Of course we collected Kalyani on the way, so that meant the 4 of us would walk together. It was not a happy troupe – the young man complained constantly about his health, and managed to get on Kalayni’s nerves in a big way,
“How is your stomach today?” she’d ask him, and he would moan & groan and provide far too much information for our comfort!
Tod and I would fall about laughing just watching Kalyani trying to remain polite with the poor chap, but it eventually reached the point when Tod, Kalyani and I would hide in the mornings, and wait for him to walk past the house, before we set off for school.
Early on Tod had named the unfortunate young man
‘Bubbly Bum’ (for obvious reasons) and Kalyani just loved that name. I am ashamed to admit that the 3 of us were often to be seen, and heard, walking along one mountain track or another singing:
“Bubbly Bum, Bubbly Bum, here comes Bubbly Bum!”
Oh dear.
We flew from Kathmandu to Paro in Bhutan early one bright, warm morning.
Now I don’t consider myself to be a particularly sneaky person, but I do sometimes work on a ‘need to know’ basis with Tod where our adventures are concerned.
This was one of those times.
I hadn’t mentioned to my better half that the runway at Paro airport would probably fit into our back garden, and that there were only a small number of pilots trained to land there; oh, and that the approach was along a valley just about wide enough for the plane to fit wing tip to wing tip, with a sharp bend at the end.
Actually, I didn’t mention that to anyone, and certainly not to my friend Maria (H) who often says something along the lines of “What are you getting poor Tod into now?”
We landed ok, although you are certainly aware not just of the proximity of mountains outside the windows, but of the sudden rush and squeal of brakes as the plane struggles to stop before the end of the runway.
We all got off & nearly everyone took photos – you don’t often see a plane standing at the very end of the runway.
There was a lot of nervous, relieved laughter.
I mentioned to Tod that I had been a little economical with our transport details – he took some photos.
A day later we drove to the base of the Tiger’s Nest mountain.
We couldn’t see the Monastery at first, the mountains are thickly wooded right up to the tops, and we didn’t have a clear view.
We walked closer, uphill through the forest, across a sloping clearing and into the forest again.
“There they are,” Tod said, pointing to a surprisingly silent group of 30 or so horses standing amongst the trees. They almost seemed to be holding their breath, wondering who was going to ask for their help to reach Tiger’s Nest.
They were small, sturdy creatures, each wearing colourful blankets as saddles. I noticed how big their eyes were, how long the lashes.
The moment of truth. Would I ask one to carry me half way up? Or would I give it a go under my own steam?
I dithered.
“Come on,” Tod said, and reached a hand out, “You can do it.”
I took his hand and prayed he was right.
I am so glad I did.
10 minutes later and I was already out of breath. The effects of altitude are many and horrendous & would fill a blog on their own. But ok, I was also not quite as fit as a butcher’s dog.
We emerged from the forest again and WOW!! There it was. So far above us that we had to crane our necks right back to look that far up.
Surely there cannot be anywhere a more spectacular sight, a more majestic sight, rising from the calm quietness of a silent forest, up into the perfect blue of a clear sky above.
Tiger’s Nest – a Marvel.
Sigh. I knew I wouldn’t get up there.
Surely only mountaineers and mad people get up there. And Buddhist monks who spend a month getting there, and never come down. Why would you?
It took me 4 hours but I made it.
I reached the Temple and stood in front of the Buddha; I stared down from the unprotected edge of the rock; I wondered at the dedication of the 11 monks who live there, and I envied them their peace.
Getting down was a doddle!

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