I have to pinch myself at least twice a day… am I really back in Bhutan after a year and a half of dreaming about it? It feels like a dream, partly because the weather has been so perfect, and so many familiar faces and places surround me.
Today, Cathy and I and our guide Kinlay met with some officials at the office of tourism, and discussed the potential for future trips with The Hole Hiking Experience. There were plenty of exciting ideas on the table. After some final planning for the arrival of our fellow adventurers on Friday, Cathy and I did some hefty window-shopping Thimphu, where some of the Himalaya’s most beautiful Buddhist artwork and handicrafts can be purchased. The capital’s downtown shopping area is relatively small, not much larger than Jackson. Personal cars are banned from downtown streets on Tuesdays as a fuel conservation measure, thereby creating a more pedestrian-friendly city-scape. Cosmos, morning glories, carpet flowers and many other wildflowers are still in full bloom; cicadas still send their rasping calls from huge trees scattered among clusters of six-story buildings, Bhutan’s skyscrapers.
Behind all this pleasant urban jumble to the west, a dense conifer forest climbs steeply to a ridgetop at 13,000 ft, its cairns adorned with prayer flags. Just beneath the ridge, yet almost too small to notice, sits a 14th-century monastery and a group of small temples, some still under repairs from a 2011 earthquake in eastern Bhutan. Two days ago, I hiked to the monastery from the edge of town, relishing the soft, rhythmic ringing of large bells on the necks of ponies hauling huge hand-made canvas bags of medicinal plants from the alpine valleys, above 15,000 ft.
Three days ago, I hiked with a Bhutanese friend up to 9,000 ft. near the city to examine the world’s largest Buddha statue, known as the Buddha Dordenma, 42 meters tall. Just another magical experience in Bhutan. I must be dreaming, but I’m here, and the dream is real.