Inside Tibet: The Friendship Highway. Daily Vlog: 45

We continue our journey along the interestingly named Friendship Highway which is a 800 kilometre Highway stretching from the Capital of Tibet, Lhasa to the Tibetan (Chinese)/ Nepalese Border at the China-Nepal Friendship Bridge between Zhangmu and Kodari.

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Being on the Friendship Highway made me think. On this journey through Tibet I have made some life long friends, I have shared some incredible moments with these fellow travellers, I have left my family and friends back home and around the world to follow my dream and see Tibet for myself. I have rode the roller-coaster of emotions and have learnt so much about myself. Is that was this Friendship Highway was designed to do? Make you contemplate life, or is it Propaganda? A way for the Chinese Government to gloss over how they are treating the Tibetans, in an attempt to make it all seem ok?

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Friendship Highway

As we approached the border I was lost with in my own thoughts. Soon I would be able to Skype home and speak to my wife, soon I would be free from the restraints that China has locked Tibet down with, soon I will be in Nepal, but am I ready for that? Am I ready to leave Tibet?

I soon realise that there is a fairly good chance that I will not return to Tibet. This could be my last time that I see this country, a country that has had such an impact on me, so much that I cant even place words in any form that would describe it. So what do I do?

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Our bus reaches the end of the road, we can go no further, I can see the bridge, I can see the customs gates and all the Chinese Military holding some serious fire power. I am instructed to put away the camera, even though I would really like to show you the border I comply, these machine guns and the tension is a little intense. Our guide is stopped as we walk up to the gate and not allowed to go any further. We all say our good-byes and hope that our guide is safe.

As we crossed the Friendship Bridge I look down and see a line of bricks, symbolising the border. On the Tibetan side a Chinese Officer stands still, machine gun in hand, ready for action, a last reminder of Tibet, on the Nepalese side an officer leans against the handrail, smiling, welcoming us back into Nepal. I stop for a moment, still in Tibet, one last moment in this country. I quickly get told to move on by the machine gun holding officer, and into Nepal I enter.

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Peace Out,

Shane.

Inside Tibet: Dalai Lama Summer Palace, Paranoia.

Daily Vlog: 38

Since being in Tibet I have been struggling with the amount of Chinese military control over the local Tibetan People. This suppression extends so far into daily life it affects everyone. Little things like signs for shops are written in large Chinese characters with tiny Tibetan characters underneath, to young tibetan people not allowed to visit and worship at temples. The constant reminder that China has taken over Tibet is depressing. Today I get a little annoyed and suddenly very aware that I am being watched almost 24hrs a day.

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Norbulingka UNSECO

We visit the summer palace of the Dalai Lama and I am instantly shocked. As you walk up to this once spiritual home of the Tibetan Buddhist leader you are confronted by huge LCD screen pumping out loud Chinese music. Once inside I feel calm mixed with a sense I am being watched. Every where i look i see a camera, they are everywhere and I mean everywhere, on every corner of the main wall, every walkway even in the gardens. I can see our guide feeling uneasy here, she is aware that her every move is bing watched and anything she does can be used against her and her family.

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We arrive at the Dalai Lama’s Palace, the last place that the current 14th Dalai Lama lived before he fled to India. There was no surprise here, plenty of cameras outside, but what shocked me and made me nervous was waiting inside. We were in one of the rooms, completely aware that we were getting watched by cameras every step, but what shocked me was one specific camera. I spotted this camera that would move about, it was looking around the room, this was not odd, what was odd was when it spotted me. I remember nudging my friend and whispered to him, do you think that camera is following me? I may sound a little paranoid but it was looking straight at me, with these two eyes. So I walked around a little to look at another painting in the room. I look up and again it was looking straight at me, almost trying to read my mind, looking straight at me. I looked back at my friends and they all had seen it as well. I thought to myself, surely not, so I tried again, I walked around the room a few times and every time this camera followed me. I was certain that I was being watched and that I had been picked out of the crowed of tourist in the room to keep an eye on. I couldn’t stop thinking that there was someone in a room somewhere controlling that camera, some one was watching me. This is only one time, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to the Tibetan people to be watched like they are, to know that there is someone watching your every move, controlling what you see and what you do, we could never understand how this affects your well being.

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Canggu Nuns

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I would love to hear your thoughts on the Tibet situation. What have you heard, have you been to Tibet? Have you experienced these same situations?

Inside Lhasa. Daily Vlog: 36

Daily Vlog: 36

Today is my first full day in Tibet and some of our tour groups first day at altitude, which at 3800m was showing on a few of them. We were scheduled to stay in Lhasa for 2 days to acclimatise to the altitude. I was lucky as I have just returned from hiking in Nepal so I have already been at altitude so I could get straight into exploring Lhasa.

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Preparing your dinner

We wondered the streets and found our way to the Barkhor  Square where one of the most important temples in Tibet is located, The Jokhang. We were instantly confronted by the large Chinese military presence. As we walked around the corner into Barkhor Square the first thing that I saw were two very large and scary looking military vehicles. They kind of looked liked the bullet proof vehicle from Fast and Furious. There was some sort of very big gun mounted to the roof, next to them were a bunch of Chinese military personnel all holding machine guns. To enter into the Barkhor Square we had to go through a X-Ray scanner controlled by Chinese military. I was a little nervous as I put my bag on the conveyor belt. I new that I didn’t have anything that was illegal, but I had no idea how I would be treated here. Turns out I was very surprised as they hardly even looked at our stuff and just waved us through.

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New and Old motorbikes in Tibet

As we walked around this spiritual place you could feel the energy of the local people. There was incense burning and flooding the area with a smell of peace, you had old tibetan people prostrating, chanting prayers, tibetan flags draped over the walk. It was beautiful, it was peaceful, then 6 Chinese military come marching through the crowd, in the opposite direction to all the Tibetans, all dressed in full black riot gear, complete with helmets and face masks and holding what looked like AK47’s. Traditionally Tibetans walk clockwise around the temple, however the Chinese military walk in an anticlockwise direction, seemingly in attempt the disrupt the local people. The Tibetans stand strong in the face of this, however you can see the pain in there eyes, they are not free. A small group of us stopped to talk to an old Tibetan lady, which one of our group took a photo of her. As we were showing her the photo we almost immediately had a group of military personnel surrounding us and moving us on. I was rather shocked by how confronting it was to walk around the Jokhang.

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Barkhor Square Prayer Flags

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That night we found a bar that had some live music so we wandered in and had a great night. The music was great and the atmosphere in the bar was great. The guy was singing a huge mix of songs all acoustic, including what sounded like a Tibetan pop song. We were even treated to local dialect version of an Eminem rap.

http://youtu.be/v6EbCpI_66Y

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out.

Shane

Inside Tibet: Daily Vlog 35

Inside Tibet

Today I realise one of my lifelong dreams, today I reach a destination that has held my dreams, a place that has intrigued me for so long, today I reach Tibet.

I have no idea what awaits me, as a westerner I can only read articles about what is going on there, but how much of that can I really believe? How much of the stories that make headlines back here in Australia can I actually believe? What have the journalist from around the world been allowed to see and talk about?  My plan was to go and see this country for myself. See it with my own eyes and make my own mind up. What I saw amazed me, I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got, well please watch the next two weeks of my Tibet Vlogs to see what I saw, to see Inside Tibet.

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Peace Out.

Shane.

Bring Back Our Girls: Nepal Demonstration and Daily Vlog: 33

Finally I get a chilled out day, my days are always full on, adventure and exploring, such a hard life hey? So it was great to have a semi relaxing day. Saying that we did go visit the Pashupatanath Temple and walked through the villages until we found the Boudhanath Stupa.

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Pashipatnath Temple

The Pashupatinath Temple is Nepal’s most sacred Hindu temple and is located on the banks of the Bagmati River 5 kilometres north-east of Kathmandu Valley.The entire precinct is on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list and is a place not to miss when visiting Kathmandu. It is full of colours, cows wonder free around the site and some interesting smells float around. The Bagmati River is considered sacred and many cremations happen here. The cremation happens in plain site, something slightly odd for westerners, however a sign of respect for the people of the temple. There are two spots for cremation inside the site, each side of the bridge, one for the people and the other side is for both rich people and people of importance. It was very strange to watch a cremation happen before our very own eyes. I new I was allowed to watch but I still did feel uneasy, like I should not of been there, like i was intruding in on a grieving families special moment to say goodbye. Could you imagine in Australia, just a bunch of random people hanging around and watching your parents funeral? It was interesting to see the deceased person treated with the upmost respect, they were washed in the sacred water, covered in beautiful colours and surrounded by their family. It was beautiful moment, but I could not shake the feeling that I should not of been there, so we hit the road and went looking for the Boudhanath Stupa.

We had a map and decided it would an adventure to walk there. So we followed the map through the local neighbourhoods, all the local kids were very intrigued at these foreigners walking through their neighbourhood they would all come out and say “Hi”, I got the impression that might of been the only english word that they new, as they would say it over and over again. We didn’t feel uneasy in this area, it did look very rough and extremely poor, so I didn’t pull out my camera, you just never know and I don’t like to attract unwanted attention. However I could not resist when we came across an empty paddock full of mature Marijuana plants just growing wild. They were huge and you could really smell them. So we snapped a few photos for fun and went on our way. I did not want to hang around there for to long, as I believed that the plants even though they looked to be wild, probably “belonged” to someone and they most likely would not want to me to be mucking around them.

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Weed grows everywhere

We soon made it to the Stupa, and it was packed as always, It was my 2nd time here now. I always get this chilled out vibe when i enter a Buddhist site, today was no exception. The prayer flags, peacefully waving in the breeze and the beautiful sound of “Om Mani Padme Hum” playing from almost every shop, just created a beautiful atmosphere. As we walked around the corner there was a small peaceful demonstration happening. This was at the time that the young girls from Nigeria had just been stolen by the brutal Nigerian Terrorist group Boko Haram. It was chilling to hear about the abduction and then seeing this group of young people was amazing. The group attracted an audience and I am certain a large Social Media hit. #bringbackourgirls

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Boudhanath Stupa

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#bringbackourgirls

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Peace Out,

Shane.

One Hectic Day. Daily Vlog: 32

I jump in a cab and head off to Durbar Square nice and early only to find out that I am completely in the wrong spot and need to walk back to where I had just come from. I had been in contact with a few peeps from our Mt Everest Base Camp trek, CJ and Simone and were going to have some breakfast with them before they head off on there own adventures. After getting completely lost for hours, I finally found them, had a quick breakie and they hit the road and I made the looooong walk to the post office.

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Durbar Square Pigeons

I had planned on sending a bunch of my left over trekking gear that I no longer needed and some souvenirs back to oz, save me from carrying them around Bhutan and Tibet. Be warned if you are going to use the post office in Kathmandu, put an entire day aside for it. The post office is utter chaos, no organisation what so ever, and completely dodgy. They pile up stuff, throw stuff around, there is no instructions on what you have to do. I just had to wing it, push my way through the locals and hope for the best. I was actually surprised when I get word that the packages made their way home. The post officer checks your packages very thoroughly, opening up everything even a Buddha statue I had bought in Bhutan. He then signs some document and you are left in the lurch again. So I wander over to this old lady who wraps your package up in a white cloth, It gets stitched up, very slowly, this lovely lady kept on asking to give her some pot, really. Then you pay her, then walk over to another guy who goes over the stitching and puts melted wax seal stamps along the stitching, you pay him. Then you find out that you have to go next door and pay for the postage and in cash only. You battle with the crazy crowd all pushing in, I learnt very quickly to just push through and get to the front. So after that I was ready to head back into Thamel, I was there for 4hrs all up.

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Durbar Palace

 

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Prayer Flags at the Monkey Temple

That afternoon I caught back up with Luc and made our way over to explore Durbar Square and the Palace. You get an incredible view over Kathmandu from the 9th floor of this UNESCO Heritage listed building. Back in the square, a large group of people had congregated, so we wanted to check it out. Turns out they were filming a dodgy fight scene for a local Nepalese movie. It was pretty cool to watch, but ridiculous as well. We then jump in one of the dodgiest cabs I have ever been in and drove up the dustiest street in Kathmandu and visited the Monkey Temple. I was pretty happy when we arrived there, well more surprised I guess. The temple is beautiful and as the name suggests, there are monkeys everywhere, they are cheeky little things as well. We watched a few baby monkeys playing around in the trees and watched as a “Gang” of cheeky monkeys steel some of the thousands of prayer flags and drag the bundle to there hide out. It was really interesting to watch them, they were just like little kids.

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Monkey Temple

We then found the best spot for the sunset at the Nirvana Cafe, ordered a couple of coffee’s and watched as the sunset over the temple and on “One Hectic Day”

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Young Monk

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out.

Shane.

Good-Bye Bhutan, Hello Nepalese Drug Dealer. Daily Vlog: 31

I can’t believe it, my time in Bhutan has come to an end, I know that I have only scratched the surface of this amazing country, this country full of myths and mystery, I can not wait till i return to explore further. I say goodbye to both Bhutan and a new amazing friend Pelma, I look forward to the day that we meet again. You made my time in Bhutan magical, I learnt so much about your country and have a new understanding of Buddhism, thank you for your friendship, I look forward to visiting again in the future.

So I jump on the plane, this time ready for the crazy take off and it did not disappoint, super steep take off and hard banking to escape the huge mountains, a little more agile this time, we were in a much smaller aircraft. As we began to level out, i got a glimpse of the himalaya’s, some thing that I missed on the way over. There was Mt Everest, standing tall, looking over the rest of the himalaya’s, it was incredible to see the massive mountain from the air. Looking down on the epic expanse of massive himalayan range you start to see why this place is such a adventure travel hot spot. It is both huge and incredibly rugged, with massive mountains, huge cliffs and crazy rivers that rush their way down through the valleys.

#100happydays #day50

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I land in Nepal and ready myself for the onslaught that is the taxi run. I now know how much a taxi fare should cost, but I have no idea were I am staying in Kathmandu, I have nothing booked, I was just going to find some where cheap in Thamel. So I walk out and ask the very first taxi, “400 rupees to Thamel” knowing that I will have to bargain something, he says “No Way, its 1000 rupees fixed price” I laugh to myself, I got a taxi to the airport from Thamel last week for 400 Rupees, I explain this to him, needless to say I don’t get a lift with him, I understand and have no problems with this, he is just trying to earn money for his family and if he can rip an unknowing tourist off, he gets more than twice what I was willing to pay. I go through this a few times and get a driver. But to my amazement he says “Wait here” I soon realise that he has another fare riding with us, to which he explained to him that I was his mate?? So we make it into Thamel, drop the other fare off, I will catch up with him later, really top bloke, I find out that he had charged him 900 Rupees, So double dipping hey??? Anyway he takes me to the “Chill Out Resort” resort is a bit of a stretch, it is pretty much just a backpackers in the centre of Thamel, really nice place actually. I find out that the taxi driver gets a kick back for dropping people off at “Chill Out”, this is how Nepal works, this taxi driver has had a great morning.

I spend the rest of the day wandering around Thamel and getting myself absolutely lost. I am usually really good at finding my way around a city, but I was wandering aimlessly and had not been keeping an eye out. So after hours of trying to find my way back I bump into this bloke named Bubba, the local drug smuggler. The find out more read my early post “My Locked Up Abroad Moment”, I still can not believe that happened. So anyone traveling to Nepal and looking to chill out in Kathmandu, it is an awesome place but beware of the dodgy underbelly, it is everywhere.

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Busy Thamel Streets

 

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

Tigers Nest Temple, Bhutan. Daily Vlog 30

Daily Vlog: 30

The day has finally arrived, today we make our way up to the Tigers Nest Temple, (Taktsang Monastery). Visiting the Tigers Nest Temple has been on my bucket list for ages, the mystery around Bhutan and The Tigers Nest Temple has intrigued the world for decades. The day starts early, I wander outside and find myself gazing across the river and up the mountain, I had no idea what the day would bring me, but I was ready.

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Wise Words

We jump in our new van and start the drive, across the river and up the windy road up the side of the mountain. We reach the car park, as far as you can make it in a vehicle, now we are on foot. I was really looking forward to trekking again, so off we went. The temple sits high on the cliff, you can see it almost the entire way up, it almost motivates you to keep going. The climb is steep and it is quite hot and humid, you are protected from the breeze by the large trees, which are almost always covered in Prayer Flags, the walk is breathtaking and we are almost the only people on the trail. Half way up there is a little tea house, a welcome break, a cup of tea and some biscuits and we are off again. Pelma asks me “Short Cut?” so we follow this really cool track off in the forrest, it winds its way straight up the side and soon meets the main track.

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Prayer Flags and Tigers Nest

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I walk under some low lying prayer flags, I can hear the wind blowing through the tree’s, then I see it, I see the Tigers Nest Temple, it is just there, across the other side of a deep valley. I am at eye level with the temple, I get this giddy feeling, this excitement crossed with complete awe. From here you can really see how steep and huge the cliff is, the temple is almost just clinging to edge, I stand there in complete silence. I soon make it to the gate of the temple after walking down the steep valley covered in prayer flags. I hand in my camera to the gate house, and enter the temple’s walls. Once inside I felt instantly calm, a smell of incense burning flows throughout the temple and across the valley. I walk into the very first room and I was met by the Taktsang Lama, I couldn’t believe my luck. The Lama invited us all to the main room and treated us to an impromptu teaching. It was absolutely amazing to listen to someone so wise speak. I couldn’t get over the fact that he would always say “I don’t know everything” he spoke about love, peace, compassion and that knowledge is everything. He said that he see’s many “Tourists” that come to see the famous temple, just to see the site but can not see, they see the paintings but can not see the art, they see the monks but not the life, I believe the few people that he spoke to, he believed were there to really see and attempt to understand. This moment mixed with all my amazing new knowledge through out my time in Bhutan have a huge impact on my life. Bhutan you have left a lasting impression on me, I look forward to when I can return and visit all the amazing people that I was lucky enough to meet.

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane

Breaking down in Bhutan. Daily Vlog: 28

Living in Western Australia, the largest and most remote state of Australia I have an unique concept of distance. I have no issues driving 6 hrs over 600km from Perth to Kalgoorlie for the weekend to see friends, or driving 200kms return trip just to pick up the newspaper at work. So when the entire length of Bhutan at its longest point is a modest 306km you would think it would be a country you could see in a matter of hours. How wrong you would be, todays drive from Punakha to Paro a short 143km drive will take you over 4hrs, due to the astronomical 10-12 bends per kilometre. The roads are well built how ever they are so windy and are dotted with road works and the road blocks slow you down even more. We could only really manage a brisk walking pace of 20-30km per hour. Just to make this road even crazier it rises to a whopping 3800m at the Dochala Pass.

Once we arrived in Paro we made a quick stop at the mechanics, apparently the brake fluid was leaking, I am pretty happy that I was not aware of that at 3800m. It was interesting seeing inside a workshop in Bhutan. I have spent years hanging around workshops, so for me even this little side trip was an unusual high light. It turns out workshops in Bhutan are pretty similar to what you would see in Australia. They were clean, had similar tools and car parts hanging all over the place, the usual oil sign posted up on the wall even the vehicles were similar. Bhutan’s cars are pretty much what you see in Australia, except for the odd Indian import, Land cruisers and any type of Toyota were very popular. We had some extra time to explore Paro whilst we were getting our new vehicle, so a quick souvenir shopping spree was had. I said goodbye to Telo my driver and hello to our new driver and brand new Toyota Hiace.

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Travel for free if your a Monk.

After lunch we visited the National Museum of Bhutan at the old Paro Watch Tower, well it was in the new building built behind the Watch Tower, but up until the huge earthquake in 2011 the museum was inside the old watch tower. The old building was a beautiful traditional structure standing tall and keeping a watchful eye over the Paro Fortress. You could see the physical signs of the earthquake, the large cracks running the height of the building. I hope they can repair the damage and restore this beautiful building to its former glory.

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Monks at the Paro Fortress

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Standing Proud

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Prayer Wheel

I loved exploring the Paro Fortress, watching the local monks spinning prayer wheels, gazing at all the beautifully intricate artwork plastered all over the old walls, I always get a feeling of peace when I enter these spiritual places. From the bottom of the hill you can see all three of the structures all built in 1646, at the top is the Watch Tower, below that the Paro Fortress and crossing the river the old bridge. Then some bright spark put a power line right across river and ruined what would be a magic photo. You got to watch out for those electricians…

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You got to watch those dodgy electricians

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane

My Spiritual Awakening at the Peace Stupa in Bhutan.

Every morning I pinch myself, I just can not believe that I am actually in Bhutan, it is just as incredible as I thought it would be, possibly even more, if that is possible? The day starts off with a drive down a crazy road down the side of a cliff, then a suspension bridge across a raging river and a hike up a mountain through fields getting ploughed by cows up to a Choeten built by a Kings Mother. Some start to the day hey???

After we crossed the prayer flag covered suspension bridge I watched a local farmer ploughing his field with the help of his two cows. My guide was a little surprised that this caught my interest. I find this style of farming, almost micro farming absolutely fascinating. Us westerners are so used to big super expensive machinery farming broad acre farms and mass producing food. So watching one man with his wife ploughing his small patch of land with his two cows and a wooden, most likely home built plough was not just a step back in time but a peek into a simpler life, a life that intrigues my imagination. As we walked through this valley I soon realised that this was a beautiful way to farm. I walked through fields of large, well cared for tomatoes, fruit trees covered in fruit and fields and fields of lush green crops. The small farms were producing such a high grade of food, with no machinery or complex irrigation systems. Zig Zaging their way through the terraced fields were tiny little streams, these were the only way that the farmers would irrigate their crops. Along the streams I noticed systematically placed rocks, these were used as gates and were moved to redirect water into the terraces and flood the field and moved back when it was complete, how simple yet so effective this was.

As we turned a corner I watched as the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Choeten grew out of the thick trees. This Choeten was built by the current Kings Mother for peace to the Bhutanese people and the world. This Choeten is very unique, not only in Bhutan but else where in the world. It is the only Choeten/ Stupa tourist are aloud to enter in Bhutan and the only one that I have ever seen inside myself any where. It was a real treat to see inside such a breathtaking building, even if it was not a ancient Stupa. It was built for peace so the immense feeling of peace as I entered came as no surprise to me. Once I made it to the top of the four stories always walking up in a clock wise direction, I could look over the vast mountain range and I felt this feeling of insignificance. How can the human race have such a massive detrimental effect on this world. Emotions came flooding in, all the horror through out the world, all the wars all the animal cruelty all the environmental destruction that we cause and we are just this little insignificant dot on the planet. I just do not understand.

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Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Choeten

As we walked back down the mountain I was very quite, my head full of emotion, I feel that my guide and now very close friend Pelma felt this and shared a traditional Bhutanese love song with me (you will hear part of the song in the vlog). I love music so this was great, I always love to hear music from the country that I am visiting. Thanks Pelma, I hope you do not mind me sharing your singing with the internet???

That afternoon I was treated to something really special, we made our way up a huge mountain, slowly navigating our way around the tight windy road to visit a magical monastery, perched high on a mountain over looking the valley and the incredibly windy road that we came through the other day. As we walked through the gate of the monastery I was surprised to see some Australian Bottle Brush growing.. The distinctive smell of incense and the sound of monks chanting flowed over the valley. The very unique

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Young Monks Chanting

sound of young monks playing and chanting caught my ear and I went to investigate. The young boys were reading their scripts in the garden next to their class room, all dressed in their red robes, their smiles were contagious. I watched for a while and when I caught a few of the kids intrigued at this tall, strange, long haired traveller I nodded and snapped a few photos. You should of seen the kids faces when I showed them their photo in the view finder, it was just one of those moments that I will never forget.

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My Monk guide

We walked up to the main temple and I was invited in on a tour by one of the monks. I was introduced to two young monks one 13 and the other 18. These two boys were the “True Re-incarnation” of the 69th Chief Abbot and the 9th Chief Abbot. This was such an honour to meet these two young boys who will grow up to be very wise old men. On the way home we visited a nunnery, perched on the tip of a mountain and in one of most windy places I have ever been, I could hardly speak.

Have you had a sense of clarity or a moment of “what does it all mean” I would love to hear about your spiritual moments whilst travelling, please comment below.

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One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.