Why I fell in love with Bhutan

I was on cloud nine for seven days while in Bhutan. It took me another seven days to recover and get down to reality.

I can’t remember exactly how I got drawn to Bhutan. But I can recall watching a documentary and was captivated by the scenery. I also read about the Gross National Happiness, a concept very unique to Bhutan as it was the idea of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. GNH speaks volumes of how Bhutanese value spiritual and well-being over economic progress or worldly materialism.

So why have I fallen in love with this Kingdom? Let me try hard to put it into words.

Up in the sky, Bhutan will greet you and bid adieu with exhilarating panorama of the Himalayas and snow-capped mountains. If you are flying from Bangkok, make sure you get a window seat on the left row (right from Paro).

View of Himalayas on flight to Bhutan-001

Photo taken on flight from Paro to Bangkok

Usually, the drive from the airport to a city is dull and tiresome. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paro to Thimphu. But nope, it was not boring at all because we drove along hills with lots of apple trees in bloom; I thought they were cherry blossoms. How about this old house above the riverbank?

Rochogphel hotel Thimphu Bhutan-001

Paro to Thimphu Bhutan-001

Photo taken on the way back to Thimphu from Paro the day before my departure

I just loved to look at the fog-covered mountains. It’s the same sight I would marvel at on my journey to Punakha. But with the forest filled with blooming rhododendrons, I felt I was in Pandora. Remember Avatar?

Rhododendron bloom in Bhutan on the way to Punakha-001

Very few countries in the world can match the richness of Bhutan’s flora and fauna. Thanks to their serious environmental protection and conservation I enjoyed watching a monkey sitting on the side of the road; a huge colorful bird that hopped on a tree, I can only wish I knew its name. But when I saw the yaks (I had mistaken them for takins, Bhutan’s national animal and known to be an extremely rare mammal) I had to ask the driver to stop the car so I can run after them up in the hills.

Takin Bhutan's national animal-001

I have this strong affinity with ruins. A lot of people find them uninteresting, lifeless. I find them full of wisdom, exuding aura of the ancient times. I’ve been to ruins in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia so I didn’t want to miss Drukgyel Dzong in Bhutan. I was dumbfounded. I have no words to describe and will rely on the cliche, “a picture paints a thousand words.”

Drukgyel Dzong in Paro Bhutan-001

Bhutan may be full of natural beauty but hey, the country is not just about that, it is full of art masterpieces too! In Punakha Dzong I have seen the world’s most magnificent temple. We were not allowed to take photos, sorry folks. I like it that way though, to keep its sanctity and solemnity. But here are some photos around Punakha Dzong showing very intricate designs.

Punakha Dzong Bhutan-001

Punakha Dzong interior-001

Punakha Dzong-001

I also had a bit of a shock when I saw penises, lots and lots of them, either painted on the walls of buildings and houses or carved on woods. My friend, understanding my amusement, explained that phallus is a religious symbol and is believed to ward off evil and brings good luck.

Phallic drawing Paro Bhutan-001

carved phallus Bhutan-001

Above all these, what truly captured my heart are the people. The Bhutanese are very warm and hospitable people. They are calm and patient. Around them I feel so at ease, it must be because they emit positive energies. With them I was reminded to savor the moment and not rush through life.

Mary Antonette Abello_Bhutan-001

On weekends they go out to play while most of the time I slack in front of the TV or drown on the internet. I passed by people playing different sports but when I saw an archery tournament, I let my driver have snacks so I can watch the game. I felt bad to have him wait at the car.

Bhutanese playing archery-001

I’ve seen a lot of young Bhutanese hone their crafts at the 13 Traditional Arts School (Institute of Zorig Chusum). I learned that most students came from underprivileged families. The school is financed by the government including their board and lodging. I asked one boy why he got interested in tailoring. He said he wanted to be an international fashion designer. They may be poor but why do they look more content and happier than those rich kids who showcase fancy items out of mommy and daddy’s pocket?

13 Traditional Arts School Bhutan-001

Institute of Zorig Chusum Bhutan-001

 

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

I admire how spiritual Bhutanese are. You will see many of them turning the prayer wheels, both young and old. They have a prayer room in their house; light incense for each morning’s prayer. Prayer flags are found all over the place.

Prayer wheels monk Bhutan-001

Prayer flags in Bhutan

I rarely see Bhutanese who wear modern clothes. Most of them wear their traditional dress, gho for men and kira for women. This makes the cultural experience in Bhutan distinct because at this modern period, you will see how Bhutanese go about their daily lives the same way from many decades ago.

Bhutanese girls-001

I have not seen nor experienced a wild nightlife similar to that in Bangkok during my whole stay in Bhutan. Although I did relish this stunning view of Tashichoo Dzong and Thimphu skyline.

Thimphu in the evening

In Bhutan I was able to reconnect on a deeper level with mother nature, with my spirituality and immerse into the quintessential of human connection that our technology-driven world has so often neglected.

And just like in temples where I was forbidden to take photos, my most memorable experiences with people very dear to me are beyond words. I will just let my heart keep it locked in until I come again.

More photos are available in my Facebook. Click here.

P.S. If you want to visit Bhutan, I recommend Almost Heaven travel agency. It’s owned by a friend so I can guarantee you are in safe hands. If you are in Bhutan, I encourage you to watch my friend’s latest film Kushuthara – Pattern of Love. And if you are a bookworm, then grab copies of Sonam Kinga’s books!


Smile with your eyes

Photo by miaymarch.com

Photo by miaymarch.com

I’ve always considered New Year as a symbol of hope and renewal. I welcomed 2015 with positive anticipation. And for the first time in six years, I get to spend it with my family. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted it to be my “kick-ass awesome year” ever, some things are just out of my hands. My yet to be resolved past mingled with dramatic changes in both my present and future professional and personal life.

If there is one word that can epitomise my life in the first quarter of 2015, it will be ESTUARY.

Amidst all these lies my resolve to empower myself.

Being a photography enthusiast — as you may have noticed from most of my Facebook and Instagram posts– I wanted this transitional stage in my life captured. This became more timely with my birthday turning me to the last year of my twenties.

As fate would have it, I bumped into the blog of Mia and saw her “Love you now, love you more after” photoshoot concept. Reading about this session felt like reading my thoughts on screen. She nailed what I had in mind.

“Smile with your eyes,” Mia asked me several times. It was my first professional photoshoot so I would have felt like a star in front of her lens. But no, all I had were unwelcomed thoughts flooding on me. I felt I was not okay yet. I didn’t want to pretend to be smiling sweetly but felt like in an emotional tornado inside – yep, going to Sydney in less than 3 months from now creeps me out like anything too. Change is always scary, huh! – The worst deception is that of our own self, indeed.

I was once asked what it is to be an empowered woman. My response was simple: an empowered woman is one who is able to make informed decisions for herself and is able to maximise her full potential.

And then it hit me.

Mary Antonette Abello

An empowered woman is one who is able to celebrate her strength and vulnerability; embrace her brokenness and nurture her inner power; forgive her past and high five the future as she can’t be truly bothered by it yet because being in the present moment is paramount. Amidst any storm she will carry on. She will choose selfless love over possession and integrity over personal gains. She will not be crippled by discrimination, abandonment nor injustice. She will rise, speak and act. She will respect herself.

She will smile with her eyes.

Cheers to womanhood! And this may just be a kick-ass awesome year after all!

P.S. If you are in Bangkok and up for a photoshoot for yourself or your family, then Mia (photographer) and Erika (make-up artist) is the team for you. What makes them different from those in the studio is the personal touch. They make sure you are comfortable and they allow you to take your time. And they are sooo fun to be with too!


One step forward, two steps backward

Pokhara Nepal

Me in Pokhara, Nepal (January 2013)

I don’t understand people who complain about something without doing anything about it – not that I am an exemption, of course.

There was this person who kept ranting about how miserable his life is and that his life would have been this or that had the situation been this or that. Clearly, he has an idea of what “better life” looks like yet remains reluctant to take significant steps because his thoughts were fixated on the barriers rather than on creating opportunities.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t know the value of TIME. A Japanese colleague once said, “the only thing that is fair in this world is TIME; we all get the same amount.” This statement struck me because I myself struggle with making the most of my time. You know, like right now at 1:30AM, I am still wide awake instead of hitting the sack.

These days, the world seems to have fallen short of optimistic people. There is always something to complain about. And most often, nothing changes because we are scared to stretch our boundaries a little bit or step out of our comfort zones. The moment we set foot out of that comfort line, fear of uncertainties would penetrate every corner of our heart forcing us to sprint back. The sad thing is that, we don’t realize how often we do this and how much time we have wasted.

As the cliché says, we take one step forward and two steps backward. And we still wonder why we aren’t going anywhere.