Thimphu: Delay

We are scheduled to fly back across the country to Paro, but the 10am plane is said to have diverted to Kathmandu. Since this is in the opposite direction from that flight’s origin in Paro, we assume business interests intervened or possibly relief efforts. In any case, after sitting at the airport for a while, we head back to town. If the plane doesn’t come today at all, we face the rather nauseating prospect of driving all the way back the way we came.

Airport at Jakar

Airport at Jakar

I end up walking around, looking at trinket stores, stopping in at a weaving shop and chatting with the ladies before buying a small wallet from them. My client has suggested I wear the traditional Gho, and the result is that everyone does a double take when I walk by. It’s a fairly functional garment, but I find it absolutely impossible to don alone. I’m told every time that I’ve done it all wrong, and then no matter where I am, public or private, have to take it off for reassembly. As amusing as it is to stand in the middle of a public street in your underwear, I’ve taken to wearing shorts and a t shirt underneath.

The group eats lunch in a small restaurant behind a store, the usual and tasty rice and chile cheese and thousand-bone chicken and broccoli and fiddlehead ferns, plus some pineapple for dessert. Back at the airport, and a few hours later, the plane does arrive and we soar up out of the overcast into a bright blue sky, Kula Kangri to the right of the plane, or possibly Gangkhar Puensum, at 7570 m (24,836 feet) the tallest unclimbed peak in the world. The peaks are sacred: no climbing allowed.

Just writing that gives me pause: sacred. Is anything really sacred anymore? I’m reminded of a moment in my youth, when I was admonished for mowing my aunt’s lawn in Harmelen, the Netherlands on a Sunday. It was a hand mower (no noise, hardly!), but mowing was forbidden on Sundays. Sundays were sacred! I could never quite figure out, however, if Sundays were literally considered sacred (my family was never very religious, my mother’s protestations notwithstanding…she married a Protestant after all), or if this was a form of community policing. I might disturb the neighbors. I remember the admonishment in any case as a real affront: I had in just a few years abroad fully absorbed both the work ethic and sense of freedom or perhaps entitlement demanded by life in the United States. It never even occurred to me that I myself, or at least my industriousness, might be an affront to the Sunday tranquility expected by the neighbors.

The peaks in Bhutan, in any case, are sacred. Climbing them would be an affront to…again the question: community norms, an actual religious belief, a practice born from experience that life stops at the treeline…? So many religious tenants taken on faith today apparently stemmed from the practical requirements of ancient life, it is easy to imagine a culture naming the peaks sacred in acknowledgment of the fact that they were deadly. Research for another day.

The plane ride is so unnervingly bumpy, they hand us our snacks as we disembark in Paro.


Ricefields near Paro

It’s a 75 minute drive to Thimphu, and though we drove it on the first day in the country it looks and feels completely undiscovered. I don’t recognize a thing and keep looking at a map to see if this is some other route, but there is no other route. Its possible the trip here from the US had put me in a hallucinatory state. Thimphu at least looks like a place I’ve been to before.

There aren’t enough rooms in the hotel, so I get a room a few doors down from the main group. Its immediately clear that very few people where a Gho here, so I put my regular clothes back on, take advantage of the free 20 minute chair massage offered by the hotel, and then get whisked off for dinner with one of the partners of the project that invited me here. At his home we drink way too much beer, the alcohol heavy “11000” type, chat about the project, munch on yak and chicken and asparagus and salad, top it off with ice cream (It’s been weeks!), and then finally, hours after the ladies have retired, head back to the hotel.

The headache hits me the next morning, an 8 hour delay.

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