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A Mountain Top Birthday Celebration in Bhutan

How (Not) to Order a Birthday Cake, Have Prayers for Presents, and Drink Cold Creek Water Instead


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Kuzoozangpo La - Greetings!

Have you ever been to Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, otherwise known as the country which invented the Gross National Happiness? Well, there is so much to say about our adventures there, but for now Suni is reminiscing her birthday up a freezing mountain, in (a kind of) verse:

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Bhutan Birthday Poem

Raining teardrops down from the sky,
Our tent closed and packed and dry,
Seeking shelter with Mum and Dad,
I slept to the music of the stars.

A star brightened in the morning light,
For me the future seemed very bright.
The mountain path opened up for me,
The day I turned 3 x 3 !!!

Blue Sky.
Shadowing the green grass.
White mountains.
Dipped in coconut flakes.
Flags. 
Like raindrops against the sunlight, carrying prayers of hope and peace.
Wind. 
A burst of ocean spray.
Me. And my ninth birthday.

Our camp. Amidst the woods.
The river. Sparkling clear.
A star must have left its shining light,
In the current of sweeping waters.

Suprise! Suprise!
How can it be?
A birthday cake, 
Just for me!

One candle,
Like a flickering star,
Celebrating,
The most joyful birthday so far.

by Suni Ho

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Absolutely Suni, it is not every day that one wakes up on a high mountain with snow-capped peaks on the horizon. Especially with a birthday to celebrate!

We started our three-day trek from Paro to Thimphu - the capital, the day before. Bhutan has some of the eastern peaks of the Himalaya, the highest being Jomolhari at 7,326m. Luckily the horses and mules carried all the gears so we only had to carry our day packs. For several hours, we walked through towering blue pine and fir trees. It was hard going up the mountain because of the high altitude so we had lots of little breaks. 

Suni did a superb job of climbing to the top of the mountain, but also of taming a white horse on the way with her apple at lunch time. Aslan, the name she gave the horse, even let her touch its mane and face.

Not far to go to  Jili Dzong (3570m, in the background)

Not far to go to Jili Dzong (3570m, in the background)

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When we reached Jili Dzong at the summit (3570m), the sun suddenly disappeared and it quickly turned windy and cold. (A dzong is a fortress, administrative centre, temple, monks’s accommodation, all in one.) At our campsite, it got even colder but we huddled in the dining tent where we were served finger-licking good popcorn and hot butter tea, which Suni burned her tongue with in eagerness.

We went to bed right after a dinner fit for kings. Being very tropical creatures, some of us put on all the warm clothes that we had and couldn’t move or even scratch ourselves in the -200C North Face sleeping bags and had to wiggle out to peel some layers off. The high-altitude tablets taken before obvious did not work as, during night, we were gasping for air like fish thrashing on a chopping board.

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Stepping out of the tent in the morning and onto frosted grass, we were greeted by two dogs which had followed us since the day before. They must have slept in the guides’ tent and sufficiently charmed them as later on one of the guides decided to adopt the cute grey poodle (in the photo).

We had breakfast with yaks grazing around us but were warned not to get too close to them even though they were domesticated. Climbing up to the summit from our campsite, Suni hung up colourful flags that she had carried in her bag like treasures. The prayers (printed on the flags) would be carried all around the world by the wind.

The morning was glorious with blue sky and just enough white clouds. The majestic Jomolhari again appeared among other snow-capped peaks but we suppressed our yearning as getting closer to it would be a much tougher 12-day trek.

It was a sad goodbye as we descended the mountain but we were soon calmed down by the fragrant pine trees and the stillness of the mountain paths.

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For our birthday dinner banquet, we broke a rule and quite enjoyed the meat among sumptuous other dishes. And did we need all the extra ema dashi - the ubiquitous national dish of chilli cheese - as well to keep us warm? (Chilli by itself is a dish, not a condiment, in Bhutan.)

A wonderful surprise came in the form of a birthday cake that the cook somehow managed to make with his trekking supplies. Lop-sided it was but it came complete with a chunk of candle the size of Suni’s toe, and was surprisingly delicious with cashew nuts and chocolate.

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Waking up to the gurgling of the crystal clear water in the creek, mounting a mule for a photo, and meeting lovely smiling school children in elegant traditional costumes completed our unforgettable birthday in Bhutan.

That's all for now. Thank you for reading! Our next post may be about cruising down the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar or cycling the back roads of Angkor. Who knows? (Our last post on Yangon and Mandalay is on the right column.)

The Wind Riders

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Posted by The Wind Riders 16:10 Archived in Bhutan Tagged trekking asia bhutan paro himalaya travel_photography dzong family_travel thimphu jomolhari jili_dzong land_of_the_thunder_dragon ema_dashi Comments (0)

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