A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

The Pobjilkha Valley

Becky, Oct. 9-11, 2009

Pobjilkha is a beautiful green valley, the bottom just turning rust colored as frost hits the sedges.


The bottom is about 4km wide and very long, long enough that some residents
migrate each year from summer homes at the north end to winter homes at the
south end. The bottom of the valley is one long marsh were cattle are allowed to
graze most of the year. From November to February, the marsh is the winter
roosting ground of a growing population of endangered black-necked cranes.


Above the wet are picturesque strips of potato fields dotted with farmhouses.


Above these are Himalayan blue pine forests that reach all the way to the tops of
the lowest hills. The highest forests around the valley include hemlock and fir. The
land around Lawa La Pass (3,360m, 11,020ft) at the north end of the valley was
cleared long ago, making meadows of dwarf bamboo where yaks are brought to
winter. If you take the dirt road down off the pass, it follows a ridge that sticks
out into the top end of the valley. At the end of the ridge lies Gante Goemba
(“hilltop” monastery), the focus of religious, political and social life in the valley.
A small village has sprung up along the road leading to the monastery. Really, it's
the prettiest village I've seen in Bhutan.


Below the monastery in the marshy bottom, a spit of high ground breaks into two
lobes, where they meet is a large chorten, which has a story.

The story goes that long ago there lived a demoness in the valley, and every year,
on the first day of tsechu (annual festival), she would kill the first person arriving
at the monastery in the morning. One year there was a pair of lovers who lived in
different villages far apart in the hills on opposite sides of the monastery. They
were very eager to see each other at tsechu and consequently were the first to
arrive at the monastery on opening day. They had a lovely day, watching the
dances, talking to friends and relatives, holding hands, and picnicking on the hillside.
They parted reluctantly at sunset, each going home to their own village. As they
made their way home, the demoness confronted and killed the boy, for he had
arrived slightly earlier at the monastery that morning.

Everyone knew the signs, knew who had killed the boy and how. His young lover
was distraught and vowed revenge. When she tired of mourning, she gathered her
strength and apprenticed herself to the most powerful magician in the valley, and
began to learn all she could, especially of black magic. She never married, but with
time became a very powerful witch, known even beyond the valley. Eventually, in
middle age, when she was at the height of her powers, she sought out the demoness
and, using all her accumulated knowledge and power, destroyed her. She erected
the chorten over the dead body of the demoness, on the chest between the two
breasts. It stands below the monastery at the head of the Pobjilkha Valley to this day.


When I visited Pobjilkha, the potato harvest had just ended, and sacks of potatoes
were stacked at intervals on the roadside. It’s too high (2,900m or 9,500ft) and too
cold to grow rice here; the grains don’t firm up. On our way out of the valley back
to Thimphu, we often found ourselves behind trucks piled high with potato sacks
or filled with giant logs from the surrounding neighboring valleys and gorges where
ancient forests of giant blue pine and hemlock tower over understories of
rhododendron trees.

(story told to me by Jigme of the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature)

Posted by rsherry 23:12 Archived in Bhutan Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Thimphu Tsechu Day 3

By Becky

We've been having computer and internet problems, so here (only a bit late!) is the description of the the last day of the Thimphu Festival, on Sept. 30. Since then, it's gotten much cooler, only a light jacket is needed mornings and evenings.

I was a bit better prepared for the last day of Tsechu, with a scarf for the heat and a seat two rows up, which turned out still not to be high enough to see above the people passing by. In the first dance, the monks did not wear masks, but crown-like headdresses. Their performance included dramatic high leaps I hadn’t seen in any other of the dances.

The second dance seemed to be a reprise of the Lords of the Cremation grounds; it was the first part of the dance The Judgement of the Dead, which continued in stages throughout the morning between the other dances. The skeletons entered carrying a black "body" between them which stayed in the center of the dance ground all morning.

The third major dance of the day started out looking quite a bit like the Dance of the Terrifying deities, but is called Ging and Tsholing. The fierce-looking protectors of religion (the Tsholing) first consecrate the dancing ground. Then they are chased away by the Ging, escorts of Guru Rinpoche, wearing yellow skirts and tall flags on their heads over fanged masks. They first come out of the crowd and periodically return to tap people on the head with their drumsticks. Children rush down into the aisles and into the front rows to be tapped. Men carry small children and even adults bow down to be tapped. This drives out impurities. I found this to be the most thrilling of all the dances, perhaps because the movements of the Ging awere not scripted as in all the other dances, and because of their dramatic spinning leaps.

Again the heat was too much for me, and I missed the afternoon and closing dance, the Eight Manifestations of the Guru Rinpoche.

Posted by rsherry 00:34 Archived in Bhutan Tagged events Comments (2)

The Prime Minister and I

Just a short update on the progress of my Fulbright research in Bhutan. I am now in the final stage of my research on the policy and administration of Bhutan's landmark 2004 anti-tobacco law. The 2004 anti-tobacco law banned smoking in all public places and all sales of tobacco products. I have researched numerous original documents and have interviewed four government ministries on the anti-tobacco legislation. It is a very interesting story, I must say. Later this month, I will post a final monograph on Bhutan's anti-tobacco law on the Internet that will be at least 60 or 70 pages long entitled: Bhutan Tobacco Use Policymaking and Administration.

In addition, on November 4, 2009, I was honored to interview the Honorable Jigmi Y. Thinley, Prime Minister of Bhutan. The interview took place in the Prime Minister's august office in the National Assembly building in Thimphu. The interview primarily focused on the public policy of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. Included in this discussion was an in depth analysis of the origin, enactment, implementation, and measurement of Gross National Happiness including as it relates to various policy areas such as health. I plan on presenting in public forums, a detailed overview of the public policy of Gross National Happiness, when I return to the United States.

The Prime Minister also formally invited my Travellerspoint co-blogger and picture taker and my wife Rebecca Sherry, assistant research professor of botany and microbiology at the University of Oklahoma to discuss her research on global climate change. Global climate change is of particular concern to Bhutan as an environmental issue that is part of Gross National Happiness and as a security issue due to the significant melting of high altitude Himalaya glaciers that in two cases could cause significant flooding.

Background information on the Bhutan National Assembly can be found here: http://www.nab.gov.bt/. Various pictures related to the National Assembly Building can be found here: http://www.nab.gov.bt/photogallary.php

Posted by mgivel 21:49 Archived in Bhutan Tagged educational Comments (0)

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