Nathalie Kelley

Bhutan (part 1)

Allow me first to paint a picture: I am sitting on the river Wangchu (river of blessings) watching the crisp winter breeze caress the leaves of the willow tree that I have the honor of sitting beside on this perfect Tuesday afternoon. She and I are equally hypnotized by the constant chortling of the river before us – in fact I have been in an almost trance state for the last few hours, as I contemplate the divine corner of the world that is Bhutan.

I could, and still might, write paragraphs and paragraphs of praise for Bhutan’s natural beauty. Her endless mountains, valleys and rivers are so picturesque, so exquisite, that there have been times (like now) that I want to cry at having the honor of beholding such beauty. Glimpsing the snow capped Himalayas was the manifestation of a lifetime dream of mine and my heart breaks that I cannot trek through them this time. In fact my only complaint about my time here is that a week is not nearly enough.

But besides the jaw-droppping landscapes, the other thing that stands out upon arriving in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is the overwhelming warmth and kindness of the local people. At the risk of sounding like a typical westerner I have to mention the most attractive thing about interaction with the Bhutanese people – due to the visionary leadership of their Third King, all Bhutanese speak English as a second language. I know its an extremely western-centric thing to be excited about but it makes such a difference for someone like me who has a million questions about everything and longs to connect on a deeper level with locals. And it was these connections that actually top the list of my favorite things about Bhutan – all the truly welcoming, kind, and happy people that I met along the way. The Gross National Happiness indicator that Bhutan is so famous for is no PR stunt. The happiness is palpable here.

So now let me discuss the context in which I came to Bhutan. My trusty travel companion Yvan aka Facehunter very sweetly put me in touch with My Bhutan – an innovative new company that acts as platform through which you can pay for your visa directly, choose your own guide and itinerary and also contribute to their philanthropic endeavors. And so the often difficult process of getting a visa was taken care of, an awesome itinerary was put into place, and we were off! Being the weaver and textile fiend that I am, my priorities were visiting the Royal Textile Museum, learning how to back-strap weave and shopping for Bhutanese treasures. Then there were 2 national festivals, a visit to the Royal Academy of Performing Arts and some of the most charming nightlife in the world…Thats not mentioning a trip to beautiful Punakha and a traditional hot stone bath at the beautiful Termalinca hotel. My Bhutan are immensely resourceful when it comes to planning your itinirary, and I recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone considering going.

Here I must dedicate a paragraph to my half day hike up to the famous Tigers Nest or Taktsang – a structure so beautiful and so impossibly located that it defies logic and gravity. How did those monks build this incredible triumph of engineering in such a remote and precarious location? It reminded me of Machu Picchu and it was not the last similarity I would uncover during my trip. The hike was my first introduction to Bhutan (we actually went there straight from the airport) and it was there that the little Peruvian mountain goat inside of me got to thoroughly rejoice in the high altitude, the panoramic views and the crisp air. The 3 hour hike was also the perfect way to get to know our new Bhutanese friends as they scrambled ahead to document our expressions as we beheld the monastery in the distance. You could feel their collective pride in their history and culture and shared joy as we walked those ancient, sacred stairs. And then there were the pilgrims! 200 pilgrims from Ladakh (another Himalayan region I am dying to visit) had chosen that day to make their pilgrimage up the mountain. Every time we would pass one of these beautiful Himalayan people, with their gorgeous high cheekbones and dresses made of yak wool and nettle fibre, they would smile, raise their hand to their third eye, and wish us “Tashi Delek!” (Good Luck). At one of the rest stops, they even shared their homemade lunch with us… their generosity of spirit and simplicity really left a profound mark on me. You could see the peace and contentment in their faces and in their slow steady pace down the mountain. It was so different to furrowed brows and hurried energy you find in the people of New York for example. Even though the monastery itself was the obvious highlight of the day, it was the pilgrims that I thought of as I slept that first night, and for many nights to come… “Tashi Delek! Tashi Delek!”

Lastly, and I want to describe briefly that which cannot be put into words. A very brief but most memorable encounter with Bhutanese royalty…being utterly in awe of the intelligence, charisma, and beauty of this family. Somewhere in there was a magical night-time horse ride underneath shooting stars and a midnight rafting experience that I will cherish forever.

Oh Bhutan, what have you done to me? You have utterly spoiled me for life and all I can do is dream of springtime, when I hope to return and see the rhodedendrums in bloom. Oh, to spend more time in Punakha, and trek in the north or even head east to seek out Merak and the nomadic peoples whose textiles I favor so much. Next time, next time….

A big thank you to the My Bhutan team and everyone I met on this life-changing journey: Matt, Vince, Lorne, Michael, Signe. My Bhutanese documentary crew: Bonz, Solly, Lingpen, Yeshey and my friends Nangzey and Karma. You made this trip so special for me and I can’t wait to see you again.

And a final thank you to my friend the Facehunter aka Papi – to whom ALL the photo credit for this post belongs . I have never met anyone more curious about the world, more fearless in their dancing or as hungry for experience and knowledge. You are the Indiana Jones to my Carmen Sandiego and I am so happy to have met you. You do not know what this invitation meant to me and how altered I am from this visit. I am forever in your travel debt. Until next time.

x

Nat

P.S – The doco we made about the whole trip will be out in March, will keep you guys posted. x

34

1

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

11

12

14

13

  • Trailsonparade

    Loved your Do Easy and Orcas posts. You shared important lessons learned, the real gems of journeying. Kudos to Facehunter for capturing such gorgeous images in a magical place. But your commentary really palescomparison. Perfection is boring. What were these deep understandings you had with the English-speaking locals? Details! Yes, someone paid for your trip, and the royalty pampered you. But call me selfish, why should I care? This post is the traveler’s version of sporting a designer bag. Less photogenic wanderers such as myself don’t get such treatment, but nor would we want it. The challenges are what makes globe trotting fun. I hope you’ll share more of those in future posts. But I’ll still come back because I love the images.

    • James

      I’m not sure how long you have followed the unimaginably cosmic soul that is Nathalie Kelley and her amazing adventures but it seems you are misunderstanding her. I don’t know her personally but it seems she has a magnetic, larger than life personality along with a real passion for travelling and understanding cultures that allows her to make lasting connections with people. These connection inevitably, for this wondrous lady not as often in my case I may add, lead to magical journeys which not only embody her but embody the culture of the place and people she is spending time with. It seems that everyone travels in a different way and I’m sure your or my experience is just as interesting but unfortunately we aren’t making a documentary about it. I love to absorb everyones experience I can and have really enjoyed her posts over the years through other medium such as Tumblr and love her energy for life. I hope you enjoy your travelling and we can all share the fascinating adventures we are lucky enough to witness in this amazing world.

      • http://nathaliekelley.net Nathalie Kelley

        I cannot thank you enough for your constructive criticism. You are absolutely right. The truth is, when I sat down to write this blog post a few weeks ago, there was so many interesting little details and personal stories I wanted to share, but by the time I got the factual and obligatory things out of the way (My Bhutan did help me visit and they were extremely helpful so of course I wanted to promote them) I felt like writing any more would be exhausting my readers. I am still trying to figure out how much of my experiences I can share without wearing people out. I guess it is a question of editing. That said, I went back and revised the post to include a paragraph on one of the MANY incredible stories from my journey. The fact that I have many more only means that I need a new medium – hence the travel show that is being written and pitched right now. Thanks again for your support and input, it means a lot to me. Nat

      • Nat Kelley

        I cannot thank you enough for your constructive criticism. You are absolutely right. The truth is, when I sat down to write this blog post a few weeks ago, there was so many interesting little details and personal stories I wanted to share, but by the time I got the factual and obligatory things out of the way (My Bhutan did help me visit and they were extremely helpful so of course I wanted to promote them) I felt like writing any more would be exhausting my readers. I am still trying to figure out how much of my experiences I can share without wearing people out. I guess it is a question of editing. That said, I went back and revised the post to include a paragraph on one of the MANY incredible stories from my journey. The fact that I have many more only means that I need a new medium – hence the travel show that is being written and pitched right now. Thanks again for your support and input, it means a lot to me. Nat

    • Nat Kelley

      I cannot thank you enough for your constructive criticism. You are absolutely right. The truth is, when I sat down to write this blog post a few weeks ago, there was so many interesting little details and personal stories I wanted to share, but by the time I got the factual and obligatory things out of the way (My Bhutan did help me visit and they were extremely helpful so of course I wanted to promote them) I felt like writing any more would be exhausting my readers. I am still trying to figure out how much of my experiences I can share without wearing people out. I guess it is a question of editing. That said, I went back and revised the post to include a paragraph on one of the MANY incredible stories from my journey. The fact that I have many more only means that I need a new medium – hence the travel show that is being written and pitched right now. Thanks again for your support and input, it means a lot to me. Nat

      • Vanessa Ray

        Nat, I’ve never seen anyone take constructive criticism so well. Much respect to you beautiful wanderer.

  • Vanessa

    Such a beautiful shining person! You are really inspiring with such a lovely positive out look and description, love and light thanks for the wonderful bed time reading xx

  • http://www.BhutanHolidayPackages.com BHUTAN HOLIDAY PACKAGES

    We are lucky enough to B born in such a Mysterious place……. which is a example of History surrounding by Modern developed country………………

  • Wangdi

    I wish you have the full opportunity to accomplish all your ‘next time-next time’ projects. The 200 Ladaki pilgrims you met on the way to Taksang is a huge number by any standard, if not the record!!!. Will b there to follow up again and again.

  • Juniper Lightningbug

    Hey lovey just want to say I’m enjoying your posts! I experienced the magic of Orcas for the first time this summer. What a treat to re-experience that magic in a same same different way through your eyes. (The part about the deer was especially touching. K, all the parts were touching -transparency is my favorite thing; you let the light through so well). I loved your talk about “do easy” too. My 6 years younger than I brother told me a few years ago his new life philosophy was “be easy” ;)I remember being so struck and tickled by the profound simplicity of that. What a joy to interact with that philosophy again in a new way (I’ve been saying it and doodling it and (mostly) living it since). I actually appreciated the constructive criticism of this post and am impressed by your handling that with grace. Go you! And travel show? Yes please! That is something which (like your blog) I would actually enjoy staring at a screen for. However your journey unfolds, know that any sharing of it is received with much gratitude by me.

    Inspired and Sending Love,
    Juniper

    • Nat Kelley

      Awwww, you sweetheart! So happy you loved Orcas and that you are also implementing “DO EASY” – I admit it is a daily challenge for me. Would love to say hi if you return to Orcas next summer. I will be be back as soon as it starts to warm up! Thanks again for all the sweetness and support. Love Nat

      • Juniper Lightningbug

        Methinks I certainly will be back next summer! I’ll reach out if I do. It would be a treat to meet your glowy self in person. So. Much. LOVE!

  • Passang PaSsu Tshering

    Thanks for coming to Bhutan and stealing lots of hearts… it’s so nice to read your experience!

  • http://www.lazulishop.com.br Marina

    Nat, you are such a beautiful person inside and out. I’ve been following you and some of your friends on instagram and I must say that you guys have inspired me to live a life more connected to the nature world, to connect with my real beauty and the divine in me, to listen to drums and drink teas and crystals and palo santo, those were magical gifts that I had the chance to know better buy following you and Baelyn, and Daughter of the sun. I hope one day we can all dance together in the Spirit Weavers Gathering, or maybe in another life or other experiencing. Thank you for sharing this amazing facts about your travels and life, and all the pictures of your body and soul, you have no idea of the beautiful and magical things you inspire. You are a very powerful woman with amazing soul. I’m sending lots of love and gratitude, please feel hugged by me. Sharing is caring. Thank you so much, sister.

  • Wangye Tshering

    I am to believe your visit was just for a brief moment yet you look so happy that you have so much memories to reminisce in ravages of time. The furthest you could visit was till Punakha Dzong to get you the feeling to have mistaken path to be in heavenly world. I am a merited Bhutanese who had been so lucky to be born in Bhutan amidst all these marvelous scenario with all time breathing in fresh air. Above all I get up every morning with renewed hopes and happiness that I live in a country under a reign of my god equivalent kings. They are my parents, protectors and hopes that give me good reasons to be born lucky in this great country. Of course it was just partial and superficial experiences during your short visit to my country, yet you have not missed to experience the belongingness that you were offered kindness of sharing a free lunch by the people from Himalayas on your way to Tiger’s next. But you have really missed the lavishness of kindness and caring of a genuine Bhutanese rural folks, that you have missed the real Bhutanese kindness. But I think its always better somethings are left unexperienced so that these always remains in your warm heart that would not let you forget but remind you that something wonderful has been left to be experienced sooner. But at the same time if you have loved my country, be kind to be frank and share what are the areas that we need to improve for making your stay so comfortable and warm. Giving genuine feed backs of a mistake is always for your comfort and better your next trip. Welcome again!!!