Saturday, February 23, 2008

Children of Bhutan

Once we left the trailhead at Paro on our high altitude Himalaya "walk" we encountered few villages, really more like settlements, in this remote, rural part of the world. As usual for my trips to the Himalayas, I carry about 200 toothbrushes in lieu of candy and look for the children and schools.

Six days into walking and climbing we came to the settlement of Lingzhi and a boarding school of 80 children in primary grades.

A beautiful view from a realtor's point, but at 13,150' winter stays around for nine months of the year. The Lingzhi area has about 300-400 people, most living a great distance from the school.

By law, men and boys are required to wear a "gho" in schools, government offices, and on formal occasions. It is like a roomy bathrobe, tied with a belt and a little tricky to getting it on right and proper. Once fixed, it is warm, comfy, and lots of things can be stuck inside, both front and back. The girls at Lingzhi wore a long version of the gho. I wondered what this young one was carrying inside her gho.

Like the Children of Cuba, the children of these mountains are as photogenic as the scenery.

Most of the children living at these high altitudes had the reddened cheeks from exposure to the sun and cold.

Does the young boy below seem to be listening attentively to a school lesson? Or could he be trying to figure out a group of white people singing "Old MacDonald Had A Farm", chicken, pig sounds and all? On the spur of the moment it was the only children's song we all knew.

Four more days of walking and several passes, we came to the settlement of Laya, a settlement on the smuggling route from Tibet, and another school.

The Layap culture is based on yak herding, their beast of burden. We had not seen a vehicle road since leaving Paro ten walking days back, and the value of the yak was clear, even if they didn't eat the beast unless it was accidentally killed. One afternoon we came across some men butchering a yak below the trail. The unfortunate beast had been on the short end of a yak fight, and our cook took the opportunity to buy some fresh meat. I always said I wouldn't eat yak, but if you get hungry enough... tastes pretty much like hamburger.

Laya is unique in the world for these conical hats, beaded sometimes elaborately in the back, worn by the women of the area. Women are the primary yak herders and the hat is believed to keep the herd fertile.

By now we had learned to leave the singing to the children, and they did next to a bonfire several hours into the cold night.

A couple more days of walking we came to the village of Gasa, famous for its hot springs. Only catch is, no way to get there except by walking - no tourist crowds here! - and were we ready for a little hot tub soaking!

While checking out the dzong/monastery at Gasa, I heard a familiar sound... I felt homesick. I slipped away from the group and asked one of the young monk students, "Is that a cat?"

He went inside and brought out, you guessed it, a very well fed cat.

Previous chapters:
These Boots Were Made for Walking
Doors of Bhutan
Tiger's Nest and Not Your Ordinary Cupcakes

Goodness, Gracious! Great Balls of Fire

One final chapter to come... stay tuned! And then Patty has to finish her Russia stories!


Pat said...

Great post, Kath! Love the photos of the kids. My Russia stories have nothing on your Bhutan posts.

Kappa no He said...

Gorgeous!! Oh, so Gorgeous! The toothbrush idea is pure genius. What adorable children.

Katharine said...

KNH, Thank you for your generous compliments.

And for anyone planning to travel to these areas, please take pens, pencils (with sharpener), toothbrushes, bandaids,and other everyday things. NO CANDY.

One of our trekkers took the little bits that pop and crackle on the tongue. No sugar, just the fizzle, and the kids loved those.