Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Writing from Bhutan

In Aug/Sept 2015,  I led a group of writers on a ten day Creative in Bhutan adventure.

They were a talented bunch including a number of pubished writers artists and professionals, and during our workshops they penned some wonderful pieces, either about Bhutan or for their current creative project.

We also met with Bhutanese writers in Thimphu, Punakha and Paro. This was a great privilege for us and deepened our experience of Bhutan immeasurably. Some of the writers we met: Pema Gyaltsen, Chador Wangmo, Karma Norbu, Namgay Wangmo, Karma Wangchuck, Ugyen Tshomo. See pics here.

Pema Gyaltsen and Chador Wangmo are children's authors. Chador has also written a moving novel: La Ama, A Mother's Call. Norbu Karma's powerful novel is called Opening in the Wall. Ugyen Thsomo's poems are published in an anthology called Life's Tapestry.

Below are some writings from our group.

From Caroline Josephs

Bhutan Smiles

Smiling faces –in the kinder-garten of a Thimpu School.

a memory cherished, of a boy - five years old
reminding me, of my own grandson.
Stocky, confident.
Bending down I ask him, “Can you say, ‘hello’ in English?”

Instantly, he slaps his forehead with his hand!
It makes me laugh - to see this gesture of perplexity.

In another classroom introduced by a teacher.

“Hello grandpa!” a young boy calls, to Donald.
We laugh, and marvel at his courage.   
This, a family familiar greeting.

The teenagers, shy students.
Jan asks, ‘Who likes to write?’
Just one boy raises his hand.
His face a map, unperturbed beauty, calm.
I search the untroubled countenance for a clue -
his story, yet to be written.
‘You will be a writer,’ says Jan.

At the teachings, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, renowned.

I turn,  catch the eye of a young beauty sitting behind.
She smiles. I wink.   
And something warms….between us
a curiosity, a wish to know each other’s lives, 
with her hand needleworked, 
on the sash- yellow, red
around her shoulders.

In the Paro market, 
I ask a young man, ‘Do you speak English?’

Shyly, he answers, 
and before long
I know his favourite subject -- ‘World History’.   
“Wonderful,” I say. 
“You know Bhutan is unique in all the world - Gross National Happiness.”
He is fifteen, at school.
His sister comes to join in.
Her English bubbles forth, together, they laugh as I  take their picture.
Somehow, it feels an unequal exchange,

I am regretful I can’t send it to them.
Their smiling faces, their laughter --

as we buy bananas from them.

(c) Caroline Josephs 2015.   

Caroline Josephs is an artist, writer, storyteller and more.  See Carolines Blog here.

From Peter Bishop

The Road Up

The road up is worse
Than I remember it
On the way down.
Plumblines of string
Stretch over hundred foot drops,
Marking where a concrete retaining wall
Will be one day.
But for now there is just
The precipice.
And rolling along that crumbling edge
Is our bus.
And I am on the outside seat,
Drawn through the open window by the suck
Of that vertiginous cliff.
We stop on a high bend,
Jungle dripping at the edge,
For a segregated comfort stop.
Beware of leeches, says Tensin,
They will measure you.
And I have visions of inchworms
Measuring forbidden marigolds.
The pass is buried in cloud again,
The stupas blind as before.
But we are already gathering speed
Down the treacherous slope
That will snap the rope
Which binds us to each other,
And Bhutan.
I think the jolt of that parting will tear
more than my flesh.

A single dove

A single dove

In the pines beyond my balcony

Is offering love

In the only way she knows.

I don’t know how to respond,

But then I never did.

And she can’t wait

Long enough for me

                  To work it out.

When I look up

She is gone.

You’d think I’d learn.

And I am left with rice fields

Choosing gold over green.

                  Even the rice

Has no time to wait.

While the scarecrows and I

                  Do nothing.

(c) Peter Bishop 2015

Peter Bishop (seventy-nine years old) is a wagyu farmer and an award winning shortstory writer. Recently he has turned his pen to poetry. See his website here.

From Ellen Maling

Ellen Maling lives and works in Cambodia. She writes regularly on her blog Ball 'n' Chain.
Read her post about Bhutan here.

From Jan Cornall

Taktsang Moments

At the dinner table
the bassoon player from Hong Kong town
plays a soulful tune
we recognize uncertain notes
In his poems, questions of dharma
and great devotion to the master
Before our Takstang hike, he says
there’s nectar at the top,
bring a plastic bottle


Halfway up
my arms begin to tingle
the prick of a thousand tiny diamonds on my skin
Altitude sickness?
No, a tinkling light rain
or perhaps a splash from the water fall
near Yeshe Tsogyal’s meditation cave.

Entering the Taktsang Gate
the chock, chock, chok
of an axe on wood
Excited voices from the teahouse
I think of Japan
a place I have never been

In the teahouse restroom queue
a Polish girl:
flouro-pink singlet
flouro-pink nails
The Japanese girl in front
fills a flouro-pink bucket
ready to flush
No gadgets allowed in Tigers Nest
no phones, cameras, I Pads, I Pods,
even our notebooks and pens, we must leave in the locker
The policeman checks us before we enter
Earlier, between frisks
I heard him sing under his breath
a low sonorous mantra 

Read more Taktsang moments from Jan here 

Donald (right) and the gang trying out roadside cheese.

From Donald Yates

Thimpu – 29 August 2015

We glimpse the Himalayas
as we drop in to Bhutan
at an elevation of Kosciusko

Swaying dizzy on chains
over energy of mountain stream
all the way from the Himalayas
Whiteness frothy fearfulness
Dare I go across for the thrill of it?
Could I put a canoe in it and survive?
Remember the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb
Don’t focus on the water

Mica in schist
glittering microcosm
of the twenty one grand mountains
three times higher than Kosciusko
and almost as high as Everest
I’m gasping
The steepness sapping my energy
even in the saunter around the strangeness
of thick snouted animals with fur
seemingly set with tight curlers
Strangeness then familiarity
as a domestic goat nuzzles my leg.

The warmth of the rain; the feeling of Asia
Amazement that buildings would perch on such steep slopes
Anachronism amongst the squalor of the streets
where dogs exhausted from night time barking
sleep under the verandah out of the rain
opposite the GPO
Where the garuda gargoyle projects from the chorten roof
where traditional buildings house phone and computer shops

Pleasure of getting lost
asking our way back to Phuntsho Pelri Hotel
Boys willing to help
Woman with no English (Carolina and I with three Dongcha words)
guiding us back
Warmth of her hand clasp
joy in her eyes
as we arrive safely.

Punakha – 2 September 2015

Window glimpse
man in shorts
tee shirt – no gho
squishes by in flip-flops
carrying water filled
red plastic bucket
Mist hovering warm
over river hurrying brownly
and orderly
three metres below.
Such a flow
in the Hunter River
would break its banks
to fill the floodplain
and drown Singleton.

Retired engineer, Donald Yates has performed his poems in slams in Chicago and NewYork. He is currently working on his mother's biography.

 From Jennifer Mackenzie



I cannot sing but 
that day at Rishikesh 
spent among the sadhus
lined up on the roadway 
standing on one leg 
or wound by snakes 
or matted, chalked, in

later as evening fell 
on the banks of the river 
the Ganga flowing wide & high
a wedding party on a
gaudy boat 
sailed past in fairy-light 

that day, sitting there 
notes came to my throat 
clear as a bell
singing into the rushing 
water, into the 
kettle of chai
resting on the table 


in the same year 
walking through forest
in autumn 

the Kroller-Muller museum 
at its heart 

the deliriously red leaves 
were singing 

and I?

Jennifer Mackenzie is a renowned Australian poet. Her long poem, Borobodur, is first published by Lontar. Read about it here

More writing to come!

More pics here

We will visit Bhutan again in August 2016 to attend the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival and explore the valleys we didn't get to this time. All details here.

Jan Cornall leads international writer's workshops and retreats. Find out more at www.writersjourney.com.auhttp://www.writersjourney.com.au/

 Heading out next
 Morocan Caravan, Feb 20 - Mar 5.

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