Experiencing Bhutan Firsthand

I chose not to read about life in Bhutan outside general tourist information to breathe in all the country has to offer upon arrival. Instead, I wanted to savor the newness of my experience firsthand. And I am ever so grateful for my intuition because, as you might expect, Bhutan has not disappointed, happily providing a proper space for time to fall away.

I went so far as to leave my wristwatch behind so I could be present in each moment. And thus far, every moment has been rich with texture, color, and contemplation. My expectations of what this trip might reveal disappear as I open myself to the quiet retreat.

Maile Walters, yoga instructor.

Tuesday began with daily yoga practice and breakfast, followed by a hike to Tango Monastery, located on the mountainside of northern Thimpu. Our guides at Bhutan Tours and Travel have introduced us to the Himalayan altitude daily, preparing for our hike to Tiger’s Nest. The walk to Tango included a steep trail and wide switchbacks, enveloping us in a canopy of walnut and pine trees, flowers, and fern. All along the way, mantras and Buddhist sayings are painted on guideposts to encourage the traveler.

Yuki hikes to Tango Monastery, Bhutan

Dangspa explains how the circuitous trail represents the spiritual path to enlightenment. One interpretation is depicted in this mural of an elephant on his journey to paradise. With each step closer to purification, the color of his hide turns from gray to white.

Path to Enlightenment Mural, Tango Monastery, Bhutan

About halfway to Tango, we discover a hermitage built into the mountain. We scale a narrow stairway carved out of stone and wood to reach the meditation room. The expansive view is breathtaking. Dangspa leads the group in meditation as mosquitoes hang in the air before us, battling one another, and a ginger cat settles in the sun. (No photography is allowed within the temples, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

Afterward, we returned to Thimpu for our first official Bhutanese lunch: a spread of local dishes that started with roasted rice and butter tea. Followed by red rice, mushroom soup, pork and chicken specialties, spinach, sautéed vegetables, and the country’s delicacy Ema Tadashi (also known as chili cheese).

Bhutanese Cuisine: Roasted Rice, Fermented Pork, Spinach.

We visit a weaving arts center and observe artisans as they craft fabric for traditional Bhutanese clothing.

Bhutanese Textile Craftsmanship

Later in the evening, we visit the Choden family at their home in downtown Thimpu. It is a whole house with Thinley, Pasa, their mother, sister, niece, and nephew, together with our tour group of nine. They so graciously pose for a family photo.


One Day in Bangna, on the outskirts of Bangkok

Like any city with a well-orchestrated train system, Bangkok is easy to navigate. The BTS Skytrain with its colors, words, and numbers, has, as Claudia shared “something for everyone.” The train itself was wide enough to accommodate the throng of people bound for downtown Bangkok on a Saturday morning. I reveled in the courtesy of its passengers, all of whom acted respectfully toward one another and created space for their fellow travelers at each station. And, not so surprisingly everyone abided by the no smoking/drinking/eating instructions made by the automated announcements, which of course meant the subway cars were clean and sparkly–although that last bit was probably from the glitter painted floors.

Our mission for the day included visiting the Jim Thompson House, the home of an American expat who ‘single-handedly’ (with some help from his good friends at Vogue), reinvigorated the Thai silk trade in the 40s and 50s. We had a lovely tour guide with a keen sense of humor who shared Thompson’s history and architectural vision for his homestead. The temperature was balmy so we escaped into the cool environs of the Jim Thompson restaurant for a light lunch and a refreshing dose of Thai iced coffee. Afterward, we set our sights on the most important part of the day: finding a yoga mat. Rather than carrying one transatlantic, we decided to try our hat at buying one locally. And we did, thanks to the surplus of shopping malls along the Sukhumvit train line.

A selection of photos from our day:

Udom Suk train station

Verandah at Jim Thompson House Museum

Silk weaving at Jim Thompson House Museum

Map of Siam, c. 1686

Morning Glory with Chili Peppers, Shrimp Spring Rolls with Spicy Basil Dipping Sauce

King Rama 9, Street Art Mural, Bangkok Art Culture Center

Just two friends on a journey in Asia

Street Art near Udom Suk Station

the incentive is you

This weekend was a wash, I worked later than planned on Friday night. That over exhaustion plus the dread of the blizzard that wasn’t, left little incentive to wake up early on Saturday. Tigger was in agreement, as he let me be for hours until Dad’s shoveling scraped my eyes awake. All in all I felt as if I lost another day.

Work has been busy, with a capital B. For the most part I feel as if everyone (save a few but I’ll leave those observations to myself) is on the same wavelength. We’re in start-up mode, with leaner teams and mountains of work.  The day is like water, a real time suck. In the past, I don’t think I ever felt it before, but I had a slight epiphany and in that revelation realized to some degree I’ve lost days. Days. Not minutes or hours, full on days!

time for a change

Last week I started to break free and leave early for “fun” events–dinner with dad/friends, writing groups, getting home early to read–in those few hours alone I was able to detox just enough to re-embrace life. Realistically it shouldn’t be that hard to do (winter cold as an obstacle notwithstanding). I used to engage all the time and at one point I averaged 2 concerts a week! But like any new activity or habit one reintroduces into life, it takes dedication and personal commitment to be successful.

This morning I had a conversation with a guy friend of mine, a new friend just getting to know my idiosyncrasies and flaws.  He asked me how I was and in giving him the update I mentioned how I needed to balance my work life, how it would be ideal to have an incentive to leave the office on time. He laughed, nearly guffawing on the phone (and I’m pretty sure he cursed in that supposed cough). Then soon after taking a deep breath, he told me that my incentive had to be me, that the desire to live a better life should be enough to get me out of the four walls of the office, and back into the world.

I think in most cases it’s about being brave, brave enough to keep the promises you make to yourself. Challenging yourself to follow your gut to make the call that changes your life. It’s about flipping perception to try something new, and that first step is always the hardest.

Food for Thought

What do You Want to do in 2010?

100 Ways to Change Your Life

Embark on your Living Revolution

Sometimes, Change Happens at Home

Confidence is the Key

Il Primo Giorno: Ancient Rome

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus

eternal flame for the unknown soldier

The crux of the ruins and the Forum lie behind Via Venezia and the monument dedicated to Emmanuelle Vittorio II, Italy’s first king.  Manny must have made quite a splash—his monument is enormous featuring detailed carvings of battle shields and arms.  Military stands guard 24/7 watching over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the flame a cenotaph and reminder that not all those who fall in the name of peace are known.

All roads lead to Rome...the phrase stems from the Romans expert construction abilities. What better evidence, then the Colosseum. One of the most renowned tourist attractions in Rome, it is quite impressive on the approach, the elliptical shape ominous and majestic from a distance. It makes the Roman skyline almost mystical. A good portion of the original structure of the Colosseum was destroyed in a series of earthquakes, and you can see where the original foundation began from the band of white floor stones just outside the entrance. From the travertine stone to the Tuscan columns with Doric, Ionic and Corinthian detail, there is no doubt why the Colosseum’s structure will remain an architectural achievement.

il colosseo

This landmark has been a focal point not only in history books but in contemporary art, literature and entertainment and it’s hard not to envision caged men and beasts entering through the arches into the city (like Maximus perhaps?). The fervor of a hungry audience (much like today’s reality television viewers) rumbling with excitement.  Imagining an audience of 50,000 spectators (across all economic levels, tickets were distributed to all the people of Rome) crowding the Colosseum just to be a part of the spectacle. The highlight of their week: the humiliation and death games.


Ill prepared this first day on how much to carry and what to wear (obviously NOT a long sleeved shirt with a light corduroy jacket and scarf), I probably should have waited until I was well rested before visiting the Colosseum. I fell victim to the “unscrupulous private guides” lurking the entrance perimeter, and paid an additional 4€ to participate in an English-speaking tour that nearly put me to sleep.

Il Primo Giorno: Via del Corso

Piazza del Popolo
early morning, my first day in Rome

Leaving Locarno I make my way to Piazza del Popolo. Known as the traditional north entrance to the city, it is the starting point for local Romans on their evening passegiata. The center of the piazza features a 10-story Egyptian obelisk brought to Rome in 1589. A trident of streets leads people to the heart of Rome: Via Babuino (to Piazza di Spagna), Via Ripetta (along the Tiber River) and Via del Corso (toward the city center).

Via del Corso runs from Piazza del Popolo to Via Venezia, the famed roundabout that boasts traffic as crazy as il Palio di Siena. It is known for its shopping, and most resembles the stretch of Broadway that runs south of Union Square (New York).

City life is similar to my hometown though it appears more colorful and light. I find myself amidst the hustle and bustle of commuters, families with school children (déjà vu a la Park Slope) and my fellow tourists. My first impression of the eternal city, is its walkability. There’s no reason one could not cover a lot of ground over the course of a week. Though one truth is certain: the cobblestone streets are unforgiving, and aplenty. It is an absolute must that you bring the right walking shoes. And despite what you might hear, sneakers are not taboo, Romans wear them and other sensible footwear, too.

modern art rome
Pz. Parlamento

Rome is a city of undocumented (in my prep research sources noted anywhere from 400 to a thousand) churches; and they are everywhere.  Behind piazzas, around corners, secretly lurking down narrow alleyways and streets. There are just as many monuments and archaeological ruins, and I’m pleased to say that I found a random selection of complementary modern art sculpture.

Passing the Piazza del Parlamento I take a left and wander off the beaten path to find the Fontana di Trevi dry, with not a drop (turned off for cleaning) of water spouting. Quite a sight to see, considering the rows of spectators lining the perimeter in anticipation for the grand water show. I admire the magnificence of the sculptures and continue south toward Via dell’ Umilta, stumbling onto the Quirinale–one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Busloads of children and escorted tours alike populate the Piazza.

The walk south toward the Imperial Forum is lovely, and the weather fantastic. The sky is a clear blue, the sun bright and high with a steady temperature in the mid-70s. La dolce vita indeed!