Today we made the 5-hour trip from Thimpu to Gangtey. We started out with a blessing for a safe journey by a monk, who chanted something, tied a white piece of string around our neck and gave each of us a little holy water to drink and put on our heads. We were told to keep the string around our neck for three days. Being superstitious, I plan on doing just that.
Patrick and I are definitely feeling the altitude. Gangtey is about 3,000 meters above sea level and the two passes we have to go through to get there are even higher. Even a short hike up a hill puts me out of breath, I have a low-grade headache, and I feel tired and a bit oxygen deprived. The only consoling thought is that running will hopefully be easier when we get back to Tokyo.
The drive was fairly uneventful. I slept through most of it, though I was awake enough to hear Chencho tell a few more stories. One of the more memorable â€“ When Bhutan got its first road in 1960, a horse, a cow and a goat wanted to get on a bus, which cost 25 rupees. The horse had 25 rupees, the cow had 50, and the goat had none. They all climbed on the bus. The horse and cow gave up their money and the goat got on without paying. When they arrived in Thimphu, the goat quickly got off and ran away, the horse sauntered away and the cow stuck around, waiting to get his change, which he never got. Thatâ€™s the reason why when a car approaches, goats will run away, horses will move out of the way, but cows get in the way and wonâ€™t budge (theyâ€™re waiting for their 25 rupees).
Gangtey, however, is stunning. Located in a valley, the small village has no electricity because there is a black-necked crane preserve nearby and light would drive them away. Patrick and I took a short walk through the villages to a monastery that is being renovated and met many friendly villagers, who would call out to us to say hi. The children were particularly charming, and got a kick out of it when we took a silly picture of them horsing around on a fence.
We got back to the hotel, had a little tea, and read the local newspapers, albeit a couple weeks old. The papers are rife with stories about the elections â€“ the candidates, accusations of bribery and slander, and even performing ceremonies that conjure evil spirits against a candidate. Evidently, what started out as something that nobody wanted has become a big topic of interest and conflict. The quality of writing in the papers is terrible, but one editorial made a good point. The Bhutanese are thinking about what it means to be a democracy more seriously than any people I know, but the article pointed out that even before the elections have happened, it has introduced strife and split communities. If what they say in the papers is true, than you wonder about the cost of democracy and modernization to a peace-loving nation that has been more or less content until now.
On a lighter note, one of the newspapers also had an article about Bhutanese Idol starting up on television, or the â€œidiot-boxâ€ as they call it, so programs arenâ€™t dominated by American and Indian Idol and to give â€œyouths and school dropoutsâ€ a chance to show off their talent. You know you canâ€™t escape reality TV, when it has even invaded Bhutan.