SCOTLAND

Those of you who know I am in Scotland at the moment may be wondering what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. Well I will tell you. The first three to four days I was getting over jet lag. Then I had a bad attack of Gout. Which I am just now getting over. 9 days and counting! For those of you who have never had Gout, be thankful. It is very painful and will keep you off your feet the whole time (if you get it at your big toe, where mine starts).

I was able to take a few photos yesterday. They are below.

The lane that takes you to Maris’s house.

 

Next door neighbor.

 

With baby.

 

Okay guys and gals at work. Take a look at this SLOW. They don’t use stencils here. At least not in this area. This was done by hand. They take the shoe off of the handliner and drag it by hand. Another person keeps the shoe full by pouring plastic from a metal bucket.

 

Same with this arrow. Done by hand. No stencil. If you are wondering why that arrow is where it is?  I will tell you. It is a “time to get back in your proper lane” warning for people that are passing other cars in this area. “Because soon you won’t be able to see around the corner that is coming up.”  Also notice the “cats eyes” reflective snow marker that is recessed into the pavement. They use these everywhere. Even in areas that usually don’t see snow.

 

Country road with windmills in the background.

 

 

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Tigers Nest

I spent all of my last full day in Bhutan hiking to “Tigers Nest”. Padmasambhava came from Tibet to Bhutan in the 7th century to bring Buddhism to Bhutan. He meditated in a cave that is marked by a monastery built in the 16th century. It gets it name from the story that Padmasambhava arrived on a flying Tiger to subdue the evil spirits in the area and introduce Buddhism. The site is one that all Buddhists in Bhutan hope to visit at least once in their life. And many people from all over the world come to visit the site.

The hike up took 4 hours and was very steep in many places. The monastery is 2500′ up from the valley floor and clings to a shear cliff. It was built by prisoners to give them the opportunity to generate good karma by helping in building a monastery. The monastery is at 10,800′ and no roads lead to it.

It took me longer than anyone else on the trail to get to the monastery and return. By the end of my hike my hips, knees and back were hurting. And my whole body was worn out. I will sleep well tonight.

half-way-to-tigers-nest

Half way to Tigers Nest (in the center of photo).

 

tigers-nest

Tigers Nest.

 

Tigers Nest video.

 

fellow-hikers

Fellow hikers.

 

The following photos are some I took yesterday. The guys at work might be interested in these.

 

typical-hand-labor-accomadations

Typical hand labor camp. All of the hand shoveling, rock retaining wall building and whatever can’t be done with a machine (which appears to be a alot) are done by laborers from India. All of the heavy equipment and truck drivers are from Bhutan.

 

road-stripers

Road stripers! I had hoped to see how they stripe their roads here and my wish came true. Notice that  they do not have on reflective vests, there are no cones at all, no warning signs and no one watching traffic.

 

road-stripers-1

They don’t do any pre-layout. They use a rope as a guide and have a rope with knots in it to measure lane widths. I asked them if they had a supply truck and they said yes, somewhere. They do not use any kind of truck striper. They push everything! The road that is under construction is 120 miles long and will be done in sections as it is paved. No hurry-no worries.

 

paving-crew

Paving crew. Same scenario. No cones, no signs, no vests and no traffic control. But it all seems to work somehow.

This may be my last post until I get home. I leave for Kathmandu tomorrow. Spend 2 days there. Then start my long journey home.

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120 miles of 1 lane road being converted to 2 lanes

After 3 days on 120 miles of 1 lane road being converted to 2 lanes, I am glad to be finished with it. The first day we drove the 120 miles at plus or minus 15 miles per hour with numerous stops because of the road being blocked by equipment. The next day we drove half way back on the same road and spent the night at a very nice hotel in the valley where Black Necked Cranes from Tibet nest in the winter. Today we drove the rest of the way back to the city of Paro where the international airport is. That is 240 miles of bumpy, dusty, slow, interesting and awe inspiring road that I would have done differently if I had known. Amazingly they only held us up for ten minutes at a time. All the while widening a road that in places was only 12′ wide and in some places a 1000′ drop on one side and a 1000′ cliff on the other. It was amazing to see how it is done. We only saw 2 mishaps which I only have a photo of one. One was a large earth mover high up on the mountain tipped upside down. I have no info if the operator survived or not. But just looking at where this happened at what could have happened (the thing tumbling all of the way down the mountain) I can only hope he is okay. The other mishap we saw was a forklift upside down in a river.

 

upside-down

There is a yellow dot in the middle of this photo that the next photo will explain.

 

upside-down-1

I hope the operator is okay.

 

cranes

These are Black Necked Cranes from Tibet that winter in Bhutan from Oct. to March. They are very endangered. There are only 300 of them left alive. The country of Bhutan has gone to great lengths to protect these birds. There are no above ground power lines in this provence. No one is allowed to fish in the rivers while they are here. No one is allowed to make any loud sounds or to disturb them in any way. While we were here we saw only 12. They mate for life.

crane

 

dangerous-bhutan-cat

Very dangerous cat from Bhutan!

 

druk-11000

My favorite local beer. $.80 to $2.00 in shop. $1.50 to $3.00 in a hotel.

red-panda-beer-car

My drivers car is red and I have named it Red Panda in honor of this beer.

 

9-year-young-monk

9 year young monk.

 

heavy-loads

Heavy loads.

 

hotel-at-cranes

Typical building architecture.

 

king-36-queen-26

The King is 36, the queen is 26. His father is still alive! Some kind of black history no one likes to talk about but the father is still in control.

 

old-monk

Old monk.

 

yaks

Yak valley.

 

yaks-1

 

Moonrise over Paro.

 

moonrise-paro

 

Tomorrow I am off on a 4 hour each way trek to the “Tigers Nest” monastery. Probably the most well known site in Bhutan. And something I am looking forward to seeing if I can make it there and back.

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“Gross National Happiness” (the motto of Bhutan)

I spent my third day driving to Punakha fromThimphu where I had spent 2 nights. The drive took about 4 hours and was on a nice paved road. So far all of Bhutan that I have seen is mountainous. So you never get to drive to fast which is fine by me. I came for the scenery and the spiritual side of Bhutan and to see the people. It seems that everywhere you go in Bhutan there are “steps!” My guide tells me that it is good for me. “Helps to burn off the calories of beer”! That’s great but what about my knees and back? “No worries you are still young”. Easy to say when you are 28.

 

108-stupas-on-mountain-pass

108 stupas built on top of 10,000′ high pass to commemorate the last war Bhutan was in.

 

view-of-himalayas-from-pass

View of Himalayas from pass.

 

me

suspension-bridge

Suspension bridge.

 

suspension-bridge-2

Now I know why it is named as such. I was in “suspense” as I walked to the middle of this thing.

 

me-more-steps

Me and more steps. Everywhere I go in Bhutan…….steps, steps and more steps! That’s my driver next to me. Anytime he or my guide enter a fort or Royal building, they have to wear a sash over their Bhutanese clothing. It is required of all guides and drivers to keep the custom alive.

 

bhutanese-woman

Most Bhutanese women dress like this and smile all of the time. Especially when my guide says something to them to get them to smile.

 

my-driver

My driver, Tenzin.

new-guide-sonam-2

My new guide Sonam, who has a cold and bad cough and has given them to me.

 

 

2nd-oldest-2nd-largest-fort

Second oldest and second largest fort in Bhutan. Situated between the confluence of two rivers.

 

2nd-oldest-at-night

Second oldest at night.

 

chime-lhakang

They built a temple for this person. Allegedly he was a Buddha in disguise while he was being naughty. It is a site where many people bring their young children and is also considered a fertility site.

 

i-will-try-to-get-my-sister-to-smile

I will try to get my sister to smile.

 

fog-in-the-valley

Fog in the valley. 7am on Dec. 12.

My guide had told me that we had 10 hours of driving to do today. I asked him at what time were we leaving? He responded “the usual time 9am”.  I replied back that we wouldn’t reach our destination until after 8pm with a lunch break. So we left at 6:30am, my recommended time. The photos to follow is what we endured for at least 8 hours. At a maximum of 15 miles per hour!

not-widened-yet

This portion of the road hasn’t been widened yet. As was most of it. They have been working on this road for 2 years now and I can only imagine that it is going to take many many more years to complete.

 

we-will-wait

It’s okay, we will wait.

8-hours-of-this

8 hours of this! But at least they are improving the road, unlike Nepal.

 

largest-fort-1

Largest fort in Bhutan. Any new king before being crowned, has to spend a year here being trained in kingly things.

 

largest-fort

Largest fort.

 

small-waterfall

woman-doing-traffic-control

This woman is actually doing traffic control. She didn’t get up to stop us. She just put her hand up and soon after, large boulders came crashing down unto the road from an excavator! Good thing the driver was paying attention.

 

water-powered-prayer-wheel

Water powered prayer wheel. These dot all of the roads and are run by the water from small streams.

 

downtown-bhumthang

Downtown Bhumthang. Our stop for the night after our free 10 hour Bhutan massage!

 

my-room-4th-night

My room for the night after a long bumpy day, equipped with a wood burning stove.

view-from-room-4th-night

View from my room on the 4th night.

 

 

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Btutan

I have been in Bhutan for 1 1/4 days now. And what a difference from Nepal! So far all of the roads have been paved and they even have striping on them! Unlike Nepal where I only saw one road with striping and it was so worn out if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there. They have “Zebra” crosswalks here that everyone uses and the cars even stop for you before you even enter one. There is no trash on the sides of the roads or in the rivers. And they tell me there is fish in the rivers. Not in Nepal, the rivers are so polluted with garbage and anything else they dump in them, there is no way a fish could survive.

Bhutan has 2 major industries. Number one is hydroelectric power. Which they have an excess of so they sell it to India. Number two is tourism. All tourists, except people from India, have to have a trained guide and a seperate driver with them. It isn’t inexpensive though. It is the off season now and the minimum price per day is $210 per person and includes all meals, guide, driver entrance fees and staying in 3 star hotels. Since I am traveling alone, I pay an extra $40 a day. $60 of the $250 fee goes to the health and schooling of all residents. I am also covered while in Bhutan. No one here pays for regular schooling or medical treatment. Prescriptions are also fully covered.

The guide tells me that there are no beggars here. And most people live in comfortable homes. All with electricity. I have seen a couple of shacks near the road that don’t look so good. These are road workers from India and they travel to where the road work is.

 

kathmandu-from-above

Kathmandu from above.

 

boudhanath-stupa-from-above

Boudhanath Stupa from above.

 

swayabhunath-stupa-from-above

Swayambhunath Stupa from above.

 

himalayas-with-everest-in-the-center

Himalayas with Mount Everest in the center.

himalayas short-runway-paro-bhutan

Short runway at Paro, Bhutan

 

my-guide-sonam-for-1-5-days-only-1

My guide Sonar. He is wearing the typical clothes of a Bhutanese. All guides have to wear this type of clothing. No trousers or shirts allowed. He will only be with me for 1.5 days. His one and a half year old daughter has 2 holes in her heart and needs an operation in India.

 

large-stupa-built-to-honor-of-the-last-king

Large stupa dedicated to the last King of Bhutan.

 

thingpu-largest-city-in-bhutan

Thimphu the largest city in Bhutan. 100,000 people.

 

large-buddha-statue

Very large statue of Buddha being built on a hill overlooking Thimphu. It will take 2 more years to finish at a proposed cost of $100,000,000. Ninety percent of the cost was donated by 2 benefactors. One from Singapore and the other from Thailand. It is 174′ tall and will house 4 different temples inside when finished.

 

dieties-facing-buddha-statue

Deities facing large Buddha statue making coverings to Buddha.

 

large-buddha-statue-1

The statue itself is made out of bronze. The base is covered in gold ceramic tiles. Inside the base there is one temple already built. The walls are covered in hand painted paintings and there are 5 large statues and thousands of small ones. No photos allowed.

 

large-buddha-statue-2

the-royal-fort

This is where the king and queen live. He is 34 and loved by everyone. This fort was built in the 16th century. There are 20 districts in Nepal (similar to states in the US) and everyone one of them has a fort where the high officials live. This district has 2 because the oldest one in Buthan is here but is too small to house the king and queen and all of the government buildings.

royal-fort-at-night

Fort at night.

 

bhutanese-girls

Bhutanese girls.

 

bhutanese-boys

Bhutanese boys.

 

guards-at-the-royal-fort

Guards at the Royal Fort. The only people with guns in this country are the military. The police don’t have guns and none of the population have guns.

 

organic-market

Market place only open on weekends. The top floor is dedicated to local Bhutanese produce and is all organic. The bottom floor is vegetables from India and is non-organic and some of it is GMO. Six months ago the King, concerned about the people of Bhutan, ordered that all produce grown in Bhutan would be organic. Just like everywhere else in the world it costs more but at least they have a choice now.

 

clean-river

A clean river. Most of the architecture I have seen so far is very similar to Tibetan. Every building has a taste of Tibet to it. 90% of the country is Buddhist, 8% is Hindu and 2% is Christian. They practice Mahayana Buddhism which is similar to some of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism but they do not recognize the Dalai Lama as being anything special to their form of Buddhism other than he is a Buddhist admired the world over. In Tibetan Buddhism you will see a picture of the Dalai Lama on a throne in all of the temples. Here you won”t.

 

road-with-real-striping-on-it

Road with real striping on it! And all of it thermoplastic.

I will be traveling to another city today and hope to post more tonight.

 

 

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I have transitioned from Kopan Monastery to Tibet Guest House in Chetrapati

Time to move on and say goodbye to old friends and meet new ones. Kopan has always had a special place in my heart. It is very peaceful there. It is beautiful. All of the monks and nuns are very friendly and happy. And all of the people I have met there over the 15 years that I have been coming to Kopan, have all been wonderful. I guess it kinda draws that type of person to the hill where the monastery is.

So after spending time with my friends Tsonamgel and Indra at Tushita Heaven Handicrafts, where I purchase all of my Thangkas and having a millet beer at the Double Dorje Restaurant (owned by a lovely Tibetan couple) it was time to say goodbye to them, the stupa and Kopan.

 

double-dorje-restaurant

The best apple pie in all of Nepal. Well at least as far as I know. And what do I know.

 

thongpa-millet-beer

Thongpa – fermented millet beer that you add boiling water to and drink thru a straw. A favorite of cold climates in this area. The black tape just holds the bamboo together and doesn’t effect the flavor. This beer has less alcohol than regular beer but it just seems to keep going and going and going. They give you a large thermos full of hot water to keep adding as the level goes down. It has a slightly bitter taste but nothing to complain about.

 

thangka-before-painting

This is how a thangka painting starts out. It is hand drawn by a master painter. No grid lines. No stencil. All by experience and all by eye.

 

painting-thangka

This is the master painter applying faces and extra fine detail. The other painters are not allowed to do this until they have been painting for many years.

 

thangka-painters

room-607-tibet-guest-house

My room this time at Tibet Guest House. I guess it pays to have people that remember you. I think this is a $55 a night room that I am paying $35 for.

room-607-tibet-guest-house-2

Room 607 top floor. Not too bad!

 

The next time you will hear from me will be from Bhutan. I am really looking forward to this upcoming trip. I have heard some amazing things about Bhutan and the people.

 

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November Course has finished

The November course for this year has finished. It seems like it just started. I will be leaving for Bhutan on Dec. 9 and returning to Kathmandu on Dec. 16. I am not sure of the internet access there but I imagine it shouldn’t be a problem.

Kopan ants.

 

lama-zopa-long-life-puja

Lama Zopa long life celebration.

 

large-statues-at-swayambhunath-1

As a group we were all bused to Swayambhunath stupa. Probably the second most holy site in Kathmandu after Boudhanath stupa. We all circumambulated the site which took approximately one hour.

small-prayer-wheels

bannanas-oranges

vegetables

baby-buddha

Baby Buddha

small-cute-child

nepali-boys

Nepali school boys.

nepali-girls

Nepali school girls.

 

stupa-soccer

Stupa soccer.

 

tibetan-woman

Tibetan woman.

 

boudhanath-stupa-at-night

Boudhanath stupa.

 

Boudhanath stupa timelapse.

 

himalayas-behind-boudhanath-stupa

Himalayas behind the stupa.

 

tibetans-doing-kora

Tibetans doing Kora. Every late afternoon, hundreds of Tibetans and others come to the stupa to do Kora’s and say mantras as they walk around the stupa. This is considered to be the holiest site in all of Nepal for Tibetan Buddhists.

 

Sunrise at Kopan.

 

lots-of-mini-monks

Lots of mini monks.

 

tibetan-child-mom

Tibetan child and her mom wishing for peace in the world.

 

tibetans-at-picnic

Tibetans in their finest clothes at the picnic after the long life celebration.

 

discussion-group

The best discussion group in the history of Kopan Monastery! Until proven otherwise……..

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Beer at Kopan Monastery?

kopan-beer-2

Yes it’s true! They have beer at Kopan. The only problem is, it’s made out of carbonated water, sugar and ginger. No hops, no malt and no alcohol! It is packaged in a can similar to a “real” beer can And it does say “beer” on the label. But there is no real “beer” inside. For those of you who know something about Tibetan Buddhism “it is merely labeled beer”. For the rest who don’t, I will explain when I get home. I’m not sure what the British were thinking when they came up with this name. (it is made in the UK).

 

Today was the last day of the Eight Mahayana Precepts. Every morning before sunrise, vows were taken for 24 hours. They were: to refrain from Killing, lying, stealing, sexual activity, taking intoxicants, sitting on high beds with pride, wearing jewelry and perfume, taking more than one meal a day and singing-dancing-playing music. This practice allows you to experience that abstaining from unwholesome action is the basis for developing many positive qualities.

Now most people didn’t have a problem with with some of these. But a lot of people had concerns about the one meal a day vow. It is eaten between 11am and 12 noon ONLY! No other meals, no snacks, nothing that you have to chew to swallow. Only liquids at all other times. In the end most people realized that it wasn’t that hard to do and actually made them realize that we think about food a lot and spend a lot of time based on food. Buying, planning, preparation, eating, cleanup, etc.

The other one that bothered some people was the vow concerning intoxicants. They consider smoking cigarettes an intoxicant. Which it is but so is caffeine. Which is in the coffee and tea.

The perfume vow. If you had deodorized deodorant (is there really such a thing?) you were okay to use it. Otherwise, not allowed. Showers and soap were allowed to everyones relief.

And lastly. The sitting on high beds with pride vow. This one dates back to whenever these precepts were started. Most people back then slept on the floor I guess. There aren’t any real high beds here so that wasn’t a problem. And whenever you sat on your bed you couldn’t imagine it as being yours and decorated with jewels and fine linen. When I would sit on mine, I would hunch my shoulders over a little and not smile.

Most people are looking forward to 3 meals a day, putting on gobs of makeup and perfume, smoking whatever, wearing all of their lavish jewelry and singing and dancing while bouncing on their beds! And I am going to drink 2 cans of Ginger Beer instead of one, just because I can.

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Prayer wheel

large-prayer-wheel

Very large prayer wheel with billions of mantras inside.

 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived about a week ago and has been teaching for the last 4 afternoons. He had a stroke in 2011 and has recovered very well. It affected his right side and his speech. He actually speaks better now than before the stroke. He still has a slight limp but overall is in good shape.

In the past when he has spoken I could never understand his English. They have now added transcribing and projecting it onto a screen for all to see. Which has helped tremendously. And I can even understand some of his speech.

They don’t allow photos of him in the gompa but I hope to get some at the end of the course.

They also don’t allow photos of the monks eating in their dinning room. I know, I tried. It is the only place at the moment where you can see them all together at the same time.

On another note. In the past the smog and dust from the unpaved roads in the valley below, never used to make it up the hill to the monastery. Now it does. And has effected my eyes every day and leaves a thin layer of dust on everything. Bust hasn’t effected the peace and tranquility yet.

refuge-for-goats-1

Lama Zopa is always stopping on his way from the airport to Kopan and saving goats from being slaughtered. This is where they live their life out. They even have their own stupa to circumambulate around. It is a short distance from the monastery and can be seen from the roof of the dinning hall.

 

staircase-to-nirvana

Staircase to Nirvana (or to the roof of the dinning hall) depending on your point of view.

 

small-farm

There is a small farm just below the monastery property that I have watched over the years. They do everything by hand. No machinery whatsoever. They turn the soil over with shovels and hoes. And pick all of the vegetables by hand. The small black piles are cow manure. I doubt that they have an organic certification but I can certify that they don’t use any kind of weed or bug killer and only use the freshest cow dung. Unless they spray at night, which I doubt.

 

young-monks-rooms

These are the oldest rooms left at Kopan now. All of the older rooms have been slowly updated over the years. The younger monks stay in these rooms.

 

I heard that there was an earthquake here in Nepal. I didn’t feel it but others did. No damage in this area and I haven’t heard of any anywhere yet. We don’t get much news here. Well at least the westerners don’t or at least aren’t supposed to. A lot of the monks have cel phones and are on top of what is happening in the world. When I am online posting this blog I purposely don’t check the news.

I will be posting again in about 5 days or so. The entire group of us are being bused to the Boudhanath stupa on Dec. 4. So I should have an update then.

Thank you all for looking and the kind comments.

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Timelapse – Painting auspicious symbols in preperation for Lama Zopa arrival

 

auspicious-symbols

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