Traveling to Asia is always going to be a long outbound flight from where I am. The flight is definitely longer when seated right next to you is the entire cast of Kinky Boots traveling to Tokyo for their Asia tour, and the United entertainment system goes down. Lots of singing and stretching and dancing in the aisles. A little too much for a 14+ hour flight. Luckily there was free wine and melatonin, and United gave everyone a $150 credit because of the entertainment system not working. Honestly, it didn’t bother me that much. I slept most of the way, and I regret not asking to get my picture taken with the cast. Would have been funny to share. Landing in Tokyo, I luckily still had my Star Alliance gold status to get me into the lounge, so I stocked up on Sapporo, espresso, sushi before my 6 hour flight to Bangkok. Checked into the Holiday Inn (points got me a free room) and got upgraded to a suite bigger than my apartment.
After trying to get some sleep and failing, wandered around the area to find a crepe place for breakfast. I had the entire day to kill before meeting the group the next day for our flights to Bhutan. I had packed for cooler weather, so I wasn’t really prepared to explore Bangkok in 100% humidity and 90 degree heat, all while pouring rain. The rolling power outages in the city didn’t help either.
Found a few coffee places and tried not to worry about meeting up with a group of strangers the next day. When I try not to worry, I usually end up worrying more. Not sure why. After grabbing Din Tai Fung, I went back to the hotel to try and get some sleep before my 3 am cab to the airport. Didn’t sleep at all.
Luckily my apprehension about meeting new people dissipated when we all met as a group and introduced ourselves the next early morning at the airport. I kept my sarcasm at a minimum, although I did tell the two navy dentists on the trip that I was scared of them and their horrible profession of distributing pain to others for no reason. Apprehension soon faded to excitement as we all searched for coffee before the flight. Traveling with fellow photography enthusiasts was going to be fun.
Listening to everyone talk about gear, travel, and taking pictures through airplane windows was just nice. I even liked the Bhutan Airlines logo enough to keep the in-flight magazine and air sickness bag as souvenirs. A quick stopover in Kolkata, India, and we were off to Paro, Bhutan, flying near the Himalayas with everyone trying to grab a shot of Everest through the airplane windows. After an incredible approach, flying through a valley with hills and mountains literally on both sides of us, we were in country.
Our group was introduced to Yonten our guide and Tenzin our driver, and we were on the bus headed towards Khangkhu Resort, our hotel for the next two nights. Driving down the road next to the airport and seeing the simple housing and sparse landscape surrounding the airport, reminded me of no other place that I had ever been to. It was nice to see something brand new.
We checked into the hotel and the staff were more than helpful, insisting on lugging all our camera gear and luggage to our rooms. The rooms were very nice, and the views were perfect for the first day in a new country. Tourism is strictly regulated by the Bhutanese government, and any place that houses tourists needs to be sanctioned by the government, taught to cater to tourists and prepare government recommended meals. After settling in, we grabbed our gear and headed for the bus to grab lunch in town before heading over to the Paro Dzong that we were all staring at from our hotel room.
Bhutanese food involves a lot of red chili paste, cheese, red rice, and chicken or beef (for the tourists). I loved it the first day. Different from anything I had ever had, which is what I was hoping for.
First stop that afternoon was the Dzong and Museum Fort in Paro. Light was harsh but we all still snapped away. Valley overlooking Paro and the surrounding farmland was nice, and my pictures definitely don’t do it justice. I liked seeing all the chilies grown by all the farmers being dried on the roofs of all the houses. The museum above the Dzong was my first Buddhist museum. No photos allowed. While the masks of the faces of Buddha were impressive, I think we were all drawn to the metal detector that our guide was insisting could tell the difference between men and women. That made no sense to any of us, but it seemed to work.
After a few more shots of the valley and museum, we headed back to the hotel as our tour leaders had scheduled a dance performance. We were going to need some practice shooting dancers before heading to the festivals over the coming days. I was definitely out of my element during this. I was happier to watch the performance than focus on my shooting location and composing my shots.
Dinner consisted of good food and Bhutanese beer. Much needed after trying to process the events of that day. Lots of talk on post processing….I tried writing everything down but looking through my notes, not a lot of it makes sense. One interesting note...no mountain in Bhutan has ever been climbed. The Bhutanese believe that their gods or spirits live in the peaks of the mountains, so they won’t let anyone climb them like they’ve done in Nepal with Everest. That was something that stuck out during the evening’s conversation.
After a relatively early night’s sleep, we were ready for our hike the next day. I dosed up on hotel room coffee before a good breakfast, as I can never sleep anymore anyway, then we drove out to the trail leading up to the Paro Taktsang, also known as Tiger’s Nest. Our tour leaders had recommended we rent mules to carry our gear half way up. Elevation change was noticeable, and it was wet and muddy, but not the worst hike I’ve ever been on. Interesting fact picked up during the hike. Our guide Yonten only has one name. Names are chosen by the monks when Bhutanese are born, after reading the astrological signs. There are only about 20 names total in Bhutan, mostly chosen for the spirit at the temple closest to where the baby is brought. I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic about the total amount of names...my sarcasm radar for the Bhutanese is non-existent.
Spent the day getting shots of the temple, having lunch on the overlook, and chasing away the stray dog packs from knocking over our tripods. We were able to visit the inside of the monastery as well. About 8 or 9 monks live there at any given time, and were broadcasting their daily prayers/chants through a loudspeaker for everyone to hear.
Started the hike back down early to avoid hiking along a steep muddy trail in the dark. Dinner was capped off with some chocolates from Japan. I still couldn’t believe how much travel everyone else in the group has done. I have a lot of catching up to do.
Filled up 32GB of cards during the first two days of the trip. Before leaving for Bhutan, I was determined to disconnect for two weeks from work and life back home, so I forced myself to not bring a laptop and brought along my traveling Chromebook for backups. After dinner I spent the evening transferring everything to my two external hard drives, a very slow process, but excited for the next day to see how Tiger’s Nest could be topped.