Book Recommendation by Culture Correspondent Justin Bog
San Juan Islands, Washington, USA
“Cockerals are strutting everywhere, pecking between slabs, rending the peace of the dzong with their raucous crowing. One starts, then they all compete with each other, echo chasing echo around the courtyard. It is not true that cocks crow only at dawn. Wondering if they have some ritual significance, I ask Ngawang, as we leave the dzong, why there are so many. He laughs, “Local people give them to the monastery because they crow too much — being good Buddhists they don’t kill them.” — from Journey in Bhutan
Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon brought me to a world I only imagined existed. The author, Trish Nicholson, decided to sign up for a trek of around 100 miles with a pack of colorful characters. She kept a detailed journal of each day, moment to moment from the flight to Bhutan right up to departure — astounding description, a detailed and lush understanding of language helped place me there, looking over Nicholson’s shoulder. The real-life characters live, breathe, eat, drink, herd yaks, point out hidden beauty in the ever-changing, mystical landscape, and come alive. The other people on the trek, a varied group in search of something singular, be it for more vapid reasons or part of a job, or a change of life moment, also add rich color throughout the book. This is a journey the author took in 1984, but it sounds so present, and, even though there have been a few more changes in the little-seen country of Bhutan, I imagine these treks exist in a similar state. There are photos accompanying the journey, and I highly recommend the book, even to those, like me, who travel a lot of the time by armchair. Wonderful. Extra chapters are added bringing the reader up to date on what Bhutan is like now, and how the Thunder Dragon people are some of the happiest people on the planet.
From the above quote, you will understand how the author’s playful descriptions of the locals, customs, and mystical electricity imbue this BiteSize Travel book with joy and laughter. More true than ever it is the simple pleasures that resonate, how wondrous it is to read about eating the last shiny Paro apple, or finding the most authentic Bhutan wardrobe to take home (complete with the intricacies involved in how to tighten, wrap, and fold each length of cloth).
“Waiting for lunch, we had our first experience of buttered tea — sudja. All over the Himalayas it is drunk in large quantities at any time; together with tsampa and yak cheese it makes up the bulk of a yak herder’s diet. They use Chinese rather than Indian tea. It comes in a solid block; a piece is broken off and boiled before heavily salted yak butter is stirred into it. The liquid is pale and greasy, a bit like a watery beef tea. Once I got used to the rancid-buttery smell, it was warming and refreshing — I had a second cup.”
Trish Nicholson’s travel book is the first I have read by her, and I look forward to reading many more of her travelogues. She has an ease of language, both descriptive and complex, yet easy to follow and place me in every astounding situation — try not holding your breath when Nicholson describes the cliffs and the heights she and her traveling companions stepped across to get to temples attached to the side of these sheer cliff sides, the only entrance being ladders lowered for them to climb up and gain entrance.
Jasny is way ahead with Sean, probably roaming around the building by now. Caroline and the Immaculate Blonde are a little way in front. I hear Caroline’s shrill voice before I see her: she has reached the bend and peers around the corner to see the remainder of the route. “I can’t walk down there . . . I can’t. Oh My God! Look at it . . . a sheer drop to the bottom –” she disappears from view and I hear no more. It is not encouraging.
As I reach the bend I see what she means. The path looks like a groove scratched into the side of the mountain: a rock face jutting in and out on my left; only air — a sheer drop — on my right. Deep, narrow steps have been cut into the rock all the way down, but it is on the shady side of the mountain, earlier rain has left the surface wet and slippery. — Trish Nicholson
I highly recommend Journey in Bhutan, and hope you travel as comfortably as I did alongside Trish Nicholson — and when you meet up with the Thunder Dragon, please give him my regards.
Enjoy your holidays,