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Belated Travelogues: Bhutan (Part 1)

Belated and how…I went there in like 2017. Every time I travel I make myself solemnly swear I’ll do a proper travelogue and 9 times out of 10 I’ll make a very confusing draft and then forget all about it. Yesterday, I was talking to the friends with whom I’d gone for this trip and that made me finally give myself the ultimatum to do this. I travel a lot, sometimes for work, most often just for fun. My favourite mode of travel is shoe-string budget backpacking which not a lot of people are adventurous enough to join me in so I end up doing a fair mix of properly-planned group trips and my own figure-out-as-I-go solo backpacking. The latter is meditative for me and I’ve always ended up meeting the most amazing people along the way, many of whom are still friends. Some I’ve lost touch with but we’ve got the memories.

Bhutan was a group trip though so there was a proper tour package, hotels, transport, and a tour guide. It was adventurous in its own way though because I’d just dislocated my knee a month before I went (doc gave me a go-ahead as long as I didn’t trek Tiger’s Nest so it’s on him). I decided to break this into two parts because there is a lot to cover honestly and there are some stories which I also want to note down. I’m trying to locate the drive where I saved all my photos so for now will just use utterly random images which are there on my laptop or images from the net whose source I am linking.

What is Bhutan?

Bhutan is a primarily-Buddhist kingdom situated between India and China. It’s a very small country ruled by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (I like people with short, easy to pronounce names). The people of Bhutan LOVE him and the queen and I’m saying that from experience. Pretty much everyone I met had a lot of respect for the monarch because apparently he has a very people-centric approach. More on him later. Bhutan’s land area is only 38,394 Sq. Km. with its capital at Thimpu. It’s population is a very small with only around 7.8 Lakhs people (that’s like two Mumbai neighbourhoods). It’s mostly just mountainous terrain and is very, very, very beautiful.

The Bhutanese Visa

Well, this is fun. It’s like all or zero. So if you are an Indian citizen, you don’t need a Visa and can pretty much just show your passport or voter ID to go. For Bangladeshi, Indian, and Maldivian citizens there is no visa requirement. For everyone else, it is extremely regulated. Not only is there a visa requirement but you need to have your stay pre-booked through a government-approved travel agency and there is a mandatory per day charge which varies from $200-$250 depending on when you go. This is a country which has tourism as its top industry but they practice a lot of discretion in terms of who they let in. You don’t just show up to Bhutan so if you are not from those three countries and going, please do your research on the current regulations very well before you go.

How to get there

If you are going from India, then you can drive down from Bagdogra, take the train, or take a flight. If you are going from China, there is a border dispute so as far as I know you can’t go directly. There are no direct flights from China (no offence but why does China keep fighting with absolutely everyone?) so you need to get to another airport like Singapore or Kathmandu and then fly to Paro.

Flying to Bhutan is quite the experience and that’s what we had done. You get to see Mt. Everest from the flight and land at one of the most dangerous airports in the world. Because there is such a dearth of space and the terrain is hilly, the airport is in the city of Paro rather than the capital Thimpu. You can only travel through Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines since only a handful of pilots in the world are equipped to land on that airstrip. When I had gone, this number was 16 and I don’t think it would have gone up much from that.

It’s quite the experience because as you are landing, trees and hilly slopes are very close to your craft and you can understand the kind of precision training anyone flying a plane through that would have gone through. This video gives a view on it and if you want to know more on the reasons for the difficult, you can read this article. They are extremely skilled though and on the return flight we had clicked a photo with our pilot. Keep in mind though that weather dictates flights a lot and that’s why a lot of people prefer to drive down, including many who do biking trips.

Why you should go there

Many reasons really. For starters, it is the only place where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced so if you are into spirituality, it is a good place to be. As a tourist also, Bhutan offers quite a lot in terms of beauty and experiences. If you enjoy hikes or treks, you can go to the Fertility Temple or to the Tiger’s Nest monastery. If you like history, it has bucketfuls of it. Food is ok-Bhutan has some of its own dishes and some mashups of its neighbours. People are very nice. It has gorgeous scenery and architecture and honestly you can cover the country across its major destinations in a week or so if you are doing a normal visitor trip. It’s not too modern and I liked that about it but some may not. It’s also fairly economical if you hold a passport from the three countries I mentioned above but if not, then it’s a daily spend of $250 which is kind of steep. I’ve got a lot of stories from that trip so maybe I’ll write another one on those.

Nodame Cantabile: Romance done right

(Spoilers Avoided) So I don’t usually watch a lot of Josei and Shoujo anime because they’re not my cup of tea. Most will be very romance-heavy and I don’t enjoy romance as a genre in general. However, Nodame Cantabile and a few other titles tend to be solid exceptions to this. Though I’ve not seen any of the live action Nodame, I’ve watched the anime and read the manga in their entirety. There are shows which you dissect and there are ones which you just enjoy. For me, this is one of the latter. I don’t want to use my brain on it, I’d just watch it for the experience.

Nodame Cantabile

What is Nodame Cantabile?

Nodame Cantabile is the story of a music student Megumi Noda (based on a real-life musician of the same name) who is an eccentric genius but all over the place. She’s careless, indisciplined, emotional, a slob, childish, fears the things which will make her successful, and basically a train wreck. She even aspires to be a kindergarten teacher though she is an incredibly talented pianist who plays in the Cantabile style but mostly free-flowing, by the ear.

Our other protagonist is Chiaki who is basically everything that Nodame isn’t. He is her polar opposite, disciplined, trained, very mature, but often uptight and with his own phobias. They end up in the same academy and as neighbours, Nodame falls in love with Chiaki on day one, telling everyone she’s his wife (she does weird things like that), and the rest is basically their love story and their journey together as musicians. The characters in this series are all fairly compelling and developed rather well, especially the two protagonists.

A wholesome romance

I wrote somewhere on this blog (I forgot where) on what my definition of a “good” relationship is. It’s basically, two imperfect people (because we’re all imperfect) who complement each other in the right way, who bring out the good in the other while helping them deal with the broken parts. Also, who don’t give up on each other. And that’s Nodame Cantabile pretty much.

Though at first glance, Megumi and Chiaki seem like they have nothing in common, as the series progresses it progresses pretty well to show how they are perfect for each other. Both have their flaws, hang-ups, and phobias, but their relationship works because they are able to, both intentionally and unintentionally, be the right support needed by the other to overcome their barriers. Chiaki, being so uptight, needs Nodame’s idiocy to bring him out of his own shell of perfectionism while she needs his discipline to help her achieve her potential as a musician. There’s also a lot of patience in their relationship. Chiaki never gives up on her despite her idiosyncrasies and her commitment to him is so complete, it helps him overcome his fear of abandonment and gives him the space to be himself. Basically, if you read/watch it you’ll be going “Awww” a whole lot.

The Mother of all Slowburns

I like slowburn romances done right and the one in Nodame Cantabile is slow. Like really slow. But you know what? It needs to be that way. Nodame being gung-ho with her heart and declaring herself in love with Chiaki from day one is all good and right but of course that’s not real love. Real love happens between them slowly and to be honest it wouldn’t make sense any other way. It would feel engineered. Chiaki treating Nodame as a menace he can’t and then does not want to get rid of is what makes sense for the longest time. It’s only after they’ve spent a while growing together and unconsciously working on each other that their relationship fully materialises and I got a sense of feeling rewarded for my patience.

Nodame Cantabile

Even the relationship, once it finally happens, is handled pretty realistically since “happily ever after” would only exists in fairy tales. They go through their rough bits owing to their careers but it again feels mostly natural and you’ve seen the characters grow so much that you get why they will make it through this too.

Watch it if…

Watch Nodame Cantabile if you have the patience for a very subtle, long, slow-burn romance, enjoy simple slice-of-life stuff, and like quirky characters. Also if music interests you because it gets pretty technical at times and I learned a lot about music from it. It’s not constant romance either and there are many other arcs of professional and character development which are also handled pretty well.

The View from Up Here

I was asleep and then I woke up and now I’m wide awake so I decided to stop being lazy and take photos of the view I requested the hotel folks for and which they were super kind to oblige me with since I was staying here for like half a month and didn’t want to spend that peeking into someone’s backyard. So they stuck me on the 19th floor and it’s very cool.

It’s pretty. The hotel also has the nicest staff I’ve come across in a while. I mean the staff in hotels are always nice but these folk are just very professional and downright adorable about it. Since they see me everyday for breakfast I now have like a good 6-7 people who make it a point to have little breakfast conversations around everything under the sun and I feel somewhere between a toddler and a princess as a result.

It’s just very immaculate training and people policies on the part of the management since I’ve had fairly consistent experiences with this chain both here and in other countries. Have written them a recommendation already today but I think I’ll end up doing a bunch more by the time this is done. Case in point is the pancake below. The staff member handling this super-important project, upon hearing that this was a rare indulgence I was allowing myself since it’s Saturday, decided to hand-curate it herself guessing that I’d like a lot of chocolate chips (I did). Also, the chef responsible for the South Indian section is more than willing to discuss his coconut chutney recipe with you so please do that if you’re ever here. Also, please note if you don’t pay them they confiscate your baggage and use it to decorate their reception counter. That’s all. Gnite!

Reflections of a relic…The Indian Anime Scene

I’ve been blogging for…well…like around a good total of eight to nine years now. For me it’s always been a way of recording my own life. My blogs have always had the same name, not because of The Doors but because of the movie by Fatih Akin. This is the third version in existence.

Anime blogging is a comeback thing for me because till a few months ago I had actually not watched any anime in around ten years at-least. Like a blanket zero. Had too much to do so it sort of faded away along with art/painting and the other little hobbies I’ve had. Those I still dabbled in here and there but this was like done and over. I’ve been drawing more lately too actually. Maybe that’s a return-to-anime side product. I don’t know how long I plan to stick around since I find myself blogging more on life stuff again lately but I’m here currently at-least with stuff I still want to write.

Actually made coming back to it a lot more…interesting and also sort of sad. Sad why? Because I couldn’t find all the people who made it fun for me the first time around. I’ve been watching anime since I was 11 but during my late teens there was something here called animestan.com, a forum for Indian anime fans. ‘Stan’ means country or nation in Urdu so basically anime nation.

When I looked for it this time, it was gone along with everyone from that era. There was this one person from Chennai whom everyone called Rava-san who was like an anime guru. I remember him being the person who introduced me to Makoto Shinkai and many other important directors. Couldn’t find him. Animax India wrapped up long ago though it still exists in Asia.

My search did take me smack dab into the middle of the current community which consists just of kids under the age of twenty loving their Naruto and AOT. They assumed I was a guy and called me “Uncle” which was fun. That’s where my identification as a relic came from. For whatever reason I recall the earlier community I was a part of being much more diverse and active in its taste, probably due to the influence of people like Rava-san. I hope if he ever finds this he realises how much value he added in the lives of random kids. He was a guy in like his early twenties only but looking back I can only picture Master Yoda.

Comic cons still happen in the major cities though they’re heavier on DC/Marvel. I hope they continue to happen post-pandemic too. Anyway so I’m sort of here by myself getting nostalgic on my blog about all the stuff I loved. I’m pretty sure that crowd is still around out there. I just need to figure out where. I did end up on a date with someone a few months ago who was kind of into these things but he was also batshit insane so that was a deal-breaker. I like anime but not that much. For now though I’m pretty happy doing what I’m doing because I really like revisiting those favourites with the eyes of an adult and spending time with them. It’s another step in recording my life but sort of retrospective.

Added bonus has been the online community I’ve found who enjoy the same kind of stuff. Having an on and off three-day long conversation with a reader because they had so many things to debate and discuss on some stuff they read, having someone print out like 25+ articles and then share their reflections on them on their social media over several days (I’m not saying what I wrote was great but someone showing that kind of passion over something you created is humbling), bonding over Kotaro Lives Alone and trauma with another reader, someone wanting to watch Macross Plus because they found the articles about it interesting, and of-course my dear Malia who went from reader to close friend and whom I can thank for so much beyond just our common interests, all of those and many more are my current “animestan” I guess. Heck I even appreciate that one stan who makes all the pamphlets (those in the know will get who I’m talking about) because he keeps it interesting.

I do sometimes wish I had as much time to write now as I did due to my surgery when I first started this blog but I’m not willing to get poked by a scalpel again either. Either way, it’s all fun. Maybe someday my lost tribe will show up too.

Airport Stuff

So I had a ‘hidden level-unlocked’ moment just now at the Mumbai airport. I’m in T2 and that’s the pretty one. Have been here at all random hours in varying stages of wakefulness over the years but I never knew that the Gates 45 A to D were located on a special lower level till today. Now the airport has some nice pieces of art on the upper level like the below which I’ve seen often

But for whatever reason they seem to have gone nuts with it on this lower level. The concentration of art here is way more than anywhere else and I don’t know why. I still clicked as much of it as I could though the quality of images is questionable because it was all pretty high up and I can’t fly. Anyway, adding them here to remember for posterity and also curious what else is hidden in other parts no airline ever sent me to.