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iamdat This journal is dedicated to the people and places whom I have had a chance to come across.

Lost in Bhutan - Day 4

BHUTAN | Sunday, 26 December 2010 | Views [697]

Day 4 – Dec 7 2010

I was well awake at 5.30 am. The sub-zero temperature plus the dark sky promised an adventure. We were “shooting” the Black Necked Cranes this morning. From the road looking down, the highest wetland in the world looked so small. Yet when we stepped into the region, I realised how small we were compared to nature. No matter how much you walked, it seemed to never end. Moreover, I found that trying to keep your feet dry in a wetland was useless. No matter how much I tried to avoid, the mud was everywhere. My feet went numb as I soaked my shoes in the icing mud.

As we approached the cranes, Jason instructed everyone to be discreet, slowing and crouching down so as not to alert and disturb the cranes. On this day, the closest distance that we managed to get to the cranes was around 1 km. These endangered species are highly sensitive to any movement and sound surrounding them. Without a tele lens, I could not do much but stood back and observe the surrounding habitat. The scenery was dreamy with mountains ranging in the background; the vast valley stretching all the way, dotting with village houses on one side, and the thick mist flowing down along the slopes. As the sun rose over the mountains, the cast of dawn over the valley revealed the twinkling frost on the small plants. Far away, sign of people waking up can be seen as smoke billowing out of the rooftops.

However, the peaceful morning went into some problem as the rangers from the conservation centre approached and complained that we were breaking the rules by entering the wetland without permission. Obviously there was some miscommunication between the government offices because Jason was invited in advance to come and photograph the cranes. Anyway, the problem was solved eventually. However, Jason actually discovered a cover bag of pesticide, which might have been contaminating the water system of the wetland. From here he taught me about how to look out for other details and add more dimensions to the story. As he was documenting about the Black-necked cranes, the fact that such pesticide being used meant that the people were boosting the economic growth of their agriculture. At the same time, this would largely affect the habitat around them, especially the cranes.

After breakfast, we visited Gangtey Goenpa, which is an old monastery undergoing renovation. There I observed the young monks hanging around without any task to do. Some were climbing on the roof; some were sitting alone …. It seemed as if there was no keeper in charge around. Afterwards, just down the road we got an opportunity to attend an annual ceremony of a Bhutanese family. They celebrated it by inviting lots of neighbours and relatives over to their home for a meal. Besides, a group of monks was invited to conduct some rituals for the ancestors. The ceremony is seen as perhaps the most important event in a year for the family because it is after the harvest season. It was an unexpected experience to get close and intimate imagery inside a local house, especially during such a time.

In the late afternoon we returned to the wetland for some photos of the cranes. Unlike the morning, this time we approached from the opposite side of where we entered in the morning. Besides the cranes, I found several skulls of horses, cows or bulls scattering in the area. It was a chilling shoot as again I stepped into the frosty mud. However, it was worth the effort as I got the chance to catch some photos of the cranes flying over the whole valley during the sundown.

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