Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

March 21, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

A glimpse into rarely seen Bhutan

By Sally Foster

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Where are you going?" a friend asked.

"Bhutan," I answered.

Seeing her blank expression, I explained that Bhutan is in the Himalayas, wedged between China and India. "It is sometimes called Druk Yul -- Land of the Thunder Dragon."

Only about 6,000 visitors are allowed to enter the small country each year, and they are required to be on guided tours. I signed up with Country Walkers for a nine-day walking tour of the three main areas open to tourists -- Paro, Thimphu and Punakha.

There were seven of us on the tour with two guides. The second day of the trip was my birthday. We started that day in Paro Valley, and after breakfast drove to Kyichu Lhakhang, a temple built in the seventh century.

We went through an archway into a courtyard where there were colorful prayer flags attached to long poles and smaller prayer flags hanging from a line.

We entered a small temple and sat on the floor against the wall. The Buddhist monks sitting in front of us were chanting softly. A shaft of light coming through the window highlighted their burgundy robes, and incense filled the air.

When the monks finished chanting, we followed them into the courtyard. Just outside the courtyard a woman was threshing rice. She was using a flail -- a free-swinging stick attached to the end of a longer wooden handle -- to separate the rice from its hulls. I asked her if I could try it, and she agreed.

I picked up the flail, lifted it high over my head and brought it down with a heavy whack into the container of rice. It was a little like fly-fishing (which I have never done) -- there is the same danger of getting snared by your own device. I gave a few more successful whacks and handed the flail back to the woman.

One of our guides said, "You look like you have done this before." I didn't tell him that I own an antique flail, but that I have never used it.

Later we walked into the town of Paro and saw people threshing rice against a backdrop of the Himalayas. We saw chiles drying on roofs of houses that had colorful wooden trim. And we passed women whose big smiles revealed teeth stained by years of chewing red betel nuts.

After lunch in a local restaurant, we walked up a steep path to visit Dzongdrakha Goempa. In this small temple, we each lit a butter lamp. We knew we were in a part of the world seldom seen by outsiders.

A guidebook said that in Bhutan, visitors will be "so close to heaven." Indeed, that's the way it seemed. It was the best birthday I have ever had.

Sally Foster lives in Baltimore.

My Best Shot

Dennis E. Crawford, Baltimore

Manhattan silhouettes

My wife and I took a day trip to New York City recently. While walking through Central Park, we came upon this tranquil scene in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Readers Recommend

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Adam Miller, Baltimore

During a family trip to Montego Bay, I was on the beach as the sun burned off the morning clouds and Jamaica's natural beauty shone through. It was then that I realized what a gorgeous land I was in. Looking down the coast, I could see the Caribbean, and the peaks and shadows of the distant, tree-covered mountains.

Mount Rushmore

Stephen Luckman, Baltimore

Last summer, my wife and I took a two-week driving tour through Minnesota and the Dakotas. Seeing Mount Rushmore National Memorial for the first time, in all its majesty and beauty, was an experience that exceeded our expectations.

Let Us Hear From You

We want to know about your travels, your experiences, your pictures. Here's how to participate in this page:

* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

* A Memorable Place -- In 500 words or less, tell us about a travel experience that changed you, about the nostalgia a certain place evokes, about the power of a favorite beach, the mountains, a city cafe. (Cash value: $150.)

* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

Because of the volume of responses, photos and manuscripts cannot be individually acknowledged or returned. Submissions from all categories may be used for Readers Recommend, and upon submission become the property of The Sun.

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