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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Eastern Bhutan - Magical Clouds

Tang Valley, Bumthang
During my break, I traveled around Eastern Bhutan becoming intoxicated by the different sceneries: vibrant forests, engulfing clouds, enchanting waterfalls, crumbling dirt roads, etc.  I weaved around mountains that soared toward the sky daring to surpass the clouds.  I fell in love with the green landscapes of rice patties and valleys of farmlands.  At times it was overpoweringly breathtaking, magical and a little scary to dangle my life around ticking landslides. 


On my trip, I discovered that eastern Bhutan’s vegetation differs from my location in central Bhutan.  As I traveled further away from Bumthang leaving behind the flat valley and gorgeous blue pine trees, I was hypnotized by the infinite variety of green leaves that consumed the mountains of eastern Bhutan.  There were vines that trailed along anything they could reach and I admired the way they bravely draped down the sides of the roads trying to grab hold of the passing vehicles.  There were wild looking bushes that looked madly tangled as if they were strangling something and they looked impossible to walk through.  Of course there were also a variety of trees:  tall, small, fat, skinny, etc.  Sometimes from afar, the condense trees looked like heads of broccoli covering the mountains.  However, the best part were the dozens of breathtaking waterfalls that would pop out when I would least expect it as we veered around a corner.  The shooting waterfalls looked like something out of an exotic travel magazine and they never failed to throw me into a snapping, picture frenzy.


I enjoyed the long drive to Trashigang feeling at one with the usual scene of never-ending, staggering 3-D mountains that were often separated by violently swift rivers cutting between the bases.  Sometimes the mountains blended together and I wasn’t sure where one started or ended; I had no idea how I would be on one mountain one moment and then on another mountain the next moment. 

Once in Trashigang, I was surprised to find an environment humid and rich with buzzing insects and thirsty leaches.  My skin became covered with itchy insect bites and I was struggling to breathe the sticky, thick heat.  Moreover, some of the passing cows would freak me out when I would get a glimpse of their necks/backs profusely bleeding from blood sucking leaches tearing into their skin.


Enchanting Rainbow
As I traveled further up to Barsham the air became lighter as well as cooler and I felt blessed to stay the night in a gorgeous monastery.  The monastery had amazing views looking down at tiny villages dressing the slopes of the mountains and my eyes seemed to stretch for miles.  I could also see what looked like the wettest mountains in the world being hammered down under a rain cloud.  However, I wanted more views, which caused me to wish that I could fly across the mountaintops for an aerial view of it all.

I could have easily stayed forever to gaze at the most capturing rainbows that would suddenly appear to steal the scene and make the mountains look like fuzzy backdrops.  Everyone would stop in their tracks to be absorbed into the rainbows enchanting beauty.  Thus, leaving Barsham was difficult because I had fallen in love with the cloudy sky that would sometimes permit the most magnificent views. 


Barer Mountains
Next as I traveled northeast to see the Chorten Kora and Gompkor I was shocked to discover a barer part of Bhutan with sad, small looking trees that were widely scattered apart along drier mountains.  The puny trees had such huge gaps from one tree to the next that I could actually see the weeds and dirt that compiled the mountains.  In addition, other parts of the mountains were rocky and jagged, which didn’t feel like the green Bhutan I adored; my eyes preferred the more life infused jungle-looking areas (beauty is in the eye of the beholder).


Clearing Landslides
Falling Rocks
Road block
Finally, as I traveled southeast to Wamrong, the adventure really started to heighten.  The unpaved roads didn’t provide the easiest travel during monsoon season.  The roads were muddy and rocky screaming DANGER.  At times they became extremely narrow allowing only one passing vehicle and there was messy evidence of landslides everywhere littering the weary dirt roads: fallen piles of dirt, monster roots attached to old trees snapped in half, rocks of every size imaginable, shredded shrubs, etc.  The erosion brought all vehicles to hour long road blocks while Indian workers conducted back aching, grueling labor to clear the way.  On the side of the road while we waited for the removal of the debris, I would gaze up at bare mountainsides realizing that they were missing half of their vegetation from the landslides.  It looked like a giant had used a gigantic spoon to scoop out a side of the mountain and it reminded me that nature is stronger than man; I was aware that at any moment the continuous rain could cause more landslides to come plummeting onto the bus squishing everyone to the size of an ant.

Eerie Roads
Furthermore, the roads were engulfed in fog that gave the most eerie feeling that we were creeping through a death trap and gambling our life with every passing foot.  The bus slowly lurked by boulders larger than me that had tumbled down from the top of the mountain, which my Bhutanese friends refer to as "shooting stones."  Although I should have been shaking in fear, I took comfort in the smell of the fresh, upheaval dirt and stones that had been washed down the mountain being exposed to the sky for the very first time; the smell reminded me of the nutrient-rich soil my dad would buy at a hardware store for gardening.  The memories of my love for gardening with my family gave me enough courage to stick my head out the window to peer down hundreds of feet of crumbling mountain, which caused me to wonder what the statistics were for buses falling off mountains in Bhutan.  I hoped that the fragile dirt roads carved out of the mountainsides were strong enough to hold up the massive weight of the bus filled with people and luggage.


I was relieved to reach Wamrong in one piece where I nested on the very top of a mountain.  The first few days it continuously rained and remained dreary with fog, yet at times it had a romantic appeal to it.  However, I was worried that I wouldn’t get to see anything since the fog would only permit a few feet of visibility.  I wished with every fiber of my body for the fog to go away so I could witness what I had been yearning to see ever since a tourist had peaked my interest about the enchantment of the clouds in eastern Bhutan. 

So on my last day in Wamrong, I could no longer take the never-ending wet fog and rain that seemed to imprison me indoors.  I was restless and bursting for something to happen.  Then, as if an angel heard my relentless wishes, like magic the rain stopped and the fog vanished.  Suddenly the baby blue of the sky reappeared and I rushed outside to feel the warmth of the sunrays.  Finally, I could clearly gauge that I was hundreds of feet above sea level and I felt like I was on top of the world.  I knew that this was the perfect place to experience what I had been dreaming about for weeks:  The magic of the clouds!

For over an hour, I sat outside and silently watched the clouds perform their most sacred rituals right in front of my face.  I was swept away by the movement of the clouds floating by like wispy, white cotton candy being slowly devoured.  Sometimes the clouds traveled vertically up like thick smoke mysteriously rising from nowhere between the mountains and then disappearing into the heavens.  At other times, they descended and slowly dissolved into the vegetation of the slopes.  I loved observing the way they changed shapes within minutes and their swiftness commanded my respect.  I also loved the way they showed off their enormous size by casting dark shadows across entire mountainsides. 

The clouds were the whitest of white against the pure blue sky and I couldn’t believe that I was so close to them while standing on soil.  Everywhere I turned fluffy cotton balls surrounded me and I didn’t know which one to focus on: some were below me, above me, behind me and at eyes level.  At times I felt like I was living in the sky or maybe even heaven.  Furthermore, the surrounding clouds made me smile thinking about the story “Jack in the Bean Stalk,” which I had just read to my students; I felt like I had climbed high up a magical beanstalk arriving at a fairytale village in the sky.  I now think that the story has a real setting: The villages high in the Himalayan Mountains of eastern Bhutan.  

Unfortunately, the show seemed to end when all the clouds started to merge together and out of nowhere a large gray blanket of fog rushed in joining forces with every cloud in sight.  Once more the blue sky as well as the sun were hidden away and a chill pierced the air.  In a blink, the gray foggy cloud covered everything including me indicating that this cloud was here to stay for a bit and it was time for more rain.  So I relentlessly went back inside. 

I sat on the bed in bewilderment wondering what just happened to the magical show I had been enjoying seconds before.  Then I realized that it wasn’t quite over.  I noticed the thick clouds slowly creeping into the open widows and stretching their foggy looking fingers across the room to penetrate the walls and dampen everything in its way.  The show only ended when I shut the windows after the cloud gave me a big wet kiss on my nose and started to swallow me up.   

All over the world a cloud is a cloud, but I swear the clouds of eastern Bhutan seem different: they are spellbinding and supernatural.  I often hear people boast about how spectacular Bhutan’s mountains and wildlife are, but I rarely hear people vaunting about the clouds of Bhutan.  I found the clouds to be just as alive as the monkeys in the trees and they were no doubt a special part of the mountain as well as the country.  

After my experience observing Bhutan’s clouds, I view them as the life givers of the forest and all living organisms:  they carry gallons of water to the mountaintops releasing it to be carried away to the land below turning it a variety shades of green.  It’s amazing to know that all who drink its life force into their bodies experience the majestic clouds.  It was a joy and a blessing to have been literally touched by the mystic clouds of eastern Bhutan and it was my favorite part of my trip.


Sherubtse College, Kanglung
Lastly, as I headed back to central Bhutan, I made a stop by the famous Sherubtse College in Kanglung.  I found Kanglung to be a neatly manicured place that gave off a different vibe than any village I have been to in Bhutan: an unexplainable energy of excitement and innovation.  The college was vacant of students who left for summer break and I felt that this wouldn’t be my only visit because I definitely want to observe this place in full action.  So Kanglung, I will be returning!
Chumey, Bumthang


Overall, eastern Bhutan was beautiful and different from my home in Chumey, Bumthang.  I like the east for many different reasons, but it felt nice to come back to my little village with familiar scenery.  I came back appreciating waking up to pretty “Christmas trees,” roadsides of ferns, clear skies, cool air, flat paved roads, no insect bites and my favorite emerald river.  Sometimes there is no place like home.  I love You, Chumey, Bumthang!

Slideshow of Summer Break in Bhutan


  1. Bhutan is Paradise.
    Loved your video.
    You look beautiful!

    1. Awe I'm sure your Paradise misses you and I'm so happy that I get to share pretty pictures of your country with you. I can't wait to see you in November!

  2. Beautiful views of Bhutan.Places you will carry with you forever.I have to admit the rockslides would scare me! I like the clouds, funny Dad and I were admiring our clouds here last weekend they were orange from the sunset. I"m sure the eye level fluffy clouds were just beautiful can only Mom

    1. Actually the way one of the bus drivers was driving crazy around the edges would have scared you more than the landslides lol. The clouds are amazing and I didn't get to take the best pictures of them because I was so wrapped up in observing them. Love you!

  3. Wow I loved the pictures and your slideshow was great I loved it.You have a huge beautiful garden all the time.Its beautiful there it remindes me of Flores at times.Its so amazing Im mesmorized by the whole story and pictures.Paradise alright!Love you miss you!

  4. Ya the little villages with dirt roads, stone walls and roaming cows reminds me of Flores too. They even have hydrangeas here too, which really reminds me of grandma. Show grandma the pictures! Love ya all!

  5. wow! your adventures are so awesome!

    1. Wow....That place has great scenery! Sure beats Torrey Pines. Hope you are safe and Well.:-).

    2. Awe I miss Torrey Pines and Froggy... Ok and u too but just sometimes haha lol. Anyways, I'm doing good and I hope you all are doing well. xoxo

  6. Pretty tight! That scenery is hella nice. You are lucky!! People only see that on tv or in national geographic. Enjoy.