Monthly Archives: December 2014


We have a large family…so does my brother in law, Suja. My family is large and close. I have six sisters and one brother and we get together A LOT. I think the fact that on the Bhutan trip, the five of us represented the families of five of the sisters says something about the extended family. Suja’s family come from a very long line of Hindu priests from the temple city of Bhubaneswar, India.

My mum lives in Maitland, Ontario with my sister Nicky, her husband Suja and their two boys. At one time, Alan and I lived with her, from when I was first pregnant with Jacob up until his second birthday. Maitland is like two solitudes. There is most of the time when a small group lives together and things tick along. Then there are the weekends and holidays when the small family is invaded by the extended family and all of a sudden, there are upwards of 30 people in the four bedroom house, eating three large meals a day and sleeping wherever they can. There are stashes of blankets, pillows and foam mattresses in several places throughout the house. The living room often has 10+ people sleeping on couches and the floor. There are belongings and devices strewn all about. Conversations, cooking and games of chance and skill are everywhere. To me it is normal but I suppose it is not for the feint of heart.

Suja’s family lives constantly in the second solitude. They have several families living together under the same roof and the household is always busy. There is always something going on and the kitchen is rarely empty between dawn and dusk. Even though they have so many people there, they were generous enough to give over one of the bedrooms to us on our return to India from Bhutan.

Muni is Suja’s niece. She is a few days older than my daughter, Heather. When we took our kids travelling 8 years ago, Muni and her brother, Shokti joined us on a minibus trip to the Taj Mahal and environs.

India..round two

For anyone who knows me, you know that my husband Alan is a rampant cyclist. He even got me to do a bike trip in India a long time ago now. Watching the Indian roads now, it is a wonder we survived with our North American traffic viewpoints. I spent three days on car trips this week and watching the organic way that traffic moves is endlessly fascinating. Pat was constantly filming videos out the front window and I did several myself. What I find is you can film for a long boring time, but the second you turn the video off, something head shaking happens. It is almost impossible to get a true sense in a short video clip.
Like at home, there are often lanes painted on the road. Unlike home, these lanes are merely guidelines. Two lanes become three or more as traffic flows. It is totally not uncommon to see a new lane spring up coming in the opposite direction on a one way else would you get back? Go around? Are you kidding me?
If a driver needs to cross four lanes of traffic, he (because they are mostly he’s) just does it. Often a slow process as the traffic flows around. Uturn? Go for it. Others will avoid you if they can. Three point uturn? No problem. Just ignore all those angry horns. And speaking of horns..use it constantly. Every time you are passing someone, you toot your horn to let them know. If they don’t move over, hit it harder. If traffic is stopped ahead of you, lean on the horn as you approach the jam, they should magically part for you, right?
I tried to get a sense of the way bicycles and hand carts are used in India. The short answer is that they are used to haul everything and anything over the short haul.

Tigers nest bail

…sorry I ‘went dark’ in India for a while, as they say in spy flics..I am in Heathrow, the first wifi I have seen in almost a week. I can’t get the pics off the phone or the post edited on the iPad without..(first world problem as Pat is fond of saying)

Did I mention we stayed in an old palace for our last 3 nights in Bhutan? It was lovely but the wifi sucked and the service was below the level of the other two hotels. We would have been thrilled if we went there first, but how quickly we can become jaded.

It had a beautiful temple upstairs and it was one of the only ones you can photograph. We saw these super fancy offering cakes in a lot of temples. I was psyched I could get a picture. There was also some lovely furniture in the room outside the temple.

The last day in Bhutan was spent climbing to the Tigers Nest temple (for the others) and halfway up (for me). Even that was challenging and I was actually most worried about my knees on the descent. I could probably have got up there, given much more time than the others, but maybe not happily down. I give you the views from the bottom and my stopping point..the cafeteria. I met a father and son who were on a birding tour so I got to use my Binos and their guide was happy to identify anything I saw. I only got a pic of a butterfly.

Gotta catch my last flight of 10 this trip. Will post India, round two when I get home…Merry Christmas

Festivals and temples

It was the national day in Bhutan so we spent the morning at a festival celebrating that. On the way we stopped for a photo op along the river with the Paro Dzong in the background. I took a picture of Chime, our guide and Dochi, our driver together. It turns out Dochi’s wife weaves all his clothes on a backstrap loom. Laura and David decided to test the waters. FF. We arrived at the celebration, which is in Chime’s home town so she bumped into her cousin and best friend.

It turns out that all the performers had been there for hours so the poor elementary school kids were slightly bored, although very well behaved. The ceremonies started with a procession of dancers, some sort of blessing and a flag raising, then the king’s speech was piped in from the eastern end of the country. After that, each group of students marched vigorously round the field, with arms swinging in unison. When they had finished that, about 12 groups of dancers performed.

We left the festivities and went for lunch. We visited the Paro Dzong, which is the local seat of government. All the Dzongs have government offices and major monasteries. This one had an antechamber which had religious paintings, including this one which depicts heaven and hell and the paths to each. It was an interesting building architecturally with a huge inner courtyard. From here you could see the national museum building which is being reconstructed after being damaged in an earthquake. There was a monk on duty at the temple selling trinkets.

After the Dzong, we visited the oldest temple in the area. It was one of 108 temples built in one day by a Tibetan king trying to pin down a god, as legend has it.

On the road again

We spent the day retracing our path across the Dochu la pass, but this time it was snowing.

When we got to the top, we had to wait a couple of hours for the roadblock below to open so we had lunch and then the boys taught Dochi (our driver) and Chime (our guide) how to play Suja’s version of dice.  Everywhere you go in Bhutan there are pictures of the royal couple. They are the 33 year old fifth king and his 23 year old bride of two years. They are a beautiful pair. Here is  Pat beside their portrait in the restaurant.

Pat and the royals

Pat and the royals

When we got back down to Thimphu we visited the textile museum. No photos were allowed inside but I bought the catalogue of the collection. When we got back outside Dochi was trying to help someone who had a flat tire fix his jack.


After the museum we stopped briefly for a photo op of a giant walking Buddha who was imported from Thailand. He is across the street from the national stadium, then we drove to Paro and checked into the hotel

Over the pass

After the day of visiting many different attractions, we had a day of mostly driving. It was amazing, the scenery was stunning and we went on one of those roads that switched back constantly as it snaked up to the Dochu la pass and back down into the next valley. At the top of the pass is a set of 108 stupas to commemorate the soldiers lost in a war

The road is being widened, but since it is the only road, that causes logistical problems.  The first problem is that they can’t work on it in either the winter or the rainy season, which leaves about six months. The second problem is of course the fact that it is the only road and so they have to keep opening and closing it to let the traffic through. There is apparently a roadblock report on the news every night to let people know when they will be able to get through. Our driver timed our trip so we only waited once for an hour between the three roadblocks.  We did have to stop a few other times when the road was only narrow enough for one vehicle  I took

some pictures of decorated trucks at one of these places

On the other side of the pass we stopped at the phallus temple for a walk and lunch. This is the temple that commemorates the master who seems to have been quite a lech, but is revered because he subdued some pretty nasty demon. Because of him, there are penis decorations all over, like the one from yesterday’s post.

When we got down into the valley, we visited the old capital and its dzong (parliament building). Tomorrow we will go back over the pass and spend three nights in Paro



Full day of sightseeing

We had a full day of sightseeing today.  We started out visiting the memorial choten of a king who died young.  It is a very nice Buddhist temple

After the choten we climbed up to the giant Buddha that sits in the mountainside overlooking the capital, Thimphu.  My kids used to love going to all the many ‘worlds biggest Buddhas’. This one may end up claiming to be the worlds biggest bronze Buddha, who knows.  It was started ten years ago but construction is slow. They cannot do concrete in either the winter or monsoon

Our next stop was a museum showing a traditional farmhouse with three floors. Ground floor was for the animals, second for feed and food storage, then living quarters on the top floor. No photos allowed inside, but I do have a picture of our guide at the front door.  She is explaining the significance of the giant penis hanging over her head!


After lunch we visited an ‘animal preserve’ (read zoo) housing the national animal, the takin, then we went to the King’s offices and a market.

We have arrived in Bhutan..

We got up super early this morning and headed to the airport. The flight was short and sweet with our first views of the Himalayas. We were met at the airport by the best tour guide you could imagine and our own private 20 passenger mini bus

We will apparently have the guide, bus and driver for the duration of our stay. Our first stop was a 14th century chain bridge which took all my courage to cross. As I started across, I really wished I had done my shoes up properly. My sanity was not improved by Dave running back across in the opposite direction, bouncing the heck out of the whole thing. The bridge was made from 3 huge chains with links about 6″ long. There were a couple of lengths of rebar running parallel to and between the chains. Chain link fencing surrounded the chains and rebar, making up the floor and sides. Luckily there were two bridges across the river so I came back on the one that had a plank floor. Dave got on behind me and bounced it like crazy but the illusion of stability provided by the solid floor carried me through, and I managed to scoff at his attempts to scare me again.

We had a nice lunch and checked into a great hotel. In the afternoon we visited a weaving place. They were doing really great backstrap weaving. We watched for a while then returned to town and walked around for an hour or so. IMG_20141212_162735

As my niece laura said, you can’t take pictures to show anyone what it is like here because every second you think, “what the heck?”  I love early mornings when I travel. I always try to catch at least one sunrise on any trip.  This morning I get up early and headed to the Newmarket area. It is an old building from 1874 that you can’t get far enough back from to fit in one frame.

I was on a corner just down the road when I heard birds cheeping beside me.  I looked down and saw a bicycle with at least 50 chickens strung up in four bundles by their feet.  Then I noticed a bunch of enclosures the size of kiddie pools full of chickens. They have to be transported live or they would go bad before they could be used. I watched the guy wrangling chickens for a while until his partner noticed me and gave me the hairy eyeball.

Once I met up with the family we went to the Victoria Memorial. It is a beautiful marble building built just after the turn of the 20th century.  We toured the building during daylight, then had a bite to eat and returned for a much vaunted sound and light show. All I have to say is you can’t always believe the hype…

Hang on to the small stuff..

At the hotel counter I saw some Germans desperately asking for small bills. Rookie mistake.  You have to figure out how to build a stock of small bills and coins yourself in any third world country.   Unlike life in general, one has to hang on to the small stuff when it comes to money.  It is a game…bottle of water 20 rupees..give a one hundred, this will net you at least 3 tens and the vendor will rarely blink an eye.   Never pay for anything that costs more than one hundred with a bill that is less than a five hundred.  This means hotel and restaurant bills.   And when the bank machine asks you about denominations…pick the smallest possible to keep your options open.  Within a day I was up to 12 tens and counting.  You can always gets rid of them on the last day.

Yesterday, I did a bit of tourist stuff.  I went to the Indian museum which was great in an old world way.  Beautiful building and displays like the ROM used to have before the renovations.

I then took a taxi to the Kalighat temple which cost me a whole dollar.  It was very busy because apparently it was a Kali holiday.  I seem to be able to hit the busy days for these things, on our trip with the kids we hit the Taj Mahal on the busiest day of the year.  They were sacrificing goats at the temple, which they apparently do daily.    They also sacrifice a buffalo once a year.  The return taxi cost $1.50 because he went a different way…break the bank.

i am now at the guest house awaiting the arrival of my family members.  This place costs three times what the place I stayed in the last two nights did (it was $14 per night).  This place has a couch in the lobby and strong wifi. The other place had a wooden box.