This is part two of an account of a study trip by a group of twelve students and a professor from Hiram College to the Kingdom of Bhutan in the spring of 2002. For a full description of the group and goals of the trip, see the beginning of the first writeup, 23 Days in Bhutan.

This is a combination of class lectures and observations in the field (in plain text) and additional writings (in monospace). All altitudes are estimates, based on atmospheric pressure. For this reason, there will occasionally be multiple altitudes given for the same location.

17 April

Today we left Thimphu, the capitol of Bhutan, located in the western part of the country, and drove east, along the single paved road connecting the country. Bhutan is a series of large valleys parallel to each other, oriented north to south. Each valley defines the vegetation and animals that inhabit it. As we left the capitol, the steep road twisted up the valley side, the vegetation becoming more and more lush, the higher we went, approaching and reaching the pass, where the road goes down in to the next valley.


Fruit trees in narrow terraces, higher up valley.

More farming of things that require better conditions are in small valleys off main valley. These valleys are isolated from the wind, rain, and cold air that hit the main valley so directly. They may also be at a better angle of incidence to the sun. In some way, they are protected.

So green, even as we get higher. And actually, as we get higher, getting greener.

We are not just going further up the valley wall, the valley is going up. That is, the distance from the top to the bottom of the valley wall remains the same, but the bottom becomes higher and higher above sea level, as we head north.

Species diversity of this valley is much higher than the valley that Paro was in, or even the lower part of this valley, in the area leading up to and around Thimphu.

And there is a higher density of plants.

Near the top of pass, there are many deciduous trees - below there were more conifers, further apart.

Hemlock. Magnolia. altitude:10,000 feet.

Warbler migration.

trees covered with epiphytes – moist.

Many birds. Junipers – little

Perhaps this area was grazed for a while.

hemlock. firs.

The air feels more humid than it did lower in the valley – it became more humid as we climbed up the valley. And cooler.

White Collared Blackbird. Greenbacked Tit.

Far more streams in the Thimphu valley than in Paro.

Clouds are coming from the other side of this pass to the Thimphu valley.

Most of the water here is from fog and clouds.

Water condenses on trees – epiphytes grow on trees.

Epiphyte load can become so heavy that it causes limbs to break off.

Hemlock have very flat needles.

Oak leaves look waxy.

Wind is coming toward Thimphu valley - it is blowing from the other side of the pass.

Big magnolia. Prevailing winds crop trees. Brachen fern.

This area has been heavily grazed.

The soil is less rocky here. Perhaps this is due to the larger quantities of plant life here. Huge rhodendrons.

This was Gochula pass. Lots of sand up top.

Yew tree. Alder.

At the top of the pass was a small shrine and large quantities of prayer flags, on poles, strewn between trees, and on the ground. This seemed to clearly be a spiritual place. And then we started down into the next valley.

It was very cloudy at the top, so we could not se far. The area appeared to be dense forest, but it was not possible to see very far. As we progressed into the valley, the view became clearer – this was a huge, lush, green valley – the largest expanse of deciduous forest that I have ever seen. The trees stretched, mostly interrupted, as far as I could see.

So green. So much diversity. And all the farming. The impact of the farming did not seem to be very significant – the farms are small, and they are very connected with the land – the farming is done by hand, without large machinery. It is about working with the land, not against it.

Fewer trees as we go north, especially on the west side of valley.

Glacial rivers. Grazing is so evident.

The valley bottom. 4410 feet – 6000 feet lower than the top.

cactus. Bananas. Eucalyptus.

The valley, lower, seems drier. Dusty. Across a bridge, a stop for lunch, then up another valley, a similar sort of progression to what we saw earlier in the day. Up, up up. Yaks! Yaks by the side of the road! To:

Lawala Pass – lots of small bamboo. 10, 917 feet.

Tamarack (or larch) tree.

We cross over the pass to a very high valley. The sun is breaking through the clouds – the quality of the light reminds me much of what San Francisco was like – Muir Woods. A few buildings are visible, as the road twists and turns on the narrow, rocky, rough dirt road that leads through this valley. On a rise, the bus stops, and we are close to the monastery of the valley, Gangtey Gompa. It sits on a wooded rise, a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. We cannot see much of it, but clearly it is special.

We continue, slowly, on the dirt road, for perhaps another half hour or forty five minutes, through a small village, a school, where the children all wave at us. They wave at us wherever we go. On the edge of the village is the hotel that we are staying at. The bus somehow made it up the rough, steep driveway. The building is of the traditional sort, heavy, sturdy, probably 600 years old.

We walk up a wood staircase to an entrance on the second floor. The building is dark inside. Inside, the heavy timbers that make up the construction are much more obvious than outside. Low doorways and small rooms, with heavy sliding shutters over the windows – this construction is built to last. The rooms are small, perhaps 8 x 10 feet, but adequate. Each room has a small, very dim, electric light, just enough to barely see in the middle of the night. Down the hall, a bathroom with cold running water.

Upstairs, on the third floor, is a common room, with relatively large windows and a wood stove. We have tea and a lecture.

lecture – Physical Environment:
Climate – key to understanding the physical environment of mountains
The four zones: equatorial; subtropical; subpolar; polar.
Low pressure areas tend to be wetter.
Von Humbolt’s altitudinal zones: hot; not so hot; cold; frigid
Same sort of systems.
Sort of – like climbing a mountain – big changes.
Day length – greater growing season. But the days here are shorter. Angle of incidence affects amount of light coming in, and mountains block light.
Amount, interesting, of UV light – damaging to all life forms. The more you protect against UV light, the less light you can take in.
Continental climate = screwed – no moderation of temperature by sea temperature.
Greater fluctuations in temperature at high altitudes.
Huge high landmass. Hot tropical air is driven over Tibetan plateau. Air cools as it rises. – Topographical Barrier – stops movement of people, animals, plants.
Mountains are ephemeral.
40-70 million years ago, India collides with Asia, subducted under Asia.
moving at 100 mm/year
40 million years ago, slows to 50 mm/year – basically forces out Southeast Asia. (no uplift)
India has moved 2000 km.
Earth’s climate changed 18 million years ago with rise of Tibet.
Sedimentary Rocks forced up. Metamorphic rocks pushing this stuff up – jagged peaks of Himalaya.
Less plant life. All Tibet is a vast desert. And tremendous monsoon on the other side – causes continuous rain for months at a time.
Absolute need for irrigation.
Plateau is the largest in the history of the Earth.
Uplift is 18mm/year.
Lots of erosion. 15 million km2 of sediment eroded in the past 8 million years from Himalaya.
The exposed rocks of the Himalaya are a Major CO2 sink – causes decrease in temperature, by silica!
The Himalaya – up 700 mm/Kyear. Down 10-20 mm/year, in places.
Grazing increases erosion.
Nature has a big effect, long term. People mess up, long term.
(end of lecture)

Reactions to today:

Wow. Huge, 5,000 foot deep valleys.

Gangtey Gompa – built in the 13th century. Being rebuilt. (call art museum)

Class is mostly boys. (at Bhutanese school)

Today we left Thimphu and headed east. Over the top of a mountain pass to some of the most green land I have ever seen.

18 April

A day in the valley we stayed in last night. A walk, in the morning, to the monastery, Gangtey Gompa, a bit of a lecture in the afternoon, and observations all the while.

The soil on valley bottom – more spongy than most of the rest of the soil that we have seen. It is springy, bouncy, almost.

Up a little, ten or twenty feet higher than the valley floor, black soil.

Must have low pH – 2-3

legumesnitrogen fixing bacteria.

Gangtey Gompa – amazing. 13th century frescoes. Row of prayer wheels around base. There is something amazing about the old structure. The intricate woodworking, the frescoes, they are all so old. The style, the character are clearly different from the newer ones we have seen, yet most, if not all, of it, is going to be destroyed. It will be documented, torn down, and then another building just like it will be built on the same site. It seems like such a shame, but what can be done? The building is falling apart. Time has taken a heavy toll.

Massive timbers sit outside, awaiting the reconstruction.

Wind blows up valley.

Lecture: Physical Factors
As wind comes across Arabian Sea, it is compressed. When air is compressed, it is warmed and rises. First it hits Tibet, Nepal, Sikhim, then Bhutan.
This area only gets about 1 meter of rain a year. At higher altitudes, snow – makes a glacier.
Glacial retreat is not retreat – it is the front end of the glacier melting.
Have to have irrigationglacial runoffto farm here - glacier makes growing possible.
More sunlight here, greater length of day, so you can grow tropical stuff.
Rice growing at 5,000 feet.
Potatoes, wheat, bananas, cactus.
Apples are a major cash crop – require a cool winter. Only grown on sides of valley – valley bottom is too cold.
Warmer = faster growth rate.
People are existing at the limitsgrowing season is short here – must be able to trade down the valley for food of higher caloric value.
Synoptic Airflow and Convectional Air Flow.
Cloud forest – clouds cooled, moisture condenses on trees, providing them with the water they need. Fog can add a lot of precipitation
North facing slopes get less sun, covered with evergreens. South facing slope – poor.
Radiation receipts – too great on south slopes.
These fields are not irrigated.
You cannot afford to have something not work for a seasonthere is a heavy reliance on family and community – this sort of climate requires a social structure that supports successful agriculture.
Grasses are fast plants – different, high metabolism. Can capture CO2 more efficiently\ – can grow in drier conditions. Where do [grass grow? – bad places – hilltops.
Trees and shrubs are more picky – fast plants are less picky.
Carbon 14paleobotany
Shift in plants
Also, pulls more moisture from Arabian Sea, heats top, change in fossils (hot surface water!) Summer upwelling. Changes entire jet stream
Why do we see so much litter? No disposal service? A multicultural thing. Theory of environmental degradation.
Forcing us to come up with models that describe what actually happens.
ESSAY: Use your own observations from journal and discussion , support one of the following myths: Last part: To what extent is the view supported a myth? 4-5 p, handwritten, double spaced.
Focus on Bhutan!
(end of lecture)


This is a glacial valley. People do have a huge influence on landscape. Monastary. Wormed wood. Steep trail going up. Greater distance between trees than in second growth. Still lots of vegetation.

The walk today seemed rather difficult. Across the valley floor, up the steep trail on the rise in the center to the monastery. The temple, so old, so amazing, and probably gone by now. Spinning prayer wheels, listening to monks blow horns, offering incense, drinking some sort of beverage, offered to us by the monks, all so… different. These people understand spirituality.

Afterwards, a walk down the hill, observing some plants along the way, meandering around the valley, back to the hotel for lunch. We visited a school in the afternoon – what an awkward experience – their method of teaching is so different, and we are so… something. We need to be a little humble. And we need to figure out how to communicate using concepts familiar to them.

A bit of rain in the late afternoon, tea, dinner, more talking, then sleep, early. When it is dark, what else is there to do?

19 April

Leaving the Gangtey valley, back on the same bumpy, jarring, dirt road. Continuing east.

Lots of bamboo – bigger here.


Glacial erratics in this valley.

Bumthang valley is smaller than the other valleys that we have been in. It is neither as deep nor as wide.

Snow at the tops of mountains.


19 April. More observations.

More animals (visible) per land than in other valleys. (This is for the Bumthang Valley.)

Sheer size of forests is amazing – 5000 foot deep valleys, covered entirely with thick deciduous forests.

Lots of young animals. (It is spring, after all.)

And dogs. There are lots of dogs.

All of this trash on the ground – almost all of it seems to come from smallish packaged foods – only occasionally is it the larger package or bottle seen.

Wood is still used for most heating and cooking.

Birds. More than I can see – so varied in song.

A raven, staring at me.

Open storage on the top floors of the houses.

Lots of garbage dumped in areas by the edge of town, without real regard for proximity to water. And it smells. (But it is the biodegradable things that smell – it would have been thus previously, before the introduction of Western goods.

Prayer flags – some say that they litter the landscape, however, they are confined to a limited area, have spiritual significance, and seem to biodegrade relatively quickly. They are generally confined to a specific area, although they are found in many places. In most places, there are so few that they degrade quickly. In the places where there are many more, they degrade more slowly, once they have fallen to the ground. This does not seem to be a significant amount of litter to me.

These descents really seem to be killing the transmission on the bus.

Occasional roadblocks, where our driver must provide documentation for the vehicle and its passengers.

Fruit trees grow well enough in some places – they are short.

It is cold outside in the morning – good for waking one up, but also for making one want to go back to sleep.

The big shift in vegetation is at the passes between valleys – radical change in species. Becomes less pronounced lower in valleys. Cloud forest effect is very obvious.

All these dogs, and almost no cats. And all they ever seem to do is sit around. And bark.

These earth structures are interesting – relationship with naturedecay.

Sunrise is much earlier than I am used to getting up.

A dark, gray, valley this is that we spend the night in. The town of Jakar. An internet café! Sigh. And also, one of the nicest hotels in the country, the Swiss Lodge.

The Swiss Lodge was built about 30 years ago by a Swiss man who traveled to Bhutan and married a Bhutanese woman. He built a Swiss style lodge, constructed in the fashion of traditional Swiss buildings. Lots of exposed wood, and vaguely more European food. This was a major vacation spot for the Bhutanese even before the national highway was built. Amazing bread and Swiss cheese. And the water from the tap may be consumed without fear!

20 April

Thinking about the paper.

Lecture: Mountain Communities
Mountain community is based on culture
Doing stuff to conserve calories – if any of the roles are changed, there are not enough calories.
Plants and animals are living at their limits.
Switzerland. Settlement in the mountains – not good land.
Earliest structures are in defendable places.
People come from Tibet and from the south.
Mountain communities are a sort of refuge.
Attitudes tend to be different – everyone has to have a role in society to survive.
No major settlements here until the 11th century. Caves are sites of the first settlements.
Cannot understand texts as historymyth is part of it – and there is truth to the myths.
Settlement patterns.
Different things in different valleys – different ecological zones. All at the same latitude, but other things affect – orientation, rain.
Terraces require communities working together.
Bhutan is not a refuge, just people in the mountains.
Markets are important – Periodic work – origins of products variable.
People respond rapidly to this – cash changes what people want.
ROADS – Most construction took place since1987 – Change
Culture – changing set of ideas and meanings. Determine how we interact with the environment. Distinct local dialects. Local community based.
Not static – accepting of change.
Religion – Tantric Buddhismspirits, witches, and the like – the environment. Experiences of living in an extreme environment. Dzongsforts, religionMountains change religion.
Buddhism affects use of livestock – helps maintain landscape? Equality, too? Preservation of mountain landscape.
Revivals in traditional music? We have spurred revival of their culture.
Interaction of culture – so much of what we know is not true. No such thing as stability.
Terraces can save Nepal. And terraces ARE saving Nepal.
Attitudes in mountain communities are more dynamic. Much of what we say is myth.
Factors that affect environment: Local conditions: Himalaya extend east to Thailand and west to Pakistan. Hindu Kush. Himalaya very different in Pakistan.
Really wet here – Separation – tropics from desert.
Monsoon. Monsoons determine climate, prevent continental climate.
Three climatic zones (in Himalaya)
  1. Southern, outer Himalaya. Sikhim. 5-6 m. of rain a year. Outer Bhutan.
  2. Inner Himalaya. Upper Sikhim, Inner Bhutan.
  3. Upper Tibetan Himalaya – really dry.
Cacti were actually planted to inhibit invasion of dzong.
Change is continuous – Von Humbolt’s models are convenient. Community as a continuum. Zones are made up to define a place.
Understanding that we are in the Eastern Himalaya.
East – Monsoon In Myanmar, with less rain, zones are 1000 m. lower.
We are in the zone of the highest trees in the world.
Transition from wet in east to dry in west.
Biggest glaciers in Himalaya are in west – Pakistan.
(end of lecture)

After the lecture, a day of hiking, to a campsite, where we will stay for the next two days. A four or five hour walk, up the Swan Valley. The trail does not seem so difficult – we are making good time. And I managed to get a watercolor done while waiting for lunch. A beautiful campsite, just by the farm, where we will be staying for the two nights.

Passed some interesting buildings on the way up, curious transitions, so different.


Igneous intrusions in some sort of rock.

Lots of bamboo, some growing higher.

This is a river valley.

Horses and other pack animals have clearly left their mark on the landscape here – wherever the land by the trail is wider, the animals have spread out, and have grazed most of the ground cover.

Bridges are… interesting.

Rain! Strong for 45 minutes, total 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Very humid here, at camp, earlier in the morning.

21 April

Clouds moving through valley and across mountains quickly (when I went into the tent to get my camera, the scene I had gone to photograph had already changed considerably.) The fancy bright yellow tents against the somber greens and grays of the valley are an interesting contrast.

This campsite has obviously been used for a while – grazed low, relatively flat. And there is marijuana growing here.

Water powered prayer wheels at many of the houses here.

Mostly coniferous forest in this valley – there is something about the relationship between the conifers and the bamboo.

Eight or so in the morning, on a field a couple hundred feet above the farmhouse, learning how the Bhutanese farm.

Burning cypress offerings first. And offering apple wine.

Chopping up dirt using angled wooden rakes.

These fields are not irrigated, and less flat.

Planting buckwheat.

Oxen are used to plow. Rocks at the edges, from the field.

Reddish black soil, terraced, a little.

These fields are only planted every five years – they are too far from the house to farm every year, and so it remains fertile.

On the lower fields, chemical fertilizers are used, since 1975.

Tossing seeds by hand, but with a precise pace and hand motion.

The soil will be plowed, to put the seeds under the soil.

The seeds will germinate in a week, be reaped in 4 months.

Lots of wild boar.

Forest over this field was cut down at least 4-5 generations ago.

Nitrogen and phosphate for fertilizer. And manure. – grows much faster, greater yield.

Growing season is 4 months for buckwheat, barley, wheat.

This is all sustenance – not for trade.

Extensive use of bamboo when something flexible is needed.

Two oxen used for plowing. Steel-edged wood plow.

Spreading fertilizer by hand.

The oxen seem so calm

Also some ashes are spread in the field.

Potatoes grow well here, but difficult to transport, thus not a cash crop. But with the road, would be good.

Boars come in big groups – 40-50. Bears too. So someone has to guard the field all night until crop is harvested.

Singing to make the oxen go more smoothly.

Oil, naturally occurring on top of the water.

Woven bamboo roofs on lesser buildings.

In home, open mud fire pit type thing and newer wood stove.

Rice with rasins, sugar, butter. Yummy.

Now I see why these ceilings are so tall – the level of the smoke from the open fire is just above the heads of these people . I, at 6 foot 8, am not so fortunate.

Construction of these windows is cool.

Note: do not pour boiling water on cuts.

looks like a Lecture.
Farm a total of about 25 acres – may be spread over 20 plots.
grubs cause a problem for wheat – do not use pesticides or herbicidesbuckwheat grows faster than weeds.
Dark soil may increase growing season.
Above a certain point, just yak herding.
Lowest plots are most intense agriculture.
Using soil enrichment 1 hectare of terraces = 1300 worker days!
Allows water to roll off
Bari terraces – do not hold water
Hket terraces – hold water
Terrace requires whole community – very high maintainence – only works in tightly bonded communities, and with cheap labor.
War does not help – terraces have washed off Italy.
Source of water: Glacial melt is good, but brings glacial flour over everything, too. And is cold.
Takes a community to build an irrigation system. And high maintainence.
Environmental hazardsearthquakes, landslides, avalanches, flooding (monsoons and glaciers)
97% of hazardous earthquakes occur in mountains – aftermath is what hurts.
These are not unexpected events – the need to prepare!
Nepal – 2 landslides per km of road / year.
(end of lecture)

Nature will overcome, eventually. 1. Landslides. 2. Glacial flour. 3. Bridges wash out. 4. Mud houses decay, stuff grows over them. 5. Roads fall off mountains. 6. terraces collapse. 7.

Gangtey Gompa was amazing – now I understand a bit more the spirituality of these places and these rites. And I believe it.

But why is there so much trash around?

All the tools seem to be about the connection to the earth.

These people are connected with the earth. They have to be. Yet they are also willing to accept change. Living in houses hundreds of years old. They have history. Perhaps we can learn something?

22 April

Hiked out of the Swan Valley, a much briefer walk, downhill, than the hike up.


ANew road is being built in the Swan Valley – gorgeous, dark, rich soil is revealed by the bulldozer. Now I see how these people can farm here, and why everything works – when you take care of the land, you get good results. And these people are using the best land for farming, not for housing.

Still lots of farming.

The road will change the way of life here. Once people can ship their goods to market, everything will change.

How long will this way of life last?

The valley will eventually change. Tourists will come in. And it will erode. And there will be more tourists.

Pine burns really fast.

It does rain quite a bit. In this valley, in the mid-afternoon, generally 3-5 pmish, though it sprinkled a bit this morning (8:30-9:00 am).

The change in the temperature between day and night is drastic – it is up in the 70s during the day and in the low 40s at night. The change at night is fast. And in the morning, warming is slow – sunrise at about 6 am, and still cool by 9. Warmer by 10, but not near peak temperature until at least noon.

Management of water is different – lots of irrigation channels, but not built and cleared like the ones in the Western USA – they are built where they fit the land well and are in harmony with the lay of the land.

The structure of the houses is one built to survive earthquakes – it is post and beam but in such a way that the beams just rest in notches, allowing movement if the land moves.

Hot showers, relaxation, and writing, at the Swiss Lodge. Troubles working the wood stoves – something about fire needing air. Oops.

23 April

It is warmer here, at the Swiss Lodge, early in the morning, than it is in the areas up in the valley where we stayed for the past two nights.

The honey here tastes wonderful, as does the cheese.

The woodwork in the houses is amazing – so nicely crafted, so planed to fit together, so connected to the people who built it.

The non-glacial valleys do not haveglacial flour in the riverbeds like the glacial valleys do – they have far more coarse rocks in their riverbeds – glaciers are needed to create glacial flour.

I have not seen any of the small mammals that I am used to – no squirrels, or anything else, really. Lots of pet dogs, and a few pet cats, but very few, if any, wild mammals. Lots of birds. And not many bigger mammals – I hear stories of wild boars and bears, but have not seen any of them. I have seen monkeys.

In Jakar, there is an internet café. Very slow, but still, it is there –there is enough demand for an internet café that it exists.

I purchased Coca-Cola yesterday, in Jakar, a 2 liter bottle, bottled in Thailand, for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Not too old.

Most of the people here drive either Indian-made minivans, really tiny things, or Indian Bajaj scooters, surprisingly similar in appearance to Vespas.

After another wonderful breakfast – the bread and cheese are so comforting, we visited two Buddhist temples and a Dzong, before continuing the drive east.

Kurjey Temple – built in the 13th-14th century.

Valley was ruled by king.

The weighing of souls. The wheel of life.

Paintings seem to be on cloth that is mounted on the walls.

Tantric Buddhist symbolism is really surreal.

So many buildings, new and old, are given corrugated steel roofs.

108 Chorten. (Auspicious number)

The following, the second temple, was a short walk from the first

First temple in Bhutan – 7th century – This one and Paro, first. Jampey Harem.

Unique festival in November. Naked Dance, at Midnight.

First monastery in Bhutan.

Earlier paintings are of different styles – this idea of a classical style is an invention.

The Dzongs are forts, built to guard valleys, beginning in the 13th and 14th centuries. They are a combination of administrative centers, where government officials work, and religious centers, with monks in residence and temples.

Wow. The dzong was amazing. So tall, so vertical.

So strange to be the first college student group to visit this country to study. So amazing.

More wood at the front of the house – as much wood there as possible. Stone at the back. More wood is more expensive.

Silverwork here is amazing. Silver does not have the shine of sterling, but is still nice.

After visiting the Jakar Dzong, we get back in the bus, and head east, again, for the village of Ura, the highest inhabited valley in Bhutan. There is a festival, with dancing, that we (and many other tourists) will witness.

The camp: This place, in Ura, is AMAZING.

All for us!

So much beauty, so much color, in this valley, which is so gray.


This place is so highbreathing is more difficult, and it is more cold.

there is a greenhouse here, the first that I have seen in this country.

The image is still fresh in my mind of the huge deciduous forest – the conifers are nice, but there is something about the scale of the forests in this country. So green, and so massive. And so much more massive than anything I have yet seen. Mile deep valleys, completely covered with lush, old growth, deciduous trees. And the government is working on reforesting more of the country!

The growing season at this altitude cannot be long.

Everything has changed, and I have not even been here that long.

Decent size microwave communications setup – just the sort of system that would be especially effective in this sort of environment – good lines of sight, expensive to set up all those wires.

The clouds seem to be coming down at about the same time as in lower valleys – 6 pm.

And it is cold earlier – starting at about 5 pm.

Oh, and it is raining lightly, too.

I can’t believe that I am being treated this way. The reception at this campsite is… how can they do a weeks work for us staying here three days. And just to make our experience a little better. The children wave at us wherever we go. Why? Why are we worth this?

Ura is very high – the highest inhabited valley in Bhutan.
Children did herding, gathering wood.
More grazing, fewer fields.
Forests similar to the Swan Valley
Potatoes are main crop, because of transportation – 1987
Altitude and attitude towards resources.
Altitude is no longer so severe, because of the transportation of energy.
You can tell everything from something’s energy budget.
Community living at margins – People will either try to get more energy or to better use the energy that they have.
Government determines how much land one can use – local officials make decisions.
Cultural tradition is more toward livestock.
Here you need a large piece of land to be able to work.
Huge community of kin-related folk.
Less personal ownership of land.
Matriarchal tradition works well here.
Simple, difficult life, until the road came through.
Movement in the Andes is easier than in these valleys.
YAKS – The only animal that can really live at this altitude.
Connection with Tibet – men develop monasteries.
We are modern day pilgrims, bringing resources from the lowlands.
Look at the style of houses.
Village elders and women hold power in these communities.
Think more about MY perceptions!
Record what I am seeing!
To what extent does environment impact culture more in Ura than in other Bhutanese communities that we have observed?
To what extent does culture impact environment more in Ura than in other Bhutanese communities that we have observed?
To what extent is the festival a reflection of environment?
OBSERVE. And use active voice!
(end of lecture)

More observations.

I have to do a book on this. And there needs to be some text – probably lists of observations.

The rain here is more of a light sprinkling, but that might just be today.

I am going to end up with so much more clothing as a result of this – Need: warmer hat; sweater or fleece; fleece pants. Other than that, I am warm. And it was so warm before. And I feel so out of touch – I should have been more prepared. Brrr.

The lights are on, but very dim. Perhaps half of the power they should have. This cold, dark, it makes for going to sleep early.

Dancing. And costumes. Wow.

24 April

Waking up to the sound of roosters and drums, low, deep drums, and some sort of tonally similar horns.

There is a greenhouse here, on this farm, the surroundings of which our camp has been set up on – the first I have seen in this country.

This valley is very cloudy – almost no direct sunlight, thus far.


Though I heard dogs, bells, and other things all night, I did not hear a single car or truck!

It is cold here – this does affect the growing season.

Government plays a very large role in life here.

In the greenhouses, they grow spinach and radishes.

Lecture: Mountain Agro-ecology:
Burning vegetation darkens soil and releases nutrients, as well as allowing soil to absorb more heat.
Chemical fertilizers speed up growth, replace organic fertilizer. Increases chances of erosion.
Need to rotate crops to increase fertility.
Grubs – crop specific. Other bugs too.
Limiting factor – determines how much will grow – those things that are not in excess in the soil.
Farmers address the limiting factor that is most severe.
More sunlight here – greater surface area allows for more heating.
South slopes can have a shorter season, because they dry out more quickly.
Potatoes need good land, but do not like a lot of water.
Cows are in house in winter, graze in summer at high altitudes – free forage.
Animals will heat house in winter. (They are kept inside the farmhouse, on the bottom floor. Their body heat warms the house.)
Forests provide fuel and wood.
1.8 tons of wheat/hectare. (2.4 hectares/ acre)
In west, with fertilizer and tractors, 3 tons/ acre.
And this is much less energy intensive.
Livestocklabor, fertilizer, fiver, food, heat.
All planting is done at precisely the same time every year.
Monks have tremendous stores of food.
Yaks do well at high altitudes.
Some gender division of labor, but more divided between adults and children.
Most electronics are brought in from Bangkok – cheaper.
(end of lecture)


These Tantric Buddhist temples are so amazing. And scary, too.

More greenhouses in town. And dang is it cold here. The sun does make a real difference – it was so much warmer for that brief period of time that the sun was not blocked by the clouds. And I feel warmer at this time today than I did at this time yesterday.

25 April

So many tourists here, at the festival – have to wonder how that affects everything.

These amazing horns.

All of it. And at least today, the dancers are wearing shoes - the sight of their bare feet on the cold stone yesterday made me feel cold!

The tourists today, at the festival – I cannot believe the manner in which they behaved – so close to the dancers, so much in their faces, grr. But the dancers seemed unfazed. Maybe. I don’t see any real change, but I have not seen these things before. I hope there isn’t too much change.

Prayer Wheels seem to be covered with some sort of animal hide… but you do have to do something with the dead animal skin.

What is the motivation of these tourists?

It seems to rain a lot here, but lightly.

People are starting to get tired of this place – the desire for American fast food.

I am happy. I started sketching the dancers, and suddenly was surrounded by mobs of children. Seriously, about 8. And the dancing was amazing. But it is so cloudy here.

So many different paces. The dancers, moving so slowly. The children, running around, firing their cap guns, almost oblivious. And the dancers continue, unaffected.

The people in this valley do seem different. More time spent inside. Far greater use of wood, for cooking and construction. Also, constant electricity. And the road.

Many different ways that the water is diverted – so much work by Man into the land.

"Arra, because it is cold."

Festival falls on same day, Tshechu, the tenth day of the year. Honoring Guru Rimpoche. The wheel of life. Witness, gaining merit by dancing, and being blessed. Imagine Guru leading dance. To recognize in Hell, see mask in present life. Wow. Demons, killing one monk each night. Subduing evils by performing different dances.

Dance of the Stag. In order to subdue hunter (evil), his assistant works with him, to kill him. Hunter is bad – killing animals is wrong. Dancing to give awareness to people. The hunter eventually repents and goes to nirvana.

Divine madman subdues witches and demons with his giant penis.

In the US, we need better stories.

26 April

Today is going to be a long day. We left Ura in the morning, and began driving west, back the way we came. Eight hours on the road, driving.

Raining towards the end of the day. And it continues as we arrive at the resort we are staying at. A nice, new place, Nicer than any we have stayed at. The design of it seems very Scandinavian.

At a very nice resort, but without electricity. Oh well. Not that I mind too much. And it does serve as quite a reminder of what we have in the USA, where we are annoyed when power is lost for a minute or two.

Most of all, it is a comfortable place to sleep.

27 April

It is an absolutely beautiful morning here. The sky is about 50% cloudy, the birds are singing, and it is warm – what a difference a little altitude makes. You just feel better at lower altitudes.

The river rose so quickly yesterday, in response to the rains. It is a narrow river, emptying a large, V-shaped valley.

After breakfast, we continue the drive west, eventually to Paro, where we started from.

The road widening work continues, most of the work applying the asphalt being done by hand. So much of the dirt leveled is just pushed over the side, creating a huge swath of erosion, from the road. Such things are necessary, for roads, anywhere, but in most places, it is not so clearly seen, covered by eventual growth of vegetation, or by concrete or other retaining walls. It is something of a shame to see the road straightened out – cuts into the amazing mountains that make up this country. But this work needs to be done – these roads are dangerous, and they need to be widened to accommodate more tourist and truck traffic. They cannot be widened easily in their present locations, given what is known about terracing, or if so, much larger landslides and deposits of dirt would result. Not everything can remain the paradise we expect it to be. But perhaps, with some international aid, road work could be done in a more ecologically sound manner?

This is the first night I have slept in this country without being woken up by the sound of barking dogs. I woke up a few times to the sound of the river, but never to barking dogs.

This is the first vegetarian restaurant that we have eaten at in Bhutan. And it is strange – I did not see the "No Meat" sign at first, and just assumed that certain things were meat – bamboo shoots, bean protein, and the like – And all of them tasted good! Not great, like a big juicy steak, but most certainly as good as any of the meat that we have had on this trip.

Rocks are slippery.

The variety of flowers grown here, so many of which are already blooming, and which are blooming early by our standards, is really surprising. This is an interesting climate.

There is a greenhouse here, for growing flowers.

The rocks in the river are mostly large boulders. Many show considerable erosion as the result of water, in their present position.

Rebuilding the temple at Punakha – wow.

Just used the internet café in Thimphu – this is so weird. And I still obsess about E2. And Lauren. If only she lived closer. Or I lived closer to her. I should invite her on this crazy trek. I really should. Sigh.

Right now, I am so confused about everything. This trip has just changed everything. Everything seems so different. Everything.

The inside of the prayer hall in the Dzong at Punakha just blew my mind, and it is not even finished – not that I will be able to go in once it is complete. The inside was, quite simply, beyond comprehension – so colorful, so much detail, and so contemporary. So huge and majestic. And all created by hand. Part of the difference between this and the European cathedrals is the use of color – these buildings are so bright, so covered with gold and bright colors. And they are covered with color – inside, most every surface, save the floor, is brightly colored. Really.

Still reading? Part three is The Trek to Jomalhari.

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