Saturday, May 12, 2018

Simply Bhutan!!!

Smile ...Stay are in the kingdom of happiness” was a sign that welcomed us as we alighted from  Druk Air chartered by Makemytrip flying directly from Bengaluru to Paro, Bhutan. The land locked mountainous terrain of Bhutan, with its breathtakingly beautiful wide open valleys, fickle weather, pristinely perennial streams flowing down the Alpine slopes alongside the highways leading up to the myriad Buddhist monasteries at every round and bend, inhabited by the simple, spiritual and ever smiling Bhutanese people... is nothing short of a heavenly retreat for the leisurely, mountain loving, Ruskin Bond aficionados like my family!!! 

Bhutan with its picturesque Dzongs, vibrant arts and culture, and its unconventional approach towards sustainability and development presents a unique and interesting travel experience!! One can’t compare Bhutan to any other  commercially popular tourist destination, especially with its high value and low impact policy on tourism. Bhutan is only for the discerning tourist who loves to soak in the local culture, take in the Buddhist spirituality, enjoy the altitude changing landscape, and mingle with smiling and soft spoken, national dress attired local population, and take a cue from the small yet orderly no-traffic-signal establishment!

As we began the tour from Paro to Thimphu and then from Punakha back to Paro , what struck us is the unified effort of the Bhutanese in implementing and internalizing the national policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) encapsulating good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and environmental conservation as four pillars of GNH. Whether it is their Vajrayana school of Buddhist ideology symbolizing the union of wisdom and compassion, or their love and respect for their  king seen in the umpteen posters and slogans in praise of the People's king along with his family, or strictly adhering to their national dress of Kira for women  and Gho for men, or following the Bhutanese architectural style in each and every structure that comes up or the friendly tour guide and driver who was more than willing to open up on life and times in Bhutan.......... we came back thoroughly enchanted with the land of Druk!!

As we made several stop-overs for shopping at the Crafts Bazaar in Thimpu, local handicrafts vendors at the Tiger nest base, or the quaint souvenir shops at Paro, my best souvenir has always been local children's literature! 

Amongst many, we picked up a book that best represents Bhutanese culture and philosophy. "Heavenly Birds" is a book written by Pema Gyaltshen , a popular children's writer who has authored many children's books in Bhutan and the pictures by Chandra S Subba

This story revolves around one of the most awaited migratory birds of Bhutan, the black necked cranes that fly into Bhutan, particularly Phobjikha from Tibet during the winter months.  So fascinated are they with the birds, that the Black Cranes are much revered and their migration into Bhutan is  celebrated with the farmers waiting for the arrival of the black cranes to sow their winter wheat. So much so that people of Phobjikha have opted to create cable free skies for the black necked cranes!
In this story that doubles up as children's non fiction on some interesting facts about black neck cranes, it can be seen how the man-animal-aviary symbiosis is such an intricate part of the Bhutanese culture.. "Thrung Thrung Thrung......" as the pleasing sound signals the arrival of black neck cranes from Tibet into the Phobjika valley at the start of winter, it also means it is time for the locals to plant their winter wheat. As they spend their winter basking in the picturesque Phobjika valley boasting of two main rivers, the Bue chhu and Phag Chhu rivers, (representing the snake and the boar respectively) and the famous Buddhist shrine Gantay Lhakhang, the locals celebrate their migration into the valley until February when it's time for them to fly back to Tibet. The book also recounts a legend of an old crane named Samdhen that is unable to make the journey to Tibet and a few craned decided to  fly to Tibet to get some salt for Samdhen. As he lay motionless in the middle of the field, he was noticed by a group of people who poured some water on the crane and with the additional aid of salt from Tibet, Samdhen was saved. In appreciation for the help from humans, the cranes formed a circle to perform their last dance and while flying out of Phobjika, they circle three times above the holy Gantay Lhakhang.  Aided with suitable illustrations, this is a story that beautifully highlights humans living in harmony with nature, which is the very essence of Bhutanese culture.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Princess Easy Pleasy!!!

We are in Bhutan.... the land of Gross National Happiness for our summer family vacation!! “Family vacation” is more like a business trip for parents with lists and inventories made out for all kinds of contingencies and emergencies that one might face while travelling with kids! Sometimes it feels like all you do is run around managing your kids’ needs, moods and tantrums that it hardly feels like a vacation at all!!!! That said, it would also be difficult to leave them behind  and enjoy the vacation sans kids.....especially when you get on the plane and   served your children's favorite pasta, or drive through your son's dream view of snow capped mountains, or try your hand at a local sport that your son would sure love, or try out the local costume that you bet would look perfect on your daughter, or taste the local flavors of ice can you possibly enjoy without your kids!!! Isn't it?

The biggest challenge during any travel with kids is of course food ...and  finding the kind of food that appeals to our kids palate always keeps one on tenter-hooks!!! In keeping with our family travel tradition that began during our travels with Abhay, we’ve continued to pack our travel size rice cooker, albeit as a back up as our little one is more open about experimenting with different cuisines (touchwood!) when compared to our older one who had an appetite only for “curd rice”!!!! 
But believe me, the back up plan during the first couple of days always ends up being upgraded into the mainstay during the final days of our travel...and for all you realise.... it’s not only the little one who is craving for some Anna-Sambhar!!! 😊

As a prelude to our travel, I had picked up a wonderful book that highlights this exact plight of parents planning a travel with their young kids. A surprise find .. really.. but we’ve latched on to Princess Easy Pleasy ...ever since I chanced upon this book at Kutoohala that I later managed to save during its closure sale. So much so... that inspired from the original story, we’ve also tried to spin off a few other anecdotes in Princess Easy Pleasy style...just to keep our little princess from being displeased!!!!   
Princess Easy Pleasy” a Karadi tales publication by Natasha Sharma and pictures by Priya Kuriyan revolves around a sprightly and a stubborn little princess who does not find anything up to her expectations as she travels with her parents, the king and queen, to various countries from Hong Kong to China to Singapore to Cambodia to Thailand to Srilanka (considering their choice of destinations... I wonder why they didn’t travel to Bhutan!) In each country,  she seems to have a problem with the milk served, or the vegetables cooked, or the mattress laid out, or the pets around or even the elephant brought in for a ride, having  her parents pander to her almost impossible tastes, finding a scapegoat in the royal packer who’s ordered to add to the packing list, each time the princess throws a fit!!! So in their effort to appease the not-so-easily-pleased princess, the ever expanding list includes a cow, their own chef and their own vegetables and so on and so forth... until things go horribly wrong when the exhausted royal packer quits and all travel plans cancelled by her equally  exhausted parents!!! As the bored princess pleads with her mom to change her mind, her mom yields, however “on one condition” ( and we love this part !) and we all know what it might be... don’t we?? A hilarious take on what is common travel woe of most parents!! In fact, this book provides a great parenting tool too... as the  “on one condition” strategy has come to our aid as we try to get our terrible twos toddler to toe our line!!!