Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A paradise: the valley of Punakha

We often called Bhutan a paradise. In fact, the outsiders find it absolutely fascinating, serene, and beautiful. I mustn’t talk much here, as no words can paint its beauty, splendor. So here are some pictures of Punakha valley, which I had taken during my visit to the place a few weeks ago. Have a lovely day, dear reader!

Friday, July 21, 2017

In India, tea making is an art

It was an early May morning. Along with my two colleagues, I was at Bengali Market in New Delhi. There was a rustle on the street, as this small town was just beginning to resume its regular activities. Cleaners were brooming the streets, vendors were packaging goods and loading on their bicycles, and shopkeepers were just pulling up their shutters. 
That fine morning, we were looking for chai wala, tea maker, to have a cup of tea and some good snacks. Being a Bhutanese, quite wondrously, it’s not alcohol but tea that has been very close to my heart since my childhood. Actually I got this habit from my mother. Every day, my day starts with a nice cup of tea, then I probably have a few cups during the daytime, and it ends with a cup of evening tea. And especially when I am in India, I am after chai. Indian tea is very different, special and indeed the best for me.

After making one round of the street, right behind the main lane, we spotted a tea stall. Before us, a few Indian men were sitting around drinking tea with some cookies. The tea maker is a man in his early 30s. He wore a serious expression - maybe it was early morning and he couldn't really shake off his sleep. 
It was a very small stall made of concrete bricks but he had everything required for his business. A gas cylinder and stove, several containers of tea ingredients, pots to keep local raw milk, saucepan and paper cups. He also had some cookies.

We asked for three cups of tea. “Double cup.” It means double the size of the smallest teacup he had. Then he measured water into a saucepan, added one teaspoon of black tea leave into the water, and he waited for the water to a boil. 

This was the time when we could talk to the tea maker. He told us that he was from Kolkata and he had migrated to Delhi for many years and life in the capital city has been better. Then I knew this guy would brew a good tea for us. Kolkata is the undisputed tea capital of India. I had visited it a few times in the past and you get the finest tea there on the streets.

Consignments of Assam and Darjeeling are shipped to the international market from Kolkata. I have found from some of the officials in Delhi that tea has come a long journey in India. Tea plantations started in the country in 1830’s by the British; however, in the beginning tea was used as a medicine. Only in the early 1900’s, tea-drinking culture spread in in India and now it has an integral part of their life. As we see, tea is now grown widely in India and there are over 2000 producers of high quality tea in the country. 
After the Bengali tea maker could bring the water to a boil, he added in a few teaspoons of sugar. He also poured in some milk from ever-greater heights and then he crushed some cinnamon and cardamom and added in the pan. He did with sharp vividness and scale. I observed him very close. He continued it to boil for sometime, stirring so it doesn't boil over. He strained it and served us in paper cups. 

Good heavens, this tea was very special, sweet and milky spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. I had yearned chai for a quite long time then. As I drank it, I savored every sip.

Tea making is definitely a skill; skill one acquires through many years of practice. But observing closely - the entire process of brewing tea - is more than a skill. In fact, it is an art as it entails expression of creative skill and a little bit of magic. That's why chai is absolutely special and delicious. That's why only the Indians can make it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Darla - an art on canvas

I am going to talk about Darla, a village under Chukha dzongkhag. This wide valley is about five miles south of Gedu. As we travel between Thimphu and Phuentsholing, we see Darla always being clouded with dark dense fog, or rather receiving rain.

“What a boring place to live?” the commuters say, almost contemptuously.

And they wonder, “I wonder this place ever receives sunlight!”

Three months ago, I had an official work at Gedu and my colleagues and I decided to visit Darla. Frankly speaking, I was not at all excited about the visit. For I thought this place was no fun. Moreover, I heard it was infected with deadly snakes and leeches. And in some strange ways, I was little nervous.   

However, office work is office work. You like it or not, you have to go and do it. Initially, I decided not to carry camera with me because I thought what would I shoot under those fog and rain. And I was not interested to take pictures of those snakes and leeches. Seriously.

In the end, I took it. And I didn’t regret my decision.
It was early evening when we arrived at Darla. The sky above, then, was just open and this was the first time I could see entire texture of the valley. It amazed me thoroughly, and I fell in love with her instantly.

Putting on quite the expression of a joyful lover, I looked upon her, sincerely, with utmost admiration. Over the overcast of awfully gorgeous blue sky, a few lines of cumulous clouds spread like strokes of fine paintbrush. The sun was just setting and patterns of its rays shining through the clouds were making on the valley. It appeared to me like the Almighty above was just blessing it. 
Darla was a vast stretch of country, which was inhibited by over 670 Ngalong and Lhotsham households. Different shapes and colours of houses were scattered all over with mountains on the opposite. Exceptionally tall and giant dark woods grew abundantly, and broadleaf grass and cardamom plants in deep green tenderly blanketed surface of the valley.

Right between it meandered the dwindling road, and this nice blacktop road was interestingly bendy, yes, exactly like the shape of a snake. And we rode down in snaking movement. This ride was strangely joyous; indeed it’s one of the most thrilling rides of my life.
I dropped my luggage in my room at guesthouse and then I rushed out again because I didn't want to miss the beauty outside. I walked on the road keenly watching the wonderful landscape of Darla and the cumulous clouds that hung in the sky. And also feeling the pleasant odour of the trees that were just bursting into leaf. It felt like I was in the company of a beautiful woman.
On the road, I came across a group of countrywomen with spades in their hands. They were just returning from their farm, from their daylong hard labour. 

“Kuzu Zangpo la!” I greeted them.

They responded me promptly, “Kuzu la.”

“I am scouting your village,” I said smiling and added matter-of-factly, “Your village is very beautiful. I am already loving it here very much.”
Las la. Lopoen, where are you from?” the oldest woman, supposedly in her 40s, from the group asked me.

I said I came from Thimphu.

“Thank you for liking it here. Darla hardly opens up. But when it does, it’s beautiful.” she said. 

They left, and I resumed walking. 
Gradually the evening grew deeper, and I grew more fascinated. To put it more accurately, I was bewitched. The sky had turned absolutely magnificent maroon, ember, and there was something so evocative about the myriad ways the clouds play in the sky. 
“It can’t be real,” I said to myself. 

It's like I was looking at a brilliant art on canvas. And I fell in love more. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What do I do when I do visit Sherubtse

I am envy of my friends. When I tell them, “Hey, I am going to Sherubtse College”, or “I am at Kanglung,” they just can’t believe me. They simply wish to be at the “Peak of Learning”. The truth is that Kanglung has become engraved in our hearts. And we love it. Dearly. Deeply.  
“If SherCol were a girl, no matter what, I would have married it already,” a friend of mine stated to me a few months back.

In fact, he meant it. And he meant it seriously. I can read his mind quite well. For Kanglung was absolutely ravishing, elegant, romantic and strangely mysterious. And I think there are none who didn’t fall for her. 
Today, after 10 years, it still makes me giddy with a great pride and delight just to say that I’m an ex-Sherubtsean. In fact, all of us keep albums, and college photos inside. When we meet in Thimphu or elsewhere, we leaf through the albums, talk nonstop about the college recollecting those golden days. That’s how much we love her.

So to say, I was at the college about a month ago. As usual, I was supercharged, super excited. As I stepped inside her, I couldn’t really believe that it has been already a decade that I had left the place, graduated from this place. I missed her terribly.   

So many things about her have been transformed. New footpaths have been made around the campus, several new building structures have been erected and the football field is undergoing a major transformation.
Besides, everything is same. The same old jumbo gate still stands majestically in front of the college. Those monstrous-size dormitories still house young college inhabitants. The red and maroon colour academic blocks still retain those unusually huge and gothic windows. The clock tower is still standing tall, which reminds me of classic fairy tales and magic.

So what I did when I am at the college, and here are they:

Baley and bonda: The first thing that I did in Kanglung was I visited NP Restaurant. I ordered two pieces of baleys and ate quite avidly. This is what I used to have with my college mates back in those days. Quite surprisingly, the baleys still retain the same old taste, smell, colour and shape. This is quite amazing. This is quite delicious.
And I marched into Sangrila, a GREF canteen. I munched on bonda and nimki with hot Indian tea. I felt so nice. In fact, this is the place we used to go eat when our wallet was thin. 
Library: The library of Sherubtse is one of the largest in the country. Besides the national library of Bhutan, it possesses the biggest book of the world. The two-storey library is quite rich with thousands of books and I felt so nice to see the students browsing, reading books. But what I like most about this place is its collection of classic literature and novels.

Tower: Sitting on a hilltop and watching the clock tower is another thing that I love to do. It stands absolutely majestic and alluring. The sight gives me an eerily gothic feeling, yet very beautifully enchanting one.
Pangthang: This place, about 5 km away from the college campus, is spectacular. I absolutely love the place - beautiful plain surrounded by rich forests, rice fields, and chorten. And the sunset here is just magnificent.
Kanglung Zangdopelri: The Zangdopelri, seated next to the college, is a beautiful and serene paradise. This temple had a special relationship with the college, where the college students used to teach English language to the monks and the monks would perform rimdro for the college.  
Talk show: During my last visit, I’ve delivered a talk on media to a group of Media Studies students and life at Sherubtse during my time a decade ago. I shared my memories of SherCol - about Introductory Nite, Blind Date, Ragging, Kanglung gi tsharim, etc, which are mostly disallowed today.

I always thought that the story of my life at Sherubtse was over the moment I had graduated. But walking around the campus and looking at the young aspiring buddies, and sharing my experience with them makes me feel that there’s more to life here, there’s more to give back to the place that had nurtured me. And it makes me feel truly complete.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Tower

One thing that is exceptionally grandiose about Sherubtse College in Kanglung is its tower. Tall, giant and handsome, it stands absolutely majestic and alluring. Every time I visit here, its sight gives me an eerily gothic feeling, yet beautifully enchanting one. And I think of those fairytales I had read during my childhood - of Rapunzel, of Cindrella.

How mesmerizing! How bewitching!

This is one reason that this college in the far east is so engraved in my heart, and I am quite sure nothing can erase those memories spent, made in the “Peak of Learning”.

So after 10 years, I could make it to the college again and this time I am lucky that I got more time to stay here. Here are some photographs of the tower I took.

Pic: The Tower against the full moon
Pic: As the college football field undergoing artificial turfing, basketball seems main athletic event
And the college's magazine is called "The Tower"

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trashigang through my digital lens

Trashigang Town
Woesel Choling Monastery in Rangjung: Blessed to see it again and again
Yonphula: The place I started loving after I listened to "Yonphula ley eto meto" song by Misty Terrace
Wamrong Town
Khaling: One of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan
Almost an entire valley of empty beer bottles. Sharchops can really drink
A brokpa lady: Brokpas come lower hills of Trashigang with their cattle during winter

Sherubtse College: The college that produced most of the Bhutanese high officials in the govt., corporation and business
Sports complex: A place where most youth spend their leisure time
Changjiji colony: There really is a place called Changjiji complex in Trashigang
Surprisingly, you get to watch wonderful sunsets in Trashigang

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Embracing them back

I have been sitting here since early this evening. Actually, I want to do something. Right here. Now. To write down my heart’s content on this blank page, instantaneously. But I don’t know where to begin. 
The window of room is open, and the cold breeze is gently rushing in, wafting the hem of light brown lace curtains. Well, it’s the day when Thimphu is in its cruelest. Bare tree branches tremble nervously. Withered grass sticks collect icing blades that slowly melt as the day marches on.

In fact, the entire valley has turned starkly barren, and fighting against the perishing cold. At one point, I gaze up at the perfectclear blue sky. And, there’s an abyss of blueness within the enigmatic blue space.

So to say, there’s this strong yearning, somewhere deep inside my heart that I cannot locate, to scribble those words that want to come out; or to put it a little more accurately, those feelings that I am wanting to transform into words. They are as deep as the blueness of the blue sky. Will I be able to apprehend and transform them into words here?

Well, today is the last day of the year, 2016. This particular longing in me is making my heart heavy. Unbeknown to me, I walk in the kitchen. I briskly placed kettle on the stove. Pouring a cup full of hot water in the container, I put on the gaslight. A little after, I added a tiny lump of Brookbond tea and then sugar and milk together. I carefully stirred it with a spoon.

Little of it spilled out when I pour it in my mug. I carry it to my veranda.Once outside, sitting on the floor, I wrapped the tea mug with my both hands. Closer, I caught a whiff of the freshly brewed tea. I tooka gulp of my steamy tea and many more until I empty the mug. I feel a lot better, as the tea let pleasant warmth wash over me.

Before this good-feeling sensation leaves me, I run back to the room, in front of my computer. As always, I fall back on applying my own trick, a witty method of wooing myself with a little ounce of force to stand firm and write.

This time, I am able to write. I am writing. And as I do it, as I pour down everything from my heart I feel my heart is comforted wonderfully. The weariness slowly disappears, and the heaviness in my heart evaporates.
I look up at the sky again. And there amidst the so naked blue sky, to my great pleasure and wonder, I spot a clump of white clouds floating like the careful strokes of a good brush. I feast my eyes there for a moment.

The fact of the matter is that I’ve been missing serious writing for quite a long time. I’ve been missing the habit of writing in my room. I’ve been missing my own tea. And all along, I’ve been craving for all this. But no wonder, I can embrace them back, like a clump of white clouds in the vast blue sky I just spotted.

Happy New Year, dear readers! I wish you a great year ahead.