The students are getting settled into the swing of things out in Bumthang. After a week in Thimphu getting our visas in order, seeing the various sights, and hearing from some incredible guest lecturers, we made our slow way to Bumthang. Our field station, less than 200 highway miles from the Paro airport, takes about 12 hours to reach in current road conditions (safe, but slow…). Along the way, the students got to see numerous ecosystems, ranging from subtropical broadleaf forests, to high altitude evergreens dominated by Silver Firs (my personal favorite). They also got to visit Punakha Dzong, one of Bhutan’s most famous landmarks, and the site of the fifth king’s wedding, stop at Dochela pass and see the 108 chortens (religious landmarks), and even spotted some Gray Langurs.
The students listening to guest lecturer Dr. Saamdu Chhetri
We’ve been here for two weeks, and the student’s lives are packed with their various classes. Mountain Ecology; Land Use, Natural Resources and Conservation; Political and Socioeconomic Dimensions of the Environment; and Language and Culture of Bhutan all fill up the student’s daily schedule. Beyond the typical classroom experiences, the students have visited community forests, sacred groves, and timber harvest sites; met with historians, researchers, and wildlife poaching prevention trainers; interviewed locals about their livelihoods, gone birding, and learned how to measure timber stands.
The students at the base of the Buddha Dordenma statue in Thimphu during a field lecture
Outside of the classroom, the students have been keeping busy playing soccer and volleyball against the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE, our research partners here) staff, attending local tsechus (local festivals featuring traditional dance), and exploring town. We’re also planning our first nerd-night: a chance for the students (and faculty) to present on a non-academic topic that they thing is really really cool! Personally, I intend to present on my favorite animal, the Mantis Shrimp (Google it, you won’t be disappointed).
The entire SFS Bhutan staff & students for fall 2015
The upcoming weeks are also filled with adventure: trekking through the Bhutan Himalayas, attending the inauguration of Bayul Dewaling (a Gross National Happiness retreat center), visiting local lhakhangs (monasteries) and more tshechus (fall is tshechu season in Bumthang!).
We try to keep the students busy, both academically and socially, and before they can say KuzuzampoLa (A common greeting in dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language), they’ll be packing up their bags and heading back stateside, with a lifetime of memories and many new lifelong friends.