Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for October, 2011

Thimphu Day 2 and we do a practice hike!

Hi everyone. This will be a quick post as I am needing to get ready for our departure to the highlands. Our Sunday October 23rd was spent with a half day hike to a monastic temple at 2900 meters in the lovely Jigme Dorji National Park which is close to Thimphu. The climb of 500 meters was very scenic and the temple is placed in the most percarious location. It certainly instils a sense of wonder and reflection which is perfect for the three year meditation that monks must complete as part of their training. We all felt well although I did have the runs along the way and forgot the TP so large leaves do serve many purposes. I feel like my GI system is still accommodating but I am glad to get rid of all the bad humours before I start the serious trek.

We also visited the site of the construction of the biggest Buddha in the world! It is huge and all done in bronze. It has taken 5 years to date to build.

We finished the day of touring with a visit to the Thimphu Market which sells trinkets, clothes and fresh vegetables and produce. All of the East Indian workers were here on Sunday stocking up. They do most of the construction work in Bhutan. The market was clean, orderly and very well run. It was impressive by all accounts and we picked up some fresh fruit to enjoy.

I will be away from the internet for the next 10 days or so so I bid you farewell until then. Check back about November 1st and I will update you regarding our trek which is supposed to be very remote and scenic. We also heard from our tour guide that a Calgary group ahead of us had one member develop serious altitude sickness and will have to be flown out. Will we suffer a similar fate. Check back to find out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thimphu Tour

Our first full non-travel day and full tour day in Thimphu, 2623 meters, was on October 22 2011. We had an action packed day and what better way to start then with a wonderful fresh breakfast prepared by Tsewang’s wife-our tour guides sister in fact. Everyone is related in this tour guide business. She uses fresh ingredients from her own garden-yum! It certainly felt fine for my queasy stomach.

During our whirlwind tour we visited the City Hospital (which also serves as the tertiary hospital for the western region of Bhutan),  the Institute for 13 (yes count them 13) Art Crafts, the Institute for Traditional Medicine Services Building and Museum, the National Memorial Choeten, Trashi Choe Dzong as well as Changangkha Temple. We could not visit the National Library as it was damaged in an earthquake about 1 month ago. We also found time for lunch in town at the Puma restaurant but I was faithful to my oath of celibacy from all beer- what can I say I am monk material.

A few remembrances from our touring.

It was interesting to see the hospital which was very different from our hospitals but was still impressive considering the development of this country at this stage. There was a floor with 3 physician offices with people patiently lined up to see them in single file. There were also 2 ENT offices as sinusitis is apparently a big problem here. There were multiple signs in the hospital warning people not to spit as a favourite activity here is to chew beetle-nut which when chewed produces a red dyed spit which many men and women wear proudly-it is all over the side-walks in town. It is addictive and does not do pretty things for one’s dentition. We also had some relief supplies for the physiotherapy department and toys brought by Richard,Terry, Lorraine and Jill and the head physiotherapist was very grateful and gave us a tour of his very busy outpatient department.

The Art Institute was also interesting to see with young diligent students working on sculpture, painting, embroidery, and wood carving. Their facility was very beautiful and was representative of the architecture we would see throughout this region.

Our first real exposure to the customs of Buddhism was at the National Memorial Choeten. It is a beautiful white structure in the centre of Thimphu. Worshippers encircle the Choeten clockwise (always clockwise) while praying. We joined in but for some reason I lost the rest of the group and did not realize that they had gone inside which I did not think was possible as none of the locals were doing this. So I proceeded on my own city tour thinking they had gone on ahead but could not find them but I eventually found our tour van and was informed that they had never left the Choeten. It was a great place to take photos and one does become relaxed in the presence of shared prayer and spirituality.

The Trashi Choe Dzong was impressive on so many levels. It houses the government administrative offices as well as a temple for monks. The architecture was outstanding and we had a lesson in the many intricacies of the Buddhist faith. The alter in the temple (you must have your shoes off and your legs and forearms covered) was stunning and filled with ornate paintings and sculptures and statues so the relevance of the Art Institute became clear. The monks are dressed in scarlet robes and most come with that requisite piece of equipment, a cell phone! They were still performing rituals for the recent nuptials of the current king and his bride. There were also hundreds of pigeons in the central square. When they took off all you heard was a swoosh of air so loud you were sure it was a jet and they flew through people in the central square. Amazing to witness. Our final bit of luck as we were leaving was a sighting of King four’s mother who arrived with a military escort. She saw us as she exited her Porsche Cayenne (I am sure this is the only one in Bhutan) and smiled and bowed slightly. Very gracious and lovely.

We also did a tour of the main street of down-town Thimphu. It was fascinating to see all of the vendors and shops may of them squeezed into slots no bigger than a closet with numerous trinkets to sell.  The city is not what I would call sanitary with garbage everywhere but there is a vibrancy in the city and it is bustling with life and animated conversation.

Our final activity was to climb up to the Changangkha temple which we found out was a great place to purchase prayer flags for our upcoming trek. A beetle-nut orally stained monk was happy to sell us the flags to assist in the funding of the building of a temple but you could not just buy the flags- you had to give him the date of your birth which would then dictate the number and type of flags to purchase. I was happy that I was born in the year of the water tiger which was a  good year so only three flags were required. Bev however was born in the year of the rabbit which was very unlucky for that particular 12 year cycle of animal rotations so she needed to buy an armful!  Life can be so cruel.

I will include a slideshow of pictures from this day for you to enjoy. I will not have time to label them all with captions so sorry for that. The above descriptions should give you an idea of where they were taken. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bhutan Arrival and the Attack of the Red Panda…beer that is!

Hi from Bhutan! My that has a nice ring to it. Yes we are here and have had almost 2 days to enjoy urban Bhutan before we head off to the high mountains for our trek. I am a bit behind on posting as we have had a lot of touring fit into those 2 days. I will try to get a few posts in because we leave tomorrow for our trek and I will be unable to post for many days.

We flew into Paro from Bangkok on October 21st and flight in was amazing. I am very happy the pilots are as experienced as they are. We were on a 737 equivalent plane and we arrived in the middle of a rain storm so our descent was almost completely in cloud until suddenly the valley floor appeared and you become aware that you were approaching the airstrip through very tight turns with mountains surrounding you on both sides. I had a window seat and I swear that the wing tips on either side were just within reach of the mountains. Once we landed the reverse thrusters were put on with major force in order to stop before the short airstrip ran out. This was the most exciting and breathtaking descent I have ever had in a large airplane.

We cleared customs in Paro but did not stay very long as our destination that day was Thimphu the largest city in Bhutan with about 100,000 people. It is about 55 km from Paro. We met our driver Krishna and our guide Phuntsho who I kept calling Pinto. Both are very nice and have a very good command of English. It was raining quite hard that day so we did not get to see much of the breathtaking scenery of the surrounding mountains.

We had lunch at a restaurant and we decided to order some beer with our meals. Most people had the Druk lager but Dave and I ordered a local beer called Red Panda. The standard beer bottle size is almost 3 times our regular beer bottle size. It tasted quite funny but not knowing what the local beer should taste like I almost finished the whole bottle. Dave did not have much of his.  Most of my travel mates tried it and I should have been suspicious with comments like “this is swill”” or “”this is still fermenting”” or “”I am sure this is what yak urine tastes like””.  Alas, I did not heed their warnings.  All was well until we arrived at the apartments we would be staying at for the duration of our Thimphu stay. I am sharing a 2 bedroom and 2 bathroom suite with two lovely and very entertaining travel mates Richard and Terry. We were talking about the day over a wee bit of scotch (most of my travel mates enjoy a wee scotch which thrills me to no end-especially since they bought some scotch at the duty free and were willing to share- I did not buy any, shock I know, but I had the most gear and really couldn’t carry more) when I had the sudden onset of shaking chills and nausea. It got worse so I excused my self and tried to go to sleep to shake it off at 6:15 PM!  Within the half hour I was vomiting and crashed after I was done with my talk with god on the big white phone and slept 13 hours straight missing dinner that night and meeting our guide operator Tsewang Nidup. Thank god I felt better the next morning and was left with just some fatigue and lingering stomach upset. I know it was that beer so I have taken an oath of beer celibacy until the trek is over as I do not want any of these symptoms while I am trekking.

Here are just a few editorial photographs from our first day in Bhutan with the airport in Paro and a few shots of our abode. Please see if you can spot the “”dirty”” shot- hint, it is the front facade of our apartments in Thimphu. You have to like a culture that prizes the male genitalia.

A few pictures from Hong Kong

Hi everyone. I thought I would just post a few shots from my half day in Hong Kong. Fascinating city and I look froward to exploring it more when I have more time on my return journey.There are no special shots just a few editorial ones.

Gear…..what’s it good for?

Hello everyone. I am now in Bangkok and flew in just as a major rainstorm was descending on the city. It is quite hot and humid here. However, I’m only here for an airport hotel stay overnight and then I fly out tomorrow morning to Paro, Bhutan. So I will have to leave exploring Bangkok for another time. I am again staying in a rather posh hotel, the Novotel, and on check-in they upgraded me to a superior room for free. Excellent.

I had a great half-day in Hong Kong prior to coming to Bangkok. I got up quite early and went down to the exercise room for a 10km run on the treadmill- I have to be ready for those mountain passes- as I was feeling relatively vigorous. Then, instead of relaxing, I decided to go down into the heart of the electronics district in Hong Kong. It is unbelievable how busy this city is. It is literally a shoppers paradise. I actually found what I was looking for because it was not available in North America just yet so I was happy (for the curious a super telephoto lens for the micro four thirds system). I was able to get back to the airport thanks to a very excellent transportation network as I was flying out by 1530 hours. Calgary could really learn something about public transport from this city.

As I alluded to in my earlier post, gear and more gear was required for this trip. It actually took quite a bit of planning. I will be in two different countries, three different areas over six weeks. I will not always have the availability of electricity, however, digital photography and GPS and flash as well as headlamps all require power. The solution I came up with was a 10 watt foldable solar panel with 12 V output as well as a Brunton lithium polymer battery storage unit with both 12 V input and selectable output including a USB output as well. It is amazing what is available to help you with any adventure. This system is relatively portable and very rugged and will withstand the elements. I also have a AA and AAA battery charger with 12 V adapter and a camera battery charger also with a 12 V adapter. Believe it or not this system will also allow me to run my MacBook Air so I can use it for processing raw files in the field and the computer also becomes my storage device for the thousands of pictures I expect to take. The MacBook Air is really quite light.

For my feet I decided to get a lighter set of Asolo hiking boots as my mountaineering boots are really too heavy and too stiff for all of the walking we will be doing. They feel great and I know my feet will be appreciative after hundreds of kilometers of hiking over six weeks. They are also quite light and waterproof. All of my clothing is lightweight, warm and very collapsible-layers come to the rescue again. Technology has done wonderful things to adventure clothing. I also have a light weight Gortex shell top and bottom for inclement weather.

Refreshing sleep is also a very important component of any adventure. For this I decided on a down sleeping pad from Xped which is an amazing piece of technology. It also folds down quite nicely and has a self inflating pump and provides an amazing R8 insulation factor. Theoretically you could use this down to -30°C. I also brought a -15 centigrade sleeping bag and a silk sleeping bag liner which should keep me comfy.

I had to do a total rethink on the photography end. I absolutely love my large and heavy lenses and DSLR camera, however, the weight of this system would simply not work for this particular adventure. I decided on micro four thirds. I have always been a fan of Olympus and they provide an excellent product with high quality and very light lenses. I determined my interests in photography on this trip would best be served by wide-angle lenses as well as a short telephoto lens for portrait photography. I passed on any macro photography lenses. I also got a lightweight super telephoto which the system provides again for. The difference in the lens sizes for the primes with this system is amazing. The quality of the lenses is also excellent. I was able to fit all of my lenses and camera as well as all of the paraphernalia for filters in a very small bag which works as part of a system with my backpack. I have a photography backpack from F-Stop which will allow me to carry all of my photography gear and still have three quarters of the pack for clothing on the trail.

For water I have a Katydyn lightweight water bottle that provides for filtering and chemical neutralization! We will have boiled water provided by our guides but it is a good idea to have access to more.

Prior to coming I received my rabies primary vaccination series, took a booster dosage of Dukoral and brought an assortment of high elevation medications just in case- Ventolin, Decadron and Diamox. In addition several antibiotics, antihistamines, analgesics as well as a personal medical kit especially for the solo part of my adventure.

All of my gear was able to fit into a lightweight 120 L Patagonia duffel as well as a 40 L F-Stop backcountry backpack. Everything is quite portable. However I may have to pack a few items out prior to going out on the trail in both Bhutan as well as Nepal as we are limited by the porters carrying approximately 11-15 kg maximum per participant. We can leave some of this gear securely in Paro for the Bhutan trek and in Kathmandu for the Nepal trek. Also, some of our regional airline connections only allow a maximum of 20 kg for checked in baggage. You really have to think hard about what to bring and what not to bring. I think we always err on the side of bringing too much. This time however I think I have just what I need.

That’s it! A short refresher on some of my gear now you can all wake up. I promise the rest of the posts will be about the experiences and of course some of the photographs of my adventures. None of this would be possible without some gear, hence, this post. If you have any questions about my gear please feel free to leave a comment through this blog. I will try to give you a reply eventually.

I am now off for a quick shower, a nightcap at the bar and a good sleep! The adventure begins tomorrow. Stay tuned.

On The Road Again!

Greetings from Hong Kong! I am off on another amazing journey. Everyone is again invited to come along with me this time to experience the Himalayas. This has certainly been a year of traveling for me. I will have to blame the current trip on Dr. Lorraine Croft who upon my return from Africa stated it simply had to be done this year and organized it. Who am I to say no? The original plan was to travel to Bhutan next year- so much for the best laid plans.

For me, Bhutan has always held a sort of mystical quality and has always been on my list of places to visit. I have a natural affinity for mountains and this seems like the perfect place to experience some very high and very ancient mountains. I am also enthralled with the kingdom itself and its spiritual alignment which seems opposed to the rest of the outside world. I believe it will be an amazing experience to meet the people and to more deeply immerse myself in the architecture and beliefs of Buddhism. I must admit I am relatively ignorant when it comes to this particular religion. The Bhutan portion of my journey begins on October 21, 2011 when we arrive in Paro from Bangkok, Thailand.

Our entire tour only lasts for 14 days so since I came all this way, I decided to call a very old friend Elsie James, who I knew through Skyline Hikers of the Canadian Rockies, as she is very knowledgeable of Nepal and I determined it was essential after Bhutan to simply travel next door and experience the hike up to Everest base camp as well as a portion of the Annapurna circuit most particularly including the Annapurna sanctuary. This will extend my journey by another four weeks for a total of six weeks. As one of my friends stated “do you ever work” ?  The answer is yes but in reducing quantities. I have been blessed in life with good health, fitness and reasonable finances as well as being my own boss. I have also been fortunate to find fill in physicians to cover my practice while I am away. This has afforded me the opportunity to do some exploring and increasing my exposure to different cultures and regions around the world. This certainly has been fun but I also think it has expanded my horizons and led me to be a better person/physician. Who knows-perhaps I will start to expand out and do some relief work in developing countries. I will have an opportunity to at least explore this on a superficial level with Elsie when I am in Nepal.

Presently, I am sitting in a hotel in Hong Kong-the Regal Airport Hotel after a lovely Twany Port. The hotel is relatively posh. I flew in today after an overnight flight from Vancouver of course originally having departed from Calgary on Tuesday, October 18, 2011. Overnight flights are never easy but certainly it was made much easier pharmacologically due to the little “blue” pill as my friend Evelyn calls it (and no, I do not mean Viagra) as well as by the wonderful selection of classical music on the audiovisual system which did a great job of settling my frayed nerves after the always present stress of my departure. The flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong was uneventful and about 13 hours. I was quite impressed with this staff and service on Cathay Pacific. Highly recommended if you are traveling to Asia.

I am sorry I have no pictures to post with this blog posting today. Somehow security areas and airports do not inspire the photographer in me. Perhaps I’ll get a couple of photographs of the lovely hotel before I depart tomorrow. Tomorrow it is off to Bangkok for a one night stay at the Novatel Airport Hotel. I will meet the other seven members of our group who will be traveling with me to Bhutan. The day after we will fly out from Bangkok and land in Paro, Bhutan to start the first part of our trekking adventure. Yes!

This has certainly been one of the most challenging adventures to plan for so stay tuned because in the next several posts (gear-head alert!) I will outline what I decided to bring along for this unique adventure. I have certainly been accused of being a gear-head and I must plead guilty as charged.  Gear certainly enables the enjoyment of whatever activities one is planning on doing, it also makes them more comfortable (important for my aging bones) and is certainly required if you wish to capture any visual or auditory memories of your journey which is really the whole point-so give it up for gear!

Anyways, fatigue is starting to set in so I am off to bed. Please check the blog website frequently over the next six weeks and I will continue to update you all. Thank you for your attention.

Tag Cloud