Rhapsody in Bloom: Bhutan in the Spring

Story by Carla Bossard

Photo courtesy of Far Fung Places LLC

Each spring Bhutan undergoes a transformation. Emerging from its long winter, viridian mountains transform into a master artist's palette as rhododendrons bloom in profusion. Farmers return to the fields with yoked dzos. Weavers emerge from the warmth of their homes, setting up their backstrap looms in the fields or under protective canopies. Now is the time for sacred festivals led by magnificently costumed monks dancing to the sound of clashing cymbals, long horns and drums, invoking the deities of Tantric Buddhism.
—Kathy Fung, Personal Adventures to Other Worlds, 2005

SMC's Alumni Association presents an opportunity for alums, community and friends to experience the splendors of Bhutan in spring. From March 29 to April 13, 2007, the group will explore Bhutan's ancient culture and natural beauty, including the Paro festival; the architecture, music and art of Tantric Buddhism; the fabric crafts of artisans, and blossom-filled valleys amid the soaring Himalayas.

The group, which must be limited to 15, will be led by SMC biology Professor Carla Bossard, an avid traveler who has guided 15 travel/study trips in Asia. Ground arrangements in Bhutan (accommodations, meals, transports, local lecturers and Druk airflight from Bangkok) will be arranged by Far Fung Places LLC, exclusive marketing agent for the Bhutan Tourism Corporation Ltd.

The Bhutan adventure begins with a flight from Bangkok to Paro. The next day the group will drive to Punakha (western Bhutan) over Dochu Pass (10,007 ft.). If it is clear, the eastern Himalayan range and thousands of fluttering prayer flags can be seen here. Continuing on to Punakha at the confluence of the Mo and Po Rivers, there will be a walk through the lovely villages in this area and a visit to the Punakha Dzong where the Bhutanese theocracy spends their winters.

Driving to Trongsa, the route passes virgin pine and oak forests on the way to splendid rhododendron and magnolia forests, which should be in bloom in April. Lectures on the forests, fauna and conservation in Bhutan will enrich the enjoyment of the natural beauty.

In Bumthang, the group will visit some beautiful old monasteries that are repositories of ancient wall hangings, paintings and statuary, all deeply venerated by the Bhutanese. An expert on Tantric Buddhism will share its traditions and beliefs.

Then it's west to the thriving capital city of Thimphu with visits to the colorful weekend market, the Folk Heritage Museum, the School for Traditional Arts, the Museum of Textiles with a lecture from an expert on the fabrics and fabric crafts of Bhutan, and an evening visit to the Bhutan Performing Arts Institute to hear the haunting sounds of the drunyan and lim.

The tour group will return to Paro for the amazing Paro festival celebrating the second Buddha Guru Rinpoche. Hundreds of Bhutanese come to this most sacred festival.

The journey will cost $3,900 from Bangkok, including Druk Air flight to Bhutan from Bangkok. Round-trip airfare from San Francisco to Bangkok is typically $800 economy class. The deadline for registration is Oct. 1, 2006 because of Druk Air requirements and slow visa processing. A $750 deposit is required at registration. Pictures and additional details are available at the website farfungplaces.com. If you have questions, please contact Bossard at cbossard@stmarys-ca.edu, or call (925) 631-4032.