On 10/22 we arrived in Kolkata India and spent the first 20 hours in our hotel room trying to recover from a cold that plagued our group in the days before we departed Bhutan.  The next day we felt ok and took in some sights after we dropped by the U.S. Consulate to cast our vote for….(drum roll) Obama/Biden.  As we entered, the Indian staff was putting up posters for the 2008 election with both Democrat and Republican stickers. They wouldn’t let us have a camera or we’d have taken photos.  Remember VOTE.

 

So India has a bit of a smog problem.  While it’s my first time here, Brad has been here many times and said he’s never seen it this bad…Yesterday we went to the Victoria Museum and I wore a cover my mouth.  It looked like I was ready to rob a bank…guess we won’t be doing any running in India!!

 

Brad and I are BIG people in India and I have been asked several times to be in photos with Indians…It’s great with kids but a bit odd when it’s grown men.

 

We’ve now arrived in Jodhpur and will be visiting the area over the next couple days…still struggling with a cold and the two flights to get here didn’t help.  October 28, is the Indian holiday of Dewali that includes festivals, fireworks, etc.  We’re getting ready to head to Fort Khejarla, where Brad has visited many times before. More later…

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Warning: extra long blog due to lack of Internet connections in Bhutan. Photos are still being sorted and we’ll set up a flickr library when we have time (traveling is SO time consuming!!!
 

Given the world economic turmoil and election drama, do you ever wish you could just shut it off?  Well that’s what Brad and I did the last two weeks in the Kingdom of Bhutan.  (it’s ok, most people have asked “where’s that?” too)  We wouldn’t generally let this much time pass between blogs but internet was hard to come by – in fact, so was electricity in many locations.
Bhutan is a small country (population estimated about 700,000) that lies tranquilly between Tibet and India. This is a country that doesn’t even have one traffic light (they tried once but people didn’t know what to do so it was taken down after a day).  They also measure Gross National Happiness of their people as measure of contentment and success.In a word -WOW.  What an incredibly magical place.  We feel like we’ve stepped back in time, experiencing part of the world insulated from much of the troubles and worries that plague our daily lives. The beauty of the country and the people are compounded by the fact you won’t find hordes of travelers/backpackers running rampant in Bhutan because the government has made it its business to heavily control tourism.  With just a handful of flights each day, Bhutan welcomed about 12,000 international visitors in 2007.  Getting there is not as easy as just booking an airline ticket.  First, your travel must be organized by a Bhutanese tour operator and depending on the size of the group you’re traveling with, expect to pay a tariff of $200-$300/day just to be in the country.  Second, once in the country you cannot roam free as they say – you must be accompanied by a Bhutanese guide.   Brad and I made this trip with a group of people from primarily Olympia, Wash. and led by Brad’s good friend – David Samuel Robbins, who is a Seattle-based professional photographer and Himalayan expert (see his book Himalayan Odyssey). He used a local company to coordinate our ground transport, accommodations, etc. I’m not generally one for group tours but since members of this group were all connected in some way, the chance for craziness and rudeness was diminished.  Truth is – the group was great and we’ve come away with many more friends.Over 12 days we traversed much of the country, starting in Paro (at approximately 7300 feet), which was a bit of a shock after spending 10 days in Thailand at sea level. We traveled to central Bhutan and crossed passes that were nearly 11,000 feet and dropped to about 4000 feet.  We were struck by how vast and open the land is in Bhutan with many geo-climates and topographies.  Bhutan is technically the foothills of the Himalayas and we had a couple good days of visibility where you can see the peaks of surrounding mountain ranges. There are no domestic airports so we traveled east on what was primarily a one-lane, one-road country and there are thousands of undeveloped acres of rolling hills and valleys filled with wheat, rice and other agriculture products.

 While I plan to write a more detailed travel story for my client Viator.com, we’ve broken up our Bhutan adventures into Top 10 highlights by category sections in the posts that follow (contrary to typical blog fashion, we’ve posted these first so you can read down continuously).

In all, this was an incredible trip.  If you’re considering traveling to somewhere new and want a more isolated experience, Bhutan should be your choice.  We fear it may be a different country in 10 years as the advent of television that began in 1999 has brought what you might expect.  And, just recently the import of toy guns have made their way into the hands of even young novice monks.  Throughout history the tight borders have helped to shield Bhutan from many of the crime and social issues faced by other societies today, and we hope the introducing of technology and loosening borders won’t plague it and affect its Gross National Happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

Culture – Bhutan is a Buddhist society where these principles run through most aspects of their lives and they pay tribute to the Buddha and gurus in the form of temples – or what they call dzongs, chortens and stupas.  Some of these date back to the seventh century.  If you saw our wedding post, you know Brad and I are very much in tune with the Buddhist way of life although I wouldn’t classify either of us as Buddhists.  The Bhutaneses are extremely proud of their heritage and love their King and royalty. 

 

Education – While many Bhutanese are educated in India, many now attend university in Bhutan and rarely, if ever, leave.  The school system is free and if students do well they can also attend university for free.

 

Dress –  It the rural areas of Bhutan, most people dress in traditional garb – which are goas for men and kiras for women.  In the larger towns, however, many people where western clothes. You can see these in most photos (including Brad trying on a Goa – he didn’t buy it).

 

People – For the most part, the masses in Bhutan do not have much by way of material things. They live simply, sharing residences where electricity can be intermittent and water is not suitable for drinking. Since 1999 television and internet have become available and in the past year, cell phones have been made widely available but their use seems almost out of place, particularly at the monasteries where monks reside!!!  Everywhere we went – from larger towns to rural villages – people were constantly smiling.  In fact, people were intrigued by photographs and were more than willing to have their picture taken and even encouraged us to snap their images so they could see.  This attitude ran through age groups although children were much more engaging because they speak English every day in school.  In one community Brad and I were walking back to our hotel as school let out and spent more than an hour talking with children and providing them our “autographs” with addresses so they could write us.

We also took some addresses so we could send photos back once we’re home.

 

You’ll also see several photos of Brad with novice monks – many of these kids have been sent to monasteries by their parents and will grow up with Buddhist teachings and become monks once they are old enough to make that decision for themselves.  Kids are kids and Brad played kung fu warriors, thumb wrestled and Frisbee with many of these boys as you can see in the photos.

Politics – Bhutan has been under monarchy rule for nearly a century and this is the first year they’ve held elections.  In November they will be holding the official coronation ceremony for the new King, taking over for his father who has four wives. The entire country has rallied behind the coronation that has gone one for months and will culminate with official ceremonies throughout the country.

Festivals and Rituals –  We were lucky to encounter two festivals of varying sizes that pay tribute to Bhutan’s history while allowing community members to be cleansed and wipe away any wrongdoings and earn merit, which is an important principle of Buddhism.  People generally get dressed up in their best clothes and stay for the better part of day with families and friends.  Check out the people (including some with small infants) running through the burning hay stacks that occurred at a festival in the Bumthang area. This is a tradition that the Bhutanese believe will erase their wrongdoings and give them a free pass for the next three years. You’ll see many masks and in one of the pictures you’ll see two that Brad and I are taking home (thanks to our fellow travelers).  While they might not be the most attractive, these are what they refer to as “protectors,” which we think will come in handy once we actually have a home base.

 

Prayer Flags – As in other parts of Asia, prayer flags are commonly used in parts of Asia that send good energy and luck into the universe. You’ll often see large amounts of prayer flags on mountain summits and bridges. We placed a few flags on summits during the trip. The Bhutanese also have a tradition of placing white vertical prayer flags on mountains. When someone dies, a family will erect 108 such flags where they will remain until they deteriorate. I told Brad that’s all I want when it’s my time. They have a great presence on a hill as you’ll see from several photos.

Food –  Bhutan is not a place to start a low-carb diet.  Raw fruits and vegetables are limited, but rice, potatoes are abundant.  As a Buddhist society, meat and fish can be limited.  Eggs and peanut butter became our primary source of protein.  One item that was pretty good was peppers and cheese.  Bhutanese dry red (sometimes green) chili peppers on their rooftops and just about every meal include chilis of some sort.  As a group of 14, we faced buffets nearly every meal, which quickly became monotonous but with it came humor although we learned to carry a stash of ramen just in case. Brad and I stayed one extra day as we had to fly out to Kolkata, India while the rest of the group went on to Bangkok so we splurged and stayed as the Uma Resort that had gourmet food and incredible fish.  We pigged at both dinner and breakfast.

 

Archery – The Bhutanese love their archery.  It’s a casual pastime and official national sport.  On our second to last day with the group, we happened by an official tournament where one of the new kings brothers was in the match.  They use expensive compound bows and stand a couple hundred yards apart where there are members of each team on each end.  They have a number of rituals, sayings and dance they perform as part of the game when a fellow teammate hits or comes close to the target.  While at the Uma, Brad and I took archery lessons although they wouldn’t give us compound bows…we used traditional bows and Brad hit that damn target on his first try.  (I did not although I got close) The guide was amazed.  We now both have huge bruises on our left arm where the bow string struck.

 

Vitamin M – We were astounded that marijuana grows in the wild in Bhutan…and seems to stay on the vines. You can see from some of the photos that we decided to pick some. One member of our group – who will remain nameless — became infatuated with the herb and we carried it through some miles to if it would dry and actually light… it did, but not with the force some of you may know (you’ll remain nameless also).

 

Dogs, Cows, Yaks…Oh My – Dogs and cows are everywhere.  Yaks are found at higher elevation levels but on the roads, we were constantly navigating around or waiting for herds of cows to pass so we could get through.  And, dogs…there is no neutering program in Bhutan so these dogs run wild, in many cases, in packs.  They also act like roosters – barking well before dawn and into the daylight.

 

Penis Envy – Well not really, but the Bhutanese use images of penises to reflect their respect and offering to the “Divine Madman,” Bhutan’s unconventional lama Drupka Kinley. Legend has it that Kinley would hit errant demons over the head with his penis to subdue them and turn them into protective deities. So we’d see life size and extra large penis models often placed outside a home – or even painted on the side. Wooden penises were sold throughout the country and we picked up a few so maybe you’ll be the lucky recipient when we return.

In a word – Amazing.  Sunday was our wedding day and the only way it could’ve been better was if all our family and friends were there (here).  The pictures will tell much of the story…but I’ll fill in a bit.  This post won’t do it justice but we’ll try…

 

We were up before the sun and watched it rise over the Gulf of Thailand from our deck then had some quite time before I headed off to get pampered.

 

Our ceremony started about 10 a.m. because the monks have to do blessings early because they don’t eat after 12 p.m.  The staff at The Sanctuary really made sure everything came together and it did.  We had 5 monks arrive for the blessing ceremony and they were situated in the Ocean View room that looks out onto the Gulf. Like every day here, it was HOT and Brad and I were damp much of the ceremony but what can you do…

First, let me start with the dress… I just happened by the dress you see in the photos in a boutique the day after we arrived in Thailand and it caught my eye…  I bought it for about 1300 baht ($42) and I’m glad I did..because the one I brought (very simple, off-white linen) Brad wound up thinking it looked like a potato sack.. guess everything happens for a reason.

 

In the morning, after having three lovely Thai ladies help get me ready, I ascended an extremely long flight of stairs set in a hillside where I met Brad who escorted me to the entrance. There, the monks were waiting and a few of The Sanctuary staff and a handful of hotel guests were seated. We entered and kneeled before the monks…after bowing three times, we lit candles and incense that were placed at the Buddha alter. 

 

The monks chanted for about 20 minutes – which was so entrancing and beautiful – then we were joined by their headdress which symbolizes union and blessed with holy water (of sorts) and flower petals.  As a finale, we were each marked with 3 dots of clay on our third eye.  The rings were blessed by the monks as part of the ceremony and we exchanged these at the end before we rose. 

 

At that time, the monks and all others left the room and Brad and I exchanged vows on a rock above the sea.  We wrote our own vows and are eternally grateful to The Sanctuary’s Mike and Zara as well as fellow traveler Eva who stayed to take photos/video – as well as help with all the details and moral support.  Eva also graciously offered to make us a wedding video as she’s on a bit of a respite before returning to Koh Phi Phi Island where she’s a dive videographer.   

 

We had a relaxing day…photos on the beach, 1 ½ hour Thai massage, dinner in our bungalow.  I just finished a 3 ½ day fast/cleanse so needed tom be mindful of what I ingested but managed to indulge. We were so high…it was the perfect day…great weather…very spiritual setting…and everything we ordered.  Now, Mr. and Mrs. Brad Sauber are getting ready to depart tomorrow and transit back to Bangkok for a night before taking off for Bhutan for two weeks…India for three weeks…back to Thailand for 1 week…then 1 week in Japan.  I think we’ve just spent the longest period in one location so we’re getting geared up for getting mobile, which is so hard given the life we’ve had the last week.

 

We are so grateful for our families and friends and look forward to celebrating when we return.

wedding vows

October 7, 2008

 After the monks’ blessing, Brad and Dawn went out on a rock and exchanged vows and rings privately.

 

Brad to Dawn

 

From this moment forward, I Brad, take you Dawn my best friend for life.   I pledge to honor, encourage, and support you through our walk together.  When our way becomes difficult, I promise to stand by you and uplift you, so that through our union we can accomplish more than we could alone.  I promise to work at our love and always make you a priority in my life. 

 

I promise not to be quick to anger, but to think before I speak and act.  I vow not to keep a record of wrongs, but to always keep the happy memories alive. I promise to give you my all and I know that I could not ask for more from you.

 

When you need someone to encourage you, I want it to be me.  When you need a helping hand, I want it to be mine.  When you have something to share, share it with me. When you long for a smile, turn to me.

 

You are my best friend, and now my wife. I give you this ring as an outward and visible symbol of my eternal love and the inward and spiritual bond, which unites our hearts, bodies, spirits and minds.

 

Dawn to Brad

 

On this day, I will marry Bradley James Sauber — my best friend, my confidant, my lover, my partner.

 

From the day we met, we’ve been connected spiritually in a familiar and comforting way and that connection has only grown stronger…no matter the distance and trials we’ve encountered along the way.

 

From this moment forward, I am your wife.  As such, I promise to give you unconditional love, patience, compassion, encouragement and endless amount of hugs and laughter. I commit to continually learn and grow and improve myself as a person and a wife.

 

I promise to love you, stand by you, and work with you through the Ying and Yang of life – through the laughter and the tears, through prosperity and adversity, through health and sickness, and the good times and bad.

 

Today, the world is no longer filled with “I” but “we and us” as our union creates a powerful combination that is far greater and meaningful than any part could be individually.

 

This Buddhist blessing represents the way I pledge to try to live our joined lives – in the moment, absent of “ego” and with contentment, compassion and peace.  If we fail sometimes — and we will — I commit to let go of any attachment and work with you to do better next time – together.

 

You are my Sweetie – my hero, my best friend, and now my husband. I give you this ring as an outward and visible symbol of my eternal love and the inward and spiritual bond, which unites our hearts, bodies, spirits and minds.

 

 

 

Sawadee…arrival

October 1, 2008

 

 

Well…after sleep deprivation torture as we tried to wrap up work and life to get out of town for two months, we finally arrived in SE Asia late Saturday night. The trip was LONG.  After nearly 11 hours to Tokyo we had a near 5 hour layover and took a day room then a hotel room near Bangkok’s airport so we could catch a flight first thing in the morning to Koh Samui. The trip on Thai Airlines beat that joke of an airline United (sorry Kim) by a long shot – due in large part to the fact when we checked in, the attendant took one look at us and said she gave us “Big Leg” seats. Without even asking, we got exit rows.

 It took nearly 2 days to acclimate ourselves – I think we slept 18 hours during that time.  We started in the Fisherman’s Village of Bohput Beach. We had a great location….right on the water and amazing views. It’s HOT. I visited here about 4 years ago and it’s much hotter than I recall…thank god for cold Singha.  Oh, and the fruit. I forgot about the fresh cut fruit on the beach – mango, pineapple, coconut. Amazing!  We decided to go local and rented motor bikes to put around.  We opted for then helmuts considering we had to drive on the other side if the road, but looked a bit odd against the mothers carrying infants in their laps or three people piled on a scooter for one.  But we made it unscathed — save for the oil we inhaled over the course of a couple hours.

Today we moved over to Koh Phangan…home of the Full Moon Party, which we will thankfully be missing. Here we’ve checked into The Sanctuary, a hippie-esque spa   where we will be putting on our own hippy hats and doing a cleanse/detox before getting married by Buddhist monks on Sunday, Oct. 5.  It’s a bit remote…have to take a long tail boat to get here — but remarkably connected. I’m sitting in our jungle hut overlooking the Bay… on wireless… unbelievable.

During the move out of my condo…(as if getting ready to leave for 2 months wasn’t enough, I had to move) Brad suffered a black eye moving stuff but he seems to be recovering and should hopefully be gone by Sunday so the monks don’t think I punched him.

Thai life is good although since we’re on the edge of jungle, we’re experiencing a bit more mossies than we’ve seen thus far.  The last time Brad was in Asia, he contracted Dengue fever and had to be evacuated so we’re hoping to avoid that level of excitement.

 

Love to all.

 

(most of the posts by Dawn…most of the photos by Brad)