String Theory with the Wisdom of Bhutanese Monks
String theory states that the universe did and does consist of sub-atomic strings that vibrate at different frequencies that create the physical stuff that we see about us. The strings also played a significant role in the creation of the universe, which is still not fully understood and continues to be researched today.
The late Dr. Roger Salters (Associate Professor of Engineering in the Department of ECE at the University of Denver) believed the answer stumping string theory research will come from two sources. The first source lies in the analytics of math in quantum mechanics and the second source in ‘nonanalytical’ thinking. Therefore, exploring topics of discussion with Buddhist monks in Bhutan can provide great insight into the nonanalytical aspects for finding answers to string theory. On this tour, not only will you step into the unknown realm of string theory in this unique cultural exchange, but also explore the arts, culture and eco-wonders of ‘the dragon kingdom’ of Bhutan.
Tour Dates: Sample itinerary for August
Day 1 - Arrival at Paro; transfer to Thimphu
Early morning departure from Bangkok for Bhutan. The flight into Paro Valley (2,200m/ 7,800ft) on the national carrier, Druk Air, is a befitting introduction to the magnificent beauty of Bhutan. Upon arrival, be received by an EcoArts Tours representative at Paro International Airport. Following check-in at the hotel and freshening up, eat lunch and visit the National Museum which is housed in an ancient watch tower. The tour of the museum introduces Bhutan’s history and culture through its national treasures. Take a pleasant one hour drive to Thimphu. Upon arrival in Thimphu, visit the important national landmark, the National Memorial Chorten (stupa). Accommodation: Hotel Pedling or similar
Day 2 - Thimphu
Begin the morning with a Institute of Traditional Medicine & Hospital, and Institute of Traditional Arts and Crafts where traditional arts & crafts are taught to young students. Also visit the Pangrizampa Astrological School and engage in conversation about Buddhism and astrology amongst other topics. After lunch, visit the Voluntary Artists’ Studio and meet with local artists. In the afternoon, visit the Center for Bhutan Studies and attend a presentation on Gross National Happiness (GNH) and its relevance in today's world. Then, we visit the “Takin” preserve and learn the story behind the existence of the national animal (Takin is a combination of goat and cow and looks more like a moose). Later, witness a game of Archery, which is the national game and the only sport Bhutan represents in the Olympics. Also visit Kuenselphodrang (Buddha Point), from where one can see the rapidly urbanizing Thimphu. The supposedly world's largest sitting Buddha (169 feet) is nearing completion. Accommodation: Hotel Pedling or similar
Day 3 - Himalayan Vista & Punakha Valley
Today we head eastwards into central Bhutan, over Dochula pass (3,055 m/10,100ft) and into the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,430 feet). Before proceeding to Punakha town, we will take an easy hike up to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple). This temple is dedicated to the great 15th century yogi known as Lam Drukpa Kuenley, or popularly known as the “Divine Madman” in the West. He dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallic symbols and paintings on the houses and temples are a result of his influence. It is believed that this temple blesses men and women who seek fertility and is a popular pilgrimage spot. Enjoy lunch at a family run restaurant. After lunch, explore Punakha Dzong (Fortress) situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (Male and Female River). This fortress serves as the winter headquarters of the Je Khenpo (the spiritual head of Bhutan) and is one of the most beautiful Dzongs in the country exemplifying Bhutan's splendid architecture and art. Accommodation: Hotel Zangtopelri or similar
Day 4 - Nalanda Institute & day hike
After breakfast, drive towards the village of Talo, and visit Nalanda Buddhist Institute overlooking the village of Thileygang. Meet the teachers and monks and get a peek into a contemporary Buddhist school. Later, a pleasant hour long hike through the paddy fields will take us to Khamsum Yuley Namgey Lhakhang (temple) which presents a great view of the valley below. Evening at leisure Accommodation: Hotel Zangtopelri or similar
Day 5 - Trongsa Dzong
We start early for the fabulous drive and exploration of the central valleys of Bhutan. The breathtaking sites of this journey includes the Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa Valleys, the majestic fortress of Wangdue Dzong, snow-capped peaks of Mount Jomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.) and Pele La Pass (3,300 m/ 10,989 ft.) (the boundary between West and East Bhutan). Then enjoy a visit and lunch at Chendebji Chorten (stupa). This stupa was built in the 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to subdue the demon that had been terrorizing the inhabitants of the region. We will then visit Trongsa Dzong, the largest fortress in the country. The fortress is the ancestral home of the royal family, and it is the tradition that the crown prince always serves as the Governor of Trongsa before ascending the throne. Accommodation: Yangkhil Resort or similar
Day 6 - Bumthang Valley
After breakfast, we will visit the Trongsa Ta-Dzong Museum that provides a glimpse of Bhutan in the last 100 years. After the visit, we will proceed to Bumthang and along the way, visit the small village of Tsugney to learn about the traditional weaving. Check into the hotel in Choekhor Valley, diner and explore the small town on your own. Accommodation: Hotel Yugharling or similar
Day 7 - Bumthang Valley
Today we will explore the Bumthang Valley, which is considered the most sacred place in Bhutan. Visit the several monasteries starting with the Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the holiest temples in the country. It is believed that in the eighth century, Guru Padmasambhava had meditated here and subdued the local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Guru Padmasambhava (popularly known as “Guru Rimpoche”) is the famous Buddhist saint that brought Buddhism to Bhutan from India in eighth century. Other temple visits include to Padmasambhava Lhakhang, Tamshing Lhakhang and Konchogsum Lhakhang. Accommodation: Hotel Yugharling or similar
Day 8 - Phobjikha Valley
Travel to the valley that is home to the Black-Necked Cranes, an endangered species that migrates from the plateau of Tibet. The birds migrate sometime in late October and they return to Tibet in February/March. The Black-necked Crane is revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja). The birds have harmoniously coexisted with the local residents largely due to locals’ strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in the Bhutanese folk lore, songs, dances and historical references. Viewing the crane depends on the season, but a visit to the crane information center allows a chance to learn more about the birds. Enjoy a village visit, hike to the Gangtey Monastery and return to the hotel for lunch. Explore the village at your leisure the rest of the day. Accommodation: Hotel Dewachen or similar
Day 9 - Thimpu
Resume our journey to Thimphu with a visit to the textile museum. While in town, meet Kelzang Choden & Kuenzang Wangmo, weavers from eastern Bhutan that live in Thimphu. They will explain the weaving industry and demonstrate the back strap loom process. Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the local art shops that sell traditional weavings, paintings, silverwork, coral and turquoise beads, prayer flags, and numerous other items. In the evening, try your hand at cooking a few Bhutanese dishes, which you may have acquired the taste over the last several days. How about some Ema Datshi! Accommodation: Hotel Pedling or similar
Day 10 - Paro
Upon returning to Paro, visit the seventh century Kyichu Lhakhang (monastery) and Paro Dzong (fortress). The Paro Dzong was a setting for Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, The Little Buddha. Explore Paro’s small town center and return to the hotel. Accommodation: Khangkhu Resort
Day 11 - Excursion to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Today enjoy a walk to one of the most sacred Buddhist places, Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest). Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forests festooned with Spanish moss and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. Walk at your own pace and stop mid-way at the cafeteria for rest and refreshment. Lunch will be catered at the cafeteria. Return to the hotel to watch a specially arranged performance of traditional mask dances, folk songs and traditional music. Learn the importance, meaning and origin of each dance followed by dinner. Accommodation: Khangkhu Resort
Day 12 - Departure
Return to Paro Airport for your journey home.
Dr. Roger Salters
Is an Associate Professor of Engineering in the Department of ECE at the University of Denver. He holds a doctorate from the University of New Mexico with concentrations in control systems, an MSEE degree from Northeastern University in Boston with focus in communications theory and information theory. He has conducted extensive engineering research in secure communications techniques and radar. Dr. Salters has more than 24 years of service in the USAF conducting research and development in radar, communication systems, satellite control and communications, antennas, robotics, applications of information theory to non-engineered systems, anti-satellite systems, and electronic warfare systems. He also spent several years teaching mathematics and electrical engineering at the United States Air Force Academy. He has taught engineering courses and conducted research in controls, systems, and robotics at DU for over 17 years. He has taken sabbatical leaves to conduct research at the ACE Research Center at UNM, for working in the Undergraduate Education Division at the National Science Foundation, among other consultancies. For more information visit: www.du.edu/secs/departments/ece/index.html.
Brige to Bhutan