Spotlight on the District Series – Paro Dzongkhag

Paro is the gateway to the country of Bhutan! This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the Kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields with a beautiful river winding down the valley. Home to Bhutan’s only international airport, this district gives BCF teachers their first glimpse of the majestic beauty that is Bhutan.

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Photo Credit: Andrea Chisolm – Paro

Described as one of the most difficult landings in the world – check out some of our posts about the somewhat frightening journey into Paro at Paro Airport – The Challenging Yet Rewarding Flight to Bhutan and Video – Druk Air Soars.

Druk air is a timely, beautiful flight with Everest in the distance and Kachenjunga close by. A quick stop in Bagdogra, Sikkim, India, and over the hills to Paro. Coming into Paro the flight path is up a canyon, plane banking left and right as we fly below the ridgetops on both sides. – BCF teacher Brick Root

There are over 155 temples and monasteries in Paro Dzongkhag, some dating as far back as 14th century. One of the most iconic is the Taktsang Lhakhang, translated to The Tigers Nest. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the Kingdom and clings to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley. The hike up to the monastery is a good 2-3 hours but is well worth it!

Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins - Tigers Nest Monastary
Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins – Tigers Nest Monastary

To learn more about all the different districts in Bhutan check out our Spotlight on the District Series!

Spotlight on the District Series – Trongsa Dzongkhag

This week for our Spotlight on the District Series we bring you Trongsa Dzongkhag! Currently, we have two BCF teachers placed in this district – Sarah Diamond who is teaching at Tshangkha LSS and Kyle McGee at Trongsa PS.

tcb_031613_trongsa-dzong-4Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan

Tshangkha LSS is located 25 kms before reaching Trongsa. This boarding school mainly caters to the young school-going children of the surrounding villages. Trongsa PS is located on a slope overlooking the Trongsa Dzong, at a distance of about 1km uphill from the main town and is a day school for pre-primary to grade 6 students.

Tshangkha LSS & Trongsa PS

Tshangkha LSS & Trongsa PS

Trongsa Dzongkhag is located in Central Bhutan and due to it’s strategic position, it was considered crucial to controlling the kingdom in earlier years. Situated on a steep ridge this district offers spectacular views of the underlying valleys. Located in this district is the Trongsa Dzong. This striking dzong sits high above the roaring Mangde Chhu (a river that flows in central Bhutan) and has been described as “the most spectacularly sited dzong in Bhutan with a sheer drop to the south that often disappears into cloud and mist”. Of the many festivals held in various parts of Trongsa, the grandest is the three-day annual Tshechu. Falling in November or December of the international calendar, the festivities carry on for several days with mask dances and blessings from high ranking monks.

Photo Credit: Raewyn Robbins – Festival in Trongsa

Also located in the Trongsa district is the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies. One of the constituent colleges of the Royal University of Bhutan, ILCS’s motto is “To produce modern citizens with traditional knowledge”. The Institute’s vision is to be a centre of excellence in higher learning and research in Dzongkha, Culture, History, Buddhist Studies, and Himalayan Studies, and be a premier institution for cultural preservation and promotion. Learn more at the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies’ website.

 To learn more about all the different districts in Bhutan check out our Spotlight on the District Series

Spotlight on the District Series – Wangdue Dzongkhag

This week we bring you Wangdue Phodrang for our Spotlight on the District Series. Because of it’s size and ranging altitudes, Wangdue has extremely varied climatic conditions ranging from Sub-Tropical forests in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north. This year we have two BCF teachers in Wangdue Phodrang, Brick Root located at Gaselo HSS and Valerie Robert located at Rukubji PS.

Student Life at Gaselo HSS - Brick Root
Student Life at Gaselo HSS – Brick Root

My school, Gaselo Higher Secondary School, is typical, it is in a rural area and draws many students from small villages which had no access to schooling. Many of the students in school here are first generation high school students. If either of their parents went to school it was very limited. For Bhutan to have gone from a country of very few schools to effectively enrolling 100% of the children in primary grades is an amazing step to have taken in a very short period of time.  Brick Root: Student Life in Bhutan

To read more about Brick’s experiences in Wangdue check out his blog Brick in Bhutan.

Front Gate of Gaselo HSS - Brick Root
Front Gate of Gaselo HSS – Brick Root

One of the most notable sites in this district is the Phobjikha Valley where the Black Necked Crane Festival is held. Phobjika is a wide and beautiful alpine wetland valley and is the roosting grounds of the Black-necked cranes that migrate each year in winter from its northern habitats in Tibet and Siberia.

While I watched them pecking the valley floor or rising and twisting in flight, I thought about how these birds fly across Everest from Tibet to come to THIS valley. What a journey they take, twice a year!….I thought of the intensity and difficulty I undertook for my own landing in Bhutan. I didn’t fly over Everest using only the strength of my wings, but I did leave my home and the familiar for an unknown and challenging, but ultimately beautiful experience.  – Iman Meflah: Road Trip

Photo Credit: Meghann Turner
Photo Credit: Meghann Turner – Phobjikha LSS

To get a better understanding of a teacher’s perspective living in this dzongkhag, visit our alumni teacher blogs -> Meghann Turner’s Land of the Thunder Dragon, Iman Meflah’s  Bhutan: a year in haiku,  and Carson Koller’s  Druk Mail.

To learn more about other districts check out our Spotlight on the District Series

Spotlight on the District Series – Thimphu Dzongkhag

This week for the Spotlight on the District Series, we are featuring Thimphu. Thimphu Dzongkhag is located in the Western part of the country and is divided into eight Gewogs and one town (Thimphu). The Kingdom’s capital is the most modern city in Bhutan and home to over 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal Family! This bustling city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country.

thimphu

 Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan – Tashicho Dzong

Thimphu features a monsoon-influenced subtropical highland climate with mild summers and relatively cool winters. There is a wet season which runs from May through September and a dry season that covers the remainder of the year. The Gewogs in the northern part of the Dzongkhag have rugged and mountainous terrain with extreme cold climates and are only connected by mule track.

Some notable landmarks in the Thimphu Dzongkhag are the Tashichho DzongBuddha Dordenma Statue, and The National Library.

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 Photo Credit: Tourism Council of Bhutan – Buddha Dordenna Statue

While we do not place our teachers in the capital city of Thimphu, orientation for our teachers is held here and currently BCF teacher Matthew Stretton is situated at Yangchen Gatshel LSS, Thimphu.

Check out some of our teacher blog entries about their experiences visiting Thimphu during orientation! Heather Robertson in BhutanBrick in Bhutan, and From Down Under to the Top of the World.

 

Spotlight on the District Series – Zhemgang Dzongkhag

For today’s blog, we bring you Zhemgang Dzongkhag!  Zhemgang is one day’s drive from the capital city of Thimphu. Zhemgang also features the famous Royal Manas National Park, the oldest national park in Bhutan and is a “conservation showpiece of the Kingdom”! 

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“It is amazing the change in terrain a few hours can make. We have seen alpine, forests, and subtropical all within a short trip. One thing everywhere we have been has in common are the mountains.” – Delaine Keenum

With most of the region’s warm and humid climatic conditions, Zhemgang has incredible biodiversity with lush forests which are home to 22 endangered species including the Golden LangurGangetic Dolphins and the Asian One-horned Rhinceros!

The inhabitants of Zhemgang are famous for their rich culture, particularly their folk songs and dances. They are also famed for their skill at crafting various goods out of bamboo such as Bangchungs (matted bamboo bowls), Palangs (alcohol containers), Balaks (hats), mats and boxes. They are also adept potters and their earthenware products were highly prized throughout the country in the past.

Though Buddhism has been growing in popularity in the dzongkhag,  every region of the district still continues its animist traditions and Bon priests known as Bonpo are considered respected religious leaders. There are also a number of famous Buddhist temples in the region such as Buli Lhakhang and Tharpa Choeling Lhakhang.

Our BCF teachers, Loretta Sartin McClure in 2011 and Delaine Keenum in 2012, taught at Zhemgang LSS which is located in Wamdakpa. At present this school has 625 students with 20 teachers. It is a pilot school for a program offering integration of special needs children into mainstream education. Grades range from pre-primary to grade 8. To get a teacher’s perspective on the Zhemgang Dzongkhag, check out Delaine’s blog to learn more!

To read more more on the Zhemgang Dzongkhag, check out the Tourism Council of Bhutan!

Spotlight on District Series – Lhuntse Dzongkhag

This week in the district series, we bring you Lhuntse, originally named Kurtoe. Although no village resides in central Lhuntse, it is one of the most picturesque of the dzongkhags in Bhutan, with high cliffs towering over rivers and dense forests. Located furthest east of Bhutan, Lhuentse is characterized as the ancestral home of Bhutanese Kings, hosting a number of important and sacred monuments, namely the fortress, Lhuntse Dzong.

Photo Credit: Aurelia Smith. Autsho.
Photo Credit: Aurelia Smith. Autsho.

I’ve had some pretty surreal moments when I just realize exactly where I am, what I’m doing, and I just can’t believe it. It just amazes me.” – Aurelia Smith

What distinguishes this dzongkhag from the rest are the cultural festivals hosted by nearby villages, that are quite unique from those of other communities. Two important festivals are the Cha and Ha festivals held to honour deities and avert misfortunes. The most notable however, in this region, is the annual three day festival, Tshechu, typically held in November. During the festivals, those attending cleanse their sins by watching masked dances, and receiving public blessings from sacred relics. Aside from the picturesque views and the unique festivals, Lhuntse is also famous for its distinctive textiles, called Kishuthara considered the best in the country.

Two schools in Lhuntse District are Phuyum Higher Secondary School and Autsho MSS.

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Photo Credit: Aurelia Smith. Students at Autsho MSS.

Now that I’ve been away, all of the difficulties and frustrations that come with living and teaching in a totally foreign community go away. I remember how generous and kind my students were…” – Keira Loukes

To learn more about a teacher’s perspective living in this dzongkhag, visit our alumni teacher’s blog Reidi on her experience teaching at Autsho MSS in Lhuntse in 2012 and an interview with our returned teacher Keira who taught at Phuyum Secondary School in 2010 and 2011.

To read more on the Lhuentse Dzongkhag, visit the Tourism Council of Bhutan!

 Applications to Apply to Teach in Bhutan close July 31st, so Apply Today!

Spotlight on District Series – Chhukha Dzongkhag

Chhukha Dzongkhag, located in the south-west of Bhutan, south of the Thimphu Capital, consists of winding roads that drop from the mountains through the lush tropical foothills of Southern Bhutan to Phuentsholing, the primary land crossing into India. ”A hot, wet region of dense Sub-Tropical forests, this region is home to many important plant and animal species.” (Tourism.BT)  The wondrous views attract tourists and adventurous  spirits.

Photo Credit: Heather Robertson. Chhukha Village.
                        Photo Credit: Heather Robertson. Chhukha Village.

Chhukha is known as a financial and commercial capital in Bhutan, as it hosts the Bank of Bhutan, Bhutan National Bank, a Cyber Cafe, Photo Studio, and a bazaar. In addition, a grand characteristic of Chhukha is its Chhukha and Tala Hydropower Projects. “These dams are are crucial to they country as they are still the largest providers of revenue.”

The Chhukha Dzongkhag is also an important religious center due to the Jabar Goemba Monastery, surrounded by five mountains, and blessed by many Buddhist masters. The holy Phurba or ritual dagger, holds a legendary tale of defying gravity, said to have flown to the Tshamdrak Goemba Monastery from Tibet. (Tourism.BT)

Photo Credit: Dave Green
Photo Credit: Dave Green. Typical Gedu house.

“Gedu is the small town that straddles the main road from Phuensaling and Thimphu, the main artery of traffic between India and Bhutan. It’s at the end of 12km of bumpy feeder-road that ties our school somewhat loosely to the rest of the world…The road then winds up from the school to the first half of the town; a row of 12 or 13 buildings constitutes the metropolis. They all have shops on the ground floor and apartments above. I’m friendly with the shopkeeps now, and there’s a couple of cafes that I regularly visit. Taking the main road for a kilometer or less, you reach the other half of the town, which is more town-like with its multiple roads and its intersections.” Dave Green (BCF Alumni, Pakshikha MSS).

Currently, there are two BCF teachers in Chhukha Dzongkhag. Heather Robertson teaches at Chukha Higher Secondary School; whereas BCF Alumni, Dave Green, was succeeded by David Plant at Pakshikha Middle Secondary School for the 2013 school year.

Learn about the rest of Bhutan’s Dzongkhags→Spotlight on District Series!

Want to be part of the unique Bhutanese culture?

Check out our Teach in Bhutan program and Apply Now!

Spotlight on the District Series – Bumthang Dzongkhag

This week, we bring you…Bumthang Dzongkhag, known as Bhutan’s spiritual heartland!

Photo Credit: Sabrina Soares
Photo Credit: Sabrina Soares

This dzongkhag stretches across four valleys – the Chokhor, Tang, Ura, and Chhume. The Chokhor valley is the biggest with several dzongs and the most important temples; it is simply known as Bumthang Valley. Kurje Lhakkhang, Jambay Lhakhang, Tamshing Lhakhang are just a few of the temples and monasteries in this dzongkhag..

“…It is one thing to see Bhutan in pictures or read about it; however, it is a whole other thing to experience it in person – to look like an ant against the sides of majestic mountains, to feel the vibrations of Buddhist chants run through your body, to taste the air of incense in monasteries…Thus, I’m so happy to experience what I will be talking about for years to come.” – Sabrina Soares, Chumey MSS

The place to visit in Bumthang dzongkhag is Jakar which is also the main town and major trading centre of the region. The town was originally constructed as a monastery in 1549 and is currently used as the administrative centre of the region. Bumthang is also home to several important festivals like the Jampey Lhakhang Drup occurring in October and, just one week later, Bumthang Tsechu which features mask dancing.

Bumthang is also known for a unique textile which is created there: yathra. Yathra is hand-spun, hand-woven strips of wool. The geometric designed strips are used as blankets or bed covers when joined together.

Photo Credit: John Berthold
Photo Credit: John Berthold

Our alumni teachers who taught in this dzongkhag include Sabrina Soares and Martin Thorn. Currently, Andrea Chisholm resides there with her family, teaching at Chumey MSS and Wanglidcholing LSS. To learn more about their experiences check out Sabrina Soares’ blog, Martin Thorn’s blog and Andrea Chisholm’s blog!

Interested in teaching in Bhutan?  Make sure to also check out  TeachInBhutan to apply today!

Spotlight on the District Series – Punakha Dzongkhag

This week on the Spotlight on Districts Series, we are featuring Punakha Dzongkhag.  For over 300 years, this dzongkhag was home to Bhutan’s capital, constructed “strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. “

Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong. Photo Credit: John Berthold Photography

Located between the Mo Chhu (mother river) and Pho Chhu (father river), Punakha’s climate makes for warm winters and hot summer. In its rich history, Punakha has endured frequent fires, severe earthquakes, and glacial lake bursts, however its continuous restoration efforts have maintained its magnificent scenery and visitor appeal.  Punakha is known to host the most famous festival in the country, which is unusual in nature as it displays a dramatic recreation of the 17th Century battle scene.

Another major attraction in Punakha is the temple of fertility of Chimi Lhakhang, which is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, also known as the “Divine Madman”.  His teachings “provoked people to discard their preconceptions.” Many believe that couples wanting children are usually blessed with one, soon after praying at the temple of the Chimi Lhakhang.

Since 2010, four BCF teachers have taught in Punakha: Andrea Giesbrecht (2010 – present), Sarah Shmitt (present), Thubten Senge (present) and Noorin Shivji (2012.)

Interested in teaching in Bhutan? Make sure to also check out  www.TeachInBhutan.org/Apply to apply today!

Spotlight on the Districts Series – Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag

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Sunrise is Trashiyangtse, Photo Credit: Tim Grossman

Returning to our Spotlight on the District Series, we bring to you the youngest Dzongkhag of Bhutan created in 1992, the Trashiyangtse District, previously a district of Trashigang and part of Eastern Bhutan. Trashiyangtse’s literal translation means “Fortress of Auspicious Fortune” as the inhabitants of the area are blessed with continued peace and harmony in the valley. Trashiyangtse includes eight Gewogs, with a total of only eight percent of its land being under cultivation. Similar to other Dzongkhags, Trashiyangtse is known for its Wildlife Sanctuary at Bomdeling. Trashiyangtse is renowned for its finely made wooden cups, bowls and containers made from avocado and maple word using water-driven and treadle lathes.

The first school in the district is Trashiyangtse Lower Secondary School, located on a gentle slope of the Baychen village. At present, the day school has 780 students and 22 teachers with grades from pre-primary to eight. Past teachers in the field include Kendra Matheson, who became very immersed in Bhutanese culture, embracing Bhutanese food, and enrolling in Bhutanese painting classes. Kendra had this to say on living in Trashiyangtse: “It was pretty amazing to wake up this morning to monks chanting a deep, long song accompanied by something like a didgeridoo. The curtains and bed frame came with the room. We brought the mattress and bedding from Thimphu. Our mattress was too large for the bedroom so within a couple of hours a cheery pair of carpenters came by and built an extension on the bed frame. We are so well taken care of!” – From Home Sweet Home

Currently, Leland Crawford is teaching at Trashiyangtse LSS for 2013!

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Morning Assembly at Tshenkherla, Photo Credit: Tim Grossman

Our second school in Trashiyangtse is Tshenkherla Middle Secondary School, first established in 1978. Our current teacher in the field, Tim Grossman, talks about his experience teaching in Trashiyangtse: “The kids are acomical in their gho and kiras, boisterously speaking and laughing. I feel close to them and it’s a more genuine closeness. I am still adjusting, as each day one must adapt to their niche to contribute to the good of the community. I am endlessly fascinated by the students and their inner realities and dynamics. They treat each other well for the most part as community at a boarding school is a necessity.” – From May Day Muzing

 

Keep an eye out for more Districts, and don’t forget to Apply Today to teach in Bhutan!