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Trying to Summarize a Cloud March 2, 2010

Posted by KG in Bhutan, Travels.

Each individual moment we spent in Bhutan was a highlight. Writing about the trip is a struggle; no single moment is good enough to capture the whole vacation, and yet each moment taken in isolation was amazing enough to warrant its own story. We’ve been on a lot of good trips together, but none have been simultaneously so relaxing, so rewarding, and so magical.

Halfway through the first day of our trek from the Punakha to the Wangdue valley, we stopped for a brief trail lunch. We’d been climbing steadily upwards for almost four hours, sometimes on easy, gentle rises and sometimes on narrow, rocky scrambles that still make my ankles ache. Just when I thought I was at my climb limit, we hit the crest — a school, a farmhouse, a soccer field, a chorten, a temple. Connected to the nearest city by a snaking dirt road and our climbing path. The owner of the farmhouse gave us — all the weary trekkers, guides, horsemen, and Americans alike — miniscule, bitter-sweet oranges from her tree. We sat by the chorten to have our oranges, and a Bhutanese meal of dried meats, hot chilis, and vegetables, over red rice. Despite an ongoing forest fire, the air was clear, and our guide pointed out Gankar Punsum, the highest peak in Bhutan. There was a cold breeze, and though moments earlier I had been sweaty and overheated, I started to shiver. According to our guide, the hard part of the day was over, but the next day would be even tougher. My hips throbbed, my feet screamed. I was excited for more.


It was a moment, and yet…

It was a long day’s drive, from Wangdue to Phobjikha, after our trek was over. Somehow, our guide had forgotten to mention two important details of our trip to the Phobjikha Valley. One, that it was cold, really cold, in Phobjikha. I’d gone from six layers to two during the daylight moments of our trek, and was wholly unprepared for it to be well below freezing, and to be lashed by some serious valley winds. The other fact Tenzing (our guide) forgot to tell us: we were going to visit his ancestral home. There we were, walking through fields of dwarf bamboo, as our guide recalled his childhood for us. “We’d fish here, in summers,” he said. “There, that’s where I went to school.” Every few moments, a black-necked crane would glide over us, graceful and silent. The valley had a “bigness” I’d never encountered before, as if it were its own world, content with being so isolated, but happy you came to visit. We walked into our guide’s mother’s home without knocking; his sister-in-law was there, and she made us tea. A few days earlier we’d been in Thimphu, where we’d seen a replica of a Bhutanese farmhouse. We saw the same things in Phobjikha: where meat was drying, where grain was stored. In Thimphu, it felt like history. Here, the smells and sounds were different, and made it clear that here everything was being used. It took that moment for me to comprehend that we hadn’t been in a museum back in Thimphu, and just how close to the ground many Bhutanese lived.



The issue is that I have two, three, four stories like that for every day of our trip. Can you imagine writing a recap of a vacation where every moment was a highlight? I can’t, and I won’t be able to. Bhutan’s simply a wonder, a place that makes me want to wax poetically like a teenager. I’m endlessly thankful for having the chance to go there, and if you have the opportunity, take advantage of it.



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