Touched by Buddhist Thoughts, by Nicky Phear

Nicky is a faculty member at the University of Montana in Missoula, MT, USA

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I have been traveling for nearly two weeks with ten Bhutanese high school students and Bhutanese ride leaders across the kingdom of Bhutan.  I am struck by the gentleness and kindness of our students, by the magnificent forests that cover these mountains, and by how each view includes a strand of prayer flag, stupa, monastery or other symbol reflecting deeply ingrained Buddhist traditions.  We reach the final climb of our fifteen-day trip.  At 10,000+ feet, on Dochula pass, a stupa stands in the middle of the road, prayer flags abound.  We all call out, “Lha Gyalo,” or “Victory to the Gods,” as we cycle three times clockwise around the stupa.  I feel a sense of collective accomplishment that eclipses my pride and plays out with a generous spirit.

This trip has quieted me from my incessant questions and demands.  I am learning to hold back, to watch and learn from our Bhutanese students and leaders who teach me in their quiet, mindful ways.  I start to notice how students like Kinley saves bugs from pools of water, how Jamyang lingers behind on our walks to pick up trash, how no one swats the bugs that bite them, how Namgay is keen to teach me how to bow, and how never once did I hear a complaint despite our arduous rides on sometimes poorly tuned bikes.  I ask Jamyang if he will be sad when the trip is over, when he has to give up his borrowed bike.  He say, “no ma’am, I will be happy, happy for the opportunity I have been given.”  I am not used to this degree of sincerity and selflessness.

When I ask Kinley to share directly, more Buddhist lessons, he responds: “Ma’am, the only way you can be good human being is if you avoid negative thinking to others, help others as well as animals who are suffering in this world.” After a pause, he continues, “Nothing is permanent, keeping this in mind we have to help others as much as we can.”  I reflect on the implications of such a perspective; can an ever-changing world be gently coaxed to a healthier place beginning simply with positive thoughts and clearer motives?

My life work is increasingly centered on helping youth understand and respond to climate change.  In the States, I teach students about basic climate science, implications for the environment and society, and some of our technical and political solutions for reducing emissions.   We sometimes discuss the worldviews or values that have led to our predicament, but rarely do I directly address the role our thoughts have in shaping the world.

On a personal level, this makes a great deal of sense to me.  I am aware of the energy I put out into the world.  Positive thoughts generally foster good will around me.  I, and others, suffer from my own negative thinking.  We are all causally connected through thought and action.  The challenge of climate change is how far we need to extend this consideration–our thoughts and actions affecting others so distant to us in time and space.  Being more aware in each moment creates a moment for acknowledging the multitude of factors at play, both internally and externally.  Through this level of insight the conflicts and challenges are both revealed and dissipate.  This is where positive change can happen.  I am grateful for this journey around Bhutan, for my newfound connection to a country halfway around the world, and to an incredible group of youth who are shaping our world in the kindest of ways.

_______________________

Kinley teaching me about holy water, and how drinking it will make one have a good voice.

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Birds and Buddhists, by Mara Menahan

Mara attends the University of Montana in Missoula, MT, USA

“Look, movement!” whispered Rinchen Singye thrusting his binoculars into my hands and pointing enthusiastically at a cluster of bamboo shoots. I focused the lenses on a round bird dangling upside down swinging wildly on the end of a frond. “It’s a Brown Parrot Bill, a bamboo specialist”, explained Rinchen, Bhutan Ride for Climate’s EMT and on the side ornithologist. In the early mornings, Rinchen lead bird walks in some of the best bird watching areas in the world including the Royal Botanical Park. As I watched the brown parrot bill catapult itself amongst the bamboo shoots, I realized I’d only seen 27 of the nearly 700 species native to Bhutan.

Avifauna contributes to only a small sector of Bhutan’s rich biodiversity. Bhutan serves as a model for environmental conservation across the globe. With its forest cover policy, commitment to carbon neutrality and sustainable development, the country successfully preserves its unique ecosystems. However, the pressures of an increasing population, globalization and climate change threaten this biological “hotspot”.

As we begin our walk through the densely forested area of the Royal Botanical Park, Rinchen explains how some species are already reacting to a changing climate. Rinchen is looking for a White Breasted Water Hen, one of the species sighted in higher altitudes as global temperatures rise. Ornithologists across the globe including Rinchen are observing changes in the ranges of many birds. He also points out the combined threats of climate change with land use changes and habitat destruction. The massive hydropower construction site we visited in Punatsangchhu is home to the White Bellied Herron—one of Bhutan’s endangered species.

Despite these threats, birds in Bhutan have a better chance of survival because of the country’s commitment to conservation. Perhaps this effort stems from the Buddhist beliefs of its people. In particular, the value placed on all sentient beings and the practice of relieving suffering for any living thing. As my fellow rider Kinley explained while cupping insects in his hands to release them outdoors, Buddhists believe when we harm others, we harm ourselves. I am inspired by Kinley’s compassion for all living things. Bhutan’s dedication to protecting biodiversity reflects this compassion. People of Bhutan understand the importance of protecting biodiversity on an ethical level.

Our bus driver, Dechen, accompanied Rinchen and the birders on our walk in the Royal Botanical Park. He lingered behind holding prayer beads, his chants adding to the forest noises. Dechen’s prayers went out to all sentient beings. As we took turns looking through the binoculars, his chanting reminded me of the role of Buddhism in Bhutan’s conservation policy. People like Kinley and Dechen make these efforts possible. Because of the value Buddhists place on all sentient beings, protecting biodiversity remains a widely supported effort. Coming to Bhutan, I’ve gained a new way of understanding nature through the beliefs of the Bhuddhist people.

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With Love from Bhutan, By Wangda Tobgyal

When Sangay and I were shouldered the prestigious responsibility to lead the group of young bikers for Bhutan Ride for Climate, we shared mixed feelings. I’ve biked all the motorable roads in this mountainous country and the Bhutanese roads are no child’s play.

Can the riders make it? How will the weather be, in the middle of monsoon season? Are our American riders acclimatized enough for the high Bhutanese mountain passes? Will our drivers give way to us? These questions clouded my mind. The expedition was taking place right in the middle of the monsoon and I was expecting some heavy downpour.

Wangda Tobgyal, Bhutan Lakhor Tours &Treks

Every thing eased out as we started pedaling, like shifting the gears of a well lubed chain of a mountain bike. The day 1 ride in Paro was more like the first date of a newly met lover. It was an introduction of the riders to their bikes. Every rider was getting to know their bikes and trying hard to adjust to it.

Having Karl in the team was a blessing. As the only certified mechanic, he reassured the team, including me, on the mechanical maintenance of our bikes.

Nicky and Mara are great bikers. Just looking at them pedal made me feel so light and refreshed.

Amy from Nat Geo was a Bhutanese in American skin. Her compassion, patience, gentleness, and the concern for the young boys and girls in the team are something that even we Bhutanese can learn from.

Our Bhutanese boys and girls proved to be true ambassadors of the Dragon Kingdom. The songs we sang, the dances we danced, jokes we shared, up hills we sweated and the scars we bored are some of the memories that I’ll always cherish for the rest of my life.

Bhutan Ride for Climate was such an eye opener for me. As a tour organizer and a guide I’ve led many expeditions, travelled every corner of the country and I always thought I knew everything about my country; but this ride taught me that what I knew was only the surface.

I joined the expedition with the goal to contribute something to the team, but instead I’ve gained a lot from the members; I learned about climate change, team spirit, taking care of each other and knowing that no matter what skin color we have, deep inside we are all same and we share one concern.

The colors of our blood is red and climate change will put a threat to all our lives, whether we live in “city lights”, remote villages, hot deserts, cold mountains, or golden beaches.

“We could have saved the earth but we were too damned cheap” – Kurt Vonnegut.

Wangda Tobgyal (Bike leader) Bhutan Lakhor Tours &Treks.

www.bhutanprayerwheel.com.

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See You all in the Future, by Namgay Wangdi

Wow! Bhutan Ride for Climate was so fun for me and I will never in my life forget such an enjoyable ride.  The bike ride for climate change was so informative for us because we learnt about so many activities taking place around us.  We got a chance to meet with many people and we also exchanged ideas with them.  We met with farmers from different places.  We also learnt what the farmers and monks say about climate change.  Whenever we met people, we asked questions to them about climate change and they somehow knew that the climate is changing.  Some places are becoming warmer and warmer compared to before.  The climate is changing due to more construction and more cars.  The cars produce lots of emissions that effect our environment.

The ride for climate is also a good example to other people that they can travel anywhere they want by bike.  They really don’t have to use cars for travel between Thimphu and Bumthang, which is only 270 kilometers.  If they are using cars, then there are many effects to the environment because of emissions.  As our country is developing, many activities are going on which leads to destruction to our environment.  One of the example is the Punatshangchu hydro project, which has lots of effect to environment but I am sure the country will benefit in the future through generation of hydro power and revenue providing free heath and education to our people.

Our trip is coming to an end and I am so sad to be separated from my friends.
Empty, dark has the world become,
With my heart an abyss of suffering,
My hopes and dreams drowned,
My heartthrob flying away.
You all always dwelt in my heart and inspired me with dreams,
Now you all leave me cold and dark with my heart drifting lonely.
Let us all join our hands together to preserve our environment and to have not much change in climate.

So see you all in the future and thanks for all your support during our bike trip.

 

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Friends, by Palchen Wangchuk

Like all good things, our exciting adventure has sadly come to an end.  This trip has been a very enjoyable journey that will be etched in my memory forever.  Every millisecond of the marvelous expedition was memorable for me.  There were times where we were faced with hardships, but we overcame them with the help of our peers and the guidance of our mentors.  On this trip we learned how the famous Bumthang cheese was made and that the farmers here have been aware of the change in climate.  In the micro-hydro powered village of Rukubji, we learned that they have 65 households, and the people there are very thankful for the electricity they have and they have a very catchy tune about the “city lights.”  In Lamperi, we learned more about a botanical garden and sang tunes like, “Take it easy” by the Eagles, “Won’t go home without you” by Maroon 5, and “City Lights” by anonymous.

A day in Rukubji

We ended the bike ride in Thimphu where we were welcomed by the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck. Along the way, we had the fortunate chance to talk to farmers, monks and even a minister.  We managed to cross four passes that were very high in altitude, and cover 270 kilometers.  That is something that I will always be very proud of.  I am also very thankful to have been part of the very first Bhutan Ride for Climate group.

On this trip, we have gained a lot individually and as a group.  We have brightened our knowledge on climate change and also learned a couple of valuable life and bike lessons, like how to take care of and fix our bikes thanks to Mr. Karl, Mr. Wangda, and Mr. Sangay.  Of all the valuable items and knowledge gained, I think that the friendships made are the most important of all.

Then, we were friends.  Now, we are great friends.  Tomorrow, we will be old friends.  No matter what we will always be friends.  Thanks to Bhutan Ride for Climate.

Kinley, Mara, & Karl celebrating together at the top of a pass

 

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The Last Ride, by Thinley Norbu

We had an early start off from the Royal Botanical Park, Lamperi, where we had stayed the previous night.  We had to bike up about 11 kilometers of steep uphill slopes, and to make matters worse, the BBS (Bhutan Broadcasting Service), the only national news channel crew followed us up to Dochula pass, which made us very nervous.  As soon as we reached Dochula pass, we circled the chortens (stupas) three times shouting “Lha Gyalo,” which means “victory to the Gods” rejoicing and shouting with happiness because it was the last climb of our trip.  But deep down, I was sad and became even more sad because as we got nearer to Thimphu.  I knew we were getting nearer to the end of the whole trip and I didn’t want to depart from the group with whom over the couple of days I have grown a huge bond.

Most of the biking after Dochula pass was downhill and with some gentle slopes.  Within a short duration of time, we got to Thimphu and entered the city.  We biked into the city and continued up to the Youth Development Centre.  We waited there for a few minutes for the arrival of Her Royal Highness, the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck.  As soon as Her Majesty entered the centre, we followed and parked our bikes and waited patiently for the signal to come up front and face the Queen Mother.  After we got the signal, we walked up to Her Majesty and bowed down to show respect for her presence.  Her Majesty was surprised to find us all in good health after all the biking we had done, and also congratulated us for our successful trip.

After that we had a few speeches delivered just by the Climate Summit Secretariat.  We also had two great speeches delivered by our very own Mr. Tshewang Rinzin Wangchuk about our whole trip and a brief speech by Mr. Jamyang.  We were also given a certificate of merit by Her Majesty, which we felt was very honourable.  It was then followed by a very delicious lunch, which everyone enjoyed.   After lunch, Her Majesty, the Queen Mother departed from the event congratulating each one of us.  We also ended the event and biked to a place to wash and clean our bikes.  Then we all went our separate ways eager to meet the next today for our last gathering.

 

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A Walk in the Park, by Karl Kiser

What a climb!  The penultimate stage of Le Tour de Dragon was by far the most strenuous.  The grueling 1225-meter (that’s 4000 feet for the American’s) climb over 30 kilometers would even make a top athlete think twice at this altitude.  Because of our vertical gain, we managed to ride through four different types of forests.  The motivation of the beautiful Royal Botanical Park and a hot lunch at the top was just what we needed to overcome the increasingly thin air.

With tired legs and a full bellies, it was time to discover what the Park had to offer.  Being caulked full of things to do ranging from bird watching to mountain biking, it was hard to decide what to do with our limited time.  Aside from the plethora of activities, the Park was also an invaluable source of information on the local environment.  If the creative displays in the main house did not quench our thirst for knowledge, the rangers certainly could.

Display at the Visitors Center at the Royal Botanical Nat'l Park

The location of the Park could not have been better.  Nestled between the two fastest growing areas in Bhutan (Thimphu and Punakha), it is an ideal place to spread the message of conservation and climate change.  As an added plus, the Park acts as a biological corridor between two larger Parks, one to the North and one to the South.  This means animals such as the endangered Tiger can have a much larger protected range.

Our stay at the Royal Botanical Park would not have been possible without our fellow cameraman and Park manager, Tenzin Phuntsho.  I would like to thank him for sharing such an incredible part of Bhutan with our Bhutan Ride for Climate riders.

 

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No Power like Hydro Power, by Palchen Wangchuk

A small micro-hydro powered village, Rukubji, was where we started our long and arduous ride to the wonderful valley of Wangdue.  Everyone was up and about by 7:00 am for the 70 km ride.  I was very nervous because the group leaders had said the ride would be our longest one on this trip, but what kept me from having a breakdown was the fact that 40+ km of the ride would be downhill.

The first part of our ride was uphill, which meant that we had no time or energy to waste.  After about 1.5 hours of climbing the monstrous steep hills, stopping for a breather became frequent.  It was so tiring and long that I was desperately praying and hoping for the downhill part to start.  It was also very distracted that I almost missed a sign that read “Pelela- 2 km.”  I was so happy that I had to stop to take a picture.

After the pass everything was downhill.  It was very thrilling, exciting, and fast but it was also dangerous.  When our friend, Kicking Kinley, ran into a small car, everyone became a lot more cautious.

We stopped our thrilling downhill adventure at the bottom of the mountain to have lunch.  We were warmly welcomed by Keen Kencho’s family at their resort.  When we were done gulping down the delicious meal, we headed over to the Punatsangchhu construction site.

The Punatsangchhu hydro-power construction site is creating a dam.  The dam is going to be Bhutan’s highest revenue earner.  The dam is going to generate around 1200 megawatts of energy.   This is a lot more than the 26 kilowatts of the micro-hydro generation we saw in Rukubji.  Most of this power will be exported to India, which purchases 85% of the hydro energy Bhutan generates.

We went inside a tunnel that went into the mountain.  The tunnels were humongous and gave me an uneasy feeling.

I left the site with many questions like what if there was a glacial outburst?  What if the river dried up?  Should Bhutan try to grow its economy?  Well, one thing was for sure, biking along the roads that I have traveled many times in a car has helped me become more aware of climate change.  It has also shown me what a beautiful country Bhutan is.

In the tunnel at the hydro-power construction site

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Animals as Family, by Kinley Wangchuk

I believe the emblem of our religion is that we have a sense of respecting other, human or animal, where we understand each other in whatever activity is necessary for our living.

Actually, it is a responsibility of human beings to help the animal. Even if you don’t help them, one should make oneself aware to not do activities that will affect the life of the animals. I will give an example, as I have asked one of the people of Rukubji where we will be staying for two days before we head towards Wangdiphodrang. He says that the great threat of the people of Rukubji is the Tiger, as this animal has already eaten quite a number of domestic animal, especially cow. He even said that wild pigs are also creating problems by eating all the potatoes in the field. We know that every animal has to depend on one another. The villagers, if they try to kill the Tiger, then first of all it would be very dangerous and secondly if they managed to kill the tiger then there will be certain changes in the cycle of life and the impact would be deadly. By killing off the Tiger, this would increase the number of wild pigs, which will create a lot of problems for the people.

I quote George Eliot, “Animals are such agreeable friends, they ask no questions, they pose no criticism,” so we should live a life to cooperate with each other by looking at the negative impact to others due to the activities that we are doing. Some people say that animals are animals and they don’t deserve to live a comfortable life like we the humans. I am totally against this because I think we being Buddhists do have respect for everything that exists in the world.

So, I would like to conclude with an quote written by Patricia Harris, and he says, “Do not aim lower than your potential, few people have ever attained a higher level than the one to which they aspired.” So never lose a chance, it doesn’t come every day the opportunity we have right now to know through studying the habitats of animals. I think I am proud because after knowing about the animals, and even needs of the human beings, I would become with an appropriate solution so that I can make the youth aware regarding the negative impact of making animals extinct from the society. And besides, animals are like our family member.

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I Guess I Did Too! by Thinley G. Norbu

The wheels kept turning, like the hands of time.  We had a destination to reach.  Riding from Bumthang to Trongsa was no child’s play.  In the first part of our ride, we struggled a lot with the high hills and steep slopes.  It was all up hill till Yotongla.

a well deserved hot meal on the passYotongla is the pass that separates Bumthang and Trongsa Dzongkhag (District).  We had our lunch at this pass.  I must say, it was one of the most rewarding lunches I have ever had.  It must have been all the riding I did.  I bet my other rider friends felt the same.  Riding up the hill was one of the toughest things I have ever done physically!

After lunch it was all down hill, all the way till Trongsa where we spent our night at a guesthouse (Puenzhi guest house).  The guesthouse had one of the most breath-taking views of the Trongsa Dzong (fortress) as well as the Ta-dzong (the watch tower for the Dzong).

The ride down hill was so much fun.  The cool winds of the Himalayan air, fluttering of the prayer flags, it was all so refreshing.

It sounds like a fairy tale, overcoming struggles, and at the end finishing off with a hero’s victory.  But as every story has its own fall, I got mine too.

I managed to take a bike fall.  It’s funny how I just took my eyes off the road and the very next second I was diving headfirst into the ground.  I barely managed to avoid falling off a cliff.  It wasn’t anything serious, but still the group leaders and my friends got very concerned.

I got myself hurt a bit, got my friends and my group leaders concerned, and kind of changed the whole atmosphere for a moment.

What we do to our mother earth is not much different.  We are all very ignorant. Every now and then mother earth indicates that she is being abused.

Early winters and late summer, intense rains and intense heat, droughts too are just some indication that she is suffering.

People learn when they are taught,
people understand when they feel,

people change from their situations and experiences.

I guess I did too.

If we are our own cause of sufferings, let’s change.  Let’s improve as better leaders and role models in protecting and promoting what little that we have of our environment.

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