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Friday, May 11, 2012

Black-Necked Cranes Bring Good Luck

The first morning of Losar (Bhutanese/Tibetan New Years), as usual little Jimmy refused to let us sleep in and he woke us with the rising sun.  Since we arrived in Gangtey late, I would have begged for more sleep, but I felt so excited for no good reason that I eagerly got out of bed to follow the flurry feeling, which led me outside.  As my eyes adjusted to the bright sun, my jaw slowly dropped to discover that I had slept all night next to the most breathtaking views of deep picturesque valleys that pushed back soaring green mountains.  My eyes had never seen anything like it before and when I told Sonam that her family had million dollar views, she laughed so hard trying to wrap her mind around my statement.  We brushed our teeth and washed our face outside with a bucket of hot water heated from the bhukari and I just couldn’t wait for that feeling in my stomach that something great was around the corner to actually occur.  Even the freezing cold temperature couldn’t pierce my bones because I was on fire with excitement.
Sonam Serving Thub

In the kitchen, I discovered that all her family (sister, brother, grandfather, neighbors, Norbu, kids, monk uncles…) had come over for the Losar and they were all huddled around the bhukari (woodstove).  My prediction that something great was about to happen was finally coming to the surface as her family squeezed me into the circle.  I warmed myself next to the blazing bhukari and exchanged smiles with all the warm faces that were nodding at me.  Although I didn’t really know anyone yet, I somehow felt like I belonged. 

No more food 
Maybe it had something to do with the never-ending feast of traditional Bhutanese food they placed in front of me including the bottomless consumption of thub.  Thub is a thick porridge with tofu, rice and ginger that is usually served on special occasions.  At first, I wasn’t too crazy for the chunky texture, but after Sonam’s mom filled my bowl up for the third time, I started to acquire the taste and I downed it like sweet tea.  Sonam’s mom and sister are amazing cooks and I ate like I was a starving person.  After every serving, I would lean back holding my stomach, moaning from being so full and begging Sonam not to give me any more food.  However, as long as I was sitting next to the bhukari, my jaws were always chomping away on something: Bhutanese cookies, loam, home-made French fries, gondo, red rice, nor sha, chillie etc.  I credit this week as the onset of my weight gain in Bhutan.

After breakfast, Sonam’s family and I stuffed ourselves into Sonam’s little blue car to go see the black-necked cranes.  I somehow made up this belief that seeing them was good luck, which produced a burning desire in me to have just one glimpse of them.  If you read my last blog, then you know that some Bhutanese people believe that how your Losar turns out is an indication of how your year will be.  Therefore, I really wanted to see them in order to spark a great year of good luck, which I know first hand that you can create what you believe in. 

Archery is Bhutan's National Sport
On our way to see the birds, we discovered that a big archery match was taking place in Sonam’s village.  Since I had never seen an archery match before, we stopped to watch it and I was like a kid in a candy store.  I don’t know what over takes me at times, but I frequently become a funny looking news reporter in Bhutan.  I whipped out my camcorder and before Sonam and her monk brother, Dorji, knew what I was doing, they became part of my documentary about Bhutan’s national sport. 

Furthermore, while I was asking one of the players some questions, without thinking I joyfully asked him if I could try shooting his bow and arrow.  He looked at me like I was crazy and walked away in the middle of my next sentence.  Sonam and I couldn’t help but giggle as I was left dumbfounded on film.  Then Sonam explained to me that some players would never let others, especially women, touch their bow and arrows because they think that it might bring it bad luck.  Fortunately, a couple of Sonam’s uncles were playing in the archery match and they weren’t superstitious; they gladly let me interview them as well as examine their bow and arrows.  We had a blast laughing and joking around.  I was even encouraged to join in a traditional circle dance put on by the local women to entertain the audience.  The sight of me in my black pants, a bright red turtleneck and snow boots amongst pretty kiras trying to pick up the steps made everyone watching laugh and clap.  I like to think that everyone was able to feel how happy I was to be in Gangtey, Bhutan.

Thrung Thrungs
A few hours later, six of us piled back into Sonam’s mini car and we were on a mission to find the black-necked cranes that fly to the neighboring village in Phobjikha for their winter habitat.  In Bhutan, black-necked cranes are called thrung thrungs and are featured in their songs, paintings, poetry, stories, etc.   The way that they are revered in Bhutan makes me think of them as magical birds and I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to observe them in their natural habitat; they are found in certain areas of Bhutan, Tibet, China and India. 

Jimmy was also eager to see them and once again he would hang his body out of the car and make the most believable birdcalls I have ever heard.  A couple of times his birdcalls would trick me into thinking that it was a real black-necked crane and I would jump into a frenzy searching for them, which caused everyone in the car to chuckle.  I think that my melodrama over the birds was contagious because the car felt like a box of fermented excitement.   I thought that it was very sweet how everyone was so thrilled for me to see the black-necked cranes for the very first time. 

V Formation 
After a few moments of driving with all our heads hanging out of the window searching for them down in the valleys, we started to hear their loud, honking birdcalls.  Instantly our heads snapped back and forth across the valley trying to locate where the noises were coming from.  A couple of times I would shout, “I see a black-necked crane” and Sonam would say, “No, that’s a car driving in the distance... No that’s a cat.”  Basically, I was mistaking everything for a black-necked crane.  Finally, to all our amazement we realized that the calls were coming from directly above our heads.  Sonam stopped in the middle of the dirt road and screamed at me to get out of the car at once to film them because it was rare to be so close to so many of them.  I couldn’t believe how big they were (3 feet) like fat turkeys with long rich black necks and tails.  I filmed them with awe as they flew into perfect V formations all around us and I hoped they wouldn’t poop on my head.

I'm hiding behind a tree taking pictures
After they flew away, Sonam said that we were lucky to be that close to them and I knew that my lingering excitement could get me even luckier.  That’s when I spotted a couple of them land in some farmland several hundred feet off the road.  Sonam said that if I went alone to film them, then I would have a better chance because it would be quieter and Jimmy reluctantly stayed behind.  So I immediately jumped over a fence with my camcorder and all the way down the plot of dirt to the black-necked cranes, I ducked behind trees and bushes, rolled down a hill and even fell over a huge stone trying to get closer to them without scaring them away.  As I filmed them while hiding in tall grass, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself because I felt like I was working for National Geographic making some kind of rare footage.  Finally, when I was about 30 feet from them, the black-necked cranes spotted me inching closer and they flew away with their long black tipped wings.  Then I came out of hiding waving goodbye to them. 

Goodbye Cranes
Strangely, I felt sad and happy at the same time.  It had been such a thrill to see these beautiful birds that I felt a little somber with each geese-like call that grew fainter in the distance reminding me that my adventure for the day was coming to an end.  On the other hand, I felt extremely blessed to soak in what I perceived as good luck: observing them stream across the sky until I could no longer see them like a lost balloon being taken over by the wind.  I stayed mostly in a vortex of happiness and I felt good about going back to the car to end the day.  However, when I turned around to head back to the road, I was embarrassed to discover that a group of villagers had gathered to observe what this weird Californian was doing jumping in and out of the bushes waving to birds in a crop plantation.  Although I was blushing, I waved to the villagers, had another good laugh at myself and trampled my way through the dirt trying not to stomp on their unsowed rows as they started at me all the way to my getaway car. 

Little Jimmy sees some
Black-necked cranes
When I got back to the car, I was limping from the fall over the stone and everything about me was dusty looking except my cheesy white smile about getting close up pictures of the birds.  Everyone in the car cheered for me and Sonam told me that the black-necked cranes adventure was not over yet; we were headed to the Black-Necked Crane Information Center to view them through big telescopes.  It was pretty darn cool to say the least.  I learned a lot about the black-necked cranes and I wanted to wrap my arms around them to protect them from any harm.  At the end of the adventure, we made a toast to the black-necked cranes and in my documentary about them (which I can’t upload with my internet here) I asked anyone and everyone to please protect the black-necked cranes by preserving their summer habitats, such as in China and their winter habitats in Bhutan and by not collecting their eggs…

A Casted Love Spell
After we left the center, I felt like the black-necked cranes casted a love spell on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about them.  I wondered if the Chinese would be kind to them and their summer habitats.  I worried if their numbers would decrease as Bhutan development increases and my heart raced just thinking about the black-necked cranes future being in possible danger.  I even pondered about what a tattoo of them would look like (Mom, relax, I said “pondered”).  On and on my mind swam around in thoughts about these heavenly birds and at the end of the day all I could do was pray for the continual survival of these beautiful creatures that have made their way into the Bhutanese culture and now into my heart. 

Cheers to the black-necked cranes
Furthermore, after reflecting about the day, I have no doubt that the excited feeling I woke up with was the awaken part of me that sensed what lay ahead of me: experiencing authentic Bhutanese culture, finding my way into a Bhutanese family, partaking in an archery match and sighting black-necked cranes.  Moreover, according to my first day of Losar, my year is going to be filled with adventures in Bhutan and hopefully lots of good luck.  In fact, I can’t wait to see the black-necked cranes when they come back to Bhutan in November because I created a new belief that if you see them circumambulating the Gangtey Monastery, it will bring you good luck for the rest of your life.  This means I can’t leave Bhutan until I get to witness this.  If you also want good luck from the black-necked cranes, then the next time you have a good drink, cheers to the black-necked cranes, which will surely bring you good luck (Ok, I made that one up too).  However, it’s what you believe in that can or cannot bring you good luck, so cheers to the black-necked cranes…



  1. Glad that you liked the Losar. Yes you are surely going to have a wonderful year in Bhutan. Liked all your posts but eagerly waiting for the post about your 1st stone bath. Can't stop laughing when I think about

    1. Wow is this my friend who is in all my blog stories finally commenting on my blog lol? Yes, I think that I need your help writing about the stone bath because there is no way I can covey the full hysteria about the misunderstanding and how we cried laughing so hard when we viewed the film. hahah XOXO

  2. Dad and I just read your post and we love the slideshow.I like the music it sounds peaceful. Your trip to Sonams parents house and to see the cranes looks like you all had fun.I love the picture of the six cranes in v formation it looks like it could be a poster.And the the pictures of Jimmy are cute. Dad said wow the arrows are made in the USA.Can"t wait for your next blog it looks like its going to be interesting about your stone bath. Well goodbye for now,we love you lots Mom & Dad ps if you haven't heard you have a new baby boy cousin Vanessa is a mommy now born May 11 . he has a lot of hair and he is really cute.

    1. Thanks Mom and Dad. I knew that you two bird watchers would like the pictures of the black-necked cranes. I wish that I could upload the video for you guys. Tell Vanessa I said Congrads... Love you all...

  3. Yeah, Black- Necked Crane are exotic and beautiful. Now that it is your lucky charm to stay more number of days in Bhutan, I hope you get to see more of such extraordinary creatures and make a memorable memories. :D

  4. Yeah someone agrees with me lol. Thanks so much! I read some of your poetry today posted on your blog. It was really beautiful and I liked your teachers day poem. You should write a poem about exotic black-necked cranes.

  5. So much fun reading this blog the cranes are beautiful and jimmy is so adoreable.So much to do and see there it never ends its a great place to visit.I know Sonam is having a great time having you there cause you are one in a million to have around.There is no one like you,Such a special person.So funny.Keep them laughing!

    1. Geez Tia that was so sweet of you to say. You are one in a million too. I miss you!

  6. Ya those cranes are tight! I was thinking half way threw the story that they would make a tight tat lol & you already thought it! Lol!

    1. LOL you should so get a tattoo of a black-necked crane. That would be funny!

  7. Lol I was seriously thinking about it!