06
Mar 17

Travel in Bhutan

Bhutan is unique and special. The flight into Paro Airport is legendary and exciting. Nestled on the southern slope of the Himalayas, this small buddhist country has become famous for it’s “Gross National Happiness” in contrast to gross national product. Indeed it’s main sources of revenue are hydroelectric power and tourism. The people are lovely, their fabrics colorful and the yak tasty.

Monk twirling prayer beads, Bhutan. 2016.

As with many paces in Asia, the people don’t mind being photographed as long as it is done in a respectful manner. It is not acceptable to photograph inside a shrine or temple or to photograph monks during prayer.

Master Monk, Bhutan. 2016

The Bhutanese are master artisans and take pride in preserving their traditional arts and crafts.

Weaver, Bhutan, 2016

They have worked closely with the Japanese in developing their paper industry. Being a paper junky and collector I visited one of their paper making facilities and had a great time watching and photographing them at work. It is very similar to other handcrafted processes I’ve seen in other countries yet they manage to put their own unique stamp on it.

Papermaker, Bhutan. 2016.

While visiting one of the remote monasteries, a group of nomads arrived with their families to receive blessings from the monks and masters. It was a fortunate time for us to be there.

In the kitchen, Bhutan. 2016

 


26
Feb 14

Kyrgyzstan Nomads

I previously wrote about our experience at a Nomad Kyrgyzstan Yurt camp. A remarkable experience, recommended if you ever get the chance. Here is another photo I wanted to share that shows the vastness of the high altitude Central Asian Steppe near the Chinese border.

Yurt, Kyrgyzstan Steppe.

Yurt Camp, Kyrgyzstan Steppe.


08
Sep 12

China’s Earliest Buddhist Temple

In the ruins of the ancient city of Kashgar, we visited the Mor Pagoda. It was the first Buddhist Temple established in China and dates from the 2nd century AD. Ancient Kashgar was an important city along the Silk Road but was abandoned in the 10th century after internal strife and a war of succession led to the adoption of Islam as the official religion. When the city location was moved 30 km away, it continued to be an important Silk Road destination.

 


08
Sep 12

Bukhara Caravanserai

We once again have access to youtube. This video from Bukhara shows a typical Silk Road Caravanserai. Thank you to Archaeologist Bekhruz Kurbanov for sharing his expertise.


04
Sep 12

Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat

The road from Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat is considered the most dangerous road in Kyrgyzstan because of the 33 Parrots. Our guide Sasha explained that the Russian word for “fear” sounded just like the English word “parrot”. This pass was the most stunning yet and the 33 referred to the number of switchbacks on the treacherous descent. Our passage was simple enough but I imagine in the winter months it would live up to it’s reputation.

Our Tash Rabat yurt camp was quite different from the one at Son Kul Lake. The air was about five degrees celsius warmer and the camp was run by Russians rather than nomads. Although there was no lake to chill the air, in the middle of the night the wind came howling down the gorge and beat the heavy walls and entry flap of our yurt. There was something different about this place, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in a way only a few places have. I had dreams that night. I dreamt of animals and hunting parties. I imagined yeti like creatures roaming the hills and opened my eyes half expecting to see one standing in the middle of the room staring back at me. The dream was so vivid I was almost disappointed when there wasn’t.

A controversy surrounds the origin of the Tash Rabat caravanserai. Some experts have pointed to carved crosses and claim it was an early Christian church. Another scholar insisted it was built in the 10th century. Most experts believe the fortress like structure was built in the 15th century. Unlike the Caravanserai I visited in Bukhara, this one was constructed to withstand attacks by bandits. Being the largest stone building in Central Asia it felt more like a small European castle than Silk Road merchant hotel. The narrow river gorge continued to wind up past Tash Rabat and provided an alternate route to the one we were taking to Torugart Pass.
Russian Sauna

Russian Saune by Curious Lizard

At the Tash Rabat yurt camp


31
Aug 12

Kochkor Village to Son Kul Lake

We left Kochkor Village early in the morning and after about 40 km we turned off the main road and onto a narrow dirt one that wound it’s way up the side of a mountain. The beauty was breathtaking and at the top of the first pass we saw a man and woman on touring mountain bikes laboring up the hill from the opposite direction. Stopping to greet us, the man introduced himself as Rudy. He and his girlfriend had ridden 5000 km from their home in Switzerland. They were mere wisps, thinned and toughened by their long journey and heavily laden bikes. I asked if they were camping along the road ” oh yes, and the people are wonderful, they come out to greet you and bring you food.” We laughed about the heat of the deserts, I couldn’t imagine crossing them by bicycle! After several minutes of chatting, we bid them safe voyage to Kochkor and they were off.

Son Kul Lake is one of the larger alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan. At 3000 meters the landscape was cold and barren of bushes and trees. Herds of horses and sheep ran freely or grazed on the stubby grass. Our yurt camp was owned and operated by nomads. As soon as we arrived, Christy and myself were corralled by a pair of women and taken aside. They carried a plastic bag between them and pulled out bits of dry bread, a greasy joint of lamb and a bottle of vodka. Feeling obligated by our new hosts we ate, drank, then joined in a traditional blessing of their children.

Heading over to the kitchen yurt, we met mountaineer Ted Fairhurst. Ted was climbing the “Seven Summits” and had just completed Mt. Elbrus. He was a terrific guy, full of good stories and great advice. After tea, a hike took us high above our yurt camp looking through the rocky outcroppings for petroglyphs. We found three of long horn sheep just as we had seen in a museum. These petroglyphs were at least three thousand years old and were early examples of the long running theme in nomadic art of rams horns.

The night was cold and my warm weather clothing wasn’t much help. In our effort to travel light, I had neglected to anticipate the needs of our two mountain camps. Ted kindly sold us his spare headlamp which he had taken up Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and many other mountains so we could see in the pitch black camp.

Breakfast was a bowl of hot oatmeal. I noted that a nomad man sat across from me wearing a tall felt hat. He was scraping the flesh from the base of a boiled sheep’s head with his pocket knife and putting it into his toothless mouth. I watched in horror and fascination for several minutes as he turned it this way and that to get at the meat. The sheep’s ears still look pliable and soft. I glanced guilty back at my oatmeal, feeling like an intruder. A short while later Christy, Sasha, Ivan and myself climbed into the car and journeyed to Tash Rabat by way of the “33 Parrots!”

33 Parrots Pass

33 Parrots Pass by Curious Lizard

One of the passes through the Pamir Mountains.