Good afternoon everyone! As many of you know, I’m Earlene Cruz, a proud Servas member and youth representative for US Servas to the United Nations. This very month, I had the honor to travel to Italy with Servas, through the Syle program, which encourages youth to travel and learn the local language. For me,
This began with an email to Tracy, of course, who then connected me to Raffaella, who is the SYLE coordinator in Italy. I was asked for my specific interests — which as some of you may know — involve food and culture, as well as taking my Italian beyond Duolingo and online courses and actually practicing in-person, learning new words, which I am happy to share with you today.
Here I am with Raffaella Rota, whom I finally met in person in Bergamo. Many thanks to her seamless organization of my program!
It began in Milan, with roommates Andrea and Alberto, who were keen on using their engineering skills for cooking, through “critical paths” that are normally reserved for management processes and assembly lines. Together, we spent a lovely days together hosting a dinner for their friends, which involved grocery shopping and making everything from scratch!
I then traveled to Bergamo, where I met with the Rota family, before going to the Cremaschi-Fornoni family and the Semperboni family, all who were also in Bergamo.
My time ended with the Saba family, whom I know Dennis knows, in Centallo, which is a province of Cuneo, by-way of Torino, which is also a lovely city.
I can’t say anything but incredible things about each and every single human being that I met along this short path, which I don’t have to convince you of, as fellow Servas members.
I will continue sharing a bit more about my experience, through a focus on food, especially that of the North of Italy. Before I do, here’s a little quiz.
Who can tell me how to say Breakfast in Italian? — Colazione
Dinner? Cena – (prounounced CHena)
Italian mealtimes are:
Breakfast (7.00 – 11.00)
Lunch (12.30 – 14.00 in the north, 13.30-14.30 South )
Merenda (16.00) snack for children (bread, fruit, yoghurt, or ice-cream)
Dinner (20.00 – 22.00)
Many people break for work and come to cook, especially for their children, who normally finish school around 1pm, Monday through Saturday.
Great! So, as you can see, these meals are a bit different from ours in the States, not only in terms of timing, but also in terms of content. Breakfast is usually consistent of biscotti or small crackers and cake and most certainly a coffee. It is rare to see protein-heavy dishes at this time, as is the case in the States, where a plate of eggs and bacon are commonplace on the breakfast table.
I soon entered into the land of prosciutto and prosecco. For the omnivores in the house, I’m sorry, but this will be the las picture of meat, as I am a vegetarian, but I respect all diets and certainly the price tag on these prosciuttos! A single one of these is $100-$120!
￼I drank lots of wine, of course, but in moderation, as Italians like to enjoy small quantities of good quality wine. A spritz, made from Aperol,like the one on the left is common during the summer months. And, as in many countries, Italians can’t seem to live without coffee. As you may know, their coffee is very different to ours. They prefer to enjoy it in espresso form, and are adamant about their stove-top coffee makers like the one here.
Cheese everywhere! Grana Padano, Parmigiano, Mozzarella, everywhere and on everything! Well, mostly. The families I spent time with loved fresh-grated cheese, a process which makes the cheese “grattugiato” – grated.
Extra points if you can tell me how to say Cheese in Italian! — Formaggio — Now Spelling bee part of the presentation — how do you spell it? Formaggio — bene!
Gelato deserves its own slide,
And so does pizza!
Now, here are a few slides on what I learned during my time in Italy: It consisted of handmade pizza and foccacia
And more Pizza — the love for it is real!
… And my favorite, these handmade Cassoncellis because of the backstory: Nonnas in Bergamo often gather to make this recipe, making 85 kilos worth of this, contributing the proceeds of the sale to charity. For them, it is a bonding experience — and I can personally attest to its soothing qualities!
It is made using the Italian Brevettata – pasta-maker, also known as the “mother duck”, passing the pasta through it, then cutting circular shapes before stuffing it with homemade meat and/or cheeseballs and shaping.
It can be served with melted butter, pancetta, grated cheese, and even lemon zest!
Another interesting things tied to tis recipe is the fact that the Bergamo region was historically more impoverished than the rest of Italy before so the pasta in this area has less eggs than water, as compared to other parts of Italy. As Serafina, who was teaching us the recipe that day said, “la cucina e la story di un popolo” — the kitchen is the story of a population!
It certainly wasn’t all about cooking. Most of our time was spent conversing and learning about one another, enjoying nature, hiking up to the Cita Alta and some local monasteries, including a hike organized by Raffaella Rota with local Servas members. Fun fact: if you didn’t already know, Berg means mountain in German, so the Bergamo region, which has Germanic influences is certainly a mountainous region, which made it perfect for enjoying nature.
We also partook in various cultural activities, like visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibit in Milan, watching people playing Bocce, and attending a local ceremony that focused on honoring indigenous communities around the world — below, we see an indigenous dance by a community in Russia!
City walks throughout Milan, Turin, and Cuneo were also lovely and representative of the many “faces” of Italy.
￼Some interesting things I learned or experienced during my time in Italy include:
* On a scale of 1-10, italy is an 8, for ease in terms of eating as a vegetarian: from pasta to pizza and a great abundance of vegetables/vegetarian options.
* Government: While I was there, the new government was formed, which in the meantime caused a lot of confusion and general uncertainty among the Italians I spoke with
* It is generally more difficult to be individualistic and entrepreneurial, as Italy is still somehow very confined to tradition and institutional rules that seem to be omnipresent
* There seems to be a sense of discomfort for difference/ foreigners, a product of the countries’ stress being the “gateway to Europe” during many conflicts around the world
* Italy is a place where food is a great source of pride. As I’ve seen in some parts of Europe, when friends get together, for example, they all cook together before the gathering or bring wine, a bit different to us as the meals are often very elaborate (by US standards) — you will rarely see them ordering in for a gathering
* Slovenian and Italians were at war during World War II. At this point, agricultural production of a specific wine (which was previously produced in the same Lake Izonso area) stopped production and restarted after the war under the same name, even if at that point in different countries. The internal and interpersonal conflicts of war continue after generations, but wine has a way to combat the conflict — figuratively and literally. Men in these areas are separated from their brothers and sisters, as one is now Italian and another Slovakian due to the border changes during the war
* Bella – Buddhism, focus, in cooking! Enjoying meals. Petit dejeuner – much fuller lunch and dinner
* Astronaut Paolo Nespoli tweeted about the smog he saw over Northern Italy from space and was retweeted so much that they shut down traffic in Milan for 2 days – he got lots of hate messages
I’d like to thank you for reading and caring, and of course, everyone who made this possible, from the US Servas Team to Dennis to Raffaella Rota and the wonderful families who opened their hearts and homes to me.
My family may be finding out about these adventures now, through this very blog, and I do want to apologize for not mentioning it — as cliché as it may sound, due to the spirituality of these places, I really wanted my trip to Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet to be focused internally — on using travel as a visceral way to journey both outside and inside of me.
I’m not a Buddha, and I’m far from being at peace with many things in life, but what I’ve come out of this trip acknowledging is that that is OK — that the very feeling of peace and happiness is impermanent, and that it’s all about perspective. These are things I thought I knew, but boy is it easy to forget.
Anyhow, without further ado, I want to introduce a brief photo journal of my journey, which I, unlike many of my travels, decided to embark on through a travel company. This, in many ways, reduced the stresses that come with planning and logistics.
26 March 2018: Arrival in Kathmandu
Upon arrival in Kathmandu airport, meet guide and transfer to hotel.
*First impression: nice, clean air – later found out that Kathmandu is one of the most polluted places on earth, especially after being devastated by an earthquake in 2015, but that did not take away from its beauty.
Bread-making in Kathmandu
01 April 2018: Paro-Kathmandu
Transfer to airport for flight to Kathmandu and visit two World Heritage listed religious sites – the Pashupatinath Temple-the holiest Hindu Temple on the bank of the holy Basmati Rivera and the giant Boudhanath stupa. See devotees taking ritual dips in the holy Bagmati River. Afternoon travel up to Swayambhunath stupa set high on a hill with commanding views of the Kathmandu valley.
*Returning from Bhutan, I was stuck by the larger amount of “Western” clothing, the human traffic lights, the symbiotic integration of Hindus and Buddhists, and the strong culture around cremation.
It takes an entire hour to cremate a body — some travel far begging to die and be cremated at the Basmati River, where up to 200 cremations happen a day: 10 bodies can be burned at once, stopping at midnight. The rest are cremated electrically. Family members should cut their hair and wear only white for an entire year.
When someone VIP dies, they have the cremation area ready for them. During a natural disaster, they cremate in piles – 15-20 at a time. It is religion and art at the same time.
I was struck by the sense of solidarity: blind people sit outside of temples to sing songs and chat in the afternoons.
02 April 2018: Patan-Bhaktapur-Dhulikhel
Heeding the suggestion by the counsel general, I took a mountain flight and saw Mount Everest — it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, including a visit to the cock pit of the plane for more beautiful mountain views ❤
Check out after breakast and commence the day with a tour of Patan city, the city of fine arts and one of the three queen cities of the valley. Visit Durbar Square, Krishna Mandir and Mahavihar-Golden Temple of Lord Buddha built in the 12th century. Then visit the ancient city of Bhaktapur, the third major town in the valley. Enjoy the cobblestone streets free of traffic andvisit Lion Gate, the five-storied Nyatopolo Temple and the Palace of 55 Windows. After lunch at Bhaktapur drive to the hill resort of Dhulikhel which lies 32 kms east of Kathmandu on the Araniko Highway that leads to Tibet. In old days, Dhulikhel flourished as a trading center handling commerce between Kathmandu and Lhasa. Today it delights visitors with its enchanting cultural and stunning Himalayan views. Overnight in Dhulikhel
Newar people – indigenous – half Buddhist & half Hindu; no real conflict among them. Different architecture, language, etc. — I love their yoghurt!
Heavy reconstruction effort throughout all of Nepal after the earthquake: Men, women, children all remarkably engaged in reconstruction efforts.
03 April 2018: Dhulikhel to Nagarkot via Telkot hike.
Morning drive to Changunarayan Temple visit the temple and hike 2 hrs to Telkot passing through the local houses by watching their daily activities and terrace farming field one side and great Himalayan views on other side. We meet our car at Telkot and drive to Nagarkot for beautiful sunset views. Overnight in Nagarkot.
*Changunarayan Temple where the history of Nepal started in the 2nd century
Road to Lhasa from Nepal was destroyed by the earthquake, and along with it, trade, travel, and commerce
08 April 2018: Lhasa-Kathmandu.
Morning we fly back to Kathmandu and visit Narayanhiti Palace Museum and Durbar Square and Ashan and Indrachock. Overnight in Kathmandu at Holy Himalaya.
*Lovely museum visit! Loved seeing the old palace, etc.
Massage : Blind center training massage — helping hands
09 April 2018: Departure
Transfer to airport for flight to home. Service ends.
Interesting facts about Nepal:
- Was part of the Silk Road
- Was never colonized
- 8/10 of the world’s tallest mountains are there
- Constitution just adopted in 2017
- Primarily Hindu
- Buddha is from Nepal (contested — border with Nepal and India)
- No death penalty
- LGBTQ community can marry, have a passport as a third gender, and have equal rights
- Babies wear black eyeliner for beautification purposes
- Agriculture accounts for 75% of GDP
- People living below the poverty like has halved in the last 7 years
- 38% of all households don’t have a toilet
- Hinduism and Buddhism were never truly separate religions in the western sense – used same/similar temples
- Nepali flag is the only one that is not rectangular in the whole world
- Must try foods: dal bhat; with takari (boiled vegetables) or chutni; momo – steamed dumpling
Bhutan has to be one of my favorite places that I have ever been to. It could have to do with its strong culture of high-quality tourism: advocating for high quality, low impact, they make every tourist from the Western World spend at least $250 a day (including transport, food, accommodation, and a mandatory guide). This makes the people who come genuinely interested in the culture and respectful as the small country is not flooded with budget tourists (which I am most of the time). The country’s love for nature, culture, and peace embedded in Buddhism surpassed my already high expectations of this wonderful country.
27 March 2018: Flight to Paro, Bhutan-
Only 8 pilots are qualified to make the landing into Paro – a relatively challenging trek, but with beautiful views of Mt. Everest on the way!
Transfer to airport for flight to Paro, upon arrival at Paro Airport, you will get your passport stamped with visa and claim your baggage and meet your guide outside the airport. After lunch at a local restaurant, we take half-day tour in Paro, visit National Museum, housed at Ta Dzong-the former Watch Tower. The museum has a wide variety of collections from fine arts, handcrafts, arms & armors, bamboo crafts, stuffed animals, stamp collections, bronze statues and also a fine chapel. From here, we visit Paro Rinpung Dzong-which means the fortress on a heap of Jewels. It was built during the reign of Shabdrung in1646. The Dzong, which houses the Paro Monastic School and office of the civil administration, is rich in architecture. The famous Paro Tsechu is held here in the courtyard of this Dzong every year in spring. Late afternoon we drive to Thimphu (1hrs)-the capital city of Bhutan. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage
- Saw Mount Everest from the plane!
- Fortress visit: in the past, everyone lived in the same fortress, not in separate houses
- Fortress was built by the Buddha who came from Tibet and unified Bhutan
- 700k population; 3 women to 1 man
- More than 23 local languages spoken
- Ladies and men work equally
- Phalluses everywhere because they make people embarrassed when they see them, and the sense of embarrassment purges people of negative energy
- Strong belief in natural medicine
- Happened to be here for the Paro festival, which started on the 27th. How awesome!
- Coexistence with nature and natural beings, including rocks is key in Bhutan
- Picnic at the Paro fortress for the Paro festival – tradition for local families
- Having lunch where I experienced a Bhutanese dog named the same as my dog, Bella
- In Bhutan, you have to pay $250 a day for being there — requires/includes a guide — takes you to 3+ star restaurants to avoid food poisoning. Government gives tour company 40% of this, only after the tourists leave and if they have no complaints from the company
- Elders worry about the future because youth is increasingly choosing to leave to cities and there is no one to look after their land – the government is motivating youth to return, but many are opting for work in Thimphu “in front of a computer”
- Guide said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the king/ royalty
- Lama – chief monk, living Buddha- has lots of strict regulations, mainly 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of meditation. During this time, he has no human interaction, no cutting of hair, nails, etc. He writes on a piece of paper what he wants/needs and he has a supplier leave it outside of his door on a weekly basis.
- They drive on the left side of the road
- Prayer flags – believe that when the wind blows, so does the prayer – so on bridges etc.
- Big stupa represents the body of Buddha, little stupa represents the mind of Buddha
- Must do thongs in odd numbers – blessings, offerings, walks around stuppa
- Gross National Happiness: composed of good government, economic growth, preservation of culture, preservation of agriculture
- Buddhism at its basic: be good and help others and get rid of main three poisons – greed, jealousy, anger
- When you pray in a temple, pray for others, not for yourself
- Lamas make a living from agriculture on property given to them by the government & from visitors who offer them donations
- People have an allegiance to their home — work outside, save money and bring back to Bhutan via businesses and remittances
- When people are sick, the government sends them out of the country if they don’t have the necessary resources
- Prayer flags placed near windy and clean places
- Roads are great in Bhutan
- Thimphu — new capital of Bhutan and only city in Bhutan, founded by the third king, called the father of modern Bhutan
- Artimichia plant – beautiful smell!
- Female monks can’t be lamas
- Rare to see a traditional house in Thimphu
- A traditional house on a plot of land: 3 floors, bottom for cattle, second for storage, top for living
- Colors mean a lot — red for the government, green rooftops for the schools, red and green rooftops are for government buildings
28 March 2018:
After breakfast, we will embark on a tour of Thimphu. We visit Buddha Point at Kuensel Phodrang and then visit Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Many Bhutanese people gather here to pray every day. From here, we drive to visit a nunnery on the outskirts of Thimphu, followed by visit to Takin Zoo. Takin-the legendary animal, is the national animal of Bhutan, We also visit the Textile Museum, the School of Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum and Tasicho Dzong at the end of the day. The massive Tasicho Dzong is the seat of Bhutan1s administrative and religious center. Overnight in Thimpu at Namgay Heritage.
- Old people who can’t walk around the big stupa will walk around prayer wheels – dropped off by the children in the morning to pray for their next life — those without kids will be fed by monks and the wealthy
- Susceptibility to earthquakes leads people to not be able to build beyond 5 stories high
- Picnics and packed lunches are common
- Singapore and other Buddhist countries support Bhutan – i.e. assist to financially support the building of a Buddha statue
- Walk clockwise, not counter clockwise around things
- Buddha was a prince / a Hindu who left royalty upon realizing human suffering – went to meditate and experience suffering without eating – his mom who died at age one came up to him and asked him why he did this to himself & he replied that she would join him soon. He went to heaven and came back as told by bodshisatvas to come back and teach the religion to the people, which he did
- Buddha’s second reincarnation in the 8th century came to Nepal and then Tibet where they did not listen to him/accept his teachings so he went to Bhutan – telling the Tibetans that they would come under another rule if they did not listen – came under Chinese rule
- Believe the current king of Bhutan, and all past ones, are a god
- Fourth king ruled that water could be offered as gifts to the gods so that the poor did not have to give up wheat and rice they could not afford to give up
- Seemingly resolved challenge for Bhutan: Balance between tradition and modernity
- Peacock and horses are revered animals, as they are in Hindi because it is a Hindu-born religion
- 2008: first time voting in Bhutan for parliament. Voting for parliament and ministers every 5 years
- Faculty of traditional medicine: Interesting didn’t have any meds for mental problems – maybe Buddhism and prayer is the way to alleviate them?
- 4-6 years — in embroidery school and each year they have exams
- 4 friends: sculpture of a peacock standing on a rabbit standing on a monkey standing on an elephant — peacock lays seed for tree, rabbit plants, monkey waters and fertilizes, and elephant protects — represents peace and harmony
- Most schools in Bhutan are boarding schools
- Paper factory: Boil bark of tree, separating good ones from bad ones
- Mix water with glue
- Press down to squeeze water out
- Then place on modern electric walk and dry
- Takin believed to have been created by the Buddhist monk
- Rare to see arguments, murders, etc. – only really when people get drunk
- Don’t kill the animals – import everything to eat from India
- Mining is not allowed
- King lives in a small bungalow on the grounds of the palace/fortress where he works and where the monks live as well
- June 2: planting day — all people must plant one tree or on flower
29 March 2018: Punakha and Wangdiphodrang
With my Amazing guide, Kinley, and his friend from high school.
After breakfast, we attend Thimphu’s colorful weekend market where farmers sell their fresh produce. We can also take the opportunity to watch the archery match-the national sports of Bhutan. Late morning, we drive to Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang (3hrs). The road climbs up to Dochula pass (Alt. 3010m), where we stop to get a spectacular panoramic view of the snowcapped mountain range of Bhutan (weather permitting!). Near the pass there are many chortens (pagoda or stupas) and hundreds of prayers flags fluttering about in the wind. After the pass the road drops through changing vegetation into the semitropical lowland of Punakha – Wangdi valley. Punakha and Wangdue valleys are at a lower elevation, at around 1400m, therefore warmer with semi-tropical climate. Here we will seevegetation such as cactuses, bananas and orange groves. We visit Punakha Dzong, In fact,Punakha Dzong used to be the winter capital of Bhutan until 1958. Even today, the head of the Abbot and monks of the central monastic body reside in Punakha Dzongduring the winter months and in Thimphu during the summer. After lunch in Punakha, we drive to the village near the junction road between Punakha and Wangdi and take a 20 minute easy, pleasant hike to Chimi Lhakhang temple, dedicated to the Saint Drukpa Kuenley (1455-1529), also known the divine madman. Overnight in Punakha.
- Nepalis who work on the road are given (pretty rundown) housing
- In order to join the UN, the Third King of Bhutan had to show a large enough population — asked Nepali king for people — gave them land in the south (not really arable due to foggy weather) for them to live and work; after some time, many of them did not want to wear the traditional clothing/follow the rules, so they sent them back to Nepal. Those who did follow the rules stayed and were given housing
- Most people have their own houses, but rent in a city like Thimphu for a one or three bedroom house is $200-$300/month. Foreigners may not buy houses or stay here, unless they get married with a local person.
- Saw a white monkey – symbol of good luck!
- Poverty and hunger are not really issues here – community and/or government steps in, even for cremation purposes
- Many people in the tourism industry were ex-guides who opened hotels etc. with foreigners who were on their tour and fell in love
- No prostitution in Bhutan
- Sex education from internet and friends, not in school
- British fighting for land – gave them Assam and parts that are now India to stop fighting
- Fishing is illegal – people do at night
- No death penalty
- Cows and dogs in the middle of the street and they are not scared because cars will always stop for them – they’ll never purposefully hit them
- People love painted houses/ colorful houses and will hire people to paint their houses, often with phalluses on them
- People believe in hiking up to monasteries – that increasing the effort makes people more blessed, so the government is not allowed to build roads, etc
- Rice popping, wheat, whisky, peach wine, druk lagger beer
- Curries are common: usually with chile, a veggie, cheese, oil, & water – cooked for 5 minutes
30 March 2018: Sightseeing of Wangdue Valley and return drive to Paro
With my guide, Kinley’s family, at the Paro Festival
After early morning breakfast, we drive to the town of Wangdi Phodrang. Here again there is a very large fortress (Dzong) currently under renovation. Walk 20mins to Rinchengang Stones Masons village opposite to the Dzong. After sightseeing in Wangdi Phodrang, we retrace our drive back to the west across Dochula Pass,providing one more opportunity to view the peaks of the eastern Himalayas. At the pass, there is a small restaurant, where we can sip tea and enjoy the views. We descend from the pass in time for lunch at the restaurant in Thimphu and later in the evening, retrace drive to Paro. Overnight in Paro.
- Send expats and foreigners to Bangkok Thailand if very sick
- Why only nail polish on one hand? – not on right or left hand (whichever they use to eat) because they use it to eat
- What happens if the king dies? – even if he’s a baby, he takes a throne, and prime minister. First child is the king, even if she’s a woman
- Christmas is celebrated in Bhutan
- New year is a special occasion
- Wear nice shoes and purses to complement the traditional wear
- Not a lot of grey hair – most people seem to die young
- Festival: 9am-5pm – Paro Festival
- Picnics are very popular
- Bitter nut is common, as it is in parts of Nepal, India and Myanmar
- Wanting and achieving is good, ok, as long as it is in your power and possible for you to achieve without much suffering — buying a big tv because you can afford it is ok, as long as your salary and work did not hurt anyone. Buying a big tv with someone else’s money because you wanted the big tv selfishly is not good
- Fundraising for people who kill animals – giving them money for them to stop doing – primarily yak herders – alternate solution to the problem
31 March 2018: Paro (Takstang Hike)
Morning, we hike to the Takstang Monastery. Taktsang Monastery (meaning Tiger’s nest), was tragically damaged in the fire of early 1998. The monastery, which has now been rebuilt, is perched some 2,000ft/600m up on a sheer cliff overlooking the valley and was said to be where the legendary Indian saint, Guru Padmasambhava, flew from Tibet on the back of a tiger to defeat five demons, who were opposing the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. The hike is about one and half hours to the teahouse, from where we may either opt to go further uphill to the monastery for about 1 hour or return with a few snapshots of the monastery. Lunch is served at the teahouse with the majestic views of Taktsang above and the Paro valley below. The return trek to the road head is downhill almost all the way and takes about an hour. Late afternoon, we will visit the ruins of DrugyelDzong from where we can also enjoy the views of Mount Jhumolari.
Overnight in Paro
- Most people come with a packed lunch – picnic – which is a big deal in Bhutan
- Traditionally don’t believe in mental health/ psychology – but now some Lamas are encouraging it – as a combination of Buddhism and mental health
- Tour guide associations come up to the monastery to clean up
- One aspect of karma: because we met in our past life, we are meeting in this present life
- Humans are still the best form of being reborn – know what to do/not to do to be reincarnated. Gods know when they are going to die, so is a cause of worry. Animals/devil = lower caste.
- Buddha had many disciples who helped to write the story – one from Tibet and one from Nepal – Buddhas – bodhisatvas – not as enlightened as the main Buddha
- It is not firmly believed that all of the scriptures are 100% true
- Saw one of the four queens on her way down from a hike
- Popped rice – like popcorn
- Whisky container
- Most cars you see are hyundai, suzuki, etc.
- Traditional farmhouse experience – love!
Interesting facts about Bhutan:
- Was never colonized
- Notable for pioneering the concept of gross national happiness
- Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon
- Primarily a Buddhist country
- 1999 – when the ban on internet and television were abolished
- Political system changed from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy recently
- The takin is the national animal
- Currency is fixed to the Indian rupee
- Forced over 100,000 people from an ethnic group to flee / neither being accepted in Nepal or elsewhere; recently over 60,000 have been relocated
- Popped rice is common, and awesome!
- Great diplomatic relations with India, Japan and Bangladesh
- Primary export is hydroelectricity
- There was trade before, but closed border with Tibet after an influx of refugees
- First nation in the world to ban smoking
- Inheritance traditionally passes through the female rather than through the name
- Arranged marriages are common
- The previous king has four wives, all of which were sisters
- Polygamy is uncommon but accepted – sometimes done to keep the inheritance intact
- To eat: ema datshi — national dish | dairy: butter, milk, cheese common
- Archery is the national sport
- Only country in the world with a carbon negative footprint
- Less people visit Bhutan in one year than they do on one Sunday for a football game
- Homemade rye pancake, cheese from yaks and cows
- Cordyceps whisky — cordyceps – whisky living on caterpillars in mountains in Bhutan
- Wash hands by moving a ball of rice around their hands
- Monks are covered by the government
- If the monk dies, the government compensates the parents
- They’re now learning computer science and English as a way to motivate children to join – it is up to them
- They go to Singapore and other Buddhist countries to learn the practice
- 1974 – tourism opened in Bhutan
These three regions, especially Tibet and Bhutan are resounding with a common theme of a pungent smell of butter lamps and incense, sometimes concurrently.
It’s what I will forever associate with them. Other non-olfactoric things include: handmade paper, “Buddhist-ware” – prayer wheels, beads, singing bowls etc. These cultural elements are what I tried to focus on while I was in Tibet, where it was honestly quite challenging to deny the political elements existing in the region – some comparisons to Israel and Palestine/Gaza certainly make it a prime place to focus on the challenges, and it is certainly difficult to deny or negate it. But the beauty and power of the region has surpassed conflict and politics.
The positive experience I had is outstanding:
04 April 2018: Flight in to Lhasa
The only way I survived the oxygen — inhaling oxygen!
We transfer you to airport for flight to Lhasa. On your arrival at Lhasa airport, you will be met by your local guide and transferred to your hotel in Lhasa city (75km/47 miles, 1 hr). Check in hotel and take rest for acclimatization. You may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sicknessthat includes light headedness,disorientation, headache etc. Drink plenty of water and take enough rest. Overnight in Lhasa.
- I was lucky enough to get my visa that morning. Most of the people on my flight did not get it, so most of the seats remained empty
- China continues to change its rules related to the visa
- It only opens in April to tourists, and I was one of the first to go that year
- Lots of solar powered lamps
- Put 7 water offerings on a Buddhist altar – lucky numbers – depending on the size of the altar
05 April 2018: Lhasa City, Potala Place and Barkhor Street
In the morning we visit the Chokran temple. In the afternoon, Sera Monastery—It was one of the “three great” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1419. The highlight is the Monks debate at around 3 – 5 in the afternoon. Overnight in Lhasa at Gang Gyen hotel. Then continue to Jokhang Temple, another UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a spiritual center for Buddhists in Tibet. Next to the temple there is Bakhor Street, filled with pilgrims and street vendors, selling traditional Tibetan items such as prayer wheels and jewelry. Overnight in Lhasa.
- Chokran Temple – founded in the middle of 7th Century
- First time seeing sleeve-wearing people on mopeds
- Incense burner — outside
- 5 colors of prayer flags reflects the five different colors of the elements: earth, wind, fire, water, sun
- Guide is not to talk anything related to politics – if anything was taken down etc.
- Monks in China get $ from the government if they’re part of a monastery
- Monks typically look down because if they see nice things, it will increase desire
- Sky and river burials – returning people back to where we came from – from nature. Let birds and fish eat the bodies
- Buddhists in some places like Nepal and India do not eat beef
- Believe that killing one animal is like killing one soul, so they prefer to kill a large animal to feed more people
- Yak meat on the run! vvv
- They have a lot more Tibetan officers than Chinese in Tibet, only work 5 hours, only for 5 months and are paid $60,000, to stay quiet
- Monks debate philosophy – slap one side of hand if agree and the other, top side, if they don’t agree
- 150 monks living in Chokran
- 500 monks living in Sera – prior to the Revolution more than 6000 lived there
06 April 2018: Monasteries in Lhasa, Drepung and Sera
In the morning, tourists are going to visit Drepung monastery, which was one of the “three greet” Gelug monasteries of Tibet and was founded in 1416. Ganden palace is used as Dalai Lama’s palace in the Drepung before moving to the Potala palace. Then we will visit the UNESCO World Heritage site – Potala Palace, which is also the winter palace of Dalai Lama. It’s situated at 12,139 feet above sea level. It’s a 13-story high building that contains over 1,000 rooms, various statues, stupas, murals and artifacts.
- So many car brands I’ve never seen before in China – nice looking cars!
- Before the Cultural Revolution, 10k monks living here – the Draping “rice heap” – Monastery – now has 600 living there
- The Assembly Hall is the main area of the monastery
- In Tibet – they use pillars to measure the home — i.e this monastery has 108 pillars.
- Buddha – God of Compassion – manifested 1000 arms and legs – in order to help more people
- Before 1959 — it was a place for political and religious leaders
- Holds the tombs of past Dalai Lamas – worth billions of dollars in Gold!
- White part of the building is – political; Red – religious; Yellow – Dalai Lama portion of the building
With my new friend from Thailand, Pauline
07 April 2018: Yamdrok Lake
This yak didn’t like me very much.
Today, we have to drive from Lhasa to Gyantse. On the way, the group will pass over the Gampala pass (4790 m),and tourists will have a glimpse of Yamdrok-tso Lake (4400m).
The Lake is surrounded by many snow-capped mountain and in the distance you have spectacular views of Holy Mount Nyenchen Khangsar (7191m), the highest mountain near Lhasa. Then drive back to Lhasa. Overnight in Lhasa.
- In this village, and in many places in Tibet, if you have 2-3-4 brothers, you can share a wife; older man gets to be called the father of all of the children
- Don’t want foreigners – mainly marketing to the Chinese
- **More complicated than this, but someone mentioned the similarities between the Vatican City and Lhasa, Tibet similarities: own military parade (albeit one is not from the predominant religious group), religion/religious institution at the center, City-State/City within the context of a larger country
Interesting facts about Tibet:
- Highest region on earth – also home to Mount Everest like Nepal
- Tibetans allowed to have businesses, but unlike the Chinese, can’t market it to the outside world – only use internet
- Economy of Tibet is dominated by subsistence agriculture
- Longstanding fight for independence against China. Lost a battle in 1951 when China took over
- Tibetan language is closest to Burmese – a mix of Indian and Chinese cultures
- Have a Bon religion: similar to Tibetan Buddhism — and also Muslim and Christian minorities
- Tibetan empire extended to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma…Pakistan, etc! Where in many parts they still speak the Tibetan language
- A Tibetan revolution during the cultural revolution had 6,000 monasteries destroyed and between 200k and 1 million people were killed
- Only opened for tourism starting in April
- 14th Dalai lama – is seen as a governmental and political leader and established a government externally
- Not much arable lands leads to cultivation of yaks and the like – livestock
- 10-20% of all males in Tibet are monks
- Barley is the most famous crop — noodles or dumplings (momo)
- Guthuk – barley noodle soup is common for the new year
- Tibetan style momo is famed
- Butter tea: Butter tea perfectly fits the needs of the human body in these high altitudes as it contains butter (protein and fat), milk (protein, fat and calcium), salt and tea.
- Tibetan cuisine is traditionally served with bamboo chopsticks, in contrast to other Himalayan cuisines which are eaten by hand.
- Balep is Tibetan bread eaten for breakfast and lunch. There many other types of balep bread and fried pies.
- Well prepared yogurt is considered a luxury
- The word Nangma derives from the Persian word نغمه Naghma meaning melody. Both a band and a nightclub have been named after it. “Nangma” is the name of a four-person, traditional Tibetan band dedicated to these two styles of music. “Nangma” is also the name of a nightclub in Lhasa which plays this traditional music.
- Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a blouse, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signals that she is married.
- Alcoholic beverages include:
- Chang, a beer usually made from barley
- Raksi, a rice wine
- Polygamy and polyandry is a common practice, often to stop a family’s fortune from being dispersed
- Lhasa Apso — dog orginiating in Tibet!
- Yak racing is popular in Tibet!
- Liked: House of Shamble, Tibetan Kitchen, Lhasa Kitchen, and the many tea houses there!
Cultural Dance Show at the Hotel!