Friday, December 31, 2010

Travel TidBits: Guesthouses in Bhutan

Traveling in a remote country which only opened to foreign tourists rather recently, I have been asked what the accommodations will be on our Festival and Photo Tour to Bhutan in October 2011.  Since we will visit some of the same towns and villages that I traveled to in the Spring of 2010, here are some samples of the wonderful guesthouses that we will stay in.  Most of them are built in the Bhutanese traditions, but will be comfortable with modern amenities.  On occasions, the electricity may not work but dinner by candle light keeps everything in balance.  You can also find my images of Bhutan and its people and culture on my web gallery.

Gangtey Palace in Paro was a royal palace and it is beautifully painted in the traditional way.  It is located above Paro with a great view of the Paro Valley.

The inside of the hotel is painted with traditional symbols.

and artifacts adorn the wall.

We reach the Dewachen Hotel in Phobjika Valley after visiting Gantey Monastery.  This monastery is perched on top of a small hill that rises from the valley floor.  After our visit there, we will hike through the valley of Gantey first through a wooded area and then through fields, until we reach Phobjika, a small village.  The Gantey valley is famous for its black cranes who migrate here from the high Himalayas to winter in the warmer climate.

The Dewachen Hotel stands quite in contrast to the humble village.  The view of the valley from here is magnificent and I can only imagine the black cranes flying here in the winter.

In Jakar, we will stay at the River Lodge.  Jakar is located in a smaller valley and our Guesthouse is built above the valley floor.  When I was there in 2010, I had a clear view of the valley.  In the late afternoon, I watched the local soccer team in their practice while the farmers led their cows and animals home for the night.

Jakar Valley

River Lodge, Jakar

A hot cup of tea greeted the traveler upon arrival, 
and the meals were yummy.  The Bhutanese cuisine is spicy with lots of chili's,
but we are also served dishes that might suit our Western palette a bit better.

 As we travel on to the Tang Valley, we will reach the end of the road at the river from where we hike up to Ugyen Choeling Manor.  It is a steep hike and we will only carry what we need for the night.  The guesthouse is part of a royal palace that also houses a museum, and it is run by a relative of the former King.  We will have a wonderful view of the surrounding valley and mountains. Time permitting we will visit the surrounding village.  During my last trip, I was invited into one of the homes and was privileged to observe the family in their daily activities.  The warm welcome that I experienced everywhere and the offered tea or wine showed the incredible hospitality of the Bhutanese people.

Our host serves a tasty meal.

Since the evening was chilly, we gather around the wood stove.

and the hot tea is welcome.

Yak hair rug

I slept well and warm under the thick cover, but my wood stove burned out during
the night and I woke to a frosty morning. 

In Ura, we encounter a colorful guesthouse decorated with a myriad of blue, green, red, yellow, and white prayer flags.  The Ura Festival - Tchechu - was happening and the village was preparing for the yearly gathering at the monastery with its colorful dances and ceremonies.

Our meals are served in the cozy main room next to the kitchen.

In Bhutanese traditions, all room doors are covered with handmade curtains.

The Ura village is located at around 12,000 ft altitude and the night was chilly.

Everywhere I went I found a warm welcome, friendly people and enjoyed the hospitality of my hosts.  We had lovely meals that were mostly vegetarian but with the occasional meat including yak meat that tasted like beef.  As in Asian tradition, we ate lots of rice and potatoes, both grown on the terraces fields that we had traveled through.  I specifically liked the variety of potato dishes with cream and cheese sauces.  All in all, I did not lack anything while traveling in Bhutan and wished that I could have brought some of the recipes home with me.

For more images from my travel in Bhutan, please visit my web gallery.  My upcoming Festival and Photo Tour to Bhutan describes the next trip.  I am welcoming you to join and experience this remote mountain country - a once in a lifetime adventure!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Travel TidBits: Butter Lamps

We enter into the temple, my eyes take some time to adjust to the dim light before I see the menacing faces of some of the gods looking down on me. In a whisper, my guide explains the meaning and inter-relationship of the deities so dear to the heart of the faithful. I admire the golden statue of Rinpoche and the colorful offerings at the altar. But most of all I am fascinated by the myriad of butter lamps that glow in the back. An overwhelming feeling of peace settles in, the outside world recedes and I am left alone with my thoughts.

Murmur around me comes from the reciting of prayers and mantras as the fingers follow the prayer beads. The faithful prostrate themselves when entering the temple – the ritual calls for 3 times kneeling and touching the ground with the forehead.

There are no seats in most temples and but you are invited to sit cross-legged on the old wooden floor, never pointing your feet to the gods. There is chanting in the back where some monks recite the religious text in a sing-song way. It is calming to the mind and but also helps focusing the mind on the stillness within. The scent of incense and butter lamps made of yak butter mix. It is a beautiful moment and something in me does not want to leave.

As evening falls over Bodhinath Stupa in Kathmandu, the setting sun turns the clouds into spectacular colors and I am transformed by the moment. All is quiet and all is peace.

If my travel TidBits sound intriguing to you,
come travel with Meggi to Bhutan:

In the Buddhist Tradition, Butter Lamps symbolize the clarity of wisdom. Offering Butter Lamps creates harmony, and generates merits while promoting success, prosperity, longevity, and world peace.

In the Tune of Brahma, Shakyamuni Buddha mentioned the 10 benefits of offering lights:

One becomes like the light of the worldOne achieves clairvoyance of the pure eye as a human
One receives the wisdom to discriminate virtue from non-virtue
One is able to eliminate the concept of inherent existence
One receives the illumination of wisdom
One is reborn as a human or deva
One receives great enjoyment wealth
One quickly becomes liberatedOne quickly attains enlightenment.
If my travel TidBits sound intriguing to you,
come travel with Meggi to Bhutan:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Travel TidBits: Mist over the Mountains of Bhutan

Beyond the grey, there are mountains, the high mountains of the Himalayas. On a clear day, mount Jomolhari with its massive 24,000 feet peaks and the remote Lingshi Dzong would be spotted. But today, dripping in the mist, all sounds are muffled, only the windshield wipers swoosh is ever present. The thick mist hangs in the valleys, filling all space.

The world in the rain is quiet, and my thoughts meander to the sights that I have seen so far and to the unknown places ahead. Bhutan has welcomed me and even on a grey day, it’s magic pulls me in.

The road chiseled into the mountain side is a one lane road and Pemba, my driver, maneuvers the curves with ease. Looking out of the window, the mountainside drops off steep into the valley invisible in the mist. I am thankful for those stretches with guard rails – without it one misstep could be disastrous. Traffic is minimal but the huge trucks coming up from India bringing goods to the villages fill the road and it seems like a delicate dance getting by. I send prayers into the mist for safe passage for all of us.
Then out of the mist we see the rhododendrons blooming on the slope above. I had read about them – so unexpected in these mountains at an altitude of more than 10,000 ft. But they strive in misty climates and bloom in red, white and a soft pink. What a pleasure to spot them on this misty and rainy day.

The mist seems to lift at times and in those moments, I can see the road that is now on the steep mountain side, the next village far below.

As we descend yet again into the valley where the villages hug the banks of the streams and rivers, we are greeted by another chorten, the ubiquitous stone monuments that are places of worship. Many are adorned with prayer wheels and prayer flags.

It’s a wonderful custom to greet the traveler with a steaming cup of tea warming up the body and soul. It’s offered on arrival. How refreshing it must have been in past decades for those travelers who came on foot with their pack animals, enduring the roughness of the mountains and unpredictability of the weather.

I am thankful for easier travel today but still relish in the warmth not only of the offered tea but the warm welcome that I experienced all through Bhutan.

If my travel TidBits sound intriguing to you,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travel TidBits: The Tradition of Prayer Flags in Buddhism

There are few things more beautiful than colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind- sometimes waving gently, sometimes raging; a dance of shadow and light. According to Buddhist believe, there is perhaps no simpler way to create good merit in this troubled world than to put prayer flags up for the benefit of other living beings. Prayer flags are not just pretty pieces of colored cloth with funny writing on them. The ancient Buddhist prayers, mantras and powerful symbols displayed on them produce a spiritual vibration that is activated and carried by the wind across the countryside. All beings that are touched by the wind are uplifted and a little happier. The silent prayers are blessings spoken on the breath of nature. Just as a drop of water can permeate the ocean, prayers dissolved in the wind extend to fill all of space.

For over a thousand years people of Buddhist traditions dating back to ancient Tibet, China, Persia and India, have been making and hanging prayer flags. Squares of cloth in blue, white, red, green and yellow are printed onto and sewn on a cord in groups of five, always in the same color order. The meaning of the five colors differs depending of what text you read but according to the Nyingma School (Ancient Ones) the colors correspond to the 5 elements:

Blue for space
White for air
Red for fire
Green for water
Yellow for earth.

In Vajrayana Buddhism, the five colors of prayer flags also represent the 5 Buddha families and the 5 Wisdoms and aspects of the enlightened mind.

Originally the writing and images on prayer flags were painted by hand, one at a time. Woodblocks, carefully carved in mirror image relief, were introduced from China in the 15th century. This invention made it possible to reproduce identical prints of the same design. Traditional designs could then be easily passed down from generation to generation.

Buddhists believe that hanging prayer flags with intention releases positive, energized wishes out to the world on the wind. Loving-Kindness, Peace, Compassion and Wisdom are the themes. It is a sign of respect to keep Prayer Flags off of the ground or floor. The cloth frays and the printed images fade as they are released to the wind and the heavens. When they are well worn they are often burned, to release the last expression of prayer. It is also common to see old, tattered prayer flags side by side with new ones, left to the elements.
If you enjoyed reading about the Buddhist Traditions, you might want to explore traveling to Bhutan. Check out: 'Bhutan - Festival and Photo Tour with Meggi' by clicking on the link or tab on the menu bar above.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Sunsets

Last night's sunset was spectacular. Go out around 4:45p and just watch the sky for 1/2 hour. If we have some clouds, it will be gorgeous.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bhutan - Festival & Photo Tour

Bhutan - Festival and Photo Tour
14 Days/ 13 Nights
29 October – 11 November 2011
I am delighted to invite you join me for a festival and photo tour to Bhutan, the enchanted kingdom high in the Himalaya, secluded between India to the south and Tibet (now China) in the north beyond the high mountains. Bhutan was a closed country until ~25 years ago, and even today, tourism is still limited and strictly controlled to preserve the natural environment and the lifestyle of people. Bhutan is about the size of Switzerland with a very sparse population of ~750,000 (about 13 people per square kilometer!).
I visited Bhutan last April and found it a serene and mystical country, culture and people. On my trip, I traveled from the furthest Western part all the way to the East and you can see my images from that trip at my web gallery at: With this mail I invite you to travel with me in a small photo tour (4-6 participants) to experience the richness of the culture, art and architecture, to see a colorful festival in Jakar with dances, masks and music, and take in the lush nature in its autumn colors. Bhutan is a Buddhist country and we will visit temples and monasteries and monastic schools where young monks learn and practice.
Our trip will be guided by a Bhutanese photographer, Mr. Anan, whose published images are available as postcards throughout the country.
We will travel in a spacious van and have comfortable accommodations throughout the 14 days in Bhutan. The limited group size (4-6 participants) will give us ample opportunities to experience the country and wonderful people in their daily activities.
To see an overview of the trip, and the detailed day-to-day itinerary, please click on the menu bar "Bhutan - Festival & Photo Tour with Meggi Raeder" . Please call me (650-326-4570) or email me at with any questions you might have and take advantage of the introductory pricing of this trip.