Monday, November 30, 2015

Visit of my friends from the US

My friend, Justin Milano, blogged on his first visit to Bhutan. It is titled Breakthrough in Bhutan.

Justin was part of a larger group of friends - who have come together in the last few years - drawn by a common interest to discover a way of living - and most probably by some karmic consequences. We call ourselves the Contenment Family.

In Breakthrough in Bhutan, Justin shares a powerful experience that he had in Athang Rukha while in deep meditation at the temple. He visioned his past lives unfold - a life of pain, suffering and isolation and thankfully also came the liberation. It just amazes me that he did get that in Athang Rukha. I had one too but will leave for some other time and place to tell that story.

Then, of course, the fairy-tale wedding that he describes is what my friends, Nim Dorji and Pema Rinzin organised in Dodedra Monastery. Read Justin's blog since I cannot express better than he did there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Photo journal of a travel to interior Bhutan

Nothing is more enriching, humbling and fulfilling than trekking into interior Bhutan to see, meet and know your own people. And bring to them a little help you can. There was a time when I said to myself that one day when I become rich I would help others. That day (me becoming rich) never came. So one day, some nine years back, I just started off doing things.

Rest as they say is now history. Nine years and countless journeys into this region I have realized that you are not really helping anyone. No one really needs the help that we imagine. All they need is someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on and someone whom they can say, he will always be there for us. You need some money, of course, but not more than an average person like us can't afford of what you would spend for a Saturday night out in Thimphu.

What you really need to bring is yourself. Many of us from the governmnent, NGOs, etc. come but we rarely bring ourselves. We bring our ego, official positions, pride and lots of prejudices.

No! Just bring yourself. Your pure heart (that we all have). You will find how wealthy, resourcesful and innovative you are.

Travelling to interiors of Bhutan takes both physical and mental efforts. I keep going as long as my coffee supply lasts
I have concentrated my social works in the last 9 years in Rukha village. Now I am using it as the base camp.
Phub Dorji completed high school and couldn't get to college. He returned to his village unlike most Bhutanese youth.
Eco-friendly machines. Oxen are still used for ploughing the fields.
This rooster always chooses my window to throw me out of my bed every morning. Lucky for them, I am veg
Learning about others ultimately makes you find yourself. I found myself and who truly I am - among the Oleps
Lawa in Athang Geog is my next destination.

The people there have nothing but they offer you everything they have. In urban areas it is vice versa.
The traditional gift to welcome a guest into a village. I love this tradition.
It is rare that your presence becomes the reason for the village to come together and celebrate. Simply humbling.

Ara time in Lamga Village

I feel more welcome here than anywhere on Earth

This woman lost her left eye to a simple cataract disease. I am trying to save the other eye.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wise Man of the Village

Rukha Village, somewhere in Central Bhutan, 15 November 2015 – I am sitting on the deck of a house – seeping coffee and reading a book – and occasionally looking away towards the village – spread in front of me - as it slowly comes to life from the long Autumn night. From the horizon, the Sun is slowly climbing up from behind the Black Mountains throwing a sharp ray towards the valley. In the distance, farmer Sanga is harvesting his rice while another farmer, Bechu, is singing to his oxen as he ploughs the field for the next plantation. 

“Kuzu zangpola”, a voice comes from behind me. I turn around and see a face smiling at me. “Kuzu, Kuzu. You look familiar but what's your name?” I ask him. “I am Kado from Lamga,” he replies. “Oh, Lamga! Yeah! I am supposed to visit this afternoon. You have come up very early,” I tell him. “Daw Gyeltshen insisted that I reach here early,” he informs me. “I think he wants to make sure that I visit Lamga this time,” I tell him. We both laugh.

A hearty breakfast, with the American students I had brought along to Rukha, is followed by a visit to the Rukha temple where I am building a house for the monks. By mid-day we head for Lamga. Kado insists that he even carry my camera besides my bag.

The bridge built specifically for my visit
The path to Lamga is a vertical drop that I have to hold to shrubs and lemon grass plants every now and then lest I roll down to my destination. But I survive without a slip. Then at the foot of the mountain after an hour-long walk downhill where my knees were almost giving up we come across a reception party waiting for me in the forest. “There was no need for any mid-way snacks,” I tell Aap Naki and Gyeltshen whom I remember from my previous visits. “We were told to accompany you safely across the river,” they tell me – pointing to a temporary log bridge they made for me. "One man got washed away last year". The river is big and swift and enough to wash me away if I slipped into it. But I have done this before and I walk across without any help. 

Lamga is a new settlement at an hour walk from Rukha through the subtropical jungles filled with spiders, scorpions and snakes. The people here are of different ethnic group with distinct language of their own – Phojib. They shuttled between Phobjikha and Lamga until, in 2005, the government made them choose between the two places to settle them permanently. Strangely, they chose Lamga. “Why did you guys give up Phojikha,” I ask Kado. “It is warmer here and the land is more productive,” he replies. “But Phobjikha is more developed now,” I continue. “I don’t know. We followed our elders like Ap Mindu, who died last month,” he says with a little remorse. In fact Aap Mindu was the only sharp guy in Lamga. He passed away at 73 leaving the village without his wisdom and guidance. Because of inter-marriage within just four families, the people of Lamga are not the brightest. "We feel lost without him," Kado tells me sadly. I also feel their pain. I had known Ap Mindu too. He considered me his friend and mentor and often visited me in Thimphu. 

They offered me everything they had.
As we enter the village, I scan the place. The last time I visited was in 2008 with Sonam Pem, Pema and a Thai student. I was an active volunteer then for Tarayana Foundation that built them permanent houses, which has now become one of Foundations’s feathers in the cap. “You guys have done well,” I remark. “It is all thanks to you,” Kado replies. "Noooo! Not me. I was just a volunteer. You should thank Tarayana," I hit back. Kado continues, “The whole village has gathered in Daw Gyeltshen’s house. They are all very excited that you are visiting us.”

Yes, the village has not only gathered there but they have pitched a tent in the field, have prepared a grand feast and have lined-up to greet the guest of honour (me!). I wish each and everyone of them – by names of those who I remember. As is a tradition in Bhutan, the women welcome me with a heap of rice, eggs and incense stick in a basket containers – as gifts. I accept them and offer Nu. 100 each for every woman in return. Then I take my place inside the tent and ask them to join me. A small sacred marchang (wine ceremony) follows and then suja (butter tea) and dresi (rice with butter and saffron).

“Thank you all. I don’t know what I have done to deserve all these, but thank you,” I tell them. “Well, you have done so much for us and we were very sad that you stopped visiting us. We heard that you came to Rukha several times in the last few years but by the time we knew, you were already gone.” Daw Gyeltshen replies. Everyone nods with him. I feel a sense of guilt.

With my people - in my land
“Well, I know. The last time I was here was in 2008. But since Sonam and Passang were doing a great job I didn’t feel the need to visit the sites.” I reassure them. “Rukha was different. The Oleps didn’t want to work and someone also had to also supplement what Tarayana gave them to keep the project going. They were so poor. They couldn't even feed themselves. So I had to be with them through out. You guys were different. You were much better placed. Then in 2009 I was called to the service at the Palace from where actually I did help settle some land disputes you had with the government and the cases of people without land. So you see, I had not forgotten you at all.” “Yes, la. For what you did when you were at the Palace, the 25 families will never forget that. We even tell our children about how we got back our land,” Daw Gyeltshen goes on. The 25 families had lost their land to the State after they had left it fallow for over 20 years. I helped them to submit an appeal to the King who kindly granted the land back. "Don't thank me. You should thank our King," I remind them.

The Lamgaps now only have one dream. They don’t have a community hall or a temple. And with their wise man gone, they turn to me for help. I obilge. “Let’s do that! Together, we will build one. A small tshokhang (community hall). I will supply all the materials and you will put everything together,” I tell them. The village, I am told, hold their annual rituals under tarpaulin sheets. Lunch follows and dances and songs to celebrate my visit - and the project that we have agreed to do together.

As the Sun starts its descent towards the distant mountains I bid goodbye to the Lamgaps and make my way towards Rukha - promising to return to celebrate the Bhutanese New Year with them. I make the vertical climb uphill - looking back at the village from time to time, and some strange thoughts cross my mind. “Who am I? Why am I so happy, contented and satisfied when I am in this area? Why do I feel so close to these people?”.  Then I just conclude, philosophically, that maybe I was one of them in my previous life. In fact I feel so home out here. 

Now I am one of them. I feel that I am back to my people. This is my land. And with my friend, Ap Mindu, gone I am their leader. 

I feel like the new Wise Man of the village.

The village of Lamga - My new home