Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Joy of Bhutanese Buses

Well, after an initial frenzy, things became very quiet indeed, but today we have finally reached our mouse half-century and appropriately enough a cricket bat was used!. Yes the mouse tally stands at 50 but the traps are no longer the happy hunting grounds they once were. In fact 3 out of the most recent mice weren’t killed in the traps at all. (Reader, this blog post comes with a PG rating, you may want to screen it before sharing it with your children.)

So let me explain, Bhutanese houses just aren’t very well built and despite our humble abode being only 2 years old it is full of mouse bolt holes where the floorboards simply don’t meet up with the walls properly. If I ever encountered a mouse in a room and tried chasing it, it would always escape through one of dozens of conveniently located hidey-holes. Well, I’ve wised-up! In one room with relatively few hidey-holes, the mice always escaped under the door, so now if I ever see one there, I get a few pieces of wood and block their escape. It is then a farcical chase around the room, upending boxes and suitcases (with Amelie’s cricket bat in hand) trying to catch the little blighter. The end result is not pretty but my blood-thirsty children consider this sport high entertainment indeed. (You have to make your own entertainment in the countryside). And of course - Fido is always happy for any little morsels that come his way.

Anyone who has used public transport in the West knows the etiquette – don’t make eye contact with fellow passengers and don’t try and start a conversation – they’ll think you’re some kind of nutter.

Happily things are still a little old-fashioned on Bhutanese buses and passengers still know how to talk to one-another. I have an ongoing problem with my right-eye which makes it necessary for me to travel to the capital Thimphu now and again. Although it is only 270km away, it takes at least 11 hours to make the trip. As the road is being widened it often takes even longer as the bus pulls over for an hour to let the road crew work in peace. The reason of course for the long journey time is the steep and winding Himalayan roads. If they could afford to build bridges and tunnels the capital would only be a hop, skip and a jump away.

Are you sure that's just carry on Madam?
What’s for lunch?
The first time I took the bus to the capital I had no idea what I was in for. Throughout the journey, the driver played high-energy Dzongkha pop loudly over the bus’s tinny speakers. (On subsequent trips I have learnt that all Bhutanese bus drivers enjoy this type of music). When the bus pulled in at a roadside cafe for lunch I sat alone waiting for someone to ask me what I wanted to eat. Bhutanese restaurants never have menus of any kind and one must always ask what is available. Luckily a group of young women from my bus took pity on me, invited me over to their table and told me what food to order.

On another bus trip, I noticed that two Bhutanese men were talking to each other in English. I inquired as to why and one of them told me that they were talking about politics and it was simply easier to use English for some topics as the words were more nuanced. We then struck up a conversation and became quite pally. He (Tenzhin) then invited me and my family to visit him in his nearby village for their forthcoming tsetchu (festival). (I will write a separate post about that day.)

One hour delay for road widening.

Just nuts
The last time I was on a bus I was sat behind a monk with long hair and a beard. Bhutan is teeming with monks but most of them have very short hair and definitely no beards. I asked him why he was different and his fellow passenger explained that he couldn’t speak English but he was a different type of monk. Just as in Christianity, there are many different types of Buddhist. After a bit of an exchange, the monk then relayed to me (via his interpreter) that he had just recently completed his 3 year solitary meditation! He then told me that he wanted to adopt me as a brother. I was flattered of course but I did feel that before adopting a monk as my brother, I should at least know his name. I felt slightly awkward and tried to avoid the request by sharing my packet of peanuts. The monk happily accepted the nuts and I hoped I hadn’t caused too much offence by my failure to accept his kind offer.

Road widening stop, roadside breakfast.

Another great thing about the buses is that they will stop anywhere along the road and so when a fellow teacher asked me to buy her some ‘real coffee’ in Thimphu, I simply asked the driver to stop at her house while I went in and delivered the package. Nobody on the bus complained or looked at me with daggers – everyone does it. People often just stop the bus and put on a bag of vegetables and explain that someone further along the road will collect it. Frankly, I think that’s wonderful. It will be a sad day indeed when the Bhutanese become slaves to timetables and sit alone on the bus playing with their phones.

Bus convoy on the long and winding road.

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