The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

I'm on the move... off to a new blogging patch, a whole new adventure

Hello wonderful readers, travellers and site watchers,  I have a lovely new website that's just been unfurled,  I hope you'll pop over and check it out,  let me know what you think and even follow me.

Here's the new link

Looking forward to seeing you over there.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Book Review : The Dragon's Voice - How Modern Media found Bhutan. by Bunty Avieson

Bhutan is a country that is covered in mystery; barely raising its 'head' from under its cloak. It is an isolated and expensive country for the average person to visit and unless you hold an Indian, Bangladeshi or Maldivian passport, the only way to visit Bhutan is to go on a booked tour, to have a guide and driver, who will escort you to every sight/activity and town. Bhutan does not issue its visas to 'independent' travellers to wander at will around its stunningly beautiful, intriguing, mystical country, that is unless you garner a personal invitation from a Bhutanese person (or company) you have known for a length of time. Because of this, a visit to Bhutan does not enable the average tourist to see the 'real' Bhutan. What is so wonderful about Bunty Avieson's "The Dragon's Voice" is that she quietly and gently lifts the hem of Bhutan's cloak and allows the reader a more in-depth insight of this isolated country.

I devoured this book just prior to my own recent trip to Bhutan and found it fascinating and informative, and I must say delightfully humorous in parts. I loved learning about Bhutan's strong belief in the "Gross National Happiness" doctrine and how it is implemented (and is at times floored) into the country's lifestyle as well as its staunch environmental values, I was intrigued and curious about the strange dating techniques of night hunting and impressed by the clarity and compassion Bunty Avieson showed when describing her observance, understanding and personal experience in challenging the myth that Bhutan is the perfect utopia many in the west believe it to be.

This is a fabulous book, highly recommended to anyone who is thinking of visiting this incredibly stunning country, it will give an invaluable insight to the culture, beliefs and the hidden reality of Bhutan. But even if one is not planning a visit to Bhutan, this book is still a delight to read.">View

Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 1st 2015 by University of Queensland Press

Monday, 11 January 2016

Drink more coffee and catch lots of butterfly kisses - great ideas for a life renovation

Today I resumed a project that I'd started back in 2012 - renovating my office. I decided we needed to get stuck into it when I read an article in The Guardian about 'False Hope Syndrome' and I began to wonder if I was suffering from it - when one makes a new year’s resolution to better themselves and then gives up a week later.   Yes, this was definitely me.  I'd made a NY’s resolution to renovate my office back in 2012, when I was watching fireworks explode over the yatch club at Hamilton Island. The moment I stepped back into my house less than a week later, I had started stripping the paint off the banisters leading up to my office. And that's as far as I got. Four years down the track we're still living with half stripped railings and banisters and carpet ripped up off the stairs exposing bare, unpolished steps covered in paint splotches.

It not even that much of a major job, it’s not like we're going to move walls... well ok we've got a small wall to change so that a pair of 100year old French doors can go in ... or do any major building works, though there are plans for a wall-to-wall-floor-to-ceiling bookcase to be installed. No it'll be pretty easy stuff to do such as ripping up the carpet and laying floorboards that we got for free - compliments of a lovely young couple who were modernising a 1890's workers cottage and were skip-binning those dented old bits of wood - and finally putting up the lights we brought and carted all over Turkey, paid a small fortune in excess luggage to bring back and then to have rewired and have ever since sat reboxed in the linen cupboard taking up room while the towels sit in the corner of our bedroom on one of the dining chairs.

So as I cajoled Mal into swinging the hammer and supervised the installation of sliding tracks for the storage door.... did I mention that I wanted to move the inbuilt cupboard from one end of the room to the other...?  and I set up a temporary office on my verandah, I thought about how I would renovate my life for the better.  I'm not normally one for making new year’s resolutions - I couldn't think of anything more boring than giving up wine or dieting - bugger that! there's no way I'm giving up croissants or New Zealand South Island sauv blanc for anyone...not even me.   so this is the list I came up with

Give up ironing underpants
If this was a gold medal sport, I'd be a serious contender - as a writer, I'm a world class procrastinator. Even writing this  has seen me doing lots of everything else except write – I’ve pulled staples out of boards, cleaned the bathroom plug and walked up to the shop to buy an onion and lettuce, even though I don’t need either for dinner tonight and I’ve been for two walks already today  But this year I’m going to try my hardest to wring out 1000 words every day.  It’s not that I don’t know what to write about, I've still got to finish the blogposts for the Bhutan trip, then Nepal and Singapore, and I’m 20,000words into a new manuscript on traipsing through Bali and  toying with the idea of a historical memoir - the stories are there,  I just need to 'get out of my way' and tap them out.

Drink More Coffee.
... that is, drink more HOT coffee with OTHER people. I spend a lot of time spitting out cold coffee as I tap away in my little writing cave (or ironing undies) or when I'm at my business' office shuffling through invoices I'd like to set fire to. As both activities are best done in solitude - especially when mumbling expletives over the bills - I don't catch up with my wonderful friends as often as I'd like.  I'm so blessed to have such forgiving friends who understand I'm not really an anti-social hermit, just a self-absorbed dreamer - these are the same beautiful people who read and re-read  and then will re-read again my manuscript and smile supportively as I babble on about my anaphora infliction or bore them to near death with my travel pics.  They are always there for me, rain hail and shine with a happy smile and joyful hug. Making sure I keep to this 'resolution’ I pick up the phone and organise a coffee date for this week with the fabulous Jan Pearson - fellow writer and author of Red Bird Summer and Tiger Autumn. 

Read more books
like all writers, I'm a reader, and like most writers, I struggle to find the time to read and the book pile keeps growing and growing.  Last week I took a peek at the titles sitting on the table waiting for me to crack the spine of and decided to sign up for the Goodreads 2016 reading challenge. My goal for this year is - 30 books.  I have to admit, I’m wondering if I should have picked a smaller number like 10, but when I think that I easily read 15 books last year, I thought why not double it.  It’s a diverse list, with a mixture of fiction and non, many are authors I saw at last year’s Byron Bay Writers Festival and whose books I brought and stacked on the floor waiting - beside my overstuffed bookcases - while I read through the previous year’s festival buys.   First book off the pile is Di Morrissey's – Tears of the Moon.  The size of a cheese platter, it's light and fluffy, but absolutely perfect as the years starter as it combines my side interest of digging around the family tree with travel, more importantly, this year’s travel destination for me – Broome.  After that I'll pop on my green boots and go find some ‘Optimism’ with Bob Brown.

Write more thank you notes.
A few years back I read a wonderful little book called '365 Thank yous' by John Kralik – at the risk of sounding so clichéd – this was a book that literally changed my life, it made me reassess how I felt gratitude and what made me feel blessed.  I’ve always written thank you cards when I’ve received a gift or someone has done something nice for me, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I realised why I felt such gratitude.  Thanking others makes me feel blessed to have such lovely people in my life and how appreciative I am because of what others might have done for me.  These days’ hand written thank yous are becoming scarce as email and texting is more the norm, then last week I received a beautiful handwritten letter from a person I didn’t know but felt very grateful to have made happy.  She had read my book and it reminded her of her own trip to Nepal.  After receiving this letter, I floated on a cloud of warm-fuzzys for the next couple of days – not because she had read MY book, but because I’d brought back to her some wonderful memories of a trip she had done with family – incredibly precious memories. 

Catch lots more  butterfly kisses.

This won’t be such a hard goal at all to keep - this year…or any other year.  Those soft little hugs and butterfly kisses from my little grandbabies lighten my day and paint joy in my heart, and will make this year an incredible delight.

Ah yes,  I think these ‘resolutions’ will be achievable and if not, well I’m not going to stress too much about sinking into the depths of ‘false hope syndrome’, just as long as my office is ready in the next couple of weeks …..

Friday, 8 January 2016

Flying monks and naughty clowns - the swirl of the Jampalhakhang Drub

We're up early for day two of the oldest festival in Bhutan, the Jampalhakhang Drub - the consecration of Jampa Temple.  The night before we'd  attended the Mewang (Fire Offering) and Naked Man dance and became mesmerised by the trance-like dancing, while our necks crinked trying to find a vantage point to see the dancers and our butts froze on the ice-cold flagstone pavement of the temple courtyard when we did eventually find a front row squat spot.  I'm determine to get a front row seat first thing in the morning for day two and encourage our guide to collect us from our hotel at seven-thirty am....even though the day's swirls, twirls and trance dances are due to start at nine.  

We arrive early, along with a lot of other tourists, and peg out our perfect vantage spot. As the courtyard fills up I find myself feeling a little disappointed - most of the spectators are  tourists - western tourists - there's barely a Bhutanese person among us. We all sit there with our tri-pods, fancy SLR cameras and for many, whopping great lenses. Lens envy starts to creep up on me when I see some of these expensive fancy-pants toys.  The chanting soon starts and the festival comes to life and all thoughts of Ooh-la-la techno are soon gone as I am transported into an ancient time.

The second day of the festival is called the Tsukton (beginning) and is the 'proper' start of the festival - the dance circle has been purified by the Black Hat Dance and so now the mask dances can be preformed. 

These dances have wonderful sounding names like Yamantaka Yab-Yum Dance and the Three Wrathful Dance.  The Yamantaka Yab-Yum which is also called the Shinje Yab-Yum Cham,  is performed first  to expel evil spirits lurking about in the area. The bull-like mask is bright red with sharp horns which represent compassion.  We're told that if the dance is viewed with faith and devotion, then we will receive powerful blessings.   I would love to say that I viewed the dance with intense devotion, but the cheeky clowns wandering around the dance circle kept taking our attention and had us in fits of well as trying to catch them in photos. 

Dressed in a lairy version of what looks like mens hospital PJ's, the puce-faced masked clowns (Atsaras) wave with gay abandonment oversize bright red phalluses, teasing and gesticulating at everyone and their cameras. The lewd gestures become more and more cheeky as the clowns sing ribald songs with very eyebrow raising racy motions. Part way through the day, one of the clowns discovers we are filming the spectacular and decides to give his own dance - 'bonking' our camera.
The chief Atsara however is more than just a clown,  he is also the manager of the festival from beginning to end, making sure the dancers motions are in sequence or, if the performer makes a mistake - helps them get back on track.  If a dancers mask falls off or there's a problem with the fabulous costumes then the Atsara is there to immediately assist.

The Stag Dance (Shazam Cham) is performed next, nimble and strong, taming the earth spirits and bringing blessings for all beings.  It is a magnificent display of trance like movements and seems to go on and on.

The dances blend into one another and soon the arena is filled with mask dancers swirling and jumping, a flourish of colour and vitality.  We have no idea what the story lines are or why so many incredible dancers fill the circle but we take delight in the spectacular.
As the morning turns to afternoon we are transposed to another realm and become lost in the Lord of the Cremation Ground Dance (Durdag Cham) when  masks of white skeletons dance in slow ethereal movements.  At times they carry a large black cloth which holds a linga representing an evil spirit. The evil spirit is dissolved and sent to the pure land thus giving us, the spectators a mind free from obstructions and open to enlightenment. It's a beautiful dance and I am held spellbound.

It is getting late and we are still to visit another festival, the Prakhar Tsechu which is held at the tiny Prakhar Goemba, a good half hour drive from Jakar.  Our guide tells us that today is a practise day and that not much will be happening, there'll be no masks or costumes...all very quiet he says.  

The Goemba is perched on a tiny hillock across from a river and it is a lovely ten minute walk from the road to it, across a swing bridge. 

When we enter the courtyard of the Goemba, we are immediately held transfixed.  There are only two other tourist and a handful of local Bhutanese - some children and elderly women - watching the trance like-dance being performed by magenta robed monks.  Each of the monks hold a large drum in their hands.  They appear to all be in meditative focus, their eyes closed tight, their mouths twisted as if in pain and peace at the very same time.  

Mal and I take a seat on the grassy courtyard and watch.  They are performing the Drametse Ngacham - the Drum Dance from Drametse.  This dance was designated by UNESCO in 2005 as an 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity" - described as a tradition/living expression inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants.   An incredible dance it is considered to be sacred, symbolizing attainment and generating 'good karma to be reborn in paradise' and goes through a process of twenty-one sessions all performed in  in a meditated state, focusing on the power of compassion and visualizing the nine stages of becoming enlightened.  It is said that watching this dance in all its glory removes obstacles and brings peaceful activity to the spectators - and one's wishes will be fulfilled.   I feel an incredible sense of peace as I am pulled into the beat of the drums and watch the monks spin and fly as if in another world, a world where peace is attained.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

From Madman to Naked Man

Over peanut-butter-jelly sandwiches and French fries with a side of rubbery fried eggs for breakfast we vow to learn how to open a door again and work on our flabby arms by carrying our own bags.  An hour later I'm stifling giggles as Mal luggage-wrestles again with petit house-keepers in crisp kiras of beautiful woven thread and high silk cuffed toegos. 

We leave a mist covered Punakha early and begin a long drive into dust clouds and bone-rattling ruts all the way to Jakar.  The national highway that runs through the middle of Bhutan is undergoing major construction, turning it from dual lane to four lane - all at once!  We're told by our guide that the government has given the contract to a company who in turn has contracted the work out to many smaller companies; all of which appear to be competition with each other as to who can make the road the most dug-up, rubble filled,  need-a-monster-truck-to-drive-it road possible.  
I'm sure the country-side here is breath-takingly beautiful with abundant waterfalls cascading down the mountain side and plunging valleys filled with trees but mostly what we see is the colour of grey.   The dust covers everything and when we stop for moment of clear sky I notice that there's a film of fine grey powder covering not only the whole outside of the car, but also all the luggage in the back the car and every crevices of the dash at the front. Even my nose also needs a good industrial blow out!  
As well as all the construction work we need to navigate, our driver also has to hopscotch the tree-fellers along the road who are 'trimming' the sides.  We witness lots of creative ways to  cut overhanging branches from trees clinging to near vertical cliff-faces, there's absolutely no occupational health and safety here - cutters dangle themselves over the side of the cliffs, wedging their feet against trunks or branches as they saw away precariously with hand saws.  Or whole trees are felled onto the road and gangs of cutters chop and cut great chunks of timber into rough blocks which they then lug into tip-trucks or just 'tossed' over the side of the road and down the mountain. 
Near Pele La (a pass of 3420mts) our driver adds dodging Yaks to his navigation skills. In the valley below herds of Yaks graze on green paddocks, some making their way to the roadside where they graze and lounge without a care in the world. They are gentle looking creatures, mostly black with a few sporting white tails, but according to our guide, wild yaks are dangerous and therefore we are unable to stop for a closer look. I find myself feeling a bit sceptical about this, but make do with taking my photos of these doe-eyed beasts from inside the car. We zip past a gorgeous little stupa that reminds me of the Boudanath Stupa in Nepal - it's beautiful - and before I can yell "Stop" our guide turns around from the front seat of the car and informs us that we'll stop here on the journey back from the east and off we continue. 
We do stop however at Pele La where we jump out for a quick once around the Chorten in the middle of the road, and string a line of prayer flags to join all the other colourful flapping good wishes, then off we go again. The road works are getting worse as we bump along and just as I'm bemoaning about my sore backside I take notice of the blue tarped and corrugated iron humpys that dot parts of the roadworks.  When I first saw these huts I thought they may be equipment storage huts, but as I peered into an open door of one as we pass I am horrified to see bedding and woman and child sitting on the floor.  "People live in there?" I ask the guide.  He shrugs and says yes, the workers and sometimes their families join them.  He explains to us that many of the road workers are Indian citizens "Bhutanese people don't like to do menial work" he explains " many are well educated, this type of work is below them."   I find it hard to comprehend how the ethos of Gross National Happiness this country lives by correlates to the working and living conditions of these workers and their families. I also find myself wondering about the health effects on the workers and their families with all the dust that fills the air - surely their lungs and eyes must suffer greatly.
We arrive on the late side of noon to Trongsa - a town located in the very middle of Bhutan and the power rise of Bhutan's Monarchy.  The first kings father, Jigme Namgyal, moved to the area and rose to power in the late 1800's and ever since each of the kings prior to taking the throne are required to undertake a stint as governor (penlop) of Trongsa.   The Dzonng of Trongsa is enormous and one of the most spectacularly positioned buildings in the whole of Bhutan, perched on the side of mountain overlooking a gorge with ancient trails.
Behind it sits the watchtower and our lunch stop.  Our weary bone-rattled bodies  can barely make the few steps up to the Tower restaurant and when we sit down to eat,  I have to admit we wonder why we bothered - the food is dreadful.  I really cannot understand how an Asian/subcontinent country whose traditional dish is chock full of chillies, can cook meals so lack-lustre in taste.  It doesn't take us long to eat, our meal consists more of a beer than food and then we make way to the Royal Heritage Museum to view among the many treasures, the Raven Crown.   The official crown  of the king of Bhutan, the one sitting on display in the museum is a stunning piece of craftsmanship and needlework. And if I may be so cheeky to suggest - also an outstanding piece of sugar skull art!  The building is beautifully preserved full of winding stars and strange tiered floors and we are banned from taking our cameras into the building and leave them at the 'front' of the tower.  We are directed to follow a maze of floors and as we near the end, our guide tells us he will double back to collect our cameras and bags.  Just as we're about to exit the back door, a museum official indicates that we should go up a set of stairs to the viewing platform. We head up and are awarded a fabulous view of the Dzong and valley - stunning! 
As we wander back down the spiral stairs our guide runs smack-bang into us, thinking something is wrong we ask if there is a problem, but instead he looks embarrassed and we realise that he doesn't want us 'wandering about' by ourselves. Back at the car, we're told there is no time to look at the Dzong, that we'll stop on the way back from the east.  I'm seeing a big lists of things to see on the way back on a very long drive - I also see we'll be missing a lot of them again! We wave goodbye to cheeky monkeys striding near the tower's carpack and back on the road, bumping along to Jakar. As we near the township our guide informs us that there is not much to Jakar and that we'll be staying in the  Chokhor Valley, a distance from the town. I find this information about Jake strange and read what the guide book says about Jakar to our guide, but he insists there is nothing to see in the town itself.  We soon reach Jakar and instantly I love it - it's a quaint little place, bustling with life and lots of colourful shops, tucked in a valley and straddling the Chamkhar Chuu- I'm eager to explore it but instead we must drive through and off into the countryside to get to our hotel for the night.   Again I'm far from impressed about being roomed so far away from the town.   
The next day we're up early and hitting the Festival trail.  Today is the first day of the  Jambay Lhakhang Drup. The festival is held in a small temple called Jambay Lhakhang and is located in the heart of the Jakar valley.  built in the early 7th century, the temple is dedicated to the 'Buddha of the future' - Maitreya - and holds an annual consecration ceremony (unlike a normal consecrate at a temple or church once and that's it) with the highlight being the Naked Dance or Dorling Tercham as is its official name.  The temple is delightful, and when we arrive is a hive of activity with preparations in full swing.   Men (in full ghos) are on the rooves hanging fabric valances, next door to the temple a paddock is being turned into a market place with makeshift huts going up and tantalizing smells wafting through of roasting meats and lots of chili cheese being cooked.  
In another building tables filled with butter lamps burn brightly and when we walk in there we can only bear to stay a few minutes as the heat is extreme and the smell from the burning wicks saps away breath. But it still looks wonderful.  After exploring the temple and its surrounds we take a walk through rural farmlands to a group of temples sitting near a small hill.   These are called the Kurjey Lhakhang - a complex of three temples surrounded by 108 chortens,  each of the temples are beautiful, but its the last temple, highest up in the complex that I find the most special. 
Upon entering the inner sanctum I find that a group of monks are chanting and many people are meditating.  I join them, mainly for the need to regain touch with my inner self, but also to find peace from the claustrophobic attention our guide is bestowing upon us.   I am suffocating from his intense attention and constant watching eyes. I don't know how long I sat there staring into my navel, but soon it was time to leave as poor Mal was sitting outside under the Bhodi tree - he was totally 'templed-out'  and had decided to sit this one out.  I took a quick peek at the treasure of this temple - the hollow impression of Guru Rinpoche (apparently he sat so long in meditation that he left an indent in the rock.  When I meet up with Mal again I agree with him that at this very moment, I too am templed out and that we should go in search of a beer and try some cheese.  Jakar is famous also for it's Panda Beer of which its brewery is next door to the cheese factory.   We tell the guide we'd like to go there, but he takes us to another temple first where we are encouraged to put on some chain-mail and try and make three coras of the temple.  
I can't even lift it, but Mal gives it a go and does the coras without breaking a sweat.   We then make haste to the brewery only to find they are not undertaking tours or tasting,  we have to buy a full bottle to try.  This of course doesn't perturb Mal any, but when he takes his first sip, the noes is wrinkled up and a tight lip pull is formed.  We then pop across to the cheese factory and enjoy a small tour of the factory - unfortunately for me, the cheese misses the mark a little - although it's more like a swiss style cheese, I find I've become quite taken with the Bhutan style of feta instead.  I'm still not game enough to try the rock-hard little square cheeses we see strung up like curtain-streamers though.
Later that evening we head back to Jambay Lhakhang where we find the place absolutely teaming with people and totally unable to get anywhere near the action is taking place.   We stand on tippy-toes and hold our cameras high above our heads in hope to catch something of the dancing that is taking place (and then look at it later) but it is not until the crowd starts following a group of fire holders that we snaffle a spot near the ring.  Unfortunately there is nothing to watch as now all the action is taking place in a field on the other side of the temple. 
Malcolm wanders over to see what is going on while I 'stand guard' over our new-found spots.  Turns out the Mewang was taking place - the  fire offering.  Mal comes back all excited and tells me about how a 'bough' exploded into flames and everyone, including people carrying children on their shoulders ran under the sprays of embers.  It also turned out that just prior to the lighting of the bough, the black hat dance had taken place (an absolute highlight!) and we had missed it, although I did get a photo of a chap in his glorious outfit as he passed me on the way back to the 'green room'.  By this stage it was close to midnight and I was freezing, the temperature had dropped to frigid and try as I might, I just couldn't keep the teeth from chattering . As we readied to go, the Naked Man stormed into the ring to show off their rings to the crowds  and I can see it wasn't just my teeth that were feeling the cold.  

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Ten, nine, eight.... LAUNCH !!!!!!!!!!

It's here and happening, right now! And I'm as nervous as can be.  Tomorrow I stand up for all the world to see.  Well maybe not all the world,  but definitely a few passer-bys.    What am I talking about you ask?  Well I'm proud to write but terrified to say... Buddhas, Bombs and the Babu is no longer a dream but a reality,  it's a bright, sparkly, shiny cover wrapped around 80,000 words with a beginning and an ending and riotous trip stumbling through Nepal in the middle.  And tomorrow I do my very first Author Appearance and signing.   

But for a moment indulge me as I take you back to last week, just after we arrived back home from Nepal.... yes I know,   I haven't posted anything on Nepal the moment I'm running late with my Bhutan posts... and Nepal is next, but just for the moment  I'm going to steal a post (or two) to tell you how excited I was to arrive home and find my author copies of Buddhas, Bombs and the Babu waiting for me - all 400.

I opened the first box and stared at the lovely cover,  bright and vibrant.  I love this cover so much.  The image was painted especially for the book, by a wonderful North Coast artist - Donna Sharam - and it represents every thing that is quintessential Nepal; colour, life, strength and vibrancy.  Then it was down to work - within 24hours of arriving home,  I'd thrown a couple of boxes into the car and was making a trip around to the book shops in my area - Byron, Bangalow, Ballina....Lismore - in the hope to sell a few.  I couldn't offload a one.  Not even a single page!   Was I disappointed?  Not at all... because they had all ordered in the book and there it was, sitting on the bookshelves.   I could hardly contain my excitement. 

Books in shops, it was time to have the Launch Party, which went off with a bang last Thursday.   I was terrified no-one would turn up.  Well I knew Mal would turn up - he had too or it would have been pretty frosty at home.   And I knew Seb and GG would be there; especially if they wanted free babysitting,  but I was worried no one else would come.  

I'd booked the wonderful restaurant at our local TAFE institution - The Nightcap Restaurant - for the Launch Event where they were to serve the most delicious canapés and yummies and promised to ply everyone with wine for me.  The incredible Samba Blissters were to roll the book out with a bang and an art exhibition by the cover artist herself - Donna Sharam - would add extra colour and vitality to the night. As I watched the clock tick over while I unloaded the goodie bags and Kata scarfs I'd brought back from Nepal, I prayed to the bodhisattvas to shine their blessings down on me.  On the dot of six, the car park began to fill and lines of guests made their way up the path to be greeted with a Kata and a wish of "Happy Journeys - where ever you may travel in life".

It was an amazing night with over 100 people attending - including my Publisher - Mark Zocchi of Brolga Publishing, who announced on the night, to my absolute surprise and delight,  that the book had been sold into the UK.  Talk about shrieks of delight! 

And now it's time for the tours of the bookstores.  The lovely little book shop of Books@Stones, at Logan Road, Stones Corner is my host for my first ever book signing and author appearance and I'm very excited to be visiting this bookstore just 4kms from the very heart of Brisbane's CBD and located in the village atmosphere of Stones Corner.   I can't wait to spread out the beautiful covers for all to I have a chocky or two to entice

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Chasing a Madman

We're off to meet a madman today, though the way I'm feeling, I'm not sure if the madman would like to meet with an 'off with the fairies' lady.  It was a hellish night in our hotel at Thimphu with lots of groaning, banging of doors and running in and out of rooms - and that was just in our room.   Outside in the hallway and stairwell it was all yelling, squealing and I'm sure, stair-master time.... judging by all the pounding feet up and down the endless levels of stairs.  My earlier headache and unease back in Haa and Paro had morphed into full blown 'cranial crush', 'gut groan' and butt... well put it this way, I was visiting the little room more times than I cared too.  As the sun rose, I emerged looking like I'd had a heavy night - grog-eyed and stumbly without the enjoyment of indulging in a glass or two. 

Our guide meets us in the foyer and suggests a short hike up a hill then down dale to the Motithang Preserve -  I suggest a lay in the back seat while we drive there - this doesn't impress the guide any and he comments that I need to be doing these little hikes to get fit for Tigers Nest which we are to do at the end of our trip. As much as I could see his point, I was actually flat out seeing anything as my head is pounding and just to open my eyes actually hurts.   I stumble out to the car and lay prone as the usual luggage tug-a-war eventuates between Mal and the hotel girls - they win again.  
First stop for the day is the Motithang Takin Preserve where we are to see the 'handiwork' of the Divine Madman.  The Divine Madman - Lama Drukpa Kunley - is a Bhutan saint of great reverence, but he was also a 'kidder' with outrageous humour and 'crazy wisdom' and it is said that he magically produced the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. After eating a whole cow and a whole goat, he put the bones together to make a single animal. 

The Takin we are visiting were from the original zoo of Bhutan which was dismantled by the Fourth King in keeping with the philosophy of Buddhism and all the animals set free.  The Takin however were so tame they refused to 'run away to the bush' and instead wandered around the city of Thimphu, getting in the way, searching for food, lounging on the roadway and generally causing mayhem, so they were returned to the zoo which was made into a reservation for them... along with some deer.
Just down the road we come across a lively game of darts - Bhutanese style.  Called Khuru, the dart is an enormous timber ball with a long metal bar that looks like a lethal nail and is thrown with great gusto at a target about twenty meters or so away ('stabbed' into the ground very similar to the archery target) while people stand infront of it.  
As in Archery, a lot of intensity and concentration goes into it and just like archery, there's a lot of song and dance too.  And bravado as we watch to spectators jump out of the way of the flung dart...crazy is not the word.

The Wang Chuu falls away are we climb out of the valley that holds Thimphu and drive up towards Dochu La, past a small village and roadside stalls selling baskets and baskets of apples. Dochu La soon comes into viw - a vision of white and red brick shimmering against a 'confettied' blue sky. 
One hundred and white chortens encircled with strands and strands of prayer flags. Built in 2005 as a memorial to those who died in 2003 battle against the Assamese Separatists from India. Dochu La is also a hive of activity with multitudes of cars, busses, and trucks parked in the middle of the road and a throng of bodies milling about, taking photos of each other, of the chortens and of a large building sitting out a hill that looks like a museum.  Last night we had purchased a set of five prayer flags and I'm keen to add to the swathe of flags already covering the woodland and hillside beside the Chortens. Just before I get out of the car, I hand a roll of prayer flags to our driver - had had shared with me earlier as we walked from the Taken enclosure, that his sister-in-law had passed away, just that morning. We are devastated for him and I immediately suggest to him that he go be with his family, and I will ask the tour company for a 'step-in' driver until he returns, but he has declined.  Now I hand him the flags - although a small gesture, I hope it will convey our sincere condolences.  Mal and I follow our guide up the hill, under the strands of glorious colour to where a group of men are chanting around a small fire. "they are saying prayers" our guide tells us and we are just about to move away, when one fellow rises and gestures to us to come over and hang our flags in the wisps of smoke. "How auspicious" I whisper and eagerly unfurl the flags. As I hand one end to Mal, our guide takes it from him and directs me to stand near a tree, he ties the end he's taken, I turn and go to tie mine, but before I have a chance to finish the knot he takes the cord from me and proceeds to tie it. I'm far from impressed and feel a flash of anger - something I would never want associated with such a sacred piece.  The beautiful moment is gone.  Mal has already turned and is heading back to the car park, he too is far from happy. 
Back at the carpark Mal had come across a group of people dressed in bright orange, at first we thing they are defence, but soon learn they are the DeSuung Volunteers (Guardians of Peace and Harmony) and serve the nation and community is times of disasters and community events.     I'm eager to also go up to the building on the other side of the carpark where a lot of people are wondering up to but our guide tells us we need to get moving. We have much to do. 
The bitumen road soon becomes a dirt track and we find ourselves driving along the National Highway in full construction mode.  It's a bumpy dusty ride as well as exceedingly slow and we reach a small village called Sopsokha on the late side of lunchtime.   
As we alight the car our eyes almost jump out of our heads - the whole town is decorated in phalluses of all sizes, colours, and differing dancing stances. I want to explore and photograph the colour and hilarity but we are whisked off the restaurant to eat.  The food is a bland version of Continental done so badly, vegemite on ricecrackers is a tastier choice.   Lunch done I bound out to find the nearest dancing dick, but our guide tells me we have little time and need to take a walk through the rice fields to a temple sitting on a far side of the hillock - Chhimi Lhakhang - the temple that had been blessed by the Divine Madman after he had lulled a demoness with his magic 'thunderbolt' (hmmm, an interesting moniker for it).    We wander through the fields, watching the men thrashing the rice while the women lay the sheafs in rows.  
It's beautiful scenery, pretty green fields dotted with golden hay stacks resembling small stupas with their spire top and waving poles of white remembrance prayer flags. We arrive to the temple and find a crowd of people enjoying the beautiful scenery and a large bohdi tree, it's enormous canopy and stone sitting area offering a cool respite from the afternoon sun. Also there is Colin, having just received a 'bop' on the head from a monk who used  an ivory phallus and the Divine Madman's bow and arrow, along with a name for his soon to be born baby.  He tells us the name and it has a poetic ring. He's already rung his wife with the news.  We all leave the temple together and wander back towards Sopsokha, chatting about babies and parenthood. Our guide calls our names and indicates to us that we are going to walk in another direction through the rice terraces so we bade Colin a farewell and traipse into the fields. To our astonishment we then turn, climb up a terrace and walk almost parallel to the road.  And to Colin.  But we are too far up to continue our conversation.  I cannot believe what has happen - our guide has just isolated us. Again.  Mal and I had noted this on another occasion, in a restaurant when we were directed to sit at the far end of the room, away from all the other tourists.  At the time we thought it a little strange, but this was so obvious.  We returned to the village and the carpark, waved goodbye to Colin and continued on to visit the beautiful Punakha Dzong.  

It's magnificent.  Sitting next to a coursing river of the most vibrant green, it's claimed to be the 'most beautiful' Dzong in Bhutan.  It's definitely got the most beautiful scenery surrounding it. We stop near the fork of the river and I go to get out of the car to photograph the scene. Our guide is at the car door taking my camera as I step out.  I tell him it's right, I can carry it but he insists on taking it - across the road.  Then he raises it and takes the photo.  I'm flabbergasted. 
Inside the Dzong is stunning in every way, incredible artwork, gloriously entwined iron lacework and timber with mother-of-pearl inlay. As we wander through the corridors we turn a corner and come across a wedding being photographed.   I love how every country I stumble through I stumble upon a beautiful bride.  And here she was looking exquisite against the beauty of the magnificent whitewashed walls glinting with gold and red. 
We leave the Dzong and make our way towards an enormous swing bridge.  It's high and long but I get the jellies even thinking of walking across it so I remain at the car while Mal and our guide go for a 'swing'.   
The air is cooling and the afternoon shadows become long.  It's too late to see any of the town of Punakha so we head to our hotel which turns out to be a good half hour drive from Punakha,  or anywhere else we notice,  our hotel overlooks the river and rice fields and is well away from any towns.  It’s very pretty, but isolated. Just as we are following two very tiny woman lug our enormous bags up rows of steps and paths to our room, our guide informs us he has just received a phone call from our previous hotel in Thimphu.   I'm horrified to learn I've left my laptop there. In my earlier groggy state of altitude haze, I'd left it sitting on the table in the hotel's foyer.  Where's a Divine Madman when you need one...