Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Kelso Valley Road

We are home, and fully recovered, and managed not to catch anything during three days of transit last month.  Yay for us.  We haven't been idle, but we have been sticking closer to home and watching more TV than I thought was actually possible.  It is time to snap out of our idleness, so I wrote a blog post with a few pretty flowers from a hike we did along Kelso Valley Road a couple of weeks ago.  I will try and get us caught up and share more of the beautiful things we have seen.

Owl's clover


Goldfields and filaree up close
Kelso Creek Monkeyflower

Kelso Creek Monkeyflower

Kelso Creek Monkeyflower

Cream Cups

Baby Blue Eyes, one of my favorites

The view from the top of Rocky Point

Bob celebrating our 800' climb

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Bhutan - Cultural Sites

Tiger's Nest
You can't go on a birding tour to Bhutan and ignore the cultural delights that exist. Bhutan has a long history of Buddhism and has never been colonized. We entered Bhutan on the 29 of February, and the country was closed to new visitors on March 5. By March 15 there were only 49 tourists left in the country, and as we concluded our trip we were the last 4 tourists left in the country. This made for some pretty amazing cultural visits to places normally teeming with visitors. 

The four major sites we toured during our visit included:

Punakha Dzong. Typically, a Dzong is a historic fortress situated at a strategic location in a valley. During feudal times it was the center of military and religious activities. Today each serves as a major monastic and government center for a region. Constructed in the 17th century, this is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. When we visited they hadn't had a tourist in a week. The guards had to phone in and ask permission to let us enter. In what would normally be a spot with hundreds of tourists, we had the place to ourselves.

Guide Chubzang is dressed for the Dzong visit in his traditional gho (with binoculars!)

Panakha Dzong

Main entrance to the Dzong

Prayer wheel

Part of the continuous rehabilitation work on the exterior art by trained craftsmen

Entrance to the main temple

Not a tourist in sight

Buddha Dordenma Statue. Perched high on a hillside, this 153 foot tall gold-guilded statue looks over the capital city of Thimphu. On the day we visited there wasn't a tourist in sight.

Susan is in the lower left of this image, for a sense of scale

Chagri (Cheri) Monastery. This teaching and retreat monastery is under a major exterior renovation but was fascinating to visit. An hour-long hike up the mountain gave us great views of the valley below, and some pretty good birding too! Again, there had been no visitors in a while. We had a private tour from the caretaker, and were even given the extreme honor of lighting all of the the butter lamps for the day. I'd guess not many tourists have been as fortunate.

A Stupa (shrine) at the start of the trail

Field breakfast a the Stupa!

Cheri Monastery

Lighting the butter lamps

Paro Taktsang (Tiger's Nest). The "don't miss" cultural site in all of Bhutan, the Tiger's Nest is a monastery built high on a cliff overlooking the Paro Valley. It's a 5+ mile round-trip hike with 2000 feet of elevation gain, already at high altitude. Take it easy and it's a pleasant hike with remarkable scenery. The single-track trail was nearly empty and the birding was good as we climbed. With no crowds of tourist, we were able to visit all 11 small temples on the cliff. Tiger's Nest was constructed in the late 17th century on a site where Guru Padmasambhava  meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in a cave during the 8th century. Padmasambhava brought Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country.

Tiger's Nest on the cliff above

L-R Guide Chubzang, driver Phuntsho, Agnes, Tim, Susan and Bob

In each of the descriptions above, the title is linked to an article for each. Additionally, photography is not allowed inside any temple. This is understandable, but unfortunate, as these temples were the most visually amazing part of the visits. There were many times when we stood and looked with our mouths hanging open, taking in the sheer beauty and artistry of the Bhutanese people. I can only encourage you to go sometime and see for yourself. 

Once more, a great big thank you to Chubzang and Phuntsho for a fantastic trip. And to our friends Tim and Agnes, thanks again for the wonderful time we always have together, and all the hard work you do getting us ready to go.