Wow… it seems an impossible task to put any of these experiences into words. Nevertheless, I’ll try. Our staff here on campus thought that we should take advantage of Losar, the Tibetan New Year celebration, and placed us in pairs for a day-stay in the community. My friend AJ and I were put with Tika and her Bhutanese family. At the beginning of the day, eleven hours with an unknown family who had unknown customs seemed extremely daunting. Both of us were somewhat nervous about what the day might be like. Luckily for us, Tika had planned a packed day of unique exploration and getting to know one another.
I can’t go any further without talking about how amazing Tika is. On the surface, her English is extremely well spoken and almost without an accent. She’s very talkative and knows a lot about local cultures. After getting to know her more, I also saw how thoughtful she is. She completely planned out a day for AJ and me so we could see things that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise. She took us to places that most locals don’t even know about or visit. I can speak for both AJ and myself when I say that we are so grateful to Tika, her family, and her best friend Karma who accompanied us for most of the day, for our favorite day of the trip thus far.
After the initial greetings, we met Tika’s siblings, had our tea and cookies, and went on our way to meet Karma. We walked from upper Chamkhar to Jalikhar village where we picked up Karma and went to watch an archery match by the river. Karma explained to us that typically everyone from her village would be there to see the match for Losar, but in the last few years it had become less and less popular. Although I knew that archery is the national sport of Bhutan, I was immensely impressed by the distance between the archer and the tiny target painted on a four foot tall plank of wood. After spending some time watching the match we took a scenic route back to Karma’s house, past haunted houses and potato fields. Once at Karma’s house, she was quick to realize that we may want to see her altar room. Losar is one of the most celebrated and important holidays in Bhutan, so the local families put a lot of time and effort into decorating, celebrating, and praying.
Although we spent time snacking and having our tea, there was no way we were leaving Karma’s house without having a full meal. We have been so spoiled from hospitality and homegrown food while we’ve been here in Bhutan.
After our visit with Karma and her mother, we started our major journey of the day up to Gongkhar Goempa, the temple hidden amongst the mountain forests. Even though we’ve been getting acclimated for a couple weeks now, I still feel the elevation in my lungs each time I set out to hike. The views from these lesser Himalayas make each hike worth it, though. When we arrived at the Goempa, a frail looking elderly woman opened the temple for us to see the murals and prostrate, paying our respects to the Lama, Rinpoche, and Losar. We each left a few offerings and then received tangerines straight from the altar! We also got to see the old Goempa, which was built straight into the rock of the mountain next to us.
After exploring this area, we went off to the more popular Kharchu Dratshang, a monastery more central to the Chamkhar town. We took a footpath along the mountains. It’s fun to walk through the woods to temples here because the paths are marked with prayer flags, rather than signs with directions and distances like they are in the United States.
From this clearing of prayer flags (pictured above) we took a path that ended up getting us disoriented. We spent a solid hour trying to spot prayer flags to find our way back to the right path. This was my favorite part of the day. We had snacks, food, the blazing sun, and each other in some unknown part of the lesser Himalayas. I was giggling for the whole hour while we scrambled around the mountainside looking for a trail. Finally, we spotted some flags that we followed back to the original site we had gotten lost from. We identified the correct trail and were on our way. This next monastery that we arrived at was one of the largest and most established sites we’ve been to so far. There was a view of the entire valley from the main temple.
After walking around, we began the journey back towards town. Tika and Karma took us to see Tika’s old house and the opposing side of the valley. We got some insight into what her life had been like. Upon returning to Tika’s house, our two guides and one of Tika’s sisters made us dinner. Their egg curry was so good that I over-ate to the point of feeling sick. I cannot get enough of this food.
As the day was coming to an end, the rest of Tika’s family started to open up more to us. By the time we had to say goodbye I was getting teary eyed. Honestly, Tika had created and led me through one of the best days of my life. I had so much fun with her and again, I am so grateful for this day. Karma, Tika, and her family let us see right into their lives and that’s not something I want to take for granted. When we departed, they gave AJ and me handwritten cards and friendship bracelets. When I got back onto our SFS bus and started to read the card Tika wrote us, I couldn’t help but long for lifetime connections with these people.