TIMS TRAVELOGUE Part One or ONLY THE STRANGE REMAIN
Kissed By Mist
“Gone are the days we stopped to decide, where we should go, we just ride” Crazy Fingers
Last night I encountered a scorpion the size of a shoe approaching my bed. After a fierce battle with my broom I banished the sinister creature from my abode. Today school was cancelled due to the inauspicious burning of the Wangduephodrang Dzong. This important fortress was built in 1638 and had survived a previous fire and the great 1897 earthquake. But now is completely destroyed. Exams were cancelled and students were sent immediately into prayer. This meant losing a precious day of Exams. I grimace at the prospect of four days of center marking, progress reports, assessments, and invigilation. Center marking consists of sitting in a room with 40 Bhutanese teachers all chattering away and playing Hindi music while grading hundreds of other peoples exams with no names on them. This might delay the beginning of break. I am hoping to trek to Sakteng in pursuit of a Yeti, which is somewhat bonkers in the rainy season due to mud and leaches. But Vicky and Ian are planning the route and their knowledge is indispensible. I am most likely forgoing the retreat in Bumthang over the “Big La” pass at 13,000 feet. It’s all a crap shoot with uncertain road conditions and weather. As Becky says, “It depends on the day!” The monsoon has pulled its humid silver curtain over the land. Only a few minutes will the sun burn through on any given day. I nestled myself into my perch within the crumbling walls of Tsangma’s ruin and watched the mist swallow ridges while revealing a patch of river below. Found a big gnarled pine with several trunks and numerous branches rising from a thick comforter of duff decorated with fern patterns. I took a nap. Coming home I fell on the slippery trail several times, so many ways to die in Bhutan. But I live on in the beauty way!
Odds and Ends
“I don’t know but I’ve been told, if the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load, I don’t know whose backs that strong, maybe find out before too long”
I know I signed off for break but I must E vent my reservations regarding Center Marking. I just spent six hours speed marking my class 7 and 8 exams under direct pressure to “go quicker” I would prefer to stay up all night marking my student’s papers giving them constructive feedback instead of scanning their papers and giving a timely score. This system cheats the students and teachers. The students don’t get the attention they deserve while the teacher looses out on valuable assessment. Students are only allowed to put ID numbers and not names on their test. You would think it’s the bar exam for Christ’s sake. Not to mention the cocktail party mentality of the grading room. These are things one must put up with here. Changing the system is futile. I am finding this out with my trash crusade. In the classroom I remain relatively free to teach the way I want. Overall I am pleased with my student’s development. According to their results (which I at least rechecked the other teachers mark) the students are doing well in comprehension but need work on grammar. Both teacher and student can learn together next term. I still have 120 progress reports to complete on a database which is quite confounding. After the dust settles a well deserved repose is in order. It’s hard to line your ducks in a row when you have an odd goose in the formation. On a lighter note the sun blasted out for an hour turning East Bhutan into a steam room. I paused against a mighty Cypress tree and reflected on all the money and effort it took to deposit me here, a sum of $5,000 of yours and mine along with copious effort from family and friends. The point is its time to enjoy the ride a bit more. This type experience only rolls along once in a lifetime. So reap it! Tsenkharla is a bucolic mosaic of moments, petting a horse, bantering with class 8, or getting stabbed by a rusty nail while passing out exams. It felt good to see my students pouring their hearts out on the exams after a hard semester of work. The truth is I only put so much faith in their scores. Especially since my Bhutanese colleague encourages me to give students low scores and even scolds me for my own marking, as Chef would say “piss off!”
(STRANGE BREW INTERLUDE)
The blood of an alligator, papaya, Local Green chilies, Crawfish Heads, Mushrooms, Morning Dew, Mango, Guano, Hemp Oil, a spittoon of Beetle Nut Juice and a dash of Remilard! Serves ONE GOOD OL FASHIONED FREAK OUT CAMP!
Back in the USA the Yanks are in first and my darling Shawn John retires. (You will always be pure gold in my heart kiddo!) The tribe gathers along LEE RD. and in front of the old Relay Station conspiring on prime real estate in Shady Grove while somewhere in New Orleans Zeke plays piano in the dark. Now I AM also a ghost of High Sierra past.
The present here is as strange as the old dude riding his bike on Late Night Avenue in only a banana hammock. Ringing his tiny silver bell and flicking his tassels while reciting a perverse mantra. Why is it that Sunday is always exhibitionist day at the Festival? It seems three days of greasy music loosens the screws of the most ardent freak, until you are left with a posse of misfits. A bevy of girls with fury tails, feathered hair, and stars for nipples that lead their sleep deprived boyfriends on rabid night-hunts. The animals pile in the barn for one more spin in Noah’s day-glow arc chalked and stalked with Pigs, Peacocks, gorillas, goats, leopards, lunatics, unicorns, and a squirrel. You might be asking what this antidote has to do with Bhutan. IS IT? Well I have no idea but I am sure it’s all interconnected somehow. In heaven Guru Rimpoche and Jesus laugh about it, rolling snake eyes, while waiting on Lucifer and his potent hell brew.
“Everybody had a hard year, everybody had a goodtime, everybody pulled their socks up, everybody put their book down, oh yeah!” I’ve Got a Feeling
Honoring the value of cherishing community I have decided to make the run to Bumthang for the freaky fourth to celebrate Interdependence Day. Hopefully I can return in time to embark on the trek to Brokpa Land, “The happiest place on earth.” The festival will begin with a Friday stopover to celebrate Sir Ian’s 54th. Then off to BootyTang with Bunky, Martha et al.
One more shout out to the HSMF krewe! Have a ball y’all, and give my love to the Feather River. And to TWG, enjoy your Bucket List road trip! Poor mom gets to look after Reed and Paige. Hers is indeed an altruistic path of sacrifice and service. I am the living proof of this, traipsing round Bhutan on her goodwill. That’s why Camile said, “You have a cool mom!” Yeah your right!
Down The Road I Go
“You used to be sweet but you ain’t sweet no more”
It’s been a trying few weeks. A few vignettes include an Indian teacher walking into my classroom and whacking the hell out of my student for eating a plumb right in front of me. And my hot water heater shorting out the fuse whenever I plug it in, resulting in cold baths or no baths. And center marking. This last session lasted over six hours of marking the same three class ten questions. One practical reason for the fiasco of CM is the upper grades have over 200 students. Center marking employs the support staff to chip in. It’s a meat market or butcher house mentality. Or in restaurant ease, “turn and burn” I will hope to wrap everything up by tomorrow afternoon and then go celebrate Ian’s birthday and the end of my first semester in Bhutan. Ian and Vicky are so real and civilized it will be an oasis of humanity to bask in their company, hospitality, and wit. It’s been an interesting first half in Bhutan, the score Bhutan U 24 Whatsthematter U 14.
The roads are OPEN to B-Tang. A slide has closed the road between Kaling and Wamrong which could leave my mate Simon marooned a few days. But if I know Simonite he is out helping the road crew clearing the slide as he did between Thimphu and Dochela, can’t keep a good man down and all that shit. Today the sun poured milky gold light over the land enveloping me in Sangay Dempa light. Tranquility! As Ed said when I gave him the stone with the tiny Chinese Character for tranquility carved into it, “If only it were that easy, maybe it is”
Timothy Gross National Happiness
TIM’S TRAVELOGUE Part 1
Day 1 Disembark
The Lion at Chasm had been destroyed by a careening ambulance that obliterated the stone beast before rolling into the river. The driver’s body was not found. The first day of my break was spent in Rangjoon at Vicky and Ian’s pad. It was a very auspicious day as it was Guru Rimpoche and Ian’s b-day. Becky made a cake to help celebrate. After afternoon cake and tea, Becky and I went up to the picturesque temple on the hill to circumnavigate under partly cloudy skies. Inside the temple are glorious depictions of the Guru and several carnal deities nibbling on man flesh. My favorite was a women being devoured by a tiger. The shrine was lit up in green Christmas lights. The outside of the temple was also lit at night in pumpkin lights. I found Becky in a trance listening to the frogs and staring up at the light. JD came down to join the group and we had an exceptional dinner. The theme of Vicky and Ian’s dishes was “No Curry” They made spring rolls, sushi, and several other delicious items. They are world class hosts and make all feel welcome. We all were in hysterics chatting past midnight!
Day 2 “There Once Was A Man Named Scotty”
The next day we splashed in the river near Rangjoon. There were several kids swinging on jungle vines like Tarzan. The rushing water refreshed our spirits and a good time was had by all. After saying goodbye Becky and I hitched out of town eventually finding a taxi all the way to Mongor town. The ride takes you into a lost world of ferns and giant oaks. En Route we discussed the merit of “St. Of Circumstance” and “Maze.” We spotted Scotty walking towards Yadi on the National Highway. We hopped out to talk before moving on. We reached Mongor in darkness and immediately checked into The Dolma Hotel the epicenter of my inequity for the next few nights. Becky showed me the Space Bar Restaurant lit with blue and red neon. The food was yummy served up by an equally yummy waitress named Zam. I would eat there the following three nights.
Day 3 “The Split”
I got to the line of scrimmage and called an audible. At the last minute I decided to retreat from the retreat. Instead I said my goodbye to Becky and Martha who moved west. It was disheartening to separate from my BFF (Bhutan Friend Forever) I spent the day doing nothing in Mongor. Mongor is a nice town with regal traditional buildings set on a plateau amongst huge mountains. At night I watched the very first episode of the Simpsons and Two and a Half Men on TV.
Day 4 “The Wild East”
I got up early and hired a driver (another more stoic Dorji) and headed off towards Bumthang. Actually my destination was the steamy valley floor before the grueling ascent up “Big La.” Just west of Limithang is the sweltering jungle and the ruined Shonkhar Dzong. Today my driver was also my guide as he hacked a trail through a thicket of vines, ferns, nettle, thorns, and towering cannabis bushes. Despite wearing long pants my arms were stung by nettle and scraped by thorns. The Dzong was established around 1100 and abandoned after a fire in 1899. The locals stay away in fear of the giant serpent demon who resides in the ruined fortress. The ruin sits perched atop a gnarled slope overlooking the overgrown valley. The fortress is similar to Tsangma in design but much larger. It also has several buried walls and stone stairs entwined in the roots and vines. The whole spot is powerful and dark. You wait for the serpent to uncoil and devour you, slowly digesting your flesh over a thousand years. We explored the complex for over an hour before descending through the tropical foliage.
After the ruins we were back on the road towards Limithang and a quant farmhouse “resort” where HM has stopped for tea. I had a Pepsi (No Coke available) before heading towards Lhuntse. The drive shadows an amazing river, through rugged country. Reidi Smith is placed in Autsho but was at the retreat ahead of me. Her village has tall pines with dragon scaled bark. I remember the haunted Chorten and the tall trees as they rushed by. Autsho is in a marvelous canyon with a wondrous river running through it. I could almost feel Reidi’s august presence in the air. The road to Lhuntse proper is very narrow and curvaceous. Lhuntse has its own mystique separate from anything else in the Kingdom. In fact the district is the ancestral home of the Royal Family. After several hours on the road we wound up at Lhuntse and the remarkable Dzong. This realm is a page from Lord of the Rings with the castle resting on a sheer cliff. Several giant cypress trees adorn the high mountain slopes. From here one feels close to Tibet which exists over a few more peaks. This was indeed a place of ending or beginning. I hiked up alone to the Dzong which is crumbling after over 350 years. This is a special place where you can feel the confluence of heaven and earth. Beautiful flowers and red robbed monks palisade the stone walkway. Once inside the fortress I explored several hallowed and hollowed chambers and viewed the old shrine with a faded painting of the Guru and a splendid tantric image of a blue man and an Asian beauty making love. After salivating at the blessed union I made my way back absorbing the dramatic view of the river carving through rough mountains. I intended to spend the night in Lhuntse but no bed was available so I rode back with Dorji all the way to Mongor. Ten hours and 6,000 NU after commencing I was relaxing at the Dolma, an epic day exploring Mongor and Lhuntse districts.
Day 5 “Transit Day”
It was time to leave the fabled land of Mongor and return back to my own territory. The trip from Mongor to Trashigang takes about three hours. The segment between Mongor and Yadi is one of the prettiest I’ve seen in Bhutan. The oak, fern, and rhododendron intermingled with drifty mist creating a dreamy state. This forest has grassy fields interspersing the trees and ferns creating a playground for pixies in the backyard of Avalon. As quickly as that, it changes to dry pine forests on the descent from Yadi to Chasm. Once in Trashigang I bought momos for Phuntso and her father and walked to the Dzong. There is no place like Trashigang Dzong at twilight. One feels a part of Bhutanese history here as I shared the breeze with the assembled monks in the courtyard.
Day 6 “INTERDEPENDENCE DAY”
As I write these words its 11:59 ON THE fourth OF July. I am listening to the crickets in the peace of an abandoned Tsenkharla. The students have all been sent away. The fourth has always been an important day for me. As a child it meant fireworks from inside “Idle Ours” at Donner Lake. Then the Rainbow Gatherings and the orgiastic drum circles featuring a jam with thousands of instruments and naked dancers that snaked through space for hours. Most recently I’ve entertained the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy. Two years ago I said farewell to Morgan, the Rad’s, and Big Meadow. But today I found myself alone at Gom Kora exploring the river. It was a fine day for me as I meditated in the cave where Guru Rimpoche subdued the demoness. Gom Kora is a spiritually charged vortex and nowhere do I feel closer to the Guru. My Jesus never set foot in North America unless you subscribe to the Mormon account. But in Bhutan we walk in the footsteps of gods and lamas each day. Sitting on the rock I was enveloped by the roaring river, the soft breeze, and the crow of a rooster. After that, I walked passed Doksom baptizing my nude body in the Dawang Chu and crossing at a suspension bridge that would make Indy squeamish. I caught a ride with a Kesang a colleague of Becky to Zongposo before hitching up to Tsenkharla arriving just before the rain. I set about cleaning my hut and organizing my materials for school. HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY! Below is a poem inspired by the ruined Shonkhar Dzong near Limithang.
Reclamation of Imagination
reclamation of nature
forced on mans abandoned pillars
and crumbling walls
where overgrown steps lead
to the battle of east and west
and under the snarled canopy
of thorny green vines
a demoness serpent nests
coiled in the tower of man’s imagination
while ferns, nettle, and cannabis
devour stones, digesting them
in steamy jungle juices,
a lost world of pure brutality
Day 7 Rest Day
So today I am resting my blister and praying that my foot feels well for Sakteng. I also have to manage a way to lug my sleeping bag out to Sakteng since I left my big pack at home. (Damn fake weight regulations.) Sakteng is notorious for three things. It is home to the Brokpa people, the Yeti, and the elusive blue poppy. The blue poppy hides on the steep slopes above Merak so I probably won’t see one. I will probably only reach Sakteng proper. My dream is to see the blue poppy. But like the yeti just knowing they exist is enough. My friend Heather and I saw a Yeti in Eugene in 2002 at a Ratdog show. It omitted a strong musty odor and had pale white skin and was covered in thick brown fur. The monsoon rains pelted my tin roof all day but know a swirly mist tickles the sunlight. Or maybe the sunlight tickles the mist. It’s a tickle fight you dig? So I will rest up and head out rain or shine for Rangjoon tomorrow. So see you all after Sakteng. Until then fire up the colortinies and watch the pictures as they go flying through the air.