Bhutan has a population of about 800,000 people. None of its towns are particularly large. Mongar is the twelfth largest town in the country. It’s a regional centre in the east with a population of about 3000 people.
As you walk across the border from India you enter a different world. Traffic chaos is left behind. You’re greeted by people in traditional dress. You are in no doubt that you are in a Buddhist kingdom. The architecture is different, so too the faces.
Stupas and prayer flags. Relaxed and friendly people … a policeman was happy to have his photo taken.
Bhutan is situated on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas. Tibet is to the north, India to the south. The capital is Thimphu. The population is in the order of three-quarters of a million people, mostly Buddhist. 80% of the population are engaged in agriculture. The most important crops are maize and rice.
It is governed as a constitutional monarchy placing a premium on the happiness of its people.
Steep sided valleys intersect mountains that reach to above 7000 metres. The highest is Gangkharensum Puat 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The countryside is extensively forested. It has an impressive array of mammals and more than 770 species of bird have been recorded.
For those not satisfied with mammals and birds there are forts (dzongs) and temples.
Frank Sinatra visited Australia and was greeted at the airport by the press. A reporter asked him what he thought of it so far. Under the circumstances his answer was extremely diplomatic, “You have very nice roof tops”.
Until about half an hour ago my impressions of the subcontinent was it now has very nice airports. They give the impression that middle class India (and Sri Lanka) is thriving. Cosmopolitan architecture, cosmopolitan brands, perhaps a little less bureaucracy. This is my fourth visit to this part of the world, it’s changing.
But when you get out of the airport India is still India. Traffic chaos, hooters hooting, cars going too fast and too close. Cows grazing along the roadside as well the odd goat and flock of ducks, dogs, some on leads. Messages on the back of trucks, which on my last visit were always “Horn please” this time are more diverse “Dip your lights” and “Wait for side”. Bamboo scaffolding, hazy atmosphere, busy people.
The French are quite smug about how Gallic France is. France is nowhere near as Gallic as India is unself-consciously, chaotically, noisily, delightfully and occasionally frustratingly Indian. It’s good to be back.
One for the road. Cheers.
The road leads firstly to Assam. Australia and India were once neighbours in good old Gondwana. The subcontinent went off on its own about 100 million years ago. About 40 million years ago it bumped into Asia pretty much on a line that Assam stands on. The leading edge of the Indian plate went under the Asian plate. The process pushed up the Himalayas and it is still continuing making it an earthquake prone part of the world.
If you look at modern India on the map you can see it’s roughly diamond shape. Two sides are open to the sea. The upper left side is the long border with Pakistan. At the top of the diamond is Himachal Pradesh and above that Jammu and Kashmir, the borders up there are drawn with dotted lines. Coming down the top right side the border with Nepal is drawn as a solid line. Jump from the south-east corner of Nepal to the north-west corner of Bangladesh, follow the border to the Bay of Bengal and you’ve enclosed almost all of India.
Herniating through the gap between Nepal and Bangladesh is the state of Assam as it was in 1950, it has been subdivided somewhat since then by the creation of new states. China is off to the north-east and Myanmar to the south-east. That branch of the Silk Road that led to the Bay of Bengal ran right through it. No surprise then that it’s the part of India most subject to outside influence, it’s quite a mixing pot (which accounts for the subdivision – not all the ingredients in the pot are comfortable with each other).
The mighty Brahmaputra River arises in the north-east, flows south-west then south through Bangladesh to the Bay of Bengal.
The population of Assam is more than 31 million people, about two-thirds are Hindu, a quarter are Muslim. Christianity and indigenous religions make up the balance. Assamese is the principal but not only language spoken in the state. Most live in the countryside and most are engaged in agriculture, rice being the principal crop.
I’ll be visiting a couple of national parks.
Internet access will be irregular. When I get the chance I’ll post a bulletin but the blow by blow will have to wait until the end of the trip. It will be a long one because after Assam I will be heading to Bhutan and then …
The storm that made our recent stay in Port Fairy memorable did extend over the great divide. When we got home the rain gauge had 22 very welcome millimetres of rain in it. The ground though was dry and the grass is not green but hey we can have a shower this week.
There were three trees down in the driveway. I’ve been busy with the chainsaw, but without this sort of excitement …
A number of issues have been playing on my mind.
Since I wrote about the blue moon, really just a few words to go with what I thought was a nice photo, I’ve been troubled by the exact definition of a blue moon. It rose on the last day of March and set on the first day of April. Therefore to my pedantic mind it also qualifies as the first full moon of April and the next one will also be blue. However the news reader said the next one wouldn’t be until November 2020, naturally I couldn’t sleep.
Further research reveals that there are two definitions of blue moon. Originally it was the third full moon in a season that had four full moons. As we all know the solar year is roughly 365 days long, there is a full moon every 29.5 days so there is room for 12.372881355932203 full moons per year. In other words a calendar reckoned by the moon will be 11 days per year adrift from the solar year. If the first full moon for any year falls before the 11th of January there will be 13 full moons that year, otherwise there will be 12. QED.
Four seasons, 12 full moons, 3 moons per season, all’s well. Thirteen full moons and one season has one too many, seeds planted late, village starves, less than ideal.
Communities in touch with the phases of the moon had names for each full moon such as Harvest Moon. If they had a smart astronomer they could call the extra one a Blue Moon and keep the calendar aligned with the true season.
So why definition number two, these days the one more commonly known, the second in a calendar month that has two full moons? It’s the result of
… an error originally made by amateur astronomer James Hugh Pruett (1886–1955). He misunderstood the basis for calculating the seasonal Blue Moon and wrote that a Blue Moon was the second Full Moon in a month in an article published in Sky & Telescope magazine in 1946. This erroneous definition since spread, particularly after it was quoted in a popular radio program called StarDate in 1980 and then appeared as an answer in a 1986 version of the board game Trivial Pursuit. timeanddate.com
So remember the name James Hugh Pruett. One day it will be the answer in a trivia quiz.
The question after that will probably be, “What is the common name for Ficus coronata?”
A pommy friend tells me that Cricket Australia is changing the team emblem, no more emu and kangaroo. They are to be replaced by something less aggressive, a botanical entity, Ficus coronata. Read all about it.