Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness (Part 1). In and around Thimpu!

A few years ago, the topics during a tea-time confab were Gross Happiness Index, Bhutan, Himalayas and Taktsang Monastery. Like a seed planted grows into a tree, this discussion intrigued me a lot and my fascination to witness the Bhutanese way of living increased by the day. All the enthralling aspects of Bhutan and my all time obsession with nature, and mountains in particular, I added Bhutan travel to my bucket list.

Come 2016, life showed a direction towards pursuing my travel dream. And yes, I visited Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness.

Pristine landscapes, spectacular views, amicable people and their spiritual way of life, rich heritage, comforting food, and everything else so heavenly qualify Bhutan for a Utopia. Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is full of never-ending range of hills, verdant plains, meandering perennial rivers, meditative sounds of the Buddhist chants and colorful prayer flags tied everywhere reminding us that nature and spirituality are inseparable.

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Though the pictures don’t do justice to the real beauty of this paradise, and my words can’t describe the magical experience, I shall try my best to give a brief of how and what it was. Our tour was of four days covering the two major cities of Bhutan, Thimpu and Paro. A further long stay will give you much time and opportunity to explore the country better.

First two days in Thimpu

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The Memorial Chorten

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The Memorial Chorten or Memorial Stupa was built in the honor of the third King of Bhutan Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It does not contain human remains, but just a photograph of the King. It is circumambulated in clockwise direction like other religious structures. We spent about an hour in the Chorten witnessing the annual recitation of ‘Seven Line Prayer’ to Guru Rinpochhe. The whole milieu was sacred and ingenuous.

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Buddhists chanting peace mantras. Prayer wheels with “Om Mani Padme Hum” written on them

We later visited the Great Buddha Dordenma, a 169ft gigantic Buddha statue and the Takin Preserve. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan.

Rest of city tour had viewing gorgeous vistas and visiting the important places of interest like Changlimithing multi-purpose national stadium, National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Arts and Crafts school), Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar, National Library of Bhutan etc.

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National Institute for Zorig Chusum trains the Bhutanese youth in 13 native and traditional Bhutanese arts like wood carving, statue-making, painting, weaving, tailoring, embroidery etc. Some of the finished products are also sold for good prices.

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Authentic Bhutanese Arts and Crafts Bazaar, Thimpu

The shops had a unique collection of handcrafted house decors, clothes, book marks, key chains, Bhutanese masks, Bhutanese musical instruments, hand bags, jewelry and many more. The place was a kaleidoscope of colors.

Tashichho Dzong

Tashichhoedzong build by the first Dharma Raja, is a Buddhist monastery and fortress on the banks of Wang Chu River. There are thirty temples, chapels and shrines within it. It is the office of Bhutan’s civil government and Kingship together. A few kms near the Dzong is the King’s palace, the Dechencholing Palace. The photograph below is an aerial view of the Dzong and its surroundings.

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Bhutanese Cuisine

Coming to cuisine, red rice and buckwheat are Bhutan’s two main foods. Red rice in Bhutan has an earthy flavor. The Bhutanese make soups and stews out of various vegetables and meats (yak meat being a specialty).  Ema datshi, which is their national dish, is spicy made with large, green chili peppers in a cheesy sauce. It is one of their major comforting and widely made dishes. Momos (dumplings) are also quite famous. Butter Tea (also called Suja) is made of the Bhutanese Tea Leaves, Water, Butter and salt. The Bhutanese also include various spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric, caraway etc in their cooking.

Dha/Archery and Traditional Dresses Gho & Kira

The National game of Bhutan is Dha or Archery. We made sure we wore the traditional dresses of Bhutan (Gho for men and Kira for women) and played archery amidst the serene hilly terrains.

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The Kira
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Playing Dha or Archery wearing a Gho
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Making of the arrows

Bhutanese Architecture

Traditional Architecture remains prevalent in Bhutan. Throughout its history, Bhutan has mainly followed the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture. Any new structure construction is supposed to abide the rules. Read more on the Architecture of Bhutan in wiki here.

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Touring Bhutan is not only a way to escape in the tranquility of nature, but also a fun trip getting to know their unique culture and tradition. It opens your heart to simplicity, variety and spirituality.

Revive your body and awaken your soul, go visit this magical Kingdom.

More on the remaining itinerary in next blogs. I will take through our Paro city tour and the sacred mountainous passes.

So..have you ever been to Bhutan? Please share your experiences, and blog links. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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In and around my maternal ancestral village, Munganda – In pictures.

Tucked in lush green fields of Konaseema, an area in the Godavari delta of the East Godavari District in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is my maternal ancestral village, called Munganda (Originally, Muni-khanda, The Land of the sages). I left half of my heart there, as most of my childhood memories are associated with it. I get reminded of my Grandma’s heart-warming meals, delightful conversations with my Grandpa, those verdant farm lands, the pristine weather, beautiful breezy evenings, the scenic bank of River Godavari, the dainty local flowers, swaying coconut trees, freshly produced coconuts, pineapples, bananas, jackfruits, toddypalms, and many more.

So, let me go down my memory lane and present to you a few photographs in and around my village, that I have taken over time. This is my humble attempt to let the world know of this picturesque and peaceful small village and its surroundings. I also take the opportunity to reverence my ancestors and their legacy.

Below are photographs of the Godavari River and its bank in the nearby village of Gannavaram. There is an aqueduct over the river connecting the two villages of P.Gannavaram and Lankala Gannavaram, originally constructed by the British, and later a new one was constructed by the Indian Government due to its ageing. It is named after Smt. Dokka Seethamma, a great humanitarian. Please read more about her here.

Below you will see the vast coconut and paddy fields. It is in deed therapeutic to get lost in this peaceful arena and to breathe the fresh air. Imagine the fresh and earthy smell on rainy days…even the fields get lusher.

I will take a moment here to thank the farmers, for I am alive today only because of them. Below is a photograph of my Grandfather with his assisting farmer, who is more like a family for us.

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And below is a photograph taken at Antharvedi, a convergence point of River Godavari and The Bay of Bengal. There is a launch pad that takes you around the waters.

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Here is a photograph of my very own Grandpa, an erudite and a venerated gentleman in his village. And, that is his favourite and a very old Radio Transistor. He is not just a retired Teacher, but an outstanding and inspirational one apart from being warming and amicable.

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He has worked very hard through-out his life and career to keep up the high standards and for the betterment of his family and the village. This is a photograph of his dearest bicycle, that has kept his company through thick and thin. He traveled miles and miles on this and has a lot of memories attached with it. I couldn’t resist capturing it in my camera forever.

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I am really blessed to have him as my Grandfather, for he has really been the light of my life and has given me some of the most memorable and enjoyable childhood days. I will be disrespectful if I don’t mention about my Great Grandfather, Sri Pulya Umamahesawara Sastry garu, who was a great Vedic Scholar,  (Abhinava Pandita Raya, Vaiyyakarana Kesari – 10 titles twice Rastrapathi awardee). Here is a link to his biography, in our mother tongue Telugu.

And..finally is the photograph of my all time favorite Grandma’s Brinjal Curry (Vankaya Kharam kura in Telugu). Nothing can ever come close to tickling my taste buds as this dish, she is a master chef. It is very close to my heart, hence the photograph 🙂

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On a final note, I dedicate this blog to the village most fascinating to me and to my ancestral legacy. May the villages and the farmers in India flourish and prosper. 

You can also read about Munganda on wiki here.

 

Indian Masala Chai – Any takers?

As much as I await the monsoons in India, I also await to sip the comforting and warming ‘Masala Chai/Tea’..oh well, didn’t I say I can’t let go off my roots.

In the initial days when I was still learning to cook I never got the right consistency, taste and color of tea. My husband makes some very yummy tea and over time I learned the right way to prepare the Indian Chai. Now, here I am an expert at it, writing a blog on how to make it the perfect way.

Ingredients:

  • Some black tea, usually made out of boiling the Assamese Tea Leaves. We have a lot of brands that process and sell the leaves in India.
  • Milk (Your choice of cow’s milk, buffalo milk, full fat, fat free, skim milk, anything). I always stick to full fat buffalo milk when in India.
  • Sugar – optional.
  • Whole spices and herbs/Karha masala – hand pounded slightly to bring out the flavors.

Preparation:

  • Bring tea leaves to boil. I use one tea spoon of leaves to make a small cup for one person. If you are not sure about how much to put give it a try a couple of times to know the right measurement, as the amount can vary from brand to brand. Note, the tip for a better tasting tea is to slow boil leaves for a longer time in not too much, not too less water. This way, the black tea that gets made has a perfect consistency.

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  • Once you see black tea is ready, add the desired amount of milk. I use more milk and less water. I have seen people doing the ratio they want.
  • You should keep ready the hand-pounded spices and herbs. Usually, cardamom/elaichi, Cinnamon/Dalchini, Ginger/Adrak are used. You can very well use other spices like Black Pepper, Cloves etc. A gentle pounding will do. This spice mixture when added to the tea that’s ready for a good boil, lets the aroma, taste and the juice in it to seep into the tea.
  • You can add sugar at this point, or add it later/leave it.
  • Let the whole black tea+milk+spice mix+sugar boil on a slow flame. The more it boils, the better it tastes. Do not overdo boiling of course.
  • Turn off flame once the tea has completely boiled and come up the pot.
  • Use a tea strainer to catch the leaves, while you fill your tea cup with hot, yummy and comforting Masala Chai 🙂

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                                    Are you making yourself some tea then? 😊