The Dragon´s Kingdom – Bhutan is situated away from our cosmopolitan and ocidental environment where communities are working to preserve their traditions and culture always safeguarding the protection of nature.
My trip to Asia begun yesterday (14th January 2011) in Lisbon and my destinity is Thimphu (Bhutanese capital) located closed the bigest montains of the world “the Himalayas”.
Monday, 24rd January 2011
…starting the activities at the UNDP…
After breakfast we went to the UN building in the city center. It was a sunny morning, a good start for a Portuguese intern. Mike presented me to some people at the UNDP office, namely the human resources Pem Deki who helped me with getting the Bhutanese visa. People looked quite relaxed and less formal than in Europe, there was even a woman called Sonam who was working and taking care of her child at the same time. It looks Bhutanese really have a different concept of quality of life. Very interesting by the way!
During the morning I was introduced to the UNDP structure and programs and have got some good staff to read about the agreement made between the Bhutanese Royal Government and the UN. There are actually several projects being developed through cooperation between both institutions, namely those in the field of sustainability and forest management. Before we went for lunch we went to the security office where we have met Karma, the police officer who advice us about the necessary precautions that UN visitors should take when either working or travelling in Bhutan. There is actually UN security indexes that points which security level that might be allocated to each area. In the south of Bhutan there a higher demand for security controls, since the country shares a border with India. Karma advice us to warn the organization office when we will be travelling, since the police will have a better control of what is really happening with the visitors.
We had lunch around one o´clock, Bhutanese food at the canteen. We have found a sunny place where we had a talk with the colleagues. After lunch we went for apartment seeking searching for a place where I could stay for 3 months. A Mike´s friend Pema helped us with such a task and he has driven us to several places where we tried to make a deal, since 3 months is a very short time for renting a room with a good monthly rate. Hotels for example are charging foreigners higher prices (daily rates about 1300 Nu). I asked Pema to help me negotiating the prices and he really helped. Incredible how some people is willing to help you even if you do not know them. Mike has actually met that men when he was waiting for a taxi in town. Pema just offered him a lift without asking for any money! At the end of the afternoon, we have seen a room in an hotel located at the city centre which was quite pleasant with a medium size room and a private toilet. The day finished with the dinner at home and a nice talk at the couch.
Sunday, 23rd January
Contemplating down town
After a relaxing night on the top of Thimphu I started the day writting my diary and drinking coffe as usual. Around 12:30 we went down town to have lunch in a Bhutanese restaurant where we had some really tasty indian dish. This time I could avoid the spicy food served in asia. I actually need to get used to that!
After lunch we went to the Ambient caffe, a town net caffe were we have met several cool people. We have met one of the ownwers of the caffe at its entrance. Leto is a very sympathetic young man who knows about the Portuguese history! When I said where I was coming from he immediately replied me saying “I know a Portuguese fellow called Vasco da Gama, I have drunk coffe with him when he passed in India, do you know him?”. On the other hand, Lama Schempm is a British man who lived for many years in Taiwan and is teaching meditation in Thimphu. Curiously, Schempm has been in Portugal on the 25th of April 1974. When the revolution happened he was travelling in Oporto! He really enjoyed Portugal and told us that sometimes British people are actually soaking up the sun in the south of Europe without keeping in touch with the Portuguese culture.
After to take a cappuccino we went to the local market where we have searched for some ingredients to prepare a Mediterranean dish, however, there was no olive oil neither lemon… We manage to buy a trout for our dinner (about 110 rupees) and we followed our way back home to prepare the dinner. That night we received a special visit from two Mike´s friends. The food was OK since we did not have too much conditions to cook, light failed during approximately 1 hour, when I was cooking…
Saturday, 21st January
Trip and arrival to the Dragon Kingdom
I awoke up early in the morning around 5 AM, packed my staff and left the Airport Hotel about 6 AM. Outside the hostel there were already taxi drivers waiting for costumers. They asked me 40 rupees and jumped to one of the rickshaws. It took about 15 minutes to reach the international terminal. The trip was turbulent as usual in India, too much traffic and noise at this time. I would say that Indians cannot be relaxed for a while, movement never stops!
At the arrival I did not have exchange for the rickshaw driver and gave him 100 rupees. He looked for me with an innocent face and waited until I asked for the money, then he had the chance to say: it is 250 rupees. My god… I was mad and said to him , no you have to give the change! I did not stayed there picked my stuff and went directly to the terminal building.
The I had breakfast at the restaurant lounge and went to the check in. Before we had to pass our luggage through the X-ray machine and show our tickets. I did not understand such a procedure and I have asked one tall man. Tom was an American travelling to Bhutan for working reasons; he is actually part of Consultancy Company that works with capacity building and disaster management in developing countries. He was travelling with an Indian colleague from Dheli who has been working with the United Nations (we was also a volunteer at UNDP in Índia). Hari was really nice and talked a bit about a previous experience in Bhutan working with disaster management issues. He said he and Tom would meet the Bhutanese government because their company was developing a project in Bhutan and maybe they will meet with the UNDP people as well. Very interesting and expontaneous this meeting at the Kolkatta airport.
We have actually travelled together to Bhutan, a very pleasant flight to Paro with Drukair (the Dragon airline). During the flight we have experienced a very special moment when we passed the 3rd highest mountain in the world the Mount Kangchenjunga (the highest Bhutanese mountain!). Just amazing since we were flying very closed to the mountains, I have never experienced that. Actually, when we started to approach Paro, the aircraft was dancing harmoniously around the mountains and we could really enjoy the landscape overthere from the top of the world!
We landed at Paro airport around 10:40 and I had the opportunity to take some pictures. After the passport and visa payment (about 20 $ for UN volunteers) I went to the foreign exchange bureau and I have bought 1800 Ngultrum per 1800 INR. I said good bye to Tom and Hari and followed my way to the exit where my friend Michael was waiting with his camera to register this important moment (the arrival to the Thunder Dragon Kingdom). He was wearing a typical Bhutanese kilt called “Gho” in the company with his friend from UNDP Sonam (a Bhutanese fellow). Then another fellow joined us for the trip to Thimphu, the capital.
Before we left Paro we went to have breakfast at a caffé where we had a nice time talking about the Bhutanese culture and development and meeting better each other. Before we jumped to the car I have tasted Duma (a special nut with lime you can smoke). I have not really enjoyed the taste, but I felt relaxed after to take it…
Very nice to meet those guyes just on my arrival. Thanks to them.
During the trip with stopped at Dzong monastery (Paro district) and took some pictures together. It took about 1:45 minutes to arrive Thimphu. The distance is not too long, but the road is narrow and between the mountains (we danced again…). There was a little bit of traffic after we came in the Thimphu district, but nothing really boring.
We arrived in Thimphu about 1 PM and left one of the buddies at the local newspaper headquarter were he is working (Bhutan today). Then we went to the house were Michael would stay until the 2nd February (the house owners are Michael´s friends – a couple from Israel living in Thimphu). After the luch took a rest and get prepared to the dinner, this special day have not finished yet…
It was about 8 PM when we meet Tania, a Michael friend from Denmark who is doing an intern in Danida (Danish cooperation). She joined us for the dinner in a Bhutanese restaurant in town. Food was tasting good
(Bhutanese and Indian dishes were served), but very spicy for me as a Portuguese guye, I have just explained to them that in the south of Europe our food is not so spicy! J Hosters in the restaurant were really nice and treated us very well, I also have spoken to one of them about my trip and he talked a little bit of Spanish with me (Hola, como estás?!). Magic!! 😉
After we said goodbye to Tania (nice to meet you J) we went to the underground Thimphu to drink a couple of beers and meet some Bhutanese fellows. The place was actually a bar (that should be in theory closed after 10 PM) where people was enjoying an English Football match of Manchester United. Bhutanese are big of football and they really vibrate with this spectacular sport! I said to my friend Mike, I have never imagined to come in Bhutan and meet all these guyes drinking Tuborg and having so much fun watching football and playing cards. We talked for few hours about travel experiences, girls and our plans for the next months. Very nice to meet Michael again after one year when I was a volunteer at Energy Crossroads NGO. I am very happy I managed to have friends as Mike who is a very good hoster, we are having a really nice time together!
Wednesday, 20th January
diving in the Indian environment
We landed in Kolkatta international airport around 9:00 am, long journey after a breakfast served by the cute airhoster Susan (very cute by the way). Still in the aircraft I have met Eric, a guye from Gana who was going to participate in an international seminar about human rights (he was representing his NGO from Gana). After to pick up our luggage we went out together and Eric was received by someone from the summit´s organization and I presented myself explaining I was searching for an hotel.
Then started my busy morning, actually Eric and his colleague tried to help me finding an hotel, however, there was too much traffic and I dropped by Dum Dum Road and tried to find it myself, not that easy by the way!
I walked with my bagpack around two hours searching for a room to stay for two days, but it was quite difficult to discuss prices with those people, I say discuss because here India it looks you have always to argue the best price. Firstly, the taxi driver left me at the international hotel and a man dressed like a militar came to open me the door. We went to the reception by an elevator, really narrow corridors. Then started the discussion, they were asking me for 1350 indian rupees per single room per night. I said it was too much for me as a volunteer and they did not help me, then I went to other hotels (you can call it hostels…) and I understand it would be possible to find a cheaper place. When I was walking in Dum Dum Road I have met expontaneously two Bhutanese men who were travelling in India (they looked very peacefull in the middle of the enthropic Dum Dum Road). They advice me to search for Airport Plaza hotel, were they were sleeping. It was around 12:00 am when I checked in at that hotel. I have payed 10 Ruppes to a guye who said that could drive me there.
After checked in I relaxed and awoke up at 15:30.
The evening came and I managed to call my mother back home in Portugal (mother is always a mother you know…).
Once more, expontaneously, I have met another Bhutanese guye. Chemi is 23 old and a piercing on the left ear, he looks a modern Bhutanese youth.
He was quite excited to meet me and know that I was going to Bhutan, then he started to talk to me about the beauty of his country and their philosophy of life as a Bhudist Kingdom. He also told me about the beautiful Bhutanese girls and the way they like foreigners, he even said to me that nowadays there is a lot of foreign people in Bhutan, they like the country and that sometimes they get married with Bhutanese women. Now I am excited! 😉
Wednesday, 19th January
in the way to Índia
After the last days in Peter´s house I am said goodbye to him and his nephews on wednesday morning (they were going to school with Peter while I was packing my staff to the trip). Peter came back to pick me up and we went together to the metro station. The last hugs were in Finnburg Park were I took my way to Heathrow. It was 9:30 am when I reached the airport and checked in to fly by Emirates to Dubai (the exotic destiny of British people).
Around 01:00 am we arrived in Dubai passed the luggage control machines. I have met an old man from Birmania (while we were on the cue he just asked me if we had to take out our chooses) who was speaking to me in Portuguese! His father was from Goa and he learnt some Portuguese. Then I continued my way in the way to the departure gate to Kolkatta (Calcutta). Before I had the opportunity to exchange some US dollars per Indian Ruppees at the an exchange rate of about 45.5 (not that bad, in London they were asking me for 39).
Monday, 18th January
trip to Oxford
It was a long day traveling around the historical old city of Oxford where I visited a friend who is a researcher at the university there. Actually, it was the first time I have met Célia, since we started to keep in touch through the internet. The reason we got to know each other was because my friend Luís from the NGO Missanga was helping Célia to prepare her next field trip to África!
We three actually love to talk long hours about development technologies and community building, so now a new network of young social entrepreneurs is growing up, Amazing!
At the end of the day when I came back to Peter´s house I checked my email and there is news about the trip, maybe I will have to change other route to reach Bhutan, since there is a a 48 hours strike near Phuentsholing. Michael from UNDP Bhutan is updating me by email, lets see what is going to happen tomorow.
Sunday, 16th January
Today we woke up very relaxed after a night at a typical English pub located in Early´s Court where we have been listening to some good music.
Very funny night we enjoyed with the Mc Donalds budies, an international team of students, workers and travellers from several countries! Girls from east of Europe are really hot and they do not have problems to touch your fellings in five minutes, this because after a friend of my friend presented me a Polish beatiful girl she just… jumped to my sit and started to talk to me very seriously 😉
Today we are just enjoing Peter´s family at home and I have preparing the long journey to Bhutan. I still have to book my plain tyckets and convert currencies you know…
Saturday, 15th January
visit to Sotão Londrino
Today I have met again my Portuguese friend Peter Flower who has been living with me in Aveiro, when I started to study environmental sciences in 2003. He is a very dynamic person working at the moment in London and living with his family in the north west part of this huge melting pot.
I just arrived from a bike tour in a local park with his nefews. We had fun talking about our stories, about our experiences as students living in the same appartment where we have shared our ideas, knowledge and interests, building a strong friendship that is still alive (no matter where we are…)!
At the moment we are just preparing to GO out to central London for listening to a concert of Peter´s friend. The meeting point will be in Trafalgar square. That sounds cool! 😉