Posted on May 4, 2011
We met Michelle in Kathmandu at the exhibition last November. She’s keeping Nepali sign painters alive and painting! You can have your favorite pet painted by a Nepali artist in the “Danger Dog” sign tradition. Your favorite dog, cat, rabbit, rooster will become a fabulous piece of folk art. Michelle is in Nepal now, so contact her to order your painting. Link is below.
Michelle came to our Ventura event ‘Come Travel With Us to Bhutan…The Last Himalayan Kingdom’ and generously donated 2 Danger Dog paintings for the Nancy R. Brandt Auxiliary fundraiser. Here’s her post:
Thanks Michelle! Namaste and Happy Trails!
Posted on September 11, 2010
Karma is in Sonoma County with some wonderful events coming up!
This weekend (Sept 11th & 12th) he’ll be at the Kathmandu Fair in Depot Park, Sonoma.
Spend the day enjoying Himalayan food, music, dance and other cultural events. Look for Karma in the Skykingdom Adventures booth, which is also the “Dreaming of Prayer Flags” booth. Stop by and say HI, talk about Bhutan, travel, trekking, food, surfing. With Karma you’ll find endless things to talk about! If you want autographed copies of our book, now’s your chance.
On Monday (Sept 13) Karma is the guest lecturer at the Gualala Arts Center in Gualala, CA. Karma is a compelling speaker, his lecture “Kingdom on the Cusp of Change” starts at 7pm.
I hope you can join Karma in Sonoma in the next few days. I sure wish I could be there!
If you’ve been dreaming about traveling to Bhutan, this is a great time to make a connection with Karma.
Posted on April 23, 2009
Karma and I met Dr. Michael Polster at our book launch in Paro, Bhutan. He wrote a great post about the event in his blog. Thanks Michael!
Posted on February 6, 2009
MOMOS AT ZOMBALA
(Watch a video of a typical lunch hour at Zombala at the end of this post)
THIMPHU, BHUTAN: NOV 2008:
Beef and cheese momos side by side at Zombala; both perfect, both delicious!
WHEN A TINY RESTAURANT OPENED IN THIMPHU calling itself Zombala (literally, “The Place Where Everyone Gathers”), my first thought was that its owners were overly optimistic.
After all what was being described was a mere hole-in-the-wall hidden in a dingy corner of Thimphu’s bustling “Hong Kong Market”. A friend invited me there with assurances they had “the best momos in the whole world!” She knew I’d never refuse the offer because of my weakness for the rich and savory dumplings. Besides, I wanted to go because my ego was bruised by the fact I had not heard about the place before she did. In my own mind at least, I was something of a momo connoisseur who should have been the one to introduce a new momo place to her instead of the other way around.
In any event I followed my friend to the much-touted Zombala. It was wedged behind a noisy shop where tailors were bent over pedal operated sewing machines working through a rainbow pile of brocade trimmings for unfinished ghos and kiras, the traditional wear favored by Bhutanese men and women.
Across the street—past the tailor shop, past evening shoppers, neighborhood grocers, butchers and fish purveyors—polite expats and well-heeled Bhutanese yuppies sipped frothy cappuccino at the upscale Season’s Pizzeria and Café, partaking such exotic delights as chef and owner Sandhya’s celebrated lemon tarts and her dense syrupy brownies.
The crowd that had convened at Zombalas, on the other hand, was a little less, how shall we put it, upscale? Here the most enthusiastic patrons were lower bureaucratic staff, police constables, taxi drivers on break, and farmers visiting from the rural valleys, as well as an assortment of Thimphu’s young drifters. As we entered, a man under a wide brimmed hat stared in surprise from the opposite corner of the tightly packed restaurant. In another part of the room, a white haired man was stroking a long wispy goatee that made him look like Bhutan’s 16th century saint and founding father, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Beside us a couple and their two children slurped intently from aromatic bowls of thukpa noodles, pausing only to add more fire-red chili sauce to increase the heat of their meal (and I don’t mean the temperature!). Indeed, on the several other occasions I went there, I found this diverse population huddled together, as if protecting a well-kept secret (or perhaps it was the food in front of them they were guarding so zealously).
As we awaited our orders—two plates of cheese and beef momos each—the delicious aroma of well-prepared momos filled the room. Waitresses in white floppy toques that appeared strange in such modest surroundings weaved through the anticipatory room. In a town where restaurant food is often served with a “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude, it was a pleasant surprise to finally find a place where the momos were being served with pride. But the true jolt came when I bit into their juicy, tender, momos. As I tucked away each delicious morsel, I began to realize it was more than just the funny hats that set this place apart from the other ubiquitous “momo shacks” dotting the city.
For many years, I had haunted the side streets of Thimphu and Paro and Wangdue and Bumthang, trying to find a place that served the kind of soul satisfying momos that my mother made at home, or the kind that she and I sometimes ate in hiding from my father’s stern gaze, in some little Tibetan family shop, behind fragile wood and ply-board cubicles whose privacy was secured by begrimed cloth curtains.
The secretive, drifting, non-linear conversations I had with my mother in those little momo shacks are some of my most treasured memories. We talked about all our relatives, about life, about death, about my school, her childhood, her hopes and fears for me, and a myriad other tangential things under the sun.
So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that as we ate at Zombala’s the smile on my friend’s face as she dove into her cheese momos began resembling the glowing smile that lit my mother’s face each time we managed to sneak away on one of those clandestine “momo dates”. And that mental association made me wonder if everyone else sitting shoulder to shoulder in the tiny restaurant was having the same experience of refreshed memories being served up with the steaming plates of momos.
Someone else I remembered as I ate those delicious momos at Zombala was an old family friend I had forgotten for many years. Together, my mother and this friend made some of the most transcendental momos I have ever had in my life. Our friend was tall and wide shouldered like the proud Khampa warriors of eastern Tibet who were her forbears. She often wore jean trousers tucked into long black boots at a time when women were rarely seen in western clothes. Her eyelashes dripped a surfeit of poorly applied mascara, but despite the make-up she was a hard worker who was not afraid to put men in their place. She single-handedly built and retired with a very successful business she began by driving a large Tata truck that thundered across the mountains delivering groceries from India.
As a boy of 10 or 11, I often watched eagerly for her truck, which was decorated with multicolored plastic streamers and a picture of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama painted above the front. Sometimes I would see her truck groaning up the road, filled to capacity with several thousand quintals of rice bulging from a mountainous pile of gunny sacks that were gaily festooned with red, blue and orange plastic buckets. Each time she rolled into town she brought me colorful gifts from India—a red plastic ball, a black cap pistol that made a realistic puff of smoke and a loud noise when fired, an orange and green pipe that made a horrible squawking and a silver harmonica which I slept with under my pillow for many months…
As I broke from my reveries, I could not deny Zombala lacked the elegant charms of the lovely café next door. The place was low on ambiance with lime green walls and plastic chairs and tables, and yet I began to see why the owners had called it “a gathering place”.
Perhaps this was a gathering place not just for people but for long lost memories as well.
The older I get the more I seek food as a sensory trigger for my buried past. I can’t wait to see what cherished memories will gather there with my next plate of momos!
Posted on September 3, 2008
Sandy is in Siem Reap, the Angkor Wat region of Cambodia. My exhibition opens Thursday night at the McDermott Gallery in the Old Market. Siem Reap was recently highlighted as “Southeast Asia’s new art capital” by Travel and Leisure magazine. McDermott Gallery is at the forefront of this renaissance, and I’m excited and honored to have the opportunity to exhibit in this beautiful gallery.
The New York Times calls John McDermott ‘the Ansel Adams of Angkor Wat.’ Please visit his website to view his beautiful photographs:
Posted on August 23, 2008
Dear Torie ~
Thank you so much for these wonderful and heartfelt comments.
I have felt truly privileged to be a part of this book, and Sandy’s images were the inspiration.
Thank you for your intuitive understanding of what we were hoping to convey, and how wonderful that you were there curled up on your chair with the wood burl bowl, grown on Bhutanese soil, sharing this other journey with us.
The picture of you drinking from the bowl brought up another precious memory for me:
My maternal grandmother’s house stood next to her family temple at the tip of Tangsibji village. In honor of its favorable location, her temple was called Lhakhang Chewa or “the Forehead of the Village”. Immediately below the temple the slope falls steeply, far below, to the milk white coils of the Mangde River. To my child’s eye, I could easily believe the river was a live thing, like a great cloud serpent winding its way south through the deeply forested valley. Sometimes the mist would rise from its surface and blanket the lower half of the valley. That’s when my Angay said Ama Mangde went to sleep. It made sense to me because those were the only times when the liquid rush of the river that always pervaded the valley grew muffled, as if at rest. On the opposite slopes the mountain rose high and steep as they always do in Bhutan.
In the middle of the day when dragonflies stayed suspended in mid air and the screeching of unseen cicadas rose even above the sounds of the river, the broadleaved forests were a dense holographic shade of green we sometimes saw when the sun reflected off the backs of shiny unicorn beetles we found behind the temple. After dark the entire mass of the mountain we called Taktse or “Tiger’s Crest” was the looming shoulder of an immense giant whose head rose all the way up into the starlit night. We had no electricity in the village then, and the flickering flames from my grandmother’s gaping wood stoves only heightened the mystery and magic of everything. Then, at a certain hour, my Angay would push apart her sliding wooden window and we children craned our necks out, hearts pounding with fear and excitement.
Far off, at belly level of the black giant on the opposite shore of Ama Mangde, a hesitant line of bright blue flames ignited and died (the flames were the kind I later saw in Bunsen Burners in Chemistry lab at my high school in India). Then a whole line of Dremi, “demon flames” formed and began to bob, as if dancing in a circle. Angay told us naughty children who did not listen to their grandmothers would be spirited away into this circle and never find their way back home. But keep your senses about you and remember the exact location where the flames were dancing and you would find an old tree in the morning. Look carefully on this tree, and there would be a large and ugly goiter on its “neck”. Cut the goiter out and take it to old Ap Tashi, the village carver, she said, and he could polish and shape the goiter into a beautiful bowl. This bowl would be worth a treasure because even if someone served you poison, it would turn it to nectar in this bowl.
Clean it, and cherish and love it, she said, and the Dremi in the bowl will keep bringing you good fortune, great beauty, and good health.
So, Torie, like Angay said, may your wood bowl keep adding to the great fortune, beauty, and wealth you already have!
Cheers, or, rather, Chaaps!
Posted on August 23, 2008
wow! is most of what i’m feeling right now.
your book came this rainy day and i took it to the couch with a cup of tea (butterless, but in my bhuantese wooden burl bowl), and absorbed every page. what a presence this volume has - your “union of word and image,” enlivening the whole experience for the reader/viewer. i feel especially privileged to have seen some of the places and met some of the people described.
i love your writing style, karma -
so full of poetry, humor, and grace. and your essays are such moral tales - a rarity in contemporary literature - something from which we can all benefit, especially in these unthinking days.
and sandy! what exquisite, wavery images….and a beautiful palette…. and all those white flags in that ocean of sky. i have too many favorites to count. the same things i saw and shot, were something else again in your eye - transformed, elevated….losing the details so that all things flow into each other….. therein lies another lesson.
so thank you both for your great work.
Posted on July 6, 2008
Karma is in Washington DC now for the Bhutan Folklife Festival at the Smithsonian.
On Monday July 7 Karma will do a book signing at the National Museum of Natural History from 2-4pm. Drop by and say HI! For more information:
On Saturday July 12 Karma will give 2 presentations during the Smithsonian Associates Bhutan seminar from 10am-4:30pm. Karma will give a slideshow presentation on The Wonder of Travel during the morning session, and A People and Their Customs during the afternoon session. Karma will be available to sign books during the lunch break.
For more information, please visit:
Posted on June 19, 2008
~ Karma Singye Dorji
I HAD JUST SPENT A PEACEFUL AFTERNOON watching the world from the sunny ramparts of the gold-roofed temple we call the Knoll of Weeping Willows.
Far below the temple, skirting the edge of the winding Thimphu River, rows of brand new buildings seemed to have sprouted overnight, an indication of the capital’s growing prosperity. Behind me, the timeworn flagstone yard of the temple was suffused in the fiery glow of a late November afternoon. An iridescent rooster strutted by, showing plumage. Flames from the temple’s eternal butterlamps danced before a myriad Buddhas, fed by a steady outpouring of offerings from devotees who trudged up the hill and did their prostratrations, heads touching the ground of humility. One by one they filed past, replenishing the lamps before making their way down the hill, dreamlike in their progress.
In other words, an ordinary ritual in a deeply spiritual land.
The surprise came later, in the evening, in a dim, cavernous hall in town. Here, in stark contrast to my peaceful afternoon,the music system thumped an insistent modern beat. Trendy young men and women in trousers, miniskirts, jackets and tank-tops sashayed and strutted down the ramp, showing a different kind of plumage.
I instantly regretted being there. “You should go,” the childhood acquaintance who thrust a free ticket at me had said. “It’ll be interesting for you.” Now I wondered what she’d been thinking as I felt disoriented, as if a familiar landmark had suddenly disappeared from my horizon, followed by the urge to flee the building. However, a while later when I was able to take in the proceedings without judgment, I realized that everything the models wore were really cut from traditional cloth. The jackets showed off the lovely maroons and blacks of yathra weaving from the central Chumey valley. The fabric for the skirts was the checks and plaids of woolen mathras handwoven in western Bhutan. And that trailing evening dress on the striking young woman reflecting the studio’s artificial lights was an elaborate seshey silk from valleys further east. Still others wore the multi-hued, geometric Kushuthara patterns set against a traditional white background, trademarks of the master weavers of northeastern Kurtoe.
“There’s nothing wrong with creating innovative designs using traditional materials,” a designer for the aptly named fashion group, Mawongpa (the Future), told me afterwards. “This makes our textiles more relevant for modern customers.” As if explaining matters to a child, she said: “If our textiles stay relevant, it ensures a better income for our weavers, maintaining an important Bhutanese tradition. What could be so bad about that?”
On the national stage, a similar need to keep pace with modernity without straying from traditional roots resulted in this year’s peaceful transition from the world’s most popular monarchy to a new form of parliamentary democracy. Earlier, as the campaigns of the two parties contesting the elections, the Druk Phunsum Tshogpa (DPT) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), began heating up, I had the same vague stirrings of unease I felt on the night of the “fashion” show.
However, the surprising and clearly unanimous electoral sweep by DPT in March 2008 again allayed most of my fears (DPT won 44 out of 47 seats with an 80 percent voter turnout).
It appears that, in this area of change as well, the Bhutanese people favor the middle ground, choosing a party whose leaders have been seasoned in the enlightened government of His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. In hindsight, it’s not that surprising that the newly elected government is headed by the widely renowned former diplomat and intellectual, Jigmi Y. Thinley, a close advisor to the fourth king, and the one person who has worked most diligently with His Majesty to hone the hallmark of our king’s legacy: Gross National Happiness.
That’s why, despite any minor misgivings, I’m personally heartened by these and other instances that prove that even in these days of transition the Bhutanese people continue to tread without losing sight of traditional values.
“We remember that, as we reflect on our 16-day democracy, we have a 2000-year-old history to draw from,” said the recent editorial in Bhutan’s national newspaper, Kuensel.
I, for one, am reassured by the fact that the faithful still wind their way to the Knoll of Weeping Willows where all our saints and teachers continue to bless our worldly endeavors with their cosmic smiles.
That, and the presence of a Bhutanese weaver’s handiwork in a slinky dress that may one day make a fashion statement in the West!