(This was my newsletter the week I returned from the Mountain Echoes Festival in Thimpu, Bhutan. Subscribe here for regular updates in your inbox every weekend.)
Hello, friends, warriors, fellow earthlings,
Bright and sunny morning after days of waking up to grey skies and rain.
Now that I no longer live in Bombay where it rains for days without
taking a breath, I've come to appreciate rainy mornings, from the time
you're lying under your duvet and looking at the light behind the blinds
to see how bright it is, to drinking your coffee while you're watching
the clouds move, or just the general ahhhh-how-cozy-I-am feel of being
indoors and snug and dry while outside everything is being bathed just
Sorry if you have to commute through it though. Then there's nothing romantic about it at all.
You know where else it was raining? BHUTAN. Where I just returned from. Let me tell you all about it:
The festival: Mountain Echoes is in its sixth year now,
and a pretty major part of Thimpu's social calendar. Of course, Thimpu
is "the size of Khan Market" as one writer put it, but still. Bhutanese
travelled from all over the country to attend. But it was quite small
for all that, so really very intimate, which means most of the talks
were pretty well attended. (Unlike other things I've done where there's
like five people in the room including the organiser, who is giving you
My own stuff: My panels were quite fun. I moderated Ira
Trivedi and a Bhutanese writer called Monu Tamang in a talk about
writing about love, and Monu, though he kept "ma'am"-ing me and being
very shy, came out of his shell quite a bit to talk about "night
hunting" which is apparently how some traditional Bhutanese men date.
(At night. Hunting. But in a consensual manner.) I take full credit for
his expounding on Bhutanese sex and dating because of my excellent
moderation. (He also said there was no gender disparity in Bhutan at
all. I turned to the audience and said, "Raise your hand if you agree
with him" and there were crickets. CRICKETS. Later, I met the young
Bhutanese girl handling the media for the festival and she was like,
"Dude OMG he's so wrong." Paraphrasing of course. Better than India
My second panel was a little less lively, probably because we were the
second last session to speak to a room full of teens who had been
listening to talks about literature all day. However, happy to report,
fully sold out of Split, and Cold Feet, my beloved neglected darling,
did a brisk trade as well.
The food: For the first day, I ate whatever Indian
food they had organised at the various buffets, feeling very sorry for
self, but then I realised I could actually LEAVE and go get something to
eat. Huh. Another writer and I set off, and he was already feeling
intrepid, so he suggested we eat at a dive bar. We stopped at the least
bleak looking one, where the woman got us some beef, chilli and cheese
curry, some daal, some rice and some kimchi. She also produced home made
pickles from her own tree. Everything was excellent, even an older man
pressing his phone into our hands asking us to video chat with all his
relatives. (We waved and smiled, smiled and waved.)
That evening, emboldened by my dive bar meal, I ordered some pork momos
at our hotel, and because I was in a rush, only managed to eat them much
later at night right before I went to bed. Alas! My stomach could not
handle this or perhaps the meal from earlier, because I woke up at 4 am
with the most agonising stomach cramps and basically got Delhi belly in
Thimpu. Thimpu tummy? It was owchy anyway.
Oh, and I ate at Cloud 9, which is this teeny, very fancy establishment
known for its burgers and its homemade ice cream. Run by an Australian
woman married to a Bhutanese man, it seems like a place everyone would
be at, but no locals seemed to know it. Some of my fellow festival goers
had every meal there and after one delicious anti-national beef burger,
I wished I had thought of it too. I also had gone on a different day
and had cold coffee and homemade Rocky Road and mmm. MMMMM.
The drink: Three words: Bhutanese. Peach. Wine.
Actually, the local brands were pretty tasty, from the red wine to the
Raven vodka to all the whiskey to the beer. (Less posh is the local
EXTREMELY potent saunf-based drink which I could not have more than two
sips of, even after diluting) I just rolled along with my peach wine,
which tastes sweet and desserty but packs quite the punch as you realise
later when you're arguing with Famous Writer. *sigh* (Argument totally
warranted though.) The festival did most of its after-hours drinking at a
small pub called Mojo Park, which had a live stage, exactly ONE
bartender who started handing out post-its when he couldn't handle all
the orders and all of Thimpu's trendies hanging about outside in the
smoking area. What's that you say? Smoking is banned in Bhutan? Um, that
brings me to...
The smoke: (Listen ya, sometimes I smoke because it
just makes my good times even better, ok. I don't smoke at home very
often and I don't do drugs or drink to excess or pop pills so whyyyy
can't I just sit with my cigarettes? WHY? Argh. Very conflicted about
this as you can tell.) Disclaimer over, I decided to take some cigs to
Bhutan, because all the emails were all, "You won't get cigarettes
ANYWHERE" etc etc. It was also very exciting because you have to declare
even 14 cigarettes (that's how many I had), pay their exact value, and
have a permit made. (I forgot all about my permit after I had it made,
but no one asked me.) After day 2, several people ran out of cigarettes,
but an Intrepid Reporter friend asked some locals where he could buy
some and they took him to a shop and he returned with cigarettes. Also I
totally saw Kelly Dorji smoking, so he must get from somewhere.
All told, everything was amazing. I wasn't introduced to the Queen
Mother, because I skipped her dinner to watch Indian Ocean, for whom I
will mostly cancel all my other engagements, but she seemed really
lovely from a distance, attending almost all the sessions, and being
engaged and asking questions and everything.
And that was Bhutan. Really quickly, here's what I wrote this week
: As Aunty Feminist, how it's hard
to be religious and feminist at the same time. ** In my relationship column
, bad dates **.
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