Thursday, April 7, 2011

Leaving behind a footprint

My unforgettable stay in Bhutan has come to an end after nine amazing weeks of volunteering at the Loden Foundation and discovering new faces, stories and dreams. It is time to get back to my life, family and friends in Europe. However, I have become a forever friend of Bhutan and its beautiful lands, minds and hearts.

I aim to keep in touch with people I met at the Loden Foundation : Ashe Kunzang Choden, Dasho Mehgraj Gurung, Aum Dago Beda, Dr Karma Phuntsho, Dawa Dem, Gerard and Anne Tardy, Dorji Tashi and Rinzin Dema; many of their beneficiaries, young entrepreneurs and kids in need; and numerous locals and chilips (foreigners) as well.

Going home from Bhutan, most visitors fly out from Paro airport. I also stayed here for a day before my departure. I walked around, visited the National Museum and had my last hot stone bath.

Driven by human desire to leave something permanent behind, I hid Bhutan's 9th geocache on the left side of the river, not far from Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang, an ancient temple. If you want to find it, here are the GPS coordinates: N 27° 26.128, E 089° 24.795. Do not forget to leave a note in the logbook, put the box back where it was, and leave another small gift for others to come. I will surely come back one day to check...

During my nine weeks in the kingdom I didn't have time to write about everything I was doing. Among other things, I didn't cover my visit and treatment at the traditional medicine center; my horse ride with a member of the National Council; my visit to a rehab center and the great social work a Welsh lama does in Thimphu; I didn't write about my conversation with monks who left he monastery to start a new life; the world's smallest political opposition; or my visit to Chimi Lhakhang for a phallos blessing.

Given all the unpublished stories and pictures, I will keep writing this blog for some more time to benefit all my readers in numerous countries from the US to Europe, from Russia to China, from India to Australia and from Afghanistan to Thailand. Later, this blog may become a permanent site on Bhutan and I also plan to write down my stories in more details in a book with several unpublished photos. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me at in case you have questions, comments or anything to discuss.

Tashi Delek !

Unique to Bhutan - marijuana and money

Once I heard that Bhutan is the only country where pigs fly. Yes, because of marijuana which is freely growing everywhere and usually given to pigs as an appetizer in case they don't want to eat enough. And human consumption? Very limited, as smoking this weed is not part of local tradition, but rather a modern discovery, especially by youth, such as taking certain prescription drugs to get high or drinking too much alcohol. That is why people like Lama Shenpen Zangpo at Deer Park has more and more to do when it comes to helping drug addicts.

Walking to Khoma village
Bhutan is also unique in a sense that this is the only country I know of where a foreign currency is so widely and legally accepted. The Bhutanese Ngultrum is linked to the Indian Rupee which is accepted up to 200 banknotes or so. For one US dollar you get around 45 Nu/Re.

50 Ngultrum

What can you buy for one dollar? About 4 cups of tea or an Ema or Kewa Datshi meal or a few copies of newspapers. This would also take you from your favorite bar to your hotel in Thimphu by taxi.

Talking about money: kids like Kinga Lhamo whose family can't afford school expenses, need only 6000 Nu ($135) per academic year to go to school. I happen to sponsor her and if you can also afford to help, you are welcome to support other children in need. Just let me know or contact the Loden Foundation directly.

Kinga Lhamo and her unemployed mother. His father passed away last year.

Other unique things in Bhutan: traditional dress, languages, the Penis, and personal names.