“Im Land des Donnerdrachen” – ein Artikel über meine Arbeit in Bhutan im deutschen Monatsmagazin “Natur”

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Im deutschen Monatsmagazin "Natur" („Natur – das Magazin für Natur, Umwelt und besseres Leben“) ist unter dem Titel "Im Land des Donnerdrachen" ein 9-seitiger Artikel mit Interview und vielen Fotos über meine Arbeit mit dem Participatory Photo Documentation Project in Bhutan erschienen. / The German monthly magazine "Natur" ("Natur - the magazine about nature, environment and a better way of life") has published an article including an interview and many photos about my work with the Participatory Photo Documentation Project in Bhutan. Sie können diesen Artikel als pdf-Dokument downloaden / You can download this article (in German) as a pdf file: Download

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Myanmar / Burma – Mindat (Chin State)

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Myanmar / Burma – Yangon

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Some impressions from a little street market near my hotel in Yangon, Myanmar..  

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Monk and horse in harmonious dialogue

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A wonderous and touching dialogue between a monk and a horse. Phajoding Monastery, Bhutan, November 2, 2013.    

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Spanning the bridge between loud rock music in a Thimphu music club and silent prayers in a remote Buddhist monastery

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I'm back in Bhutan for one month. Beside working on final procedures with the Helvetas' LCD Project (Leveraging and Preserving Bhutan's Cultural Diversity Project) I am meeting different partners to discuss a proposal for follow up activities with my Participatory Photo Project. During my spare time I use to meet old friends - and also make new ones. This is easy to do in Bhutan and to me this is one of the main reasons why I feel so much at home in this beautiful and fascinating country. Here's an example of what can grow out of a simple walk to town on an ordinary day: Last Thursday evening when going to town I came by Mojo Park and met some old friends that I've known from long ago. Mojo Park is "the only place in Bhutan where I can get my dose of live music, alcohol, snacks and good people to meet and good people to hang out with" according to his owner Ganchu -who is also running Radio Valley, a private radio station. So Ganchu was there -on the terrace of his music club- with Tashi Gyelthsen, a Bhutanese film maker and poet and with Rajesh Gurung, a very talented painter and co-founder of VAST (Voluntary Artists' Studio Thimphu) who was among the group that I was lucky to work with when I was first conducting workshops in digital photography in Thimphu, back in 2005. Now, 8 years later, Rajesh and his friends are taking me to the the floor above Mojo Park and introduce me to a new restaurant called "A la Carte". It has opened just a few months ago and is run by a former cook at the five star Amankora hotel; I like the place because its very friendly and relaxed atmosphere and  because they serve -surprisingly- some very excellent Thai food. So I surely will  like to go by regularly in the near future. After having tasted some first example of the food  (a delicious Pad Thai) and one (or two) chilled Bhutanese beer(s) we went down to Mojo Park again and enjoyed the talent of some young local musicians. After the closing hour we continued chatting outside, sitting on the terrace in front of the club. A friendly and charming young woman was offering me a piece of self-made chocolate cake that she was sharing with her friends; they were telling me that on coming Saturday they would go for a hike to Phajoding monastery and asked me if I would like to join them. Although I have lived in Bhutan a great part of the last eight years and although I have visited many different lhakhangs (temples) all over the country, so far I have not yet reached Phajoding, a monastic complex of many temples and buildings, situated above Thimphu on an altitude between 3500 and 3900 meters above sea level. So I agreed happily (since not all young people I meet in the city are still interested to walk up arduously through tense forests to remote monasteries)! Some 30 hours later, on Saturday early morning, before 7 am, they picked me up at the arranged meeting point, and after a 15 minutes car ride (by a friendly uncle of one of my new friends) we reached the point where the road ends; we left soon behind us the thousands of prayer flags that are flattering around the radio tower where our hiking began. The path leads us through pristine forest with mystical looking trees, many of them now changed to warm autumn colours, across spots of pastures towards the monastery high above the capital. A kind and lovely stray dog seemed to have waited for us and accompanied us during the whole day, walking always nearby, behind or in front of us, waiting patiently outside while we were visiting each of the five temples; he was asking silently but clearly for some share, when we had red rice and ema datshi as our lunch (kindly prepared in the early morning by one of my friends). My contribution to the meal were a handful of Bhutanese mandarines and apples from the weekend market and some hazelnut chocolate brought along from Switzerland. After the strengthening meal my friends changed their dress, putting on their traditional dress (called "kira" for women and "gho" for men); for Bhutanese it is mandatory to wear the traditional dress when visiting religious sites, schools or government offices and buildings. So we walked from one lhakhang to the next, climbing up till 3900 meters above sea level, on simple but good enough foot paths. Inside the temples we prostrate and pray and give offerings (butter for butter lamps, incense sticks and some smaller bank notes). In each place a monk would pouring out a hand full of holy water that we drink and that we apply on top of our heads. I was always impressed and it made me feel comfortable and happy how people all over Bhutan would introduce me to their customs and believes and how they invite me to take part in their religious practises. It happened to me with people of different religious believes and practises, Buddhists and Hindus, and also people who still follow animistic believes and practises; it always made me feel that I am not a stranger to them but a friend with whom they like to share what they have and what they are. This attitude has helped me to feel comfortable from the beginning and to learn about their traditions and it has made me feel at home the longer our relation lasts. What is very fascinating to me about today's Bhutan is that many people still do have this lively relation to the traditional and natural world; and there are some who are able to span the distance from the nightly sounds of modern rock music in Mojo Park to the silent prayers and archaic rituals in a Buddhist monastery and they apparently can enjoy and value both aspects of today's Bhutan. And I'm happy to see that also a monastery like Phajoding is now using modern technology to communicate with the outside world and to inform about what makes them special: there is a very interesting and educational homepage called "Phajoding Monastery Project" where you can read and see that this monastery is not a relic of the past but a living learning place with very dedicated teachers like Lama Namgay Tenzing who provide compassionate care and education for 40 orphaned and disadvantaged boys within a holistic curriculum. On their homepage you can sign up for new posts and you can connect with the project via facebook, twitter, pinterest and flickr I think that Bhutan of today actually has good chances to connect good elements of modern life with precious sides of its unique traditional heritage. In the LCD project that I have been working for during the last three years I was teaching students of remote schools how to use digital photography to explore and document their local culture; with the help of the camera lens they began to see and appreciate the traditional knowledge that is still alive in their communities in a new light. (Here you can download a leaflet with basic info about my Participatory Photo Project.)  

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Watching Flying Seagulls

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Photos taken in Luzern, my home town in Switzerland, walking along the river Reuss, when someone standing beside me was feeding the seagulls with bread..      

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A winterly walk near my house in Luzern, Switzerland

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The beauty of a swan

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The first week back at the school in Luzern, Switzerland where I'm teaching Visual Arts every half year. Since winter has covered the earth here with a layer of snow and also because there is more to see when you go by foot I decided to walk to and from school. Part of the way is along a lake ("Vierwaldstättersee") and a river ("Reuss"). While walking along the shore of the lake I saw a swan who was cleaning him/herself very carefully. For about 30 minutes I was taking numerous photos from a point directly above the big beautiful white bird.

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Some photos from another walk through the streets of Thimphu

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Some views while traveling from Thimphu to Mongar

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In Bhutan there is one road crossing the country from West to East or East to West. When travelling to Kengkhar, one of the communities where I am working with the Participatory Photo Project at the local school I travel from Thimphu to Mongar. Driving in a car it's normally a two days journey: day one from Thimphu to Bumthang (267 km) takes about 9 - 10 hours, day two from Bumthang to Mongar (198 km) takes about 7 - 8 hours of driving. Below you see some photos taken while traveling from Thimphu to Mongar..    

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  • About this blog

    In this blog I would like to share some of the experiences that I get while living, working and travelling in between Bhutan and Switzerland. Since 2005 when I came for the first time to Bhutan I have been fascinated by many things: the rich natural and cultural diversity of the country, its authenticity and uniqueness, the warmth and humbleness of the people, the situation of the country being in between age-old traditions and very modern developments. Since 2010 I have been working as a culture and education specialist and photographer for HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan in a project on "Preserving and Leveraging Bhutan's Unique Cultural Diversity"; within this project I have been conducting a participatory photo documentation in four remote communities in Bhutan. Beside my engagement in Bhutan I am also working as a teacher for Visual Arts in Switzerland. I am grateful for any comments and feedback. :-)
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