Monday, April 28, 2014

Bhutan: retrospectively

I had no desire to write anything when I was in Bhutan.  Photography tours tend to do that - at least that was my experience with Patagonia as well. If you have a spare minute, which you rarely do, you want to edit more photos.

What did I think of Bhutan? Firstly,  It is sparsely populated.  There are more people in Kathmandu than in the entire country of Bhutan (pop: 700K) by a factor of three.  Secondly, there is one road that goes across it east to west, and aside from the far south that borders India, it is extremely mountainous.  Read: hair-pin-turn-sheer-drops-always-under-construction-landslides road. The scenery is beautiful, but pretty homogenous. Magnolias, rhododendrons, and beautiful orange ferns growing on old gnarled trees. But days and days and days of this.

For photography it's a wonderful place as there is no shortage of dzongs (the monastery and temple combinations) 

and ornate doorways for monks to walk through.  

Beautiful doorway. Monk.
Did I mention the prayer flags and stupas? 
Prayer Flags
Incredible amounts of both. And the baby stupas!! I like to speak in my baby voice when I speak of them as Arjen can attest to because they are so damn cute. Only an inch or two tall.

Baby Stupas!
But Bhutan really reminded me a lot of Mongolia - the opposite in terms of topography - steep high mountains versus open steppe,  But the kind of place that time really hasn't caught up with yet.  Lots of seemingly unending undeveloped open spaces, not a ton to see, but a vastness to be experienced. If their high fees and limited visas continue, which it seems they will, then I suspect it will remain like this for some time to come. Fishing is illegal, rock climbing is illegal, other things I have forgotten.

Some interesting tidbits: hydro electric power is their main export and it goes entirely to India. India gives Bhutan large subsidies to keep it that way and to keep China out. We would be told how a whole town had burned down - three times no less. When I asked where the money came from to rebuild it, the answer was the government - from Indian subsidies. Also of interest, the laborers are all Indian as well. There's a two year road building program that brings over Indian workers because they can make more money there, and apparently Bhutanese don't know how to build roads. ?Interestingly I also just learned that all of the hydro electric power from Nepal is also sold to India - and then India sells it back to Nepal at a 3 rupee mark-up! This is why Nepal has such a shortage of power and it is off for 10 hours each day in Kathmandu.

I'm going to have to say the quality of construction is poor. Not of the local farmhouses, those seem very well made, but of the the tourist accommodations. The buildings are fine-ish, but I can attest first hand to the lack of skilled labor - specifically plumbing and electrical.  Open wiring with uncovered splices for the fans inside more showers than I can count. Inside the shower! Where water is spraying on them! One night I went to turn off the bathroom light and got a massive shock. Another time I unplugged the phone and then plugged it back in, but it wouldn't stop making a ringing noise so I picked up the receiver and sparks flew out of the side and it started burning! That was hysterical. I'm still laughing about it remembering it now. That was the same room whose hot water heater didn't work and had wires coming out of the end of it and they told us we just needed to wait a little longer. Another time in a "high end" brand new hotel I thought the bathroom smelled terrible so I asked Arjen and he confirmed it was raw sewage. We asked for another room but instead they said they fixed it... which was clearly not possible without venting the main stack and resealing the toilet. Needless to say we went back in to a strong stench of ammonia which 15 minutes later was back to raw sewage. So we moved rooms. You can see why the rest of the group thought we had very bad luck with rooms. We did.

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