Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Travelogue: Knitting in Bhutan

Bhutan is a spectacular, mist-shrouded kingdom, hidden high in the Himalayas between India and China. That's where I slipped away to for the last ten days. Mountain Man and his colleagues were there on field work, you see, and I tagged along for the end of their trip.

After a 50-hour journey, I joined up with them in time for a four-day trek. The plan was to have long days of sampling with evenings spent talking science and drinking tea in the meal tent. I was counting on my knitting -- a Shetland Triangle in 'Sangria' Sea Silk -- to keep me company while they went over the day's geology. So you can imagine my horror when I awoke on day two to find that one needle point had split in half. Here it is, laid out on the frosty ground

My dream had been to finish the Shetland Triangle by the time we reached the highest point on the trek, a lake at 14,000 feet. I wanted to let the shawl snap in that high mountain wind like a prayer flag.

But there was no mending the needle. Even one layer of tape was too thick for the silky stitches to slide over. So, to keep my hands busy, I whittled myself a crochet hook in juniper wood

and crocheted myself a simple headband over the next few days. Sounds pitifully small, but it was slow going with such a primitive hook, and I was grateful to have something - anything! - to do with my hands.

And perhaps there was good that came out of it in the end. Instead of staring down at my knitting, I was looking around at the view

and the dusty, staticky pack horses

and the sturdy pack baskets

and the lichen hanging in the fir trees

and the frost on the tents

and Mountain Man wearing his Cambridge Watchcap, which I knit for him a few years ago.

Anyways, I'd packed some metal needle points that I could swap out at the end of the trek. In the end, I finished and lightly blocked the Shetland Triangle in time to wear it to the market in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan.

There are two parts to the theme of Bhutan and knitting. First, the knitting that I did in Bhutan. Second, the knitting/spinning/dyeing that I sought out in Bhutan. I had hoped so very much to meander through the Thimpu market and find myself yarn or an antique spindle or exotic dyestuff like lac or indigo. I saw snippets of all of these in the museums. But while the market had all kinds of other colorful items -- vegetables, incense ingredients, weavings -- I found not a gram of yarn or dye.

The one bright spot was that I found another knitter, who was working on a scarf as she sold chilis in the market. We smiled at each others' knitting, had a moment, then went on with our lives.

My mind is swirling with all kinds of other thoughts to share about Bhutan, but I'm afraid that jet lag is overtaking me! Perhaps I'll write more another day.


Mari said...

Wow my best hanna-dormie ever, a REAL Bhutan-expedition after all those cards in bookshop! I am impressed!

petra said...

How sad that your needle broke! I can't believe you made a crochet hook -- amazing! Looks like it was an amazing trip... beautiful photos!

lexa said...

Thanks for posting such wonderful pictures! I never get to go anywhere, so I love it when other people do and share it with me. :)

Too bad about the needle, but I love your ingenuity with the crochet hook. How neat to bump into another knitter in the market. Too bad there hadn't been any yarn there to buy.

Notice how lately the word verifications seem to be words or close to words? Mine here is frock.

OrganizationalPerformance said...

I've enjoyed your blog for some time now, but never before come out of the proverbial woodwork. I ALWAYS love talking about Bhutan, however. I was there 12 years ago and found it perhaps to be the most wonderful place on earth -- shangri-la, indeed. I hope that 12 years down the road it still is beckoning to you as it still is to me.

Knit Witch said...

OMG! What a great trip and such beautiful pictures! Thanks so much for sharing them with us.

Veronique said...

Wow. That first picture is particularly stunning. I can't believe your needle broke! But you recuperated pretty well :)
I definitely want to hear more about the trip when you're over your jetlag!

Jeanne said...

Man. That house is way up there. My condolences on your needle. I want that horse! Can you pack him (her?) up for me? How cool to connect with another knitter like that. Some languages truly are universal.

Jadielady said...

What a beautiful hook you made!!! Looks like an awesome trip and a rare opportunity :)

Kathy said...

Your whittled crochet hook is the best!!!!!!!
What we will do to keep on having our craft! Love your images.

Rachel said...

Thanks for sharing your trip and photos with us. Looks like an amazing trip! And very cool that you whittled yourself a crochet hook--impressive!

cksknitter said...

I think your crochet hook needs to be framed and hung in a place of honor!

Suzy Girl said...

I enjoyed your post and pictures so much!!! Thank you for sharing your travels with those of us at home.

Andrea said...

Hi, I found you by Googling Bhutan and knit. I'm a knitter who is off to Bhutan in a few weeks and I'm trying to decide if I should bring something to work on or not. Maybe the quiviut lace scarf I've had on my needles for over a year...
Anyway, beautiful post! I hope to see that flag-draped bridge in Thimphu.

trip to bhutan said...

Nice pics!!Great trip in Bhutan.Bhutan is truly one of the most fascinating places in the world.