Monday, September 8th and the team vetoed the drive to Haa Valley, instead we wanted to tour the village of Paro and visit a farm for lunch. But most importantly I wanted to organize our bags. Russ and I had left a bunch of stuff in India from our last time and I wanted to sort through all of this and label the bags so I knew what was where. Right now if I wanted something I would have to sort through 10 different bags!
After a couple hours of sorting we hopped in our cars and went to the village of Paro. It was a cute town but really only one main road with craft shops all selling basically the same things. But it was interesting. Terry bought some new runners and Gillian and Bea bought a Kira each. (Long Skirt).
Next we went to a farmhouse for lunch. It was three stories but exactly the same layout as I previously described. Animals on the bottom floor, living space on the next two floors and a drying attic before the roof. To get to the second and third floor was a ladder, not stairs. The beds were mattresses on the floor and they sat on carpets. But for us they had set up chairs and a large coffee table to eat on.
They grew both red and white rice here. But the younger generation wanted to develop a tourist business by serving custom meals to guests from other countries. The meal started with Suja (butter) tea and roasted rice. It was really good much like popcorn. Next they brought our hammered rice and hammered corn that were also roasted. This tasted like coconut to me. Terry liked the hammered corn but I had to stop him from eating it because I could see the bowl was infested with little bugs. Everyone laughed it off and Jaz our guide said the protein was free. We tried to be polite but it did put a damper on us experimenting with the rest of the meal.
The meal consisted of red rice, greens beans, beef, potatoes and scrambled eggs with cheese and vegetables. It was very good but way too much food. They must think we North Americans eat a lot! One thing that was different was they only gave us a spoon to eat with. This made cutting anything difficult but interesting.
The Bhutanese style of eating was using your hands and picking up a handful of rice and squeeze it into a log shape then dip it into a hot sauce. Or sometimes they just put a whole hot chilli onto the rice and eat them together. They like their food really spicy. Typically they eat 1 kilo of rice and 1 cup of hot sauce with whole peppers.
The main crop in Bhutan is apples which surprised me. Some farmers will sell their rice and buy a lower quality rice from India to make money. Rice is the biggest import into Bhutan. The second biggest import is Doma. This was very interesting because tobacco has been banned to sell; whereas, Doma has not. A person addicted to this habit chews 15 to 20 nuts per day costing around 100 Nu per day!
Our guide Jas, chewed Doma which made his mouth and teeth red. It is acidic and rots the teeth. He knows it was affecting his teeth and told us his boss did not like him chewing Doma but he still chewed it and at the same time told us he was not addicted to it.
Called Doma in Bhutan or Paan in India it is the areca nut grown from the areca palm commonly grown in tropical areas in the Pacific, Asia and parts of Eastern Africa. It is commonly referred to as the betel nut and is most often chewed wrapped in betel leaves. A lime paste made from limestone is put in the centre of the palm leaf and half a nut is then wrapped up in the leaf and chewed. Apparently the lime balances the acid from the nut but every person has their own like of how much lime they want. People who participate in this custom scrape the lime off the leaf with their finger and then wipe it off their finger onto the door jams, pillars or fence posts. It is disgusting to see white marks painted on the sides of everything and then big splashes of red juice running down the sides of walls from when it was spit from a person’s mouth.
This habit has many harmful affects in addition to the unsightly effect it has on a person’s teeth and the landscape of Bhutan. It is carcinogenic and causes mouth cancer. The betel nut contains substances that narrow blood vessels, it is a mild stimulant (much like caffeine) and causes a warming sensation in the body. Betel leaves are not cleaned properly and are the main cause for infections. The lime which is mixed with water makes calcium oxide, which is usually contaminated and unsafe for use. It causes irreparable cellular changes in the body. In addition to all of these harmful effects, additives are sometimes included in the wrap, like tobacco or sweetening agents adding poison to poison.
After lunch as we were leaving we could hear chanting. Jaz said there was a temple just up the road and they were doing a ceremony. He told us to hurray up and he would see if we could watch the ceremony. Well, Jaz did it and we were allowed to go into the temple to watch the ceremony. It was a ceremony to bless the crops which is only held once per year. It is a two day ceremony where the monks chant and play instruments. We were privileged to be able to view this ceremony.
It was really interesting and the Monks were very welcoming. Monks and lay persons chanted the scriptures and played music. The instruments were long, long, horns they called trumpets and smaller horns they called flutes. They had drums and also human bones (looked like a thigh bone) that were used as horns. They also clapped and we joined in.
The lay persons who were helping the Monks with the ceremony were men that were trained in the Monasteries but chose not to be Monks. They were now married but they earned money by performing in these ceremonies. They knew how to play the instruments and knew the scriptures to sing. The singing of the scriptures at times sound very much like the throat singing that the Mongolians sing.
Driving back to our hotel we noticed mounds of dirt beside the road with plants growing in the dirt. I thought it looked like a squash plant or pumpkin plant but Jaz explained they were rat walnuts. These plants had nuts which were very prickly and these plants were planted inside rat holes to keep the rats away. Interesting.