Friday, December 22, 2017

TRAVELLING THROUGH BHUTAN - MY GAKIDH VILLAGE, PUNAKHA

This one is interesting, my best friend and I were a recent member of Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), we were not really sure what we had to do as a member but few days after the membership we got invitation for a hike to "My Gakidh Village" which basically translates to "my happy and peaceful village" the agenda was really amazing, it had hiking, bird watching, camping and tour through the village...who would say no to that. So we signed up for it and anxiously waited for it (16-17th December, 2017) 
On 16th December (Saturday) all the participants had to gather at RPSN office parking where we loaded our camping gears and got into the bus at 6.30 am. We started the journey at 7 am, and we were glad to see some familiar faces. we stopped for a short tea break on the way at Hongtsho and photo session at Dochula. The next stop was directly at Menchhuna, we met with members from Youth Development Fund, WWF and local guides from My Gakidh Village. There was a short briefing regarding the plan for the day my RSPN coordinator and then the fun began. 
Led by two local guides, the entire team of 32 people started the walk. We were given binoculars for bird watching and there was an expert on bird watching from WWF as a resource person. It was a two hours hike on farm road through the village. the walk was very relaxing, nothing extreme, we stopped for bird watching and looking at various trees and plants. After 2 hours we stopped for our packed lunch picnic and reached the camping site in next few minutes. the camping site was in front of a community school (which was adopted by HRHQM Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck) 
All the members pitched in to make camp fire, stone stove for cooking and cleaning the dishes. We made tea, then started with dinner. All of us gathered around the fire by evening with music, all the members interacted with one another and it was good time to bond. The dinner also turned out quite good. The night continued with music and dancing but we went to bed a bit early. the next morning, we fixed quick breakfast and tea. while some were prepping breakfast, rest of us cleaned the area. we all then packed our tents and had breakfast. we took another group picture and then we were briefed about the day's program. 
Thinleygang Lhakhang
we started with 2 hours hike again, this time was through the jungle, it was a lot of ups, downs and my favorite the flat ones (lol) but it was a really beautiful one. From what I write here, you can only imagine 5-10 % of what I really experienced. Its totally worth going there. I am just glad I did it. The forest, river and mother nature...such a beautiful experience. As we walked through the path, all of us picked whatever little trash we found on the way and after around 2 hours we reached Thinleygang Lhakhang (village temple). We visited that and offered our prayers and continued walking up towards the tiny town of Thinleygang. We visited a little tailoring/souvenir shop run by the locals which was established with the help of YDF as part of the My Gakidh Village project. Some of us brought souvenir as a token of support to the project. 
Traditional cooking mud stove
From that point we had our buses waiting for us and we headed for lunch at one of the Homestays in Phentekha. We were greeted by this sweet little boy of the house and the house was a traditional home, authentic Bhutanese home. we were served with tea and puffed rice and then the grand lunch. It was all traditional style cooking...yum yum, since it was paid by RSPN I dont know the cost but whatever the cost must have been, it would have been worth it. after the lunch and much needed break, the RSPN team talked with all the members about what they did and how they contribute in the society. It was inspiring to see all the efforts they put and I highly recommend all of the readers to check their website and see if you can contribute in any way :) 
At around 5 pm, we all got into the bus and returned for home, we stopped at the same highway shop for tea and reached the RSPN parking by 6 pm. We were all super tired but every one had that silly smiles on their faces...we had all made new friends and were all taking home a wonderful experiences.
RSPN: http://www.rspnbhutan.org/
YDF: http://www.bhutanyouth.org/ 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

TRAVELLING THROUGH BHUTAN - DZONGDRAKHA, PARO

Last weekend I was in Paro visiting my in-laws (I do that often) but what I hardly did was explore Paro. Last Sunday was a full moon on lunar calendar so we decided to explore lhakhangs we never visited before. My in-laws suggested a place so we took tea and snacks and went there. 
The first place that we visited was called Dzongdrakha, its direct translation would mean dzong on mountain. The moment I saw it, it reminded me of Paro Taktshang, it was smaller and also easily accessible. it was right next to the road. It is on the way to Chelele la and took us around 20-25 minutes to reach the farm road heading towards the lhakhang. it was originally village owned lhakhang but later was handed over to the monastic body. 

There were four temples one of which was guru lhakhang which is facing Drakarpo (white mountain) which is another important religious spot in Paro. The caretaker there told was that it is believed that guru came from Drakarpo in one leap, so its believed that one footprint is in Drakarpo while the other footprint is in Dzongdrakha. 
it was an auspicious day so the locals were having annual rituals and all the visitors were offered with a hearty vegetarian lunch. 


From there we went to another goenmpa called Gorina. Not many people visits this goenpa. we had to take the farm road which wasn't so good...and it took us around 2 hours  (but felt like forever) to reach there, it was a really slow driving because of the road. the place was quite deserted, not many settlement. there were few monks who were students there. We were told that Gorina goenmpa was a residence of  25th Je Khenpo Sherab Gyeltshen and currently its a monastic school which has classes till 8th standard with only 12 students. the place had a really soothing effect on me, away from all the people and settlement and urbanization. Sometimes all it takes to re-energize one self is to spend a day or two in such places. I am more than glad (although the road sucked) that I visited both the places. It took us another one hour or so to reach Paro town. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

TRAVELLING THROUGH BHUTAN - PHAJODHING, THIMPHU

Last year I went hiking for two days with some of my girlfriends. We went to Phajodhing in Thimphu. I had been there once before in 2015, but it was only a day hike and had gone only till the location of the lhakhangs. But last year was amazing. It was an ad-hoc plan and just like that I decided to go with my cousin and her girl friends. We were ten of us, some meeting for the first time.
The first time I went hiking was with my brother and my nephew, we took two hours to reach till the lkhakhangs (with no rest) and one and half hour on our way back. But that left us with sore body for few days (lol). The second time I went, we took two and half hours on our way up (we rested only once, when we reached the half way). Both the times I went was sometime in October to the weather was just amazing. No rain, no heat and not too cold.

When we reached the lhakhang, we got served with hot tea and biscuits, it was an auspicious day so the monks were performing rituals and were serving every visitors. We visited all the lhakhangs, got our blessings and had our lunch on the ground, and then continued walking up. We had to reach our destination at Thujidra. That was another one and half hour walk up, stopping by in all the small lhakhangs on the way and getting our blessings. By the time we reached up at Thujidra and settled down in the guest house it was 5 pm. Although it was starting to become darker, yet we could clearly see the beauty of the location, the holy water dripping from the mountain and the view downhill, everything was amazing. We had brought our ration for the night and the next day so we started making our dinner in the common kitchen.
I might be giving the impression that there is some sort of pay and use guest house…actually one of the girls in our group knew someone who knew the abbot of Thujidra so we were his guest. Since we didn’t want to impose on him we brought our own ration and used lhakhang’s kitchen for cooking our meals. Because we had an early start the next day we cooked the meals from the night itself and the next morning we all packed our lunches and ate our breakfast. We were done packing and started our walk by 6.30 am. Few of our friends had already requested two monks from the institute the day before to be our guide to the lake (it is very risky to go without a guide for the first time, you don't wanna get lost up on the mountains)

So led by them we started off. I must say, the first half an hour or so was soooooo tiring, it was a steep uphill climb. Once we crossed that treacherous uphill climb it was a beautiful scene, down we saw Thimphu valley and front we saw an unexpected plains which was absolutely beautiful. We were glad to know that from that point on it was pretty much plains, I mean basically we were on top of a mountain peak so no more climb. It was just few ups and downs. Before we started our walk from that point, the two monks lighted incense sticks and said short prayers to the local deity for a safe journey.

We were advised to take sweets to avoid getting mountain sickness and to keep our selves well covered. We walked and walked an walked which felt like forever, but every moment was worth it, the view, the location we all couldn’t help but keep taking pictures. We were told that it usually takes around 6 hours (one way) so we maintained our pace since we had to return to the base by evening. There were so many lakes on the way and we visited all of them from far and said our prayers.                                                             
         
 

On the way we even met some of the tourists and guides returning from trekking. Some were still camped. After almost 3 hours of walking, we decided to stop and have our packed lunch and rest for a while. The spot was breathtaking, almost like in heaven. After the lunch we continued and finally after another hour, we reached our destination. Upon reaching there, the monks once again lit the incense sticks and said the prayers. They advised us not to pollute the late or make loud noises near the lake since it is believed that it will disturb the lake’s deity.

From above the lake looked pretty close but the climb down to the lake was an entirely different story, we had to literally crawl and hang on the shrubs in order to avoid tumbling down to the lake. It must have taken us around 10-15 minutes to reach down safely…haha. Once we reached near the lake we all offered our prayers and cleansed ourselves with the holy late water. We stayed there for at least an hour taking rest and taking a lot of pictures. Once we were contend, we decided to walk back.

Personally for me, the return was very difficult, we started running out of water and we were getting more and more tired. By the time we reached back to end of plains, we were all really thirsty and tired and was dying to reach Thujidra so we can all have something to drink. We reached Thujidra by 2.30 PM and first thing we all did was clustered around the drupchu waiting for our turns. When we reached near the lhakhang, the abbot prepared tea for all of us (how sweet is that?) with which we had biscuits and puffed rice, it was such a treat for all of us.
                              
We started walking towards base by 3:00 pm and since we were all super tired and sore by then, it took us longer to walk down hill, I mean my knees were trembling at times. It was almost 6:00 PM when we reached the base. Looking back at that time, it was two days of sheer joy for me, even with all the walking and knee pains...something I plan to do again in the future. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

BHUTANESE CUISINE - TSIDO PA

This article is long overdue, and I want to say sorry to one of my dear friends who have been asking me to do this article. So today I am going to do another favorite of us Bhutanese and as the title suggests, it’s called Tsido pa. Tsido means ribs, so basically it means ribs meat.
It is actually pretty easy to make, nonetheless I will help you first timers make this easy but delicious dish. The ingredients you will need are ribs (obviously), chilies, onion, tomatoes, cooking oil, garlic, ginger and optional ingredients are spring onions and spinach. I love spinach so my recipe has spinach in it
1.      Chop the ribs into desired pieces. (my case I have it chopped to approximately 5cms) you can chop it however you want
2.      In a pressure cook heat cooking oil and fry chopped onions, garlic, tomatoes. And once they start to brown, fry the chopped ribs and season it with half a tablespoon of salt.
3.      After frying the ribs for few mins (2-3 mins) add a small cup of water and cover it with the lid and cook it until the cooker blows 7-8 whistles.
4.      Let all the pressure release from the cooker and place it back on the stove.
5.      Add spinach, spring onion and chilies (either fresh or dried chilies) and add salt on the chilies
6.    Cook until all the water dries and the spinach is cooked
7.      Best served with red rice 
Like I always say the amount of ingredients you use is based upon your taste buds so use the ingredients accordingly. My case I love it when my meat is hot so I use a lot of chilies and salt to season it well.
And another important thing that you should make a note is the amount of water you use and the time you cook depends on the amount of your ribs. If you have lesser ribs you add little water, just enough to cook the meat, we don’t want ribs soup. 
A trick I usually follow is I listen to the whistles, if the whistles starts blowing one after another with not much time gap, it probably means the water inside has dried up so you might wanna check your water because you don’t wanna burn your ribs.
I hope you will all try making it and also enjoy making it. Good luck!

Friday, September 5, 2014

BHUTANESE RELIGIOUS PRACTISE - NYUNG-NEY

Nyung-ney is a religious practice; it’s a form of fasting, that Buddhist practice. I am not a monk nor a super spiritual person so I can’t give you detailed information about Nyung-ney, but I will share what I know and the experience I had during this spiritual journey. If I am to describe Nyung-ney in one word it would be “liberation” honest to God, that’s the feeling I get after I am done with Nyung-ney. Now you know why I am so keen on writing an article about it.
Statue of Chenrizi
Nyung-ney is basically a cleansing process; it’s for wiping your slate clean of all your sins and wrong doings (both physical and mental). It is focused on Chenrizi (God of Compassion or God with thousand Hands and Eyes). You pray for the end of sufferings of all sentient beings and dead suffering in hell. It is a set of 2 days. So far I have done 4 sets (8 days). 2 sets was done 2 years back in Ramthangkha, Paro and the other 2 set was done just few days back here in Kabisa, Thimphu. These are usually held in Lhakhangs and Goenpas. I will be doing one more set coming weekend in Kabisa.
Since it was during the break, most people were outside
Nyung-ney is organized by Lhakhangs, Goenpas and Shedras (monastic school) upon request from common people. Families volunteer to be the patron of such events, which means they take care of the fooding, tea and snacks for all the participants. They also give Gyep (money offering) for all the participants at the end of each set of Nyung-ney (of course the amount is not fixed, the
 patrons give depending on how much they can afford), besides it’s not about the money, for that day the participants are like monks and nuns (who avoids make-up, ornaments, sex, alcohol and actually live like a monk or a nun until the Nyung-ney is over) who are saying prayers which will benefit the patron so it’s like an offering.  The patron of Nyung-ney is believed to be benefited a lot, that’s why most people rush to volunteer for Nyung-ney. The number of participants is never restricted; they welcome as many participants as possible. Regarding the lodging, men and women are kept in separate halls and we carry our own sleeping mattress and blankets.
Participants in the Lhakhang hall
Anyways, now to speak about the 2 days in a Nyung-ney set, the first day is called ┼ŻAM, throughout the day we say a set of Nyung-ney prayers: once early morning (starts around 4:30-5:00 am), once after the breakfast (around 8:00-8:30 am) and once after lunch (1:30-2:00 pm). Each set of prayers has a section where you have to do prostrates and I would say the minimum number of prostrates you will be doing will come up to 100 (unless you are cheating the whole time) and if you are doing sincerely you will easily do up to 300 prostrates in each set. And in the evening depending on the abbot, there are different evening prayers. And later at night choe-shay (which means explanations on various religious texts and even quarries if you have) you can also say preaching. On this day lunch is your last meal but you can have tea and water until at night.
The second day is called NGAA (which means not speaking) and it is an important day: you are not allowed to eat, drink and even talk. You can only say your prayers. The routine is same like the previous day except without the food, drinks and the talks. So during the breaks, participants usually recite prayers (om mani padme hung, since it’s the mantra of Chenrizi) or any other prayers if you want. And people usually go to bed early because honestly, it is pretty exhausting especially since you have to do approximately 1000 prostrates in a day with an empty stomach.
You end the fasting only on the next day after getting blessings from the abbot and drinking the holy water. And if you wish to continue next set of Nyung-ney, you just continue with the rest of the participants with the prayers, if not you just end your Nyung-ney with the holy water. I don’t have much idea but from what I understand, if you can do 8 sets of Nyung-ney (i.e. 16 days) it’s the most beneficial. You will have all your sins cleared and end a lot of sufferings in the Samsara.
Picture collage of some selfies during Zam
Now if I put in some of my own thoughts, I feel like (please note that this is my personal view)  Nyung-ney is basically a allusion of what it is to like to be in a hell, you don’t get to eat, you don’t get to drink and you don’t have anyone to talk to. And at times like that you seek refuge in God of Compassion, praying for the end of your suffering in hell. So I guess it makes sense.
All I can say is, the first time I did Nyung-ney; it was so tiring and difficult too. But at the end of the Nyung-ney the feeling you get is so awesome. I fell in love with this spiritual task from the very first set of Nyung-ney I did. So I try to do it whenever I can. The current Nyung-ney in Kabisa is actually 8 set Nyung-ney, but since I don’t have enough leave from work, I am attending it in bits and pieces (aiming the weekends), so I will be able to attend only 3 sets L But I shall do it every chance I get in the future. It is believed that one set of Nyung-ney lessens 4000 eons of sufferings in the Samsara…so you can imagine the benefits of Nyung-ney.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

BHUTANESE CUISINE - JAJU

Hi guys, I am so sorry for not updating the blog in a while but out was out of town for official work and then I was too tired to immediately jump back into blogging so took some time off from blogging. Anyways now that I am back I wanted to do another Bhutanese Cuisine and its called JAJU. It’s a really simple dish which is served in any occasion. Basically jaju in Dzongkha means “veg” and generally it means veg soup. It can be made using various key ingredients like sea weed, pumpkin and spinach. 
The one I am going to explain here is sea-weed jaju but again, the process for any kind of jaju is similar. In fact sea-weed and spinach jaju has the same process. Anyways I will start off with the steps of preparing the jaju:
1.      Wash your sea-weed (or spinach) thoroughly and mince it
2.      Place it in a cooking pot with water, oil, salt, red chili powder (as usual, the quantity to your liking)
3.      You can add a cup or two of milk if you want, this is basically to balance the taste and also to give this nice creamy color and texture to the soup
4.      Add feta cheese (around 50 grams if the soup is for a group of four  to six people OR any amount you want) to the mixture and boil it like you boil any other soup
5.      Taste if the salt is enough and “voila” it’s done
Believe it or not guys, that’s it. I told you, it’s pretty simple and easy not to forget it’s really tasty, I personally really like it. I hope you guys will like it too. Enjoy your jaju.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BHUTANESE CUISINE - SUJA

Today I am going to write an article on Bhutanese famous tea - suja. People call this tea, butter tea which is not wrong but if you break the word suja it means su=churn and ja=tea. In the olden days Bhutanese used to be a large joint and extended family and suja was made using huge pot and almost 0.5 meter tall churner called the “Ja-su” . The churning was basically to melt the butter and thoroughly mix the butter in the tea. But these days u hardly see the churner anymore, most people use blenders even in the villages since these days there are only few members in the family.
Anyways, in this article I will help you make suja and it is actually quite simple. Plus I will also teach you a cheater’s way of making a suja. First we will go with the original suja. You will need tea leaves and it’s not the one we use to make milk tea…it is a little different and I am not sure if it is available everywhere. There are two types of tea leaves, one is processed and we get it for sale in the market and the other one is plain tea leaves (and I am really sorry because I don’t know the name of the tree). You can either use the processed tea leaves alone or mix the two. These tea leaves are really strong and give you a really bitter taste. But let me not freak you out now and go step wise.
Boil it, strain it and dilute it
(L)Processed & (R) Plain Tea leaves and soda 
I am using  unsalted butter
  1.   Take a small pot and boil the tea leaves (I am not sure of the ratio but this is basically to get the juice of the leaves so use your guess and boil it) with a pinch of soda.
   2.      Simmer the heat and let the tea boil, try to get as much taste and color from the leaves.
    3.      Strain the juice into another container and add hot water to dilute the juice you extracted (I would say the diluted color should be almost like a diluted raspberry juice ^_^).
  4.      Add butter and salt to your liking and a tea spoon of milk powder (to balance the color of the tea) the blend it until the tea is a little foamy
  5.      Suja is ready to be served.
Final look of "ready to drink" suja 
Krematop powder
Now this next technique is to make suja the cheater’s way… (lol) and I have no idea who thought of it, I saw my mother make it and she drinks it this way because she is not allowed too much butter and in this technique you can do away with the butter. But you will need “Krematop” it is a non-dairy creamer, this is actually used to make coffee. I have only used krematop but using this logic, I am sure any non-dairy creamer will do the trick. Anyways to go on with the steps:
Repeat step 1 till 3 from the previous method and add the non-dairy creamer and salt to the tea to your liking…believe it or not it gives the same taste and looks. Only few people notice the difference. Krematop has this buttery taste to it so it substitutes butter really well. The justice is done and it is like no compromise is made…in fact this easy suja is taken by most people who loves suja but can’t take butter for health reasons. It is like a rescue suja for them…haha
Anyways I hope you guys will be able to make suja easily hence forth…enjoy the tasty suja dear readers ^_^