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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Druk Yul: Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

druk yul land of the thunder dragon bhutan the last shagri-La travelogue travel notesD managed to take a short break from his 2-month-long practically round-the-clock work in India to enjoy a cultural tour of Druk Yul: Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon aka Bhutan right before he was to return home.

While he has offered to do a guest post about his experiences one of these days, I am not holding my breath :)

Considering the 10,000 things he has lined up that are much higher priority for him, I took the liberty of sharing some highlights from his trip in my other space for vicarious thrills.

Now, thanks to Dora, Ana is reasonably interested in maps - as something that shows where you want to go, where you have been etc. Since D and I pore over maps at times, just for fun, she seems to want to find out what the fuss is about.

During his slideshow presentation for the family, when D showed me the map of Bhutan and pointed out the regions he managed to explore, Ana didn't want to be left behind even though she probably has not made the connection to Earth, its geography and its representation in standard maps.

While I couldn't be there, I guess the images and stories D brought back makes me feel like I took the tour myself.

I know many would scoff at the stereotypical tourist seeing everything through camera lens instead of drinking it all in straight-up, but, I say Bah! to them... 'coz, if D had not taken the trouble to capture the sights through his unique perspective, I would have missed out on what, to me, at this point, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...

Some facts about Bhutan seemed quite intriguing - especially about their Symbol of Good Luck which was everywhere as D managed to capture in his pictures.

And the Six Symbols of Longevity, the center picture in the collage below.

six symbols of longevity Bhutan kingdom of the thunder dragon druk yul travelog excerpts from recent tour
Click to view larger image

Some excerpts not elaborated in the highlights in my other space...
8 eleven store in Thimpu Bhutan kingdom of the thunder dragon druk yul travelog excerpts from recent tourNow, I know this is slightly incongruous, nevertheless, it was pretty interesting: A Grocery Store in Thimpu, Bhutan, called 8-Eleven...

Of course, this is meaningless if one is not familiar with the ubiquitous 7-11 Convenience Stores chain in the U.S :)

A small handful of close family and friends will nod in agreement when I say that I am more of a simple rasam-shadham kinda gal, with an occasional sambar if it is a pitlay or rasavangi - i.e., with coconut - as sambars are not really sambars without coconut, thanks to my Palakkad upbringing - who relishes sattvic foods and believes that the primary purpose of food is to keep the body and soul together...

However, it is no secret that I love to cook. Not just the staples which I manage even in half-dazed blindfolded state out of sheer practice, but also the slightly exotic fusion variety that satisfies my creative side and keeps D asking for more.

If D were not such an adventurous eater and a fairly open-minded taster, I guess I would not have bothered to jot down my recipes meticulously possibly hoping to hand them down to Ana & Og some day. Yes, Og too! Not in any noble Equal Rights kind of way, but, in a more conscientious way to empower both my kids to take control over what they put into their bodies by learning how to satisfy their nutritional needs and taste buds.

Knowing my eagerness for experimenting and my unbridled passion for World Cuisine of the Simple Kind (yeah, if it requires more than a dozen exotic ingredients and takes more than a couple of hours start-to-finish, I usually save it for when the kids are all grown up), he usually comes back from trips with cookbooks loaded with local flavors. I find that quite thoughtful and sweet. This trip to the Last Shangri-La was no exception.

Traditional Bhutanese Food Fair cookbook featuring recipes from various regions of the kingdom, plus a Nepalese cookbook featuring simple recipes from the neighboring country are my newest. And, am already excited about Ema Datsi turning out alright.

Their ambivalence regarding meat lets the Bhutanese Buddhists eat chicken and lamb as long as they don't kill it - Ahimsa is a nice thing. So, while the recipes are predominantly vegetarian in the cookbooks, there are a couple of chicken and fish ones too.

de zo handmade paper bhutan zorig chusum instituteAnd, knowing my love for "artsy stuff" as he puts it, I got some stamps, handmade paper notepads, handmade paper note cards with pressed flowers and such, plus a short video that he managed to shoot that demonstrates how the handmade paper was made - De zo (Paper Making) - at the Institute of Zorig Chusum.

I was particularly thrilled that he got to hike up to the Tiger's Nest/Lair, which was a distant dream last year when he showed it to me on the web and suggested how wonderful it would be to build something like that for our home, while the practical moi sat there thinking, hmmm... would be lovely view but what about the hike each way to get supplies and take kids to school...

tiger's nest lair bhutan taktsang monastery
Click to view larger image

The story behind the Takin, Bhutan's national animal, was interesting.
According to legend, when the great saint Lama Drukpa Kunley (called "the divine madman") visited Bhutan in the 15th century, a large congregation of devotees gathered around the country to witness his magical powers. The people urged the lama to perform a miracle. However, the saint, in his usual unorthodox and outrageous way, demanded that he first be served a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He devoured these with relish and left only bones. After letting out a large and satisfied burp, he took the goat's head and stuck it onto the bones of the cow. And then with a snap of his fingers, he commanded the strange beast to rise up and graze on the mountainside. To the astonishment of the people the animal arose and ran up to the meadows to graze. This animal came to be known as the dong gyem tsey (takin) and to this day, these animals can be seen grazing on the mountainsides of Bhutan...-- Wikipedia

Takin Reserve...

He visited many Dzongs, spun many prayer wheels, explored the Folk Heritage Museum in Thimpu, saw masks being carved, hand-made paper being made, and generally spent the few short days absorbing the local culture and foods as best as possible with a wonderful and friendly guide, Chhimi, who presented his country with quiet dignity.

Check out Gho, Bhutanese traditional outfit, Centenary Farmer's Market, Insitute of Zorig Chusum and a few other anecdotes here...

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At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sheela,

Hope you are cooking more variety thanks to D's book. Visiting Bhutan and dharmasala is in my dream vacation spot list. Last seven years my fantasy is living in bhutan for good not sure if it's viable but hey I can dream and fantasize anything I want right?. Living a simple life in a country known for its simple life.



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