Three Rough Blokes on the Amazon January – February 2015

Three rough blokes were having a beer one day and Roger was saying how he’d like to do the other half of the Amazon from Manaus to the coast. The other two didn’t take much persuading so in January 2015 we met in Manaus, Cam flying in from a week in Guatemala, AJ arriving after a few days in Panama and Roger after the shot show in Vegas and a few days in Panama.

Check out the full story below.

Amazon 2015

Screen Capture by Snagit

The Kingdom of Bhutan: Part IV – Gangtey to Punakha to Thimphu and Home

Saturday 2 March: Gangtey – Sylvia

We had a leisurely start to our day, meeting Chimi and Singye at 9:30am after a late breakfast. As with all the other lodges, we started with healthy shots. I have been blown away by the flavours they are able to get into the food here. Every meal we have had has been absolutely delicious. Roger tried one of the local breakfast dishes with buckwheat noodles and yak meat. I was not so brave.

The do not disturb signs at each of the Six Senses Hotels. When the yaks head is tucked away, do not disturb.

The Six Senses Gangtey resort is set in the Phobjikha Valley, at about 3,000 m. This high altitude valley is dotted about by small villages and is home to yak herders and the rare black-necked cranes, which spend their winters here before heading to Tibet for the summer breeding season. A small serpentine river runs through the valley, which in the summer becomes a wetland. Legend has it that a pig and a snake had a race from one end of the valley to the other. The pig won because it went straight, and gave its name to the valley – Phobjikha means pig won – while the snake left its mark in the form of the river. It is truly stunning country and the views from the hotel are extremely peaceful and somewhat mesmerising.

Our first stop today was the 16th century, golden-topped, Gangtey Goemba, a large monastic institute and temple complex, encompassing a schools, meditation facilities and living quarters for the resident monks. It is another impressive complex. As we entered the ornate temple, we were offered the privilege of lighting some butter lamps – this is done to dispel darkness and ignorance.  Large piles of scriptures stood ready to be given to the monks for their studies. As we exited the temple, a gong was sounding and the young monks scurried to join the group in the upstairs room. One very young monk was being tended to by the disciplinary master. His robes were clearly not right and the look of love and compassion on the elder monk’s face as he helped the young boy was really endearing.

We left the monastery on foot and started the ±4.1km Gangtey nature hike, passing through  the small village before entering the pine forest. It is potato planting season here in this valley and we passed several fields which had been recently planted or were being planted. Stone walls have been built around many of the fields to keep the livestock and other pests out.

I have never thought of pine forest as being particularly attractive but walking here on the pine needle paths I am changing my mind. About 3/4 of the way through the hike we reached a shelter, where Singye met us with tea and snacks.  We had fantastic views back across the valley towards the hotel. While this valley is famous for the black-necked cranes, the majority have already left for Tibet and I was hoping to see some of the stragglers. As we were finishing our tea we spotted four of the majestic birds on the valley floor – good for viewing through binoculars, but not much more. We noted a small bird watching hut a bit closer so made our way down and had a great sighting of a family of two adults and two juveniles before they took off and soared into the sky.

We continued along the trail, passing prayer flags, prayer wheels and memorials as we entered back into open farmland. Cows grazed peacefully alongside a babbling brook. It is truly a peaceful place. We reached the car and had only gone 50m or so when we came across another family of four cranes about 120m from the car. We also noted many healthy looking horses grazing in the valley. Apparently someone has paid for these horses to release them from their labour, and has then transported them here and left them in the valley to go wild, much to the chagrin of the locals.

Six Senses Gangtey in the background; Black-necked Cranes in the foreground

We stopped in at the Black-necked Crane information centre, where they house two birds that have been injured and are unable to fly. They also have a very informative video presentation but unfortunately the power was out so we headed back to the hotel.

Six Senses do things really well and continually surprise us with small treats. Today they offered us complimentary 15-minute back and shoulder massages. Then at lunch they brought us beautiful glasses of pomegranate syrup with lime and sparkling water. I tried to photograph them but just didn’t do it justice. We enjoyed a delicious, flavour infused meal of grilled chicken with vegetables- something I would usually find quite bland. Whether it is the altitude, the fresh ingredients or the capability of the chef, I am incredibly impressed.

After lunch we headed back to see the video at the information centre. It was well worth watching, with some great footage of the birds as well as foxes and leopards, shot from the camera traps set up to monitor the habitat to protect the cranes.

The rest of the afternoon passed peacefully, blogging and enjoying the bucolic views before heading to the spa to enjoy 90-minute massages in the early evening. The spa at each of these Six Senses hotels offers a slightly different menu and uses a different crystal in their practices so I had booked a massage at each location so we could try them all out. We have certainly been enjoying them.


Sunday 3 March: Gangtey to Punakha – Roger

The lights in the houses of the potato farmers come on just after 5am in the morning. They are very hard working people around here. It was 7am when we fronted up at the spa for our light yoga (Sun Salutations) session. There wasn’t much sun about because the morning mist was still being slowly burnt off in the valley beyond. With three brass bowls in front of her, our instructor led us first through some breathing and meditation exercises before we launched into the sun salutation itself, which consisted of a few stretching exercises, like touching toes, plank position, downward dog to name just a few. We went through this several times, then sat on the floor while she played the singing bowls and chanted a mantra a few times. Suddenly the 45 minute session was over.

We arrived for breakfast just after 8am, with mist still hanging over much of the valley, as the waitress arrived with the morning ‘goodness shots’. Today ne was for good health and one was for digestion. Breakfast over, we were farewelled and, as at our departure from each of these amazing hotels we were given a small locally representative gift – today some buckwheat in a traditional pouch.

We mounted the vehicle with Chimi and Singye, and drove back up the valley. This Gangtey valley is becoming a really big tourist area with some 8-10 hotels already developed and more under construction. Most Bhutanese houses seem to have a large gap between the ceiling and the underside of the roof. Apparently this is used for storage and drying grains. In some houses it is left open and in others it is boarded up. We passed potato planters still working in the same fields as yesterday and wound our way back up to the Lawala Pass, where just below the top of the pass was a nomadic yak herder with a couple of tents set up below the road and another beside the road that they use as a stall. It is about this time of the year that the yak herders will start driving their herds up into the high country for the summer, having brought them to the valley for the winter.

We stopped at the stalls at the top of the pass, where I was given some yak cheese to try – not something I’ll be in a hurry to try again. There are a number of stalls here, most of which are manned by a woman with a baby blanketed to her back. We purchased a couple of yak wool shawls before starting our journey down to the main road, just over a kilometre further on. Stalls were set up at the intersection of the two roads at ±3,200m and from here we switched back and forth down through the valley, consistently losing altitude along the way. The pine forest rapidly gave way to mixed broad leaf forest with a lot of rhododendrons scattered about.

We passed through the town of Nobding at 2,600 and continued along the side of the valley 4-500m above the valley floor. There was a new service station being constructed on one corner with a small sign up saying ‘Men working’ but no evidence of any road cones like you would see in New Zealand. We stopped a little further down the valley to look at a group of bee hives hanging from a cliff above the road as a few yellow-rumpled honey guides flitted around. A little further on we came across a few grey langur monkeys with their light grey coats, white collars and black faces.

As has become the norm here, there are houses built in places that look really hard to access but people have terraced out the land and are obviously able to scratch out a living. Eventually we arrived at the city of Wangdue Phodrang at about 1200m above sea level.

We drove through the city and continued along the valley a wee way until we reached the place where the Mo Chhu (Mother River) and the Pho Chhu (Father River) converge to form the Punatang Chhu river, where the Punakha Dzong (fort) is situated. We drove into the carpark on the other side of the river and crossed a traditional cantilevered bridge to access the fort. Looking down from the bridge we could see a huge school of brown trout gathered below -apparently they are fed here and fishing from the bridge is forbidden.

As we climbed the steep front steps to the dzong, we looked up to see another honeycomb and bee swarm in the upper rafters. This riverside palace, which like the others we have visited, is truly spectacular. It was constructed in the 17th century and houses both an administrative and a monastic centre. We wandered through the various parts of the fort until we reached a large temple at the back. Gathered in the courtyard at the base of the temple stairs was a group of American students, here for three months at the courtesy of one of the non-profit organisations, studying environmental sciences. After they left we headed into the temple, which was, like all the others unique in its own right. The entire back wall was a series of drawings depicting the life of Buddha from his birth under a tree, to becoming a king, o walking away from his kingdom to pursue enlightenment and eventually to his death, and the coming of the second Buddha some 1200 years later. Chimi did a great job of explaining the intricate details to us.

The tour of the dzong over, we wandered up a track to the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, crossing the Punatang Chhu River. At a bit over 200m long and bedecked in prayer flags, this bridge is quite spectacular and remarkably stable, to the point that even cows make their way across it.

From there we followed the Mo Chhu river for some distance, eventually heading up to the Six Senses Punakha “Flying Farmhouse” at abut. 1,600m above sea level. We were greeted with the banging of a drum, presented with yellow scarves and taken to the living room, which is cantilevered out over the swimming pool with an. Area of glass floor overlooking the pool below. We were then escorted to the restaurant, where we were served a delicious lunch; Sylvia had a seekh kebab and I had a local yak dish with some local vegetables and salad.

After lunch we were escorted to our villa and after settling in we joined Chimi and Singye at the. Archery range at the back of the complex. Chimi gave us a demonstration hitting the target on his first try. After some practice it was confirmed that neither Sylvia nor I were going to become Bhutanese archers. We moved on to try the hand thrown darts, neither of us doing particularly well at this one either, even when I tried to emulate the mantra type noise Chimi made as he threw his dart. The rather fun archery session over, we headed back to our villa to settle in for the evening.


Monday 4 March: Punakha – Sylvia

I left Roger in the hotel room this morning, catching up on some sleep and recovering from a cold. After the usual delicious breakfast, I met Chimi and Singye at 8am and we headed off to the other side of the valley to go white-water rafting on the Pho Chhu (Father River). This is a grade 3-3+ river and apparently much more aggressive than the milder Mo Chhu (Mother River). We had chosen to do the rafting to try and see some of the bird life in the area.

On the drive to the launching point we passed the school where peaceful volunteers train. They were doing their daily parade, resplendent in their orange uniforms as we drove past. At one point we came across a small herd of cows being driven down the road. Even when the farmer tried to get them to move over so we could pass they kept walking down the middle of the road so we ended up following them until they turned off a little further on.

This billboard shows the five kings of Bhutan. Current king is on the left, first king in the centre.

There were two specific birds that Chimi was keen to try and find on the rafting trip and we spotted one on the way, the endemic and highly endangered Pallas’s Fish Eagle, perched high on a tree on the other side of the river. This area is quite different from the other parts of Bhutan we have been in. The diversity of flora is quite impressive with many different plants, even including the Prickly Pear Cactus. Small termite nests hang from branches high in the trees. Where there are pine trees they are now Chiri Pine, with their cones standing up on the end of the branches, many sprouting new growth. The land has been extensively terraced and at present is planted with a variety of different crops including wheat, mustard, chilli and beans. Come the monsoon season it will all be planted with rice.

Eventually we arrived at the raft launching site and after a safety briefing and paddling instruction we headed off down river for the ±90minute ride. A small herd of cows wandered down to the river to drink as the briefing was happening. For safety we were accompanied by a smiling young man in a kayak and there were clear instructions on how to be rescued if I fell in. In reality the rafting itself was fairly easy – just follow the instructions and enjoy the rapids. We did see numerous birds including Great Cormorants, Crested and Common Kingfishers and lots of Ruddy Ducks.

At one point we had to take the very shallow and quite technical right hand path as with only Chimi, me and the guide on board we didn’t have enough paddle power to take the faster flowing left hand path. It was quite hilarious as we did end up a bit stuck on the rocks once or twice, but with lots of manoeuvring we made it through safely, passing under the long suspension bridge we had crossed yesterday and eventually finishing the trip just after the river converged with the Mo Chhu and became the Punatang Chhu, right by the Punakha Dzong we had visited yesterday.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch and to pick up Roger. Just before 2pm we headed down the hill again to a much smaller suspension bridge. We walked across and wandered our way through the well-tended, terraced fields, hiking up a hill to the Khamsen Yulley Namgyel Chorten, that was built by the Queen Mother in 1999 to bring peace to the world. Just yesterday Roger had been commenting that many of the temples we have been in have multiple floors but we never see beyond the ground level. Here, we were able to climb up through three levels of ornately decorated temple, eventually arriving at a large external deck, from where we had amazing 360 degree views over the surrounding countryside.  We then made our way back down to the car. By this time it was starting to cool down a bit and many farmers were out tending their crops, shoring up the sides of their terracing, weeding and other such chores.

Our last stop for the day was to the Chorten Nyingpo Lhakhang, a traditional 16th century monastery, high up above the valley floor. On the way up we passed a rammed-earth house under construction, with several women pounding the earth in a small section.We had initially been scheduled to have breakfast with the monks at this temple but there is currently a five-day event underway with one of the masters speaking. We felt incredibly privileged to be able to witness this event, hosting at least 1,000 people. We joined some in circumambulating the temple, before one of the monks starting ringing a gong to indicate the master was about to start speaking again. We watched as everyone settled themselves in rows on the ground under a canvas, monks started beating drums and blowing horns and the master started chanting. I felt like I was intruding on something very private but people were incredibly welcoming and friendly, smiling, posing for photographs and in at least three cases, offering us tea. They were even happy to let Roger take video. It was all a bit overwhelming and quite an emotional experience.

It was obviously going to go on for quite a while. There were bags and bedrolls stacked against the side of the temple so some people were clearly planning to stay the night. We had massages booked back at the hotel so had to leave. As we were driving out we passed a group of men playing some sort of gambling game at a series of stalls that had been set up at the entry/exit point to the temple. I found this an interesting activity to be taking place at a religious event.


Tuesday 5 March: Punakha to Thimphu – Roger

It was just after 8:30am by the time we finished packing up and went to the restaurant for another lovely breakfast. As per normal we got provided with three healthy shots, each offering different health benefits. The one of the left contains fermented cider vinegar and if I good knees, after drinking that I would be running up these hills. Next came the breakfast – I had Gongdo Datshi, which consistes of scrambled eggs, probably the nicest I’ve ever eaten, chilli on the right and some red rice. On top of that came avocado, a poached egg, and some garnishes on sourdough bread along with  pomegranate seeds, which give it a unique taste. I must say the food here has been outstanding. I even had a chicken dish the other day that was really, really tasty.

At 9:30am Chimi and Singye were waiting with the car and we headed off down the valley. In places people were working in the fields and the road went alongside the Mo Chhu river that runs through the valley. At one stage we passed a large number of horses. Chimi explained that the people that own these horses are like the nomadic yak herders; they bring their horses down here during the winter and in the summer they head back up into the high country where they forage for the Cordyseps Sinensis mushrooms that only grow at very high  altitudes. The horses are used to pack provisions up there for the summer as if they are able to gather these particular mushrooms they can become very wealthy.

We continued down the valley past the Punakha Dzong, where the two rivers join and followed the river along the opposite side from where we had been the day before, starting to head up into the hills. We turned off onto a very  narrow road that led us into a town full of penises. We dismounted at the carpark and strolled up the hill to the temple of fertility. This place gets its reputation from a bit of a rogue monk known as the divine mad man, who preached a little differently from the other Buddhist monks and roamed around the country in the 17th century drinking, partying and womanising, apparently even getting another man’s wife pregnant during his escapades. Many of his offspring are said to have become divine teachers. Chime Lhakhang is now a monastery of fertility where couples who are having trouble conceiving come from all over the world to be blessed. There is a photo album in the temple of many couples who have become fertile after their visit and had children so it looks like Drukpa Kinley, the ‘Divine Madman’ didn’t do too bad a job after all.

Out the back was a large structure that looks like an aerial for communicating with the aliens but is in actual fact a place where during festivals they hang a large tapestry. As we entered the monastery there was an old chap sat by the prayer wheel constantly spinning it and keeping the bell ringing. One of the orange-uniformed me sat reading from a prayer book. A couple, who already had two children, exited the temple as we were entering. Inside we found something a little different from the last temple – probably the reason I haven’t gotten templed out yet. Chimi when through his prostrations and went on to explain the many statues and drawings on the wall.

As we exited the temple there was a monk in the yard mixing incense and as we exited the courtyard another man sat spinning the prayer wheel to keep the bell ringing, and he had another small prayer wheel in his hand.

We wandered down to the village, entering one or two of the shops with their phallic symbols prominently displayed either painted on the buildings, in statues outside and as their main wares. This area is definitely all about fertility. We have seen these phallic symbols painted on buildings all over Bhutan and last night when I went to go to bed there was a small carved penis laying on the pillow, with a cord attached so I could hang it round my neck, along with a typed explanation, about how this symbol is revered in Bhutan both for fertility and to drive away evil spirits.


As we left the village on the very narrow road, we had a little trouble on occasions negotiating oncoming traffic and noted that in this valley there is a huge amount of construction of new hotels and residences being built to cater for the future tourism in the area.

Back on the main highway we wound our way up and up. People had cultivated every possible area with nice houses and contoured land full of crops. Along the roadside there were many stalls selling vegetables and other local produce. We passed a couple of broken down vehicles and were surprised by the amount of traffic on the road, including many medium-sized trucks carrying large loads up the hill. It was interesting, as we had come up this valley on the far side was a nunnery with 108 stupas around it and higher up the hill was a monastic institue. They seem to like to build these places high  up – it must be good for the nuns and monks to do all the walking.

Eventually we reached the Lamperi Botanical Park at 2,700m above sea-level. Established by the queen in 2008 to commemorate 100 years of the Wangchuck dynasty, this park apparently contains deer, tigers, red pandas, yaks and various other native animals. We wandered over to the pond and then Sylvia and Chimi strolled along the bike trail bird watching and I tagged along as the photographer. At one stage we saw a Sambar deer disappearing into the scrub up the hillside. Chimi played bird calls on his phone to try and attract some of the various bird life while all I wanted to do was see a tiger wandering down the track but no such luck. They did get to see some green-tailed sunbirds, which Sylvia studied excitedly and intently through her binoculars, and I tried rather unsuccessfully to photograph. I did have more luck with the Rufous Sibia.

After the bird watching was over we enjoyed a picnic lunch by the pond, after which we recommenced our drive to the Six Senses Thimphu. According to Google Maps we were only 13 kms away but the road signs indicated that there was still well over 30kms to go, indicating just how windy the roads around here are.

Reaching the top of the Dochula Pass, 108 stupas had been constructed, almost on the summit. Each stupa had images of such things as the first Buddha, the second Buddha and the unifier of Bhutan. Sylvia wandered off up the hill to take a photo of the stupas and temple from the other side of the road so I decided to wander up to the temple to get a good photo from there – despite the fact that my knees were right out of steps. Arriving at the temple I wandered around clockwise, having gone the wrong way  at the stupas and took some photos looking back over the stupas, took my shoes off to enter the temple just as Sylvia and Chimi arrived. The local monk unlocked the temple and reminded me no photos. I said ‘no shoes, no photographs’ and he smiled. While Sylvia and Chimi were doing their circumambulation the monk indicated a little room off to the side, which I entered and looked around, exiting just as Sylvia and Chimi arrived. Sylvia went to walk into the same room and was told ‘no’. Chimi very tactfully said ‘you’re not allowed in there’ but when I said I had just been in he had to explain that it is for men only.

We continued the drive down the valley, at one point passing a large group of vehicles, apparently at a crematorium where a funeral was taking place. The road wound its way down to Thimphu and then up to the hotel. Arriving about 4pm we were given a complimentary shoulder massage and then sat in the restaurant overlooking the valley and enjoyed a quiet drink while we watched the sunset. While we were enjoying our drink, Andrew, the General Manager for Six Senses in Bhutan, came over and had a yarn, telling us that there are less than 50 expats in Bhutan, most working for NGOs, only a few in the hospitality industry.  He also told us how one of his guests was recently on a flight out of Paro, who happened to have the King and his wife on the same flight. After the flight was airborne, the king got up and spoke to all the other passengers, and apparently anyone in Bhutan who asks for an audience with the king will get one. We then headed back to the same villa we stayed in at the beginning of our trip, which feels almost like yesterday.

As this is the end of my Bhutan story I have to say that this is the most friendly and enlightening country I have ever visited. I have never struck so many friendly and polite people anywhere else in the world and can only wish  that Bhutan maintains its present course into the future.


Wednesday 6 March: Thimphu to Singapore – Sylvia

We had a leisurely start to the day, meeting Chimi and Singye after breakfast at 10am, and heading first to the Bhutan Post Office in Thimphu, where we were able to buy some personalised stamps to send some postcards to our grandkids. Once again the staff could not have been more friendly or polite – not something I have always experienced at a post office.

We took the main road to Paro – even though we have done this road a few times now we still enjoyed the scenery and admired the architecture. We could see some good progress on some of the building sites since we were here last a couple of weeks ago. We stopped at one point along the way to photograph one of the oldest cantilevered bridges in Bhutan.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and passed easily through the check in, emigration and security processes, and waited in the lounge for our flight. I had noticed through the window that a red carpet was being rolled out to the plane and thought it was a little odd. As we were boarding we noticed a full colonel at the gate and another serious looking officer at the top of the stairs to the plane. We were starting to get suspicious.  Not long after we had taken our seats at the back of business class, a cabin crew member came over and advised that the Queen, her thee children and three nieces would be on the flight and explained protocol (no photos, do not approach, use the toilets down the back!).

Several suitcases were loaded into the overhead compartments and then we watched as the queen walked down the red carpet and onto the plane, surrounded by her children, at least two nannie’s and several other people, who all took their seats and we took off. It was quite amusing to watch the cabin crew falling all over themselves – obviously a big day for them.

When we stopped at Guwahati, after about 30 minutes of flying, to let some passengers on and off, the Queen came down and chatted with us for about 5 minutes. She seemed really lovely and genuine, asking us lots of questions about our trip to Bhutan. She explained she was taking her nieces to see the Taylor Swift concert in Singapore, and how excited they were. During the rest of the flight we were impressed with how she interacted with her children, often carrying her 6-month old baby down the aisle, and at one stage stepping in to deal with her 4 year-old. Roger was quick to remark at the end of the flight that she was the nicest Queen he had ever met. Quite the way to end our holiday in Bhutan.

Arriving in Singapore, we were met by a hotel driver and transferred to the Raffles Hotel. We had decided to splurge and stay here as it had been being done up when we were living here and we wanted the experience. I had checked in on line and we were met at the car and whisked straight to our rather beautiful suite.

Bhutan has been an incredible place to visit – the people are humble, welcoming and friendly and the scenery is stunning. Visiting all the temples, monasteries and nunneries has  given me an insight into a different way of life and we enjoyed the different hiking and wellbeing activities. The Six Senses team have been simply outstanding; food and service were fantastic and Chimi and Singye went above and beyond to make sure our stay exceeded our expectations.


Thursday 7 March: Singapore to Home – Sylvia

We woke late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the very stylish restaurant. I caught up with a friend from work and then we did a little bit of shopping before catching up with Mitch, a long-time friend of Rogers. He kindly dropped us at the airport for our flight back to Auckland. I will continue on to Wanaka and Roger will join me in about 10 days after catching up on some things in Auckland.

The Kingdom of Bhutan: part III – Bumthang

Wednesday 28 February: Bumthang – Roger

At 7:30am we wandered down to the spa where they had a couple of yoga mats set up for the yoga stretch and flexibility class. I was a little apprehensive, as in the early 90’s I did yoga quite intensively with a lovely lady, Mandy White, who taught Iyengar Yoga in Central Auckland. I attended several times a week, even taking private lessons at times. After I had been doing this for a year or two, a visiting instructor came from Australia. Whilst attending one of his classes – he was going around and adjusting people as yoga instructors do – he got to me, tried to make the adjustment, and said “you’re about as flexible as a concrete block”, so with this long ago thought in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure how it would go. We wandered in and took a seat with a beautiful view from the studio, through the pine trees and down to the river. We were soon joined by the local instructor, who commenced by telling us she was going to make this a session for beginners – and to her credit, she did exactly that. Not that I could stand on one leg with my other foot in my groin… but 45 minutes later, feeling relaxed, we wandered back to our room.

At 9:30am we met Chimi and Singye, who had done the 8.5 hour drive from Paro yesterday, to start our day’s excursions. We drove through the town we had visited yesterday, and along the way saw a large amount of dressed timber stacked on the side of the road, near some white memorial flags, with a stupa across the road.

Arriving at the Jambay Lakhang, a temple built in the 7th century, we noted in the carpark a large pile of stones, some with writing on, that had apparently been put there by one of the Treasure Revealers, a peson within the Buddhist faith who has revealed scripture in some form. As we wandered towards the front entrance of the temple, a number of elderly people passed the door heading in a clockwise direction on their temple circumambulation. We turned left to do the same and passed a number of them sitting on a bench, having a rest. They were all very friendly and engaging. Some of them spin little prayer wheels or count rosary beads as they walk around. Some leave a stone each time they make a round so they can count the number of circumambulations they have completed. This is apparently a tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years.

It was while walking around the grounds, I came to the realisation that Bhutan is really the country of a million photographs as everywhere you look there is some beautiful scenery, or a house, shed, temple or other such thing and all seem to be unique.

Having completed our circumambulation and spun a few of the smaller prayer wheels along the way, we entered the main entrance, spinning the large prayer wheels in the doorway, each making it’s own unique ‘ding’ as we completed a revolution. The doorway led us into a courtyard, once again with steep sets of stairs going up to the next level, and with its own unique style of architecture. There was also a painting of the Buddha with three eyes, one looking to the past, one at the present and the third eye looking to the future. Removing our shoes we entered the temple itself.

Having completed our visit to the temple, we wandered back outside and down an adjoining road through some farmland. We came across two men and a woman doing some fencing. One of the men was cutting the end of a stay for a strainer post with a machete.

A little further along, a man walked behind his three-wheeled rotary hoe, preparing a paddock for the next crop. In places the top wire of the fence was a hot wire, with pieces of PVC pipe used as insulators. A lone scarecrow hung in one of the paddocks and 4-gallon drums with sticks in them were used in other places to scare the sparrows away. A couple of women spread cow manure in a paddock about to be planted with potatoes.

As we wandered further down the lane there were paddocks in various stages of production, including a paddock of fodder that had just been harvested. Milking cows grazed on what little grass was in the fields and there were buildings to house the animals at night and during the winter. We rounded one corner and I looked into a yard and saw a sawmill so I wandered in past the pile of logs, everybody being very welcoming, to see a horizontal band-saw, which the operator pushed back and forward. After each pass the log he was working was turned until he ended up with a square beam several metres long.

European Magpie

As we wandered past a stupa, a lady with a baby held on her back by a blanket walked past. When I asked if I could take a photo, she adjusted the baby to make sure it was looking at me and happily posed for a picture. We wandered past more piles of timber, stacked so it wouldn’t warp in the sun. We crossed a roofed bridge and came across another group of fencers – this time two blokes, each wielding a crowbar, and two women wearing gloves. The guys drove the crowbar into the soil to loosen it and the women removed the loose soil by hand, ending up with a perfectly formed hole about 600mms deep.  A pile of rough cut posts lay on the ground beside the tractor and will soon become a fence. A little further on their backpacks hung on a recently completed stretch of fence, each post rock-solid in the ground, the strainers well-stayed and the four strands of barbed wire so tight you could have played music on them.

Rounding a corner we came across another bunch of memorial flags at the Kurjee Zangdopelri Buddhist temple, built by the grandmother of the current king. This was closed today but across the field, 200-300m further on was the Kurjey Lakhang cluster of three temples situated in a large walled compound. The oldest of the three temples was built in the 15th century, on a site where the second Buddha had meditated in the 8th century. The second one was built in 1900 and the third in 1984. We entered the oldest temple first and once again Chimi went into patient detail explaining the various shapes and forms surrounding the statue of the second Buddha (Guru Rinpoche). As we were about to leave, about 15 people, wearing the national dress, entered and went through their prostration process, as Chimi does every time we enter a temple.  It turned out that these people were guides in training. One of the trainees came outside and asked to have her photo taken with us, which we happily obliged.

We then entered the second temple, where there was a model of a semi-wrathful (just slightly pissed off) Buddha. Chimi once again explained this to us. I asked how he knows so much and whether all guides have as much knowledge and he explained that his father is a Buddhist teacher.

We continued north past a row of large, coloured flags and over the steps over the wall alongside the gate to the temple. Looking back, below the temple grounds is a large monastic institution, where people go to train to become monks.

We wandered down the road, passing probably the nicest block of public toilets I have ever seen, and a kindergarten where parents were collecting their children from school. We headed down to the river, where Singye was waiting for us with a brew and some snacks, which we consumed before continuing on our pilgrimage past some unique government buildings. Crossing the Bumthang Chhu river we came across a furniture factory with its own sawmill. We passed a unique house behind some gold embellished wrought-iron gates and then came to one of the most interesting scenes I have ever seen. A family was adding an extension to their house. On one side of the house the stone masons were busy building the stone around the door and window frames, which had been built on site at the other side of the house. I stood and watched for sometime as a bloke with a large machete-type instrument hand carved a beam out of a log. Another man with an electric plane planed another beam, a woman over the fence in the paddock cultivated the land and another chap sat and carved the unique ornamental timber that juts out from the end of these buildings.

We continued on past a prayer wall, next arriving at the Lhundrup Choeling Lakhang, a temple initially build in 1501. It is another unique temple experience with a large honeycomb beehive hanging from the ceiling outside. On the way out I asked Chimi about some calligraphy painted on stones in the wall. He read it out to me and it was in fact a mantra, like that being recited by the people walking around the first temple we visited “Om mani padmey hung”.

We continued on our pilgrimage down the road and a very friendly chap with reddish-brown teeth chatted away to us. It turns out that a lot of the locals chew betel nut here. Cows wandered freely along the road, occasional holding the small amount of traffic up. Soon we reached our final temple of the day, the Kenchogsum Lhakang, or the temple of the three jewels. This is one of the earliest temples in Bhutan, initially built in the 9th century. It was renovated in 1479 and then tragically burnt down in 2010 but the relics were only partially damaged. It has been recently reconstructed. There are monastic accommodation blocks on each side of the temple. On each corner a chain of small buckets hang down, acting as a downspout. We wandered clockwise around the outside of the main temple, entering the main hall on the back right-hand side. This is by far the largest temple we have been in so far. Chimi asked the caretaker for permission for us to take photos inside the temple as I would love to be able to share the ornateness and uniqueness. Having over the years visited churches in Europe and quickly becoming ‘churched out’, Mayan temples in Central America and quickly becoming ‘templed out’ and Mosques in the Stans and becoming ‘Mosqued out’, each of these temples are unique and with Chimi’s patient explanations Sylvia at least is starting to get an understanding of what it all means. I am not sure I have quite caught up yet. However the request was declined. It is really hard to describe the beauty, intricacy and uniqueness of the temples. This one in particular was spectacular – every inch of the three storeys is decorated in some way with different depictions of Buddha and his disciples.

Outside the door is a painting of a Buddha with three eyes. This represents the Buddhist circle of life, and is extremely rich with meaning – way too complicated to explain in a few lines here.

Our pilgrimage over, we were driven back to the lodge, and greeted at the gate as always by the friendly staff. We enjoyed a late lunch in the restaurant, starting with a beautiful drink made from butterfly pea, before retiring to our room for a restful evening.

Thursday 29 February: Bumthang – Sylvia

We started the day with a 45-minute guided meditation at 7:30am at the spa. This included some focused breathing and was a very relaxing and centering way to start the day. I did find that my joints are not used to sitting cross-legged for any length of time… After a delicious breakfast, we met Chimi and Singye at 9:30am and headed off for the day’s adventures. First stop was known as Membertsho or the Burning Lake, where Terton Pema Lingpa, a great treasure revealer, dove into the river carrying a burning lamp in his hand, and returned with treasures and relics and the lamp still burning. I have been impressed in general in Bhutan that there is very little rubbish around and many signs reminding people not to litter. I was quite bemused at this place as there was a sign clearly stating do not hang prayer flags and I have not seen so many prayer flags in one place before.

Next we visited the Pema Choling Nunnery, which would be one of my highlights so far. As we arrived the nuns, many of them quite young, were making their way into the temple. We joined them and watched as they were served salted butter tea and puffed rice, before starting chanting. Apparently they chant these prayers when someone makes a donation and requests a certain number of prayers to be recited. It sounded quite beautiful, with one of the more senior nuns reciting into a microphone and the others following along. The disciplinary master kept an eye on the proceedings. We were served some sugar tea and biscuits. Before we entered Chimi had negotiated that we be allowed to take some photographs inside the temple, truly a real privilege here. So here is a small glimpse into what we have been experiencing… but really the pictures do not do it justice. Perhaps they will encourage you to visit here one day too.

We left the enchanting, chanting nuns and headed a little way up the road to the start of our hike for the day. This would take us about 10kms, first through farmland and then blue pine forest, rising gently about 400m from the starting point to just over 3,100m and then descending again. We passed another small sawmill; this one had very cool gates made out of the bandsaw blades. In many parts of the forest people had been granted the rights to fell some trees. At times we would walk on soft sawdust where the logs had been cut, with many left to dry on the side of the track. The early part of the track was on a path wide enough for a tractor to haul the wood but later on it all had to be carried out by hand. Every now and then we would see signs that cows had been grazing along the track – although there was very little grass around. Little streams had been carefully tapped into to create waterways to provide easy access to drinking water. We spotted several deer tracks, signs of wild boar and even a couple of feline tracks but wildlife today. It was a lovely peaceful walk.

Heading back, past the hotel, we reached a beautiful riverside spot where the Six Senses team had set up a delightful meal for us. Cooked on river stones, over an open fire, we feasted on grilled vegetables, some sort of potato rösti, grilled trout and giant prawns, finished off with a local desert of a type of sweet dumpling with mint and honey. Roger also sampled the local wine, ara, and beers and finished off with a couple of glasses of an Italian red wine. Although the wind was cold, the view was spectacular and the food was excellent. The flavours they are able to create with the local herbs, berries, honey etc are truly delicious. We were provided with hot water bottles and thick blankets to help us keep warm – not that Roger needed them but I very much appreciated them. Another fantastic experience.

Back at the lodge, we ended an excellent day with 90-minute massages at the spa, just the thing to ease aching muscles and put us in a relaxed state of mind for the evening.

Friday 1 March: Bumthang to Gangtey – Roger

At 7am we headed down to the spa for a Body Balance session. This is one where you sit cross-legged and go through various yogic breathing activities while the instructor waves some incense over you. She then started chiming the singing bowls. It was a bit like being outside Westminster Abbey on a Sunday morning. I didn’t realise you could get so many sounds or vibrations out of three brass bowls. As we sat there with our eyes closed we could feel the vibrations coming from one of the bowls as she moved it close to our heads. We then laid down on the floor and went through a guided visualisation/meditation process with some unusual music playing in the background. We were taken in our minds down to a river, de-clothed, jumped in to the river and so it went on. Eventually we opened our eyes and went back to our room.

We headed over to breakfast and they brought over the daily three shots. Today one was for detox, one was for anti-aging and I can’t remember what the third one was for but it tasted a bit like kerosene. Breakfast over, we wandered down to the car where Chimi and Singye were waiting patiently. At this point I must inform you that you are lucky I am not a writer as we saw so many things today that a writer would have written a book about it. As we headed down the hill in the 8-year old Kia 4WD Sorrento, which has only done 50,000 kms and is in almost brand new condition – I’d wager it has never done over 60 kmph – we asked Chimi and Singye how many times they had done this trip and they said they couldn’t count – only the number of years they’d been doing it.

We followed the winding road through the pine forest, eventually crossing the Kiki La Pass on the Bumthang highway, at just over 2,700m, the lowest of the several passes we would cross today. At the bottom of the pass the road became a bit wider and was a clear two lanes. Chimi said this was only completed 5 years ago and prior to that the road through to Thimphu used to be basically a one-lane road. Soon we came to a small town, Chumey village. This little village was spotless with all the little streets swept with hand brooms. We went into a little souvenir shop, which had a great display of everything from masks to Yathra, or woven rugs, one of which we now own.

We continued along the journey, passing a rather modern looking service station and adjoining building still under construction, then crossing a new bridge, which had been built alongside the old one. As we wound our way along the valley we passed many sawmills, lots of construction and new buildings and even farmyards full of animals. The highway has milestones (or should we say kilometre stones) along the way, showing the distance to Thimphu. Lots of little creeks have little buildings containing prayer wheels, which are turned by the water as it flows through the building.

We continued gaining altitude, through mainly pine forest with lots of old man’s beard blowing in the wind, until reaching the top of the Yotongla pass at 3,423m. On the other side of the pass the vegetation changed from pine trees to more bush type foliage. The road descends quite steeply and has been cut into the cliffs with obviously a huge amount of rock being blasted off to make room for this two lane highway. We had not gone far when we rounded a corner and were brought to a standstill by a herd of about 50 yaks, under the control of a herder and his dog. Chimi informed us that these yak herders are semi-nomadic and during the winter the yaks are kept on pasture at 2,500-3,500m, moving to higher elevations to feed in the summer. The road, considering the altitude and the climate, is in surprisingly good condition with only the odd area that had been damaged or washed out during the winter.

All the government signs in Bhutan are yellow writing on a red background. At one stage we passed a shed with a rusty roof, with a sign stating “Roadside amenity – Yotongla – Department of Surface Transport”. We wound our way down the valley at 40 or 50 kmph, many times doubling back on ourselves, eventually arriving at Ta Dzong (watch tower) in Trongsa, the original seat of the Bhutanese Royal Family. Ta Dzong was originally built as a defensive watch tower after the dzong, or fort, which the town also boasts, and is now a museum. There was a large amount of timber lined up at the edge of the carpark drying. We wandered down the steps to the entrance at the bottom, where our cameras and phones were removed. We climbed a couple of flights of stairs looking at various artefacts and Buddha type figures before entering a small room where we watched a video showing the history of Bhutan and the Trongso region. It was an interesting journey through the tower, climbing many flights of stairs and looking at some really interesting statues, artwork and garments worn by various leaders over time, including the raven crown of the first king. We eventually popped out on the top of the turret, which would have been a great place to take photos from as it gave spectacular views over the town and surrounding countryside, but sorry, cameras were locked away.

We wandered back down and out the exit, where Chimi met us with our phones and camera, then strolled up the road to a lovely picnic area, which had a great view of the town across the valley and down to one of Bhutan’s many hydro-dams. Apparently there are four major hydro-dams in Bhutan, many smaller ones, such as this one, and quite a number under construction. As we sat eating our lunch we could hear the chant of mantra-type prayers from the dzong below us where they are holding a large festival today.

Lunch over, we drove down to the dzong, which is the largest in Bhutan. On a piece of flat ground on the other side of the stream from the fort, large tents had been set up and it looked like well over 1,000 people were gathered. On another piece of flat ground below this a large kitchen had been set up and people in orange uniforms made their way down the rows of people carrying large 50-60l buckets filled with rice that had been prepared in the kitchen, which they doled out with large ladles, ensuring that everyone was fed. The people here were so friendly and all were dressed in their traditional clothing as they took part in this large religious gathering.

From there we wandered down a path and across a rather quaint old bridge into the dzong. On the way there were three very friendly school girls who were more than happy to pose for a photo in front of the garden. Upon entering the dzong we first went to the administration side, then headed to the monastic side, which meant climbing many more steps. Entering the monastic part of the complex, there were two large prayer wheels and pictures of the north, south, east and west Buddhas, along with the elephant, rabbit, monkey and bird harmony picture. We entered but only into the courtyard as the temple was closed due to the day’s festivities. Numerous monks were heading back to their quarters. As we left, a party of local high school boys were heading up the steps to check out the temple area. They were very friendly and incredibly polite.

On leaving the fort we strolled across the bridge and back up to where the festival was taking place. Ten or twelve police women were performing, I presume, a traditional dance. It almost appears that the people here are so polite and friendly that the police would have little else to do, although to be fair, Chimi said it was the first time he had seen the police dancing.

We continued on our journey, heading up the valley opposite the fort in order to cross the river several kilometres up then head back the other side, where we stopped to take photos back towards the fort and the huge amount of terracing that has taken place over the years. We continued slowly along the valley, passing many more settlements with  huge areas of terraced land, monastic-type buildings, and the road carved into the steep terrain. Gaining altitude again, and back in yak country, the bush cleared and it was surprising to find ourselves at such high altitude, almost in grassland. Yaks grazed contentedly beside the road. Eventually rising to 3,404m, we crossed the Pelela Pass and as we headed down the other side we were back in pine tree country again. We had only gone about 3km, when we branched off the main road onto a single lane, but still sealed road, at one stage coming to a complete standstill as a herd of yaks were busy licking salt from the road and refused to budge. Soon we crossed the Lawala Pass at just over 3,300m. Sylvia was surprised to see rhododendrons and even magnolia trees at this altitude. It turns out there are even 4 species of rhododendron that are endemic to Bhutan and some can grow as high as 5,000m.

Soon the pine trees receded and we arrived in the magnificent Gangtey Valley, which we will no doubt tell you more about tomorrow. We headed up a small hill, passing three large Himalayan Griffon Vultures, and arrived at Six Senses Gangtey “Bird-watching Bridge”, where we were welcomed by a guy playing a flute, decked in red scarves and led into the dining room/lounge, which has magnificent views across the valley.




The Kingdom of Bhutan: Part II – Paro

Sunday 25 February: Tiger’s Nest – Sylvia

Breakfast arrived at our villa at 6:15am this morning and we metChimi and Singye at 7:00am to head for the base of the Tiger’s Nest walk, abut a 45 minute drive away, on the other side of Paro town. The Tiger’s Nest is probably the most iconic site in Bhutan, a monastery built in the 17th century that is perched precariously on the side of a cliff at about 3,093m. It is called the Tiger’s Nest as apparently the second Bhudda ‘flew’ to this site to meditate on the back of a tiger.

We arrived at the car park at 2,599m. Chimi purchased our tickets and we started off at just after 8am, passing a large number of mules that were gathered, waiting either to carry goods up to the cafeteria or tourists the first half of the hike. We opted to walk ourselves and set off at a slow but steady pace, gradually gaining altitude on a well-worn track. In parts there were fairly steep steps, but it is not a strenuous climb, or at least wouldn’t be if it was a couple of thousand metres lower.

A few people raced past us only to stop for a breather a little way ahead. We plodded on steadily, passing them again, making me think of the hare and the tortoise. At one point we got a bit caught behind a mule train that was slowly making its way up the hill – before the track split off and they continued on a slightly less steep but longer path and we continued on the main path.

Just before the halfway point we came across a large prayer wheel and Roger gave it a few rounds in hope it might help his knees. Then we arrived at the halfway cafeteria at 2,903m, which has fantastic views to the Tiger’s Nest. Roger enjoyed a cup of tea and we chatted with some of the other tourists making their way up.

The track continued up for a while then levelled off and wound along the ridge. There are several other temples, monasteries and other buildings, some even higher than the Tiger’s Nest, but none perched quite so spectacularly. The track peaks at about 3,105m. Eventually we came to the top of a long stone stairway going down the side of the mountain. We could see the Tiger’s Nest almost directly opposite on the other side of the valley. We made our way down the steps to a small bridge at the bottom of a waterfall. By this time the wind had picked up and was blowing pretty strongly. Just before we made it to the bridge there was a loud crash as a big chunk of ice blew off the waterfall. Across the bridge, we started climbing again heading now directly to the temple complex.

Arriving at the temple we had to leave our bags, phones and cameras in the lockers before we were able to enter the complex. It is such a shame as the complex itself is impressive and some of the views back across the temple’s gold embellished, pagoda-style roofs were magnificent.

Chime led us, in stockinged feet, through 5 of the 12 or so temples in the building, stopping to prostrate himself in each one and explaining the meanings of some of what we were seeing. In the second temple we watched while he rolled some dice to determine something of his future. The first roll was not good so he went to the monk, seated in the temple, for cleansing, before rolling again. Happily the second roll had a better outcome. Apparently they are allowed to roll up to three times. Some of the icons in the temples are really impressive.

Exploration of the temple over, we started back the way we had come. I think perhaps the toughest part of the whole walk is the climb back up the steps on the opposite side of the valley but we maintained our slow and steady pace. I am glad we set off early as we started to pass large groups of people making their way up, some carrying babies or infants up to be blessed. Apparently once you have visited the temple even once, you will reach enlightenment, either in this life or a future one.

At the highest point we stopped in a small shelter and enjoyed the lunch that had been prepared for us at the hotel and carried up the track by Chimi and Singye. They really look after us and go out of their way to ensure we are comfortable. Both have been working in the industry for a very long time, are well educated and provide great information without overwhelming us.

After lunch we made our way slowly down to the car, passing many mules, still saddled up about halfway up after dropping off their ‘loads’. We arrived back at the car just before 2pm and headed back to the Six Senses Paro property. This hike was a fantastic experience. The photographs really don’t do it justice at all.

On the way to the hike in the morning we had seen two men prostrating themselves along the side of the road, probably on a pilgrimage to somewhere. They were still making slow progress when we headed back. Arriving back at the hotel we were met by the lovely staff, who informed us that because we had just done the hike we would receive a 15 minute foot massage. What a lovely surprise! We were seated in the lounge area, served a delicious glass of hibiscus lemonade, our shoes and socks were whisked off for cleaning and our tired feet were pampered. We had already booked 90-minute massages at the spa and they accommodated us a little early, which was super nice. A great way to ease the aches and pains.

After the massages we enjoyed a delicious meal in the hotel dining room before retiring to our room to edit photos, catch up on the blog, and relax for the evening. We have been incredibly impressed with the service orientation here. Nothing seems to be a bother and someone seems to anticipate our every need. And it is not just the outstanding staff here at the Six Senses. Even the staff at Immigration were friendly and welcoming, something I have not experienced to the same extent anywhere else in the world. I am definitely a fan of Bhutan and its people.


Monday 26 February: Paro – Roger

We had a late start this morning with Chimi and Singye meeting us at 10am. We headed off down the rather bumpy dirt road to where the tar seal starts, which just happens to be where the National Museum of Bhutan is.

Understanding what goes on here with Buddhism and how it all came together is quire difficult, despite Chimi’s patient explanations, as it is made up of numerous buddhas, lamas, other enlightened beings and royalty. So I am going to quote a little bit from Wikipedia. “The consolidation of Bhutan occurred in 1666 when Ngawanag Namgyal, a lama from Western Tibet, known as the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, defeated the three Tibetan invasions, subjugated rival religious schools, codified the Tsa Yig an intricate and complicated system of law, and established himself as the ruler over a system of ecclesiastical and civil administrators. After his death infighting and civil war eroded thee power of the Zhabdrung Rinpoche for the next 200 years. In 1885 Ugyen Wangchuck was able to consolidate power and began cultivating closer ties with the British in the sub-continent.” His family still rules to this day with the current king being the fifth. It was in 1972 that Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the father of the current king ascended to the throne. He developed the Gross National Happiness philosophy that guides a lot of Bhutanese life today.

After having our cell-phones removed at the ticket office we ascended the steps into the cylindrical building, which houses the national museum artefacts. There were stone axes and knives dating back to ±2,000 BC, which shows that man has been hanging around here for a while. There was a huge amount to take in as we passed various types of Thanga paintings, then came to a couple of shrines, the first of which was four sided, with numerous depictions of Buddha and other enlightened beings, each of which was numbered. Chimi patiently explained as Sylvia asked a number of questions, with most of the answers going right over my head. During my 30-odd years of studying karate I had come across the Buddhist ways and been to a number of Buddhist meditation centres, both in NZ and in the US, but I find the Buddhism here to be much more detailed and sincere, The attention to detail in their shrines compared with others I have visited in various parts of the world is much more particular.

The path led us up little stairways andd through little passages, passing all sorts of artefacts, until we started to descend, passing areas, on clothing, stamps, coins, royalty, and royal costumes. One little circular alley we went through was full of teapots – here one had to keep one’s head down as the ceiling was very low. There was even a section of matchlock long rifles and powdered-primed swivel canons. Eventually we popped out of the bottom of the building and wandered our way up the path to the ticket office, where we collected our phones. It’s really hard to describe these places accurately without having pictures.

From here we drove down to the Rinpung Dzong, or fort, which houses regional government offices and the monastic (religious) administration.  Once again the attention to detail in this place is quite incredible. We wandered through courtyards and down stairways into the temple where the monks pray at the bottom of the building. Chimi, once again, explained the various statues and representations to us.

Feeling my knees after yesterday’s hike, I thought we may pop out the bottom of the building and head into the town. But no such luck. As we left the temple a bunch of young trainee monks, still in their childhood, raced around playing during their lunch break as we ascended the stairs back to the main entrance.

From there we took a stroll around the side of the Dzong on a gentle sloping path taking us to the Paro Chhu River and the Nyamai Zampa, an ancient traditional cantilevered bridge. Exiting the other side we were adjacent to five stupas, two large and three small, where Singye picked us up and drove us to Kyuchi Lhakang, which we had tried to visit a couple of days ago.

Established in the 7th century this is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan and has well manicured and laid out gardens, lots of prayer wheels and in the internal courtyard two temples, both of which we visited. It’s interesting to watch, because each time we enter one of these temples Chimi goes through. His prayer rituals and prostrations (getting down on his knees and touching his head on the floor and performing various other rituals). With the number of these we have visited over the last couple of days he should be right up there in the Buddhist good books.

From there we drove back up to the Six Senses hotel and enjoyed a very relaxing lunch wth few others in the restaurant. The attention to detail and the excellent service provided by the people that work at Six Senses can only be described as outstanding. It’s difficult to open a door for yourself as someone seems to appear from nowhere and grab the door handle before you get there.

After lunch we rested for a while and then went for a stroll to have a look at the 15th century ruins, which nobody seems to fully understand the origin of. It looks as though the external walls have been cleared at some stage but the inside of the fort is still full of dirt and has trees growing out of it. There is an area beside the ruins where they hold special dinners, which is decked out in prayer flags. On the other side of the road from the main gate to the Six Senses there is a monastery surrounded by walls and just on the other side of the wall is a house flying a red and white flag, which apparently means this person is in meditation – do not disturb. There is a massive new building being constructed inside the walls that when completed will house some 500-700 monks.


Tuesday 29 February: Paro to Bumthang – Sylvia

We were up bright and early this morning to meet Chimi and Singye at 6:30am for our transfer, via the bumpy dirt road, to the Paro airport for our 8am flight to Bumthang. The airport is huge, clean, elaborately decorated and incredibly efficient. We made it through check in and security and waited in the gate area for our flight, which eventually departed about 8:56am. Being a pilot in this country takes some skill with the airports in narrow valleys and flying up over mountainous terrain. We had amazing views over the Himalayas and down into the inhabited valleys of Bhutan during our roughly 30 minute flight. The lovely man, sitting on the opposite side of the aisle from me, was very obliging and happily took photos and videos out his window on my phone for me. The ATR 40 was not even half full and many of the passengers were staying on board to go to the next destination.

After collecting our bags we were met by a new driver as Singye is driving here and will be with us tomorrow. It will take him 8-10 hours to drive the ±295 kilometres from Paro, all on two lane sealed roads but winding his way up, down and around the mountainous terrain. Chimi had joined us on the flight. We checked in to the Six Sense Bumthang “Forest within a Forest”, about 5 minutes drive from the airport. It is very peaceful here; the hotel is set within the blue pine forest and overlooks the Bumthang Chhu River. The staff were, as always, incredibly welcoming and met us with two men blowing traditional horns. We were shown around this small hotel (only 9 rooms) and after settling in and unpacking we headed to the restaurant for a late breakfast. Apparently we are the only guests here at the moment although there is another couple arriving later tonight.

Breakfast is always accompanied by ‘healthy shots’ one, two or three shot glasses of different juices made from local ingredients intended to boost some form of our health. It might have worked better today if I hadn’t indulged in the local version of french toast with local fruits – which was absolutely delicious.

After breakfast we met Chimi and headed to the Jakar Dzong (Seat of Regional Administration and Monastic Order) , which overlooks Chamkar town on the other side of the river from the hotel. I am gradually starting to understand more about Buddhism, the different Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and Arhats (disciples) depicted in the different temples we are visiting, and even starting to recognise a few of them. Chimi has been extremely patient in his explanations and answering our questions.

This lady apparently runs a nunnery we will be visiting in a couple of days. We met her leaving the Dzong as we were arriving.

Next we spent some time wandering through Chamkar town. There is a huge amount of forest around here and we saw a lot more buildings with wooden facades, and many houses with huge piles of firewood stacked outside. We came across a small outdoor market, selling lots of vegetables. As in the other towns we have been to, people seem very friendly and welcoming.

We continued to wander across the bridge out of town, enjoying the fresh breeze and the sound of the river, while admiring the numerous red flags flapping outside one of the large, privately owned monasteries. We spotted a couple of ruddy ducks by the river, and as we walked on a bit further several horses ran up and down through the trees on the other side of the river to drink. Eventually we hopped back in the car and returned to the hotel for a restful afternoon.

The Kingdom of Bhutan – Part I: Thimphu

Wednesday 21 February 2024 – Roger

It’s around 2100 when we head to Auckland International Airport. The way through security is really slow with only one lane open. We then went to the currency exchange – warning: do not buy currency here unless you order in advance – we got 10% less in USD than we would have got for the same amount had we ordered a week ahead.

We are booked with Air NZ to Singapore but on a Singapore airlines flight. We get to the Air NZ lounge to see a sign at the coffee counter saying for the sake of the environment they no longer use paper cups. Then we head over to the food counter to find paper plates and wooden cutlery. Someone in the hierarchy there must be a little confused.

Thursday 22 February 2024 – Roger

At 0120 we departed for Singapore supported by the excellent service from the airline crew.

Today is a special day for my long-time friend Gary, who is having his farewell from the NZ Army after 54 years service, many of them as an officer in the NZSAS. We joined the army together on the 6 January 1970. Thank you Major Gary S for you dedication to NZ and our army.

Arriving in Singapore we headed to the Marhaba lounge to await the Drukair (Royal Bhutan Airlines) transit check-in to open.

The Butterfly Garden at Changi Airport

It was around noon when we bussed out to the Drukair airbus 319. There we sat for close to an hour before clearance to take off was received. Four and a half hours later we touched down at Guwahati in India, where a few people got off and two boarded. We then took off again for the !30 minute flight to Paro in Bhutan.

View over Guwaharti

It was the last 15 minutes flying that got really interesting, The pilot did warn us it was going to be a bit bumpy “just normal”, that it was normal to fly close to the terrain, and we may not be able to land if the wind was too strong. This turned out to be a really interesting bit of flying as we flew down a narrow valley with large houses perched on the sides of gullies on each side of the plane. The land around them is all terraced with thousands of years of growing rice in the summer and turnips broccolini and such in the winter. The large houses often house several generations of one family/ It was definitely one of the most spectacular approaches I have done to a landing.

The architecture at the airport is very traditional and the immigration staff very friendly. We changed $300 USD receiving 28000 locals. After purchasing a local SIM card we headed outside to be met by our guide, Chimi, and driver, Singye, from Six Senses. They will be with us for our stay in Bhutan.

The drive to the Six Senses Thimphu (2,738m) was just over an hour with the road following the Paro Chhu River to Thimphu, where we turned off to head up the hill to the resort. As we arrived and were welcomed we were invited to watch some traditional dances, a weekly event here, before being shown our palatial rooms and heading off for a 90 minute massage.

Friday 23 February: Thimphu – Sylvia

We woke this morning to a stunning view from our enormous villa. I can see why Six Senses has named this place the Palace in the Sky. It had been dark when we arrived yesterday and I hadn’t realised how high the mountains around here are. After enjoying a delicious breakfast in the dining room, overlooking Thimphu and the 52m high Buddha Dordenma, we headed off at 9am with Chimi and Singye to start our tour of Thimphu, which is the capital city of Bhutan and the largest with a population of ±115,000.

Our first stop was across the way at the giant Buddha. This temple was initially commissioned in 2005 and opened to the public in 2015. Outside it is impressive – inside, it is by far the most incredible temple I have been in. The detail and workmanship is outstanding. There are hundreds of small Buddha’s lining the walls and the pillars are all beautifully engraved. Unfortunately photos are only allowed outside so you will have to use your imagination for the inside.

On the way down the hill we stopped to take photos of the Thimphu city. Apparently the buildings with red roofs are governmental and those with green roofs are privately owned. Prayer flags are everywhere, with the five colours representing different elements: red – fire; green – water; blue – space; white – air; yellow – earth. There are also many clusters of large memorial flags scattered on the hillsides.

We next headed to the Memorial Stupa, or Thimphu Chorten, which was built in 1974 in honour of the third king of Bhutan. Building a chorten, or even circumnambulating one is said to accumulate good will. Chortens are receptacles for offerings and generally contain some sort of religious relic. People come from dawn to dusk to circumnambulate the chorten and today, being the King’s birthday holiday, there were crowds of people doing this. We joined in, stopping to spin the prayer wheels first, then walking clockwise around the chorten with the many others who had made the trip here, almost all in traditional Bhutanese dress. Apparently while they may wear western clothing for casual affairs, when visiting a religious or government site, working in an office etc, traditional dress must be worn. This is one of the many ‘rules’ in place that maintain a sense of the traditional Bhutanese culture, one of the key facets of the Gross National Happiness measure.

Many older women sat outside a smaller building alongside the chorten where one lights butter lamps as an offering of wisdom and light of knowledge to eradicate darkness.

Our next stop was the Royal Takin Reserve, a large area set aside for the preservation of takin, the national animal of Bhutan. It has now been expanded to include other injured animals. We were very impressed with the amount of space and also with the many raised walkways that had been built.





Himalayan Serow

Blue Sheep

After enjoying a delicious lunch at a Six Senses cafe in town, we visited the Tashichho Dzhong, which was first built in 1216 as a place of residence for monks and then expanded in 1745 to house government ministers and officials. It is now an important religious and administrative center and is an impressive piece of architecture. The Bhutanese flag flies proudly outside.

We called in to a specialty art centre, where we got to see a lot of the traditional Bhutanese art. Some of the artists were making wax statues for offerings.

Our last stop was the centre of town where we wandered down the Main Street and tired to take photos of the decorative architecture. Being a public holiday there was a bit of a festival atmosphere. In the main square we were amused to see a merry go round playing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” and a tent where people were playing bingo. There is a huge amount of work that goes into the painting and embellishment of the buildings. It is hard to really capture in the photos. There is also a lot of development in the town, with many building sites and lots of bamboo scaffolding. There are no traffic lights in Bhutan and at the major intersection the traffic police direct the traffic with  exaggerated hand gestures.

We returned to the resort, stopping briefly to admire one of the more traditional bridges along the way. It was nice to take a bit of time to relax in our stunning room. We had booked a traditional Dotsho (hot stone) bath at 6pm. I think I now have an even better understanding of the frog in boiling water analogy. This was definitely an experience… we were each in our own rooms and got into a large wooden bath, with khempa, a medicinal herb added, to help ease muscle aches and pains. Five river stones that had been heated for over three hours in fire were rolled down a chute and added to the bath, sizzling and steaming as they hit the water… it heated up significantly. Fifteen minutes later they offered to add more stones – no thank you for me, six more for Roger. Another ten minutes later and I braved two more stones, Roger another three. Bottles of water had been provided and a bowl with three face towels in some ice water. It was all I could do to stop myself tipping the ice water directly in the bath – I had the iced towels on my head and around my neck and still I was over-heating. Roger apparently enjoyed it immensely… no ice towels required. I have to admit, that I do feel very relaxed but this only reiterated for me the limited range of temperatures at which I feel comfortable.

Saturday 24 February – Roger: Thimphu to Paro

It was about 6:30am when we wandered down to the gym, which has a great view of the golden Buddha, sitting high above the city of Thimphu. After completing our respective programs we wandered back to our villa for a shower.

We packed up then headed to breakfast before meeting Chimi and Singye, who took us for a stroll up the hill behind the resort. The track took us up through a pine forest to a prayer memorial with prayer flags on vertical poles. These are placed there after somebodies death – 108 is believed to be an auspicious number although one is just ass effective. The white symbolises air and wind. The base of the pole is dug into the ground to symbolise the connection with the earth and the dagger-like thing on top points upwards to represent the connection with the sky. These particular flags were in quite a state of disrepair;  apparently after a year they are supposed to be taken down and burnt but a lot of people don’t get around to doing this. We had a great view from the memorial over the Six Senses resort.

From there we wandered down the hill, overlooking the vast developments in the valleys below, as Thimphu rapidly expands. We passed lots more prayer flags on the way down. As we arrived back at the resort we stopped in to look at the magnificent indoor, heated infinity pool with its view out to the Buddha.

Soon we were on the road to Paro, passing lots of new construction sites as we headed down the hill, turning at a roundabout at the bottom of the hill with a statue of an elephant, a rabbit and a monkey in the middle, apparently representing harmony in the Buddhist religion.

We continued down the valley alongside the Wang Chhu River. Along the way we passed many more prayer flag stations hosting the vertical flags representing the five elements. Large power pylons are quite prevalent along the valley as the largest income earner for Bhutan is electricity, created from the many hydro dams in  the country. This is followed next by tourism.

People drive very slowly and respectfully here and there are signs along the highway, encouraging safe driving. One in particular appealed to us: “No hurry No worry”. There are lots of stalls and markets on the side of the road as well as the odd petrol station.

After about 40 minutes, we came to a point where the Paro Chhu River converges with the Wang Chhu River and heads south to India. Three chorten stand on the riverbank at the intersection of the rivers, apparently to ward off the evil spirits where the waters meet. Looking back as we crossed the bridge was a 3m by 12m billboard with a photo of the king and queen on it. The king, now in his early 40’s, under the Bhutanese law, will have to abdicate from the throne at the age of 60, as his father did before him, to allow his oldest child to take over the throne.

As we carried on up the valley, Sylvia had been talking about these little cupcake things stuck in holes in the bank along the roadside. Eventually we came upon a whole bunch of them stacked up higgledy piggledy. These miniature stupa or chorten each contain a relic and bring good will.

We headed into Paro, passing the airport, and through the town to a small farm, where we were hosted by Mr Sonam Dargay, the owner of the three acres and also a traditional maker of prayer flags. The farm and prayer flag making tradition have been in his family for generations. Part of the traditional three storey house is over 300 years old. Before entering the house there was a vessel of water which we dipped a branch into and used to sprinkle water around to bless our entry to the house. We then climbed some steep stairs to the first, and then up to the second floor, where we passed through the kitchen and were seated in the living room. There we were served a very nice traditional lunch. One of the Six Senses staff was there to interpret as the farmer explained to us how he cultivated his three acres of land, growing rice during the summer and potatoes during the winter. Out the back of the house he also has a large vegetable garden where all the vegetables we ate for lunch had been grown.

We were then taken to another room, which off to one side has a large altar room, which most houses in Bhutan have, but not all as big as this one. We sat down where Mr Sonam Dargay painted in ink made from black soil onto a die. Each die represents a different mantra and is used to print on a different coloured prayer flag. The flag is draped over the top and we used a leaf to rub back and forth to bring the ink through onto the flag. Sylvia did this for one set of flags and I did another. At the end we were each  presented our set of prayer flags.

I had seen cattle in the yard outside the house and asked if the stock were kept under the house. The farmer said yes and agreed to let us have a look. We descended the steep stairs back to the first floor then another steeper set outside to the ground floor. About two thirds of the ground floor is used to house his five cows and one calf, in the other third he stores the rice that will feed the family until the next harvest season. In the back room he pointed out a large box filled with rice and sealed with cow dung, which will stop insects getting into the box so the rice can last for up to three years. As we left Mr Dargay pointed out an old ox yoke and plough leaning up against the wall that is no longer in use as he proudly showed us his new tricycle walk-behind rotary hoe that he now uses to cultivate the land.

This was such an enjoyable and unique experience, it was hard to leave as Mr Dargay had been a very hospitable and engaging host, eager to share his knowledge of both farming and prayer flag making.

From there we headed to the Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. When Chimi went to buy tickets we were turned away as the king’s grandmother, now in her nineties, was on her way to visit and foreigners were not welcome in the temple during her visit. We headed back towards town stopping on the side of the road as her convey passed us heading in the opposite direction with their lights flashing.

We continued into the centre of town, which is indeed a tourist town, with Paro being the main point of entry to the country. It is completely full of tourist shops filled with a variety of things from a variety of colourful penis shapes, to very expensive teapots and much more. One particular shop we had a look inside had quite a collection of old masks, teapots and other relics that can best be shown in photographs.The buildings here are quite unique, painted in different colours and ornate designs.

From town we headed up the valley passing many new buildings under construction and lots of rice fields, before heading up a steep dusty road, winding its way through apple orchards, pine forest and passing many houses, often with large stacks of timber sitting alongside them, covered with corrugated iron. We eventually arrived at the Six Senses Paro “Stone Ruins” at an altitude of 2,873m. We were greeted by the very friendly staff and a lady ringing a gong, escorted inside and served a welcoming drink before being escorted across to our villa. From here we have a view of the 15th century stone ruins after which this property is named, and also a view through the pine trees to the valley about 1,000m below us.


Vegas, Arizona, DC – January 2024

Sunday 21 January 2024

With last year being a bit lighter on travel I spent only around 200 hours in planes, having based myself in New Zealand the majority of time. This is my first trip overseas since October last year, when we returned from the Philippines and Singapore.

Sylvia worked several weeks from New Zealand last year and on Tuesday she departs for her last work trip to Mexico and Brazil.

I actually gave Air New Zealand a try this  time; in the past we stopped flying with them because their Customer Service has been so bad. I just happened to ring up and find somebody really really helpful so decided to give them another try – also because the flight was the most convenient, and on a 777 which has wider seats in business class than the 787, on which they have made the seats narrower, no doubt to fit in some extra seats down the back.

Hundreds of people queueing for a taxi at Vegas Airport.

Arriving in Las Vegas I headed to the Circus Circus hotel, which is further down the street from the Venetian convention centre. In the past I’ve normally stayed at Treasure Island, which is just across the road from the convention centre, but over the last two or three years it’s become horrifically expensive and pretty rundown. Circus Circus was less than half the price and a bit average. After checking in I headed to my room in the building away from the main hotel on the ground floor with the passageway stinking of a combination of marijuana and some other horrible smell, probably vapes. The room had no fridge or safe so I rang them up and asked what had happened to these two things. The woman said the safe is in the wardrobe, just look inside the wardrobe; no safe! What about the fridge… “we don’t supply a fridge”.  After some discussion she said she would move me to another room on the next floor  and they would give me a free fridge. I headed over to reception, got a new key, and headed up to check out the room on the first floor. As I walked in I was looking at the safe, which is in the side of the wardrobe with the door open, which made it pretty obvious – there was probably one in the wardrobe downstairs but with the wood panel blending into the wardrobe, and in the poor lighting was pretty hard to see. As I arrived a guy turned up with a little fridge that was so battered it looked like it had just come from a Las Vegas shooting range or demolition yard. Anyway,  I plugged it in  but it was so noisy so I unplugged it and never bothered to use it. I suppose one gets what one pays for and as I was only in the room to sleep it didn’t really matter.

Monday, 22 January 2024

In the morning I went for a bit of wander down to the Venetian to pick up my pass for the show, which was supposed to have come through from Aimpoint. For some reason this hadn’t happened so I ended up having to do my own one, which took a little bit of time but wasn’t too much of a problem and  cost only a few dollars. Probably time I paid after freeloading on Aimpoint and others over the last 10 years.

That done I got a message from my friend Michael, who had just flown in from Washington DC and had checked into the Venetian. We took a ride down the strip to Tacos El Gordo. Many people queued up to get tacos, piling large quantities all sorts of stuff on them and heading to the counter to pay. There are a lot of big people in here; it made me feel quite skinny.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

I spent the day checking out the downstairs pavilion where all the smaller companies are. There are always lots of new devices and inventions – I have watched over the years many start off down here then end up on the main floor above.

As is normal at 4:30pm it was time to head for the Aimpoint stand, which has now been moved to the front of the main pavilion is apparently Sig and somebody else pulled out of the show last year. This is always a great chance to catch up with the many people I have met here and other places over the years.

When they cleared the place out at 5:30pm Michael and I headed for a bar where we enjoyed chatting over a drink before getting an Uber out to an area called Hamilton out of the main city. A company called Centre had invited us to their armoury for drinks and nibbles. This place is pretty impressive – just about every firearm one can think of stored in the various armouries  in the building, including some well kept old Gatling guns and other stuff from the past. Established in 1949 they operate as a training organisation for different firearms and other things. With offices in New York and Vegas they have an excess of 25,000 firearms, which are used to train people on and also rent them out to make movies such as the Godfather etc. It was the type of place where one could’ve spent a day or so looking around but which had don’t touch and no photographs signs displayed all over the place (which I didn’t notice till it was too late).

Wednesday 24 January 2025

About 1pm Magnus, Torbjorn and I wandered across to the steak restaurant at Treasure Island where we enjoyed a great catch up and a good meal as we watched out the window as scantily clad  woman wandered up and down the street trying encourage people to get their photographs taken with them. This is the first trip to Vegas that I have experienced rain and weather a little on the cold side.

Thursday 25 January 2 024

After another day of exploring the pavilion and looking at many different items I headed in the evening to Top Flight Golf, where Aimpoint was holding a function. After enjoying a meal with Eric, Magnus, Bryan and Michael, I watched a few people drive the golf balls down range with the flight of the ball and where it rolled to at the end the flight being shown on a big screen at the edge of the stand.

Friday, 26 January 2024

Mid-morning I caught the Spirit Eli flight to Phoenix, picked up a rental car and drove the 188 miles down to Hefford in Southern Arizona near the Mexican border. I had forgotton just how big everything is here as I headed down the I10 freeway  passing through Tuscon.

It was 2016 when I last caught up with Murray and Row. Murray and I used to do karate together many years ago and he is now in his seventies. He works as a supervisor in the security side of things at the local Air Force Base and is an Arizona Ranger and spends a bit of time teaching people to shoot and how to defend themselves.

Saturday 27 of January 2024

We were up early and headed to the Sierra Vista shooting range, about an hour’s drive away. There a group of about 10 people had gathered for a board practice shoot. They were a friendly bunch with one of the guys running things taking us through a number of drills and a little time shoot at the end. Shooting Ranges here, like in New Zealand, are highly regulated with safety being of the utmost importance. The afternoon we spent looking through Murray’s guns and doing some simulated shooting and range set up at his workshop.

Murray second from the left

Sunday, 28 January 2024

We took a drive down to the border of town of Naco, as I wanted to check out Donald Trump‘s new wall. Naco was famous as the base of the buffalo soldiers. They were named buffalo soldiers because of their short curly black hair like a buffalo. The border runs through the town with the new Trump wall being 30 foot height and the old wall now on the south side of the new one being 15 foot high, with lots of barbed wire hanging on the side of both of  where they have been finished.

There are many of these observation stations on the hills to the south of the border.

Remains of the old border barrier on the left under the lights.

Where the old wall joins the new wall

Here there is a  border crossing point, which is surveilled by many cameras checking cars and pedestrians as they proceed between the two countries. Several towns are split in two by the border and have been that way for many years.

We had a look around the town, observing one of the cartel houses – no doubt the owner has American citizenship. We headed east along the wall – in the placed where it has actually been finished there are large coils of barbed-wire hanging on the south side of the wall and tall spotlights every 35m about 10m south of the wall. Every third one of these poles has a camera on it, which means between the west end and the east end there must be millions of cameras – how they find enough people to watch them I’m not sure. It’s midwinter down here so the country is very brown with scrub on most of it and the tall ocotillo cactus plants with their short, rose-like spikes poking up to the sky. As summer comes these apparently develop bright red or blue flowers which look quite spectacular and the desert and all the scrub turns back to green.

There has been a huge amount of money spent on this new wall and in places where the wall had originally been some there are some steel RSJs and a bit of barbed wire on top. They have been pulled back to the south and are still sitting there adjacent to the new wall. Despite the media telling us that Biden stopped the wall building it seems to be still going on.  There is some quite steep country with concrete being laid alongside the wall of vehicles to drive back-and-forth, I presume to try and catch the illegals as they cross the border. In places such as creek beds there are steel gates in the wall, no doubt so they can be opened up when there is intense flooding to stop debris piling up against the wall and causing it to collapse. In two places these gates have been left open with just a single strand of barbed wire across them. Apparently there are still lots of people crossing the border illegally and often they just hand themselves in. Apparently they are given some money and a cellphone and then appear in court sometimes up to 5 years later. They go north to join their relatives and don’t seem to go home, or so the story goes.

It was late in the afternoon we arrived back at Murray‘s place and put the guns we had taken with us away. Apparently the cartels out here can cause a bit of trouble and it’s better not to travel unarmed.

Row had prepared us a nice meal and we spent the evening chatting and catching up

Monday, 29 January 2024

Mid-morning we headed it off to Tucson, where Murray had booked us in to take a tour of a Titan II nuclear missile silo. Arriving at the site, we headed into the main building, which is a kind of a museum with lots of information about the 18 Titan II missile sites in the area.  Each rocket carried one 9 kiloton nuclear warhead. These were operational from 1961 to 1982. Each silo and control room in this area was buried very deep into the ground. When agreement  between the Soviet Union and the US was reached to decommission the sites the silos were blown up and left open so the Russians could see from their spy satellites that the site had been destroyed. This is the only site remaining and has glass over the top of the silo and the doors half open with concrete barriers behind so the Russians can see it is still deactivated. The construction of this place  is pretty impressive – the whole control centre in this silo is on large springs with surrounding concrete containing reinforcing bars up to an inch and a half thick.

The tour group gathered and after watching a short video we were lead into the yards and down 9 flights of stairs to the first blast door. This weighs 6000lbs and is made of steel filled with concrete, with large locking lugs. On the change of crew the new guys arrived outisde, rang the bell and on video camera, had to read the password from a piece of paper which was then burnt and dropped into a steel coffee cup prior to the door being opened, which took them into a chamber. The door closed and then the second blast door opened allowing them access to the blast-proof corridor leading to the control room. The six crew then handed over with the old crew and the shift was changed. Maintenance crews, of which there were up to 20 plus on site at times, went through the same process. There is a room above the control room with bunks and another room below where 30-days rations were stored and meals were prepared. One of the two commanders on each shift had to remain in the commander’s chair at all times with a 2IC occupying the seat next door. While off duty, people were encourage to watch movies and play computer games.

The next two paragraphs were copied from Wikipedia a I think it explains things much better than I could:

  • The order given to launch a Titan II was vested exclusively in the US President. Once an order was given to launch, launch codes were sent to the silos from SAC HQ or its backup in California. The signal was an audio transmission of a thirty-five-letter code. The two missile operators would record the code in a notebook. The codes were compared to each other and if they matched, both operators proceeded to a red safe containing the missile launch documents. The safe featured a separate lock for each operator, who unlocked it using a combination known only to themself.
  • The safe contained a number of paper envelopes with two letters on the front. Embedded in the thirty-five letter code sent from HQ was a seven-letter sub-code. The first two letters of the sub-code indicated which envelope to open. Inside was a plastic “cookie”, with five more letters written on it. If the cookie matched the remaining five digits in the sub-code, the launch order was authenticated.The message also contained a six-letter code that unlocked the missile. This code was entered on a separate system that opened a butterfly valve on one of the oxidizer lines on the missile engines. Once unlocked, the missile was ready to launch. Other portions of the message contained a launch time, which might be immediate or might be any time in the future.

When that time was reached, the two operators inserted keys into their respective control panels and turned them to launch. The keys had to be turned within two seconds of each other, and had to be held for five seconds. The consoles were too far apart for one person to turn them both within the required timing.

The site could handle an indirect strike (a mile or more away); anything closer was considered a direct hit ,which would in all likelihood destroy the complex.  I got to sit in the commanders chair and go through the process of turning the key to simulate the missile launch along with the assistant seated across the desk from me.

After the launch the crew (if no word was received from the outside world) would wait it out for up to 30-days before exiting the site via the main stairs of the escape tunnel through the air intake shaft.

After the presentation we headed along the 250ft tunnel to the rocket silo. This too is reinforced and on springs to protect it from both the vibration of the launch and indirect attack. Another blast door gave us access to the silo containing the Titan II rocket. Glass windows have been placed in the silo casing so we could see the rocket. With a mixture of liquid fuel it could be launched in around 30 seconds. Prior to launch some 9000 gallons of water was dropped into the back of the silo to reduce noise and vibration, which could destroy the rocket.  Large vents went to the surface to let the steam out created by the launch.

From there we made our was back along the tunnel to the stairs and had a look around  the yard and down into the silo from above.


After the tour we headed for some lunch before checking out a local sports shop and heading home. We had planned to go the the Safari International Museum, which had a large collection of mounted wild game, however it is now permanently closed.

Tuesday 30 January 2024

At 0500 I was on the road for the drive back to Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport, hopefully with a bit of time up my sleeve for traffic etc. I recall driving across the US in the 80s and 90s with a large map book, which was in some ways better than the car nav as one could see the whole journey and all the roads and streets. Somewhere north of Tucson the off ramp I was supposed to take was closed. This meant heading all the way up the I10 then branching off near the airport. Lucky i had left a bit early. The rental car return was easy; just park the car in a line, leave keys in and walk away! The train back to the terminal came quickly and soon I was at the gate ready to board the flight to Reagan airport in Washington DC.

I get reminded every time I come here remember just how big everything is.

Arriving in DC I had a bit of a cold and Mike suggested I might like to stay in the local Old Town Hilton at Alexandra. I spent the next couple of days staying there away from people apart from the visit to Bob and Edith’s diner next door for some food.

Thursday 1 February 2024 

In the Evening Mike picked me up and we headed to his place for dinner and a brief catch up with his brother Eric, who I have caught up with in many parts of the world. Eric had just flown in from the middle East where he had been for work.

Friday 2 February 2024 

Mike dropped me off at the airport early and soon the first leg of the LA flight to Chicago was underway. On reboarding on the next leg I was seated way down the back, jammed up against the window looking at the clouds for the next 4-plus hours. I had thought I had got a really good business class trip from Phoenix DC to LA but didn’t read the fine print on the last leg. I had spotted this once before when looking at a fare on American Airlines – cunning buggers.

LA to Auckland was on Air NZ with excellent service from the cabin crew.

The next trip is to Bhutan on the 22 February. Sylvia retires from Mars and Royal Canin on the 17 February after 30 years of dedicated service to many parts of the business.



A Day in Almaty Kazakstan 2 October 2023

Monday 2 October 2023

We arrived in Almaty last night and were given a VIP escort through customs before being driven to our hotel by Glebe, the Royal Canin country manager.

Sylvia had a breakfast meeting with Janibek,  the Ukrainian GM, who lives in Almaty, before heading off to visit the company office and do a tour of some of the local businesses.

After a visit to the hotel gym I took a stroll south along the street by the Novotel, passing a number of small shops  and a number of stalls under what looked like a number of soviet style apartments.  We had visited this city in 2019 so I had seen most of the main sights. Several kilometres down the road I came across  a nice park with some interesting statues and a small lake with fountains and a restaurant on an island at one end. Passing through the park and a kids amusement park, I came across the zoo. Heading around the back of the zoo I came across a busy main road which I followed for a while before heading into the back streets with lots of houses and businesses behind high concrete and steel fences. It was all quite peaceful with few people about. Eventually I hit another main road with a large statue of a past hero from last century. Cutting across another street I found my way back to the hotel.

I had the privilege of being invited to join a dinner with Sylvia and her team in the evening. A van picked me up from the hotel, loaded with the small, tight-knit Royal Canin team. Kazakhstan is a relatively new business with a small, enthusiastic team, growing this business in this large country which cover some 2.7 million square kilometres.

About 30 minutes southeast of the hotel we arrived at the Kazaah Ayul Restaurant, situated on a hill with a view of the lights of the city. We enjoyed a really enjoyable meal of local cuisine, including horse meat and beef bones that we scraped the marrow out of with a small fork. Roman, one of the managers, was telling me how he had driven his car here from Ukraine, some 8 thousand kilometres in total, 4 thousand of it across Kazakhstan after he had ferried across the Caspian sea from Azerbaijan, having driven through Romania Bulgaria and Turkey.

United Arab Emirates and Oman (Rogers 100th Country)

Monday 25 September 2023

On arriving into Dubai late yesterday, we checked into the Fairmount Palms, where Sylvia is attending a conference.

This morning I took the shuttle into the Dubai Mall, about 20kms from here. There I had booked a VIP visit to the tower; at 825 meters tall it is still the tallest building in the world. There are apparently 167 floors with a penthouse,  pool and mosque at the top. The tour takes one up to the 126th floor with a counter for canapies and drinks. At around 450m it’s nowhere near the top, “bugger”! From there you wander down to the 124th floor, which has an outside deck. Unfortunately visibility is not too good as the desert dust hangs in the air. Apparently in the winter, after the very odd bit of rain, is the only time the dust leaves the sky. That must be when they make all the clear sky videos.

Looking down over the balcony really gives one an appreciation of why Base Jumpers like to leap from such places (bugger! I no longer own a parachute)

After the tower I headed through the huge mall to the aquarium, which takes up a small part of three floors, the top one being a tropical jungle walk. The lower ones are underwater tunnels with a variety of fish. There is also a large ice skating rink in the mall along with a massive collection of branded shops. It was late afternoon when I caught the shuttle back to the hotel.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Catching the shuttle back to the Dubai mall, I hopped aboard the big red bus for a hop-on-hop-off tour of Dubai. Part of the tour took us around the downtown and old part of town, passing the financial district, the downtown palace and lots of tall buildings before reaching the old town along the creek.

Entrance to the Dubai main palace

One of the many tourist boats (dhows), tied up at the old town (new buildings made to look old)

A restored fort from the days when the area was mainly surrounded by sand.

In spite if the magnificent infrastructure around this city most of these boats are unloaded by hand; boxes carried down gangway on shoulders of immigrants.

The Dubai Frame is the largest in the world with an enclosed walkway on the top side.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

I spent a relaxing morning with a trip to the gym and exploring the grounds of the Fairmont Palm. These mainly consisted of two swimming pools, one for adults, the other for families, both surrounded by beach chairs where people just lay around in the 37 degree heat. Not my idea of a holiday!

At 1530 a driver picked me up for the drive to Abu Dhabi to catch up with my friend Stuart, who looks after this region for an Australian company that makes robotic targets for the military. The traffic was light and soon we were on the 6-lane highway heading south, passing oil refineries, power plants and a huge water park with its greenery. The driver pulled into the last exit at a service area made of old car parts. There was a big cement works in the distance across the desert. We crossed the city boundary from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, continuing on the now four-lane, smooth highway, which runs all the way to Saudi. Soon the road sides were fenced, with green trees and shrubs growing in abundance. The driver told me this land belongs to one of the sheiks and contains date, camel and other farms. Every shrub and tree is irrigated with desalinated water from the sea at 2.80 USD per 1000 litres.

An aluminium Plant – sorry about the lack of clarity; it’s hard to get good photos with the dust particles hanging in the air.

Arriving at Abu Dhabi we did a drive-by of the Louvre art museum, which is alongside another massive religious museum under construction. We then drove to Stuart’s apartment block on the coast, where we enjoyed a good catch up over a few drinks and dinner. Stuart’s wife is in the US just now about to complete a 42km marathon swim from  Carolina Island to San Francisco. She has already swum the English Chanel and around Manhattan Island among others.

Abu Dhabi version of the Louvre

This structure is part of a religious museum being build near the Louvre.

The view from Stuart’s apartment

After a good catch up the driver picked me up and we headed back to Dubai. The driver, from India, has been working here for seventeen years; he has a wife and three children back home, who he gets to see for his two months return home every year. He shares a room with five others in Dubai as rent is expensive. All the hotel staff were either from India or the Phillipines.

Thursday 28 September 2023

I grabbed the shuttle. First stop was supposed to be the Mall of the Emirates but the driver skipped that and took us straight to the Dubai mall. He very kindly took me back to the Mall of the Emirates on his return journey. My good mate, Dave, had once told me he’d sat in a bar there and watched people skiing so I went to check it out. Chairlifts and all it was a fully fledged ski field, with toboggan area and various other snow sports going on.

From there I wandered through the mall, past hundreds of shops, found the metro and headed back in the direction of the hotel. Departing the metro I got in the last car to look at the view until a lady said something to me which I did not understand at first; she then said again “this car is for woman only”. Looking around, I realised I was the only bloke in the car so rapidly apologised and retreated to the next car. I then caught a tram and then a monorail, which took me out to the end of the Palm Jumeirah, to the large Atlantis the Palm hotel and water sports area.

After a brief look there I got back on the monorail, dismounting at the Palm Tower. I purchased a ticket for the journey to the top. This involved sitting through a couple of movies on how the place was constructed, with a few million tons of rocks put down as a foundation and then a few more million tons of sand poured on top. An outer wall was created to protect the whole establishment. There are now several thousand bungalows, thousands of apartments and hundreds of hotels situated on this, the first of the Palms, completed in 2008. The lift then took us up 54-floors onto a deck surrounded by sloping glass windows, where we had a good view across the Palm but not much further because of the dust. Interestingly the videos we had just watched must have been filmed after one of the unusual rainy days here as the skies were crystal clear. From there several flights of stairs led to the roof top where there was an uninterrupted view with just a low glass barrier on the edge that you could see over giving a much better view of the surroundings.

Dubai is quite an impressive place with its modern infrastructure and numerous tall buildings, many they have tried to build in the Arabian style. It reminds me in some ways of a version of Vegas. Apologies for the poor quality of the pictures unfortunately the ever present dust and maybe some smog hangs in the sky most of the year.

From there I wandered back to the hotel. That evening we headed out to dinner with Sylvia’s team to an excellent Moroccan restaurant, which had been organised by Selma, the wife of Abdel, who is part of Sylvia’s team and lives in Dubai. Abdel also runs desert ultra marathons, the longest being some 250kms over 5-days. We enjoyed a sumptuous meal with the team from all over the world.

Friday 29 September 2023 – Oman (Country 100 for Roger)

At 10am we were picked up in a GMC Suburban, heading east out of Dubai and then northeast through miles and miles of endless desert, dotted with an amazing number of buildings, including a large hospital and numerous cement plants. Greenery was planted along parts of the motorway and camels roamed, seemingly quite freely although the very smooth multi-lane highway was well fenced. There were many large cement and, I presume, power plants along the way, and of course many Mosques.

The road meandered east across the southern part of the Musandam Peninsula and then north to Dibba al-baya, where we crossed the border into the northern part of Oman. Soon the road went from its luxury state in the UAE to a shingle track running alongside a wadi (dry river bed). Eventually we turned off and arrived at a guard house. A big sign at the guard house stated 4WD drive vehicles only.  We then headed up a steep cobbled road, that snaked its way to the top of a ridge, passing a number of overground power cables that would provide power to the resort we were heading to. As we started heading down the other side of the pass we stopped at a look out for our first glimpse of the Six Senses Ziggy Bay, which with all its trees and beautiful seaside looked a real oasis in the barren countryside. 

As we pulled in to the gate a man sounded a large gong to announce our arrival. After being welcomed, Julius, originally from the Philippines, drove us on a buggy to our villa, number 15, which was clearly marked on the outside with what looked like the number 10, apparently 15 in Arabic. It is one of 85 villas in the resort, all made of stone. Looking at the hills around here they wouldn’t have had to go too far to get the stone for building.

Inside the villa the air conditioning was pumping away and we settled in, enjoying the beautiful view across the private plunge pool to the beach, before heading to the bar for a late light lunch. Later in the afternoon we enjoyed a massage and then went down to the beach for an incredible ‘around the world’ dinner. They had set up tables and chairs surrounded by buffet stands with a wide variety of cuisines from all around the world. The setting was made even more stunning by the full moon, which glowed orange and reflected beautifully in the calm sea. We were quite surprised by the number of guests at dinner as during the afternoon we had hardly seen anybody.

Each villa has its own pool for those that don’t like the salt water there are several other pools around the resort

A bar by the beach later transformed into a restaurant

The round the world restaurant with a selection of food from around the world

Saturday 30 September 2023

At 8am we headed to the Spice Market, which is one of a number of restaurants around the resort, where we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast before being picked up and driven to the other end of the bay, incidentally by a local. Like the hotel in Dubai, the majority of the staff here are from the Philippines or India with some of the local men employed as drivers or security staff and some of the local women as cleaners. At the other end of the bay is a small village that has been built by the resort to accommodate the locals, many of whom are fishermen.

The village built by the resort to house the locals.

The tower is part of the desalination plant for the resort.

Arriving at the wharf a dhow awaited us, somewhat larger than I had expected for just the two of us. We boarded and were guided to a cushioned area on the upper aft deck, behind the wheelhouse. The Philippino guide, Alex, gave us a run down on where we were headed, while the Indian skipper and 2IC skilfully manoeuvred the boat away from the wharf and out to sea. As we looked back on the village Alex pointed out the desalination plant on the hill behind the village and told us that  ship calls in here on a regular basis to collect fresh water to distribute to tanks in the bays along the peninsula.

On the hill is the desalination plant to supply water for the village and collected by a ship to fill the water tanks up the coast.

There is another restaurant on the hill above the power cables we did not have time to visit.

The Indian Skipper, who skilfully guided the boat out of the harbour and on our voyage.

We headed north alongside the barren, rocky peninsula, where bits of green vegetation clung to rock faces, where it seems impossible that anything would grow. A bit over an hour later, we anchored at Santa Bay, home to about ten small cottages, which Alex explained are owned by fishermen, some of whom own several such dwellings along the peninsula. They generally have a Pakistani caretaker who lives there and cares for the animals while they are away.

This fisherman has 4 x 400 horsepower outboard on the back of his boat – good thing fuel is cheap here.

A double kayak was lowered over the back of the dhow, which we climbed into and paddled to the shore. Sylvia was a little apprehensive about landing on the beach when she saw a couple of people watching us. I clambered out and wandered up the beach. They both shook my hand, one in white with the traditional head-dress, being the fisherman, the other thickset chap wearing a hat his Pakistani helper. They headed off to their boat, boarded and sped off, I assume to go fishing. We left the debris-strewn, white sandy beach and paddled back to the dhow where we donned some snorkelling gear and swam over the nearby coral reef, observing several different types of fish and the odd sea urchin.

Back on the dhow we enjoyed  a light lunch before weighing anchor and heading out to sea for a spot of fishing. With no luck at the first spot, in about 40m of water, we moved to another spot, where we observed a sea snake surfacing near the boat. One of the crew was quite excited when he caught what he called a hammer jack, which he said was a very expensive fish.

We then motored back to the port, with clear visibility down to about 500m as the dust gathered in the skies around us. Apparently, on a clear day, you can see the hills in Iran across the gulf of Oman. At night the waters here are heavily patrolled by police boats to stop the refugees coming across.

Late afternoon we headed back to the spa for another massage and then enjoyed a cocktail in the moonlight at the bar on the beach.

Sunday 1 October 2023

We enjoyed another delicious breakfast at the Spice Market restaurant before being picked up at 9:30, back in the GMC Suburban for our journey to Dubai airport for our flight to Almaty in Kazakhstan.

A visit with my sister Racheal in Frankfurt:17 to 20 September 2023

Sunday 17 September 2023

A mid morning flight from Marseille landed me in Frankfurt around noon, where I was met by Rachel and, after checking into my hotel in a not too flash part of Frankfurt, we drove to her flat in the village of Steinbach, about 20 kms from Frankfurt.

Her youngest son, Killian, and wife, Lada, live close by. In the evening her oldest son, Tristan, with his wife, Desere, and young daughter, Fiona, along with Killian and Lada came for a roast diner Rachel had prepared.  We spent the evening catching up on the family events since the last time I had visited a few years ago.

Later that evening Tristan and Desere dropped me back in town at my hotel.

Monday 18 September 2023

I took a stroll around the local area; this is one of the dirtiest cities I have seen for a long time. Not only were the streets cluttered with dirt and rubbish but dirty, untidy, rough-looking people stood around in groups on the footpath obviously with nothing to do. A stroll down to the walkway alongside the Main River was a little tidier but I still had people trying to stop me and extract money. A 7 km circuit took back to the hotel, which considering the area was actually quite nice with friendly nice staff.

Rachel joined me early afternoon and we enjoyed a long lunch at a local, very nice Thai restaurant talking about the many great places we had lived in the South Island of New Zealand during our childhood, among other things. Racheal headed off home later in the afternoon and I spent a quiet evening in the hotel.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Racheal joined me late morning and we took a stroll down to the river and boarded a boat for a cruise on the river. Like all big cities there is lots of construction going on and many modern buildings. Some old structures such as some old cranes still remain in place. We went up the river for about 30 minutes then turned near a lock before heading downstream for about an hour then back to the start point.

On disembarking the boat we strolled back through the old town, which was rebuilt after the war with the old style buildings in keeping with once what stood here. This part of town is much better with a prominent police presence and no dodgy people hanging about. We stopped at a pleasant outdoor restaurant with good service and enjoyed a nice meal and a good chat. Suddenly the day was over and Rachel headed home to prepare for work tomorrow. We had been lucky that her days off had coincided with my visit.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

My flight was not until the afternoon so I went for a stroll through the massive railway station. Descending several levels, I discovered a metro at one level running east and west and at another level running north and south. It always intrigues me what amazing infrastructure European cities have, much of it built decades ago. In this case it opened in 1968 and carries over 130 million passengers every year. I emerged from the underground into the main railway station. Constructed in 1886 it has 26 platforms. From here one can travel anywhere in Europe on a fast train although strikes are very common on German rail.

After lunch Killian picked me up and ran me to the airport for my flight to Marseille. The airport appeared to be a shambles; we were bussed to the plane but on arrival a tanker refuelling the plane blocked the way.After he moved on we dismounted from the bus and boarded the aircraft. There seemed to be gear and planes everywhere. I am not sure how the driver even located the right aeroplane. It is quite common to be bussed to planes at many airports but I have never seen what looks like such a shambles, however at the end of the day it all worked.

The Quarries of The Van d’Enefer – 16 September 2023

Saturday 16 September 2023.

We were privileged to have a visit from Sylvia’s Mum, Rosie and partner, Lardy, along with her uncle Roger, aunt Wendy and their friend Alan, who had al arrived just before I headed to London. They had spent the week while I was away exploring the local sites and relaxing by the pool.

Sylvia had read about this old quarry in the Baux en Provence region where bauxite, used in the manufacture of aluminium, was first discovered in the 1800’s. Like the submarine pens we had visited last year in Bordeaux it has been turned into a digital art gallery.  Situated only 45 minutes east of here we headed off for a morning drive.

In 1935 this was set up as a quarry to extract limestone for local construction. We headed up a rather narrow road and managed to find a park just across the road from the entrance. When we first entered before the show it almost looked like the place had been boxed up and concrete poured. The marks, it turned out, were from the saw cuts. One person used a hand saw to cut the stone, extracting about 2 square meters in blocks each day per person. This turned out apparently to be the most efficient way to do it. The place is quite impressive with large columns left in place to hold up the roof.

The art show got underway with art from an array of artists from Vermeer to Van Gogh. This is best described in the pictures.

After the show was over we moved into the Cafe for some lunch but within 30 minutes we were ushered out to make way for the people coming in for the next show.

We made our way back down the narrow road through the valley passing a number of large chateaus to the old city of Arles with its 200 year old stadium situated on the banks of the Rhone river.

There our visitors enjoyed a wander around the old city.

Lardy, Sylvia and her mum (right) on the banks of the River Rhone






London and the HMS Belfast 12 to 15 September 2023

I was in London attending the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) trade show, which I am not going to write much about. I did get to try out the new helmet for the Typhoon pilots, with its heads up display linked into the plane’s cameras. If you look down you can see the ground through the cockpit. It contains excellent night vision and enemy planes come up in red and can be seen miles out – important as everything is happening very fast.

Some of the many tank gun rounds on display

One of the many remote control artillery pieces on display

A modern light armoured vehicle

The BAE 5.5 inch gun with its 5 plus metre barrel, range 70 kilometres

One of the many tanks on display

A remote control rescue vehicle for supplying the troops and evacuating casualties from the battle field.

The interactive Typhoon helmet with heads up display

A mock up of the Typhoon which they allowed me to have a try out of the cockpit.

Another interesting bit of information that I picked up from a BAE guy who manufacture the 155mm guns is that the barrel life on a full charge is around 2000 rounds before they lose accuracy and range. Hence some barrel-makers in Russia, for guns that are firing up to 80,000 rounds a day through a number of guns, must be rather busy.

On Wednesday evening Jim, who had been recently hunting with us in NZ, took Mike, Eric and I to a private club, where his friend, Jeremy, joined us. We enjoyed a nice dinner and great conversation while surrounded by memories of the SOE, who the club was set up for after WWII. It sill sells its own beer displaying the famous aircraft often used to insert SOE agents into France

Friday 15 September 2023

For some years now I have been on the mailing list for the Imperial War Memorial War Museum. There have been a number of articles on the the light cruiser HMS Belfast, which has been tied up between London Bridge and the London Tower Bridge on the River Thames since it has been a museum ship since 1971. Launched in Northern Ireland in 1938, it served the Royal Navy until decommissioned in 1961. At 185m long with two forward and two aft gun turrets, each with 3 x 6-inch guns it’s one of the best museum ships I have visited. It has 5 decks open to the public going right down as far as the shell rooms, of which there is one for each turret. The charge rooms, which are one deck below that are not open yet. On each side of the ship are three 4-inch gun turrets, one of which had a volunteer working on it, telling me it’s nearly back to its fully operational state. He said he really enjoys it when they get to fire blanks through them on ceremonial occasions.

HMS Belfast Town Class Light Light Cruiser 613 ft 9 Inches (186.99 m)

One of the 6″ guns in the aft turret

Some of the later added electronic warfare equipment.

One of several mess halls

Crew slept in all parts of the ship always ready for action stations

Gun turret rotating equipment

One of the two brigs – not the most comfortable space on the ship

The shell room where at the back shells were primed with the required settings then laid down ready to be sent up a lift to the turret.

The admirals bridge just above the captains bridge as this ship normally headed up a fleet.

The massive tangle of steam pipes running the the ships turbines

One of the three boilers

A diagram of the boiler: the fuel is fed into the pink area, which heats the water to steam in the three blue tubes to power the ship.

A steam powered generator to power the ships systems

London Bridge from the captains bridge

During its career the ship served in all the world’s oceans, including escorting convoys through the Arctic to the Soviet Union. With a thousand crew and upgraded with electronic warfare equipment it is quite an impressive ship. I wandered the corridors and gangways checking out the four 3-drum boilers that created enough steam to power the four steam turbines that drove the ship through the water at up to 32 knots, while also powering the ship’s generator. At the Normandy invasion in 1944 the ship fired 4000 rounds from its 6″ guns helping in the destruction of the many German gun emplacements along the coast