20 June 2012

A Very Bhutanese Birthday

On June 19th this weary traveler turned 28 years old. Considering I was already in Bhutan, nothing more really needed to happen to ensure it was a truly brilliant day. Amazingly, lots more magic did take place!

In Bhutan, we learned, birthdays aren't really that big of a deal. In fact, they are rarely if ever celebrated. After learning this I thought back on so many discussions I had had with people we met where no one really seemed to know their age. For example, one man was convinced he was 37 years old but had a nine-year-old child that was born when he was 24. Even after having a serious conversation about math he remained unconvinced that there was anything wrong with his argument. "Besides, who really cares? You are born, you live a happy life for a long time, then you die and are reborn. It is the wheel of life and age is just a number for this present life so it's not even accurate," he explained. I mean, touché. He was completely correct.

That said, I am still of lover of celebration and thankfully, so are Indigo and Justine. We had spent the previous night in a farmhouse sleeping just above the cows. This wasn't your "I'm a tourist getting a farm experience" situation. This type of tourism is extremely new and we were only the fifth guests they had ever hosted. All sleeping in one big room, eating whatever they were currently growing (lots and lots of potatoes), and watching the three year old from Australia learn to find amusement in a hose, a bucket, and a plank of wood from a Bhutanese 5-year-old. It was just one more tick on the "adventure" checklist.

Indigo woke me up with a birthday dance on my belly and a handful of presents and cards. "Open this one," she said as she handed me one of the gifts. "It's a shirt with green stripes and aliens on it," she told me before I even tore into the paper. "Sorry, I am just soooo excited," she said. Adorable.

From there it was time to milk the cows and literally churn butter then make cheese, something this family does every single morning. We then ate the cheese and spread the butter on our toast at breakfast.

At this point our guide had a surprise for me - wearing a traditional Goh (the national dress code) and playing a round of archery! It. Was. Awesome. I managed five in the target and won! That meant I was "man of the match," which felt quite manly.

After lunch, a visit to the local school, and a fond farewell to our hosts we set off on a 5km walk through the pristine forest and valley. It was just superb. I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings. We finished our walk at this adorable little lodge nestled high up the hill. The valley hasn't had electricity in a week so it was bucket showers and candlelight for us! I actually couldn't imagine a more perfect setting.

Pope, our perfect guide offered to spend the evening with Indigo while Justine took me for what can only be described as the most amazing dining experience of my life, which was arranged by and is part of the fabulous 6 star Amankora Gangtey luxury lodge. It started with a cocktail by the roaring fire which was followed by an utterly delicious four course Bhutanese feast served in our very own potato shed. That is, a shed for storing potatoes. The walls were lined with candles, the wine was Italian, and the entire experience was surreal. We finished it off with a Glenfiddich nightcap before trekking back down the hill and transferring back to our lodge. It was the perfect day.

A huge shout-out to Justine for her fantastic planning efforts. If you need party ideas, give her a ring. For a country that doesn't really celebrate birthdays, she managed to create something truly memorable. Now you just need to get to Bhutan and see this potato shed for yourself!


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