3/5-6 – Driving to Samtse
Monday morning I met with Monira Tsewang, who is the Chief of the Media Literacy section of the Dept. of Information & Media (DOIM). Mona is very enthusiastic about the integration of media literacy into the curriculum in Bhutan, and I can tell she is a little worried about how things will go in Samtse – given that it is such a large group of students to work with for 2 full days – so we talked about the different activities I might use to hold the students’ attention. I was able to meet with the Secretary of the Department, who is also very committed to media literacy, and we discussed the possibility of having media literacy on the agenda for the annual teacher conference in Bhutan next year.
I would be traveling with members of DOIM, including Namkha (my wonderful guide and companion who will be with me throughout my trip), and our driver, Yeshi. While waiting for the DOIM staff to finish preparing for our travel, Yeshi drove me to see the Takin national preserve in the forest above Thimphu. The Takin is the national animal in Bhutan – found only here.
We then spent a rather harrowing two days driving from Thimphu (Bhutan’s capital city, in the Western middle of the country) to Samtse, which is on the southwest border of India. The drive down to the Indian border at Phuentsholing – about 175 km – took more than 6 hours, as everything is through the inner Himalayan mountains on tiny roads (basically one lane, but two-way) that are often gravel, with constant switchbacks and hairpin turns. One estimate I read was that there is a turn every 9 seconds – so I was very glad to have been advised to take Dramamine. We spent the night in Phuentsholing, continuing our journey the next morning.
Samtse is in a restricted area that few visitors travel to, and the only route possible involves going through India, entering at and then driving about 60 km west to Samste. Northern India was intriguing – lots of tea groves, cows wandering freely everywhere, and a wide range of different types of transportation (cars, busses often decorated with Hindu imagery, large trucks, 3-wheeled mini-cars that served as taxis, trains, many bicycles, motorcycles, and both hand-pulled and bicycle rickshaws). Many of the roads we traveled on were one long series of gigantic potholes, although unlike Bhutan the land was completely flat. We got lost shortly after we entered India, and ended up driving 2 hours in the wrong direction, so what was supposed to be a 2-hour journey ended up as a 6 hour journey – and by the time we arrived in Samste they were ready to call out the police to find us. They were much relieved when we finally arrived in late afternoon!
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