I can’t tell you how many times the thought, “This feels like being in the middle of the pages of National Geography Magazine” popped into my head when I was in Bhutan. Then I’d pinch myself and say, “I’m really here.”
I was lucky and had a chance to go to Bhutan in March. Now…..I don’t know many people who want to do that kind of thing but I did…..and it was fabulous. Not always comfortable. Sometimes a little scary. Always interesting.
Lots of people ask: Where is Bhutan? Or they try to act like they know, not wanting to admit that they have never heard of Bhutan. That’s ok. It’s a tiny remote speck on the globe.
I have learned to immediately anticipate that issue and explain that Bhutan is a very small country, one hundred miles from north to south, 200 from east to west, in the Himalayas between India and China. It is about the size of Switzerland with a population of under one million.
But yesterday when re-reading a great book about the country (Married to Bhutan by Linda Leaming) this paragraph jumped off the page. The author writes, “Bhutan does seem a bit unreal at times. Hardly anybody in the U.S. knows where it is. I have friends who still think the entire country is a figment of my imagination.”
Made me laugh out loud because I have friends who probably share her sentiment.
So, what was it like?
Gorgeous. Misty. Soft at the edges sometimes. We were there when the farmers were burning the fields so the mountains were often shrouded in clouds-smoke-mist. We had some crisp blue sky clear days as well. It was beautiful and magical and marvelous. I loved it.
We traveled up and over mountain passes with shimmering peaks in the distance on narrow switch back roads. We meandered by silver slivers of rushing rivers flanked by the endless terraced rice fields. Signs were simple and small and some times funny. No billboards. Sometimes we had to slow down because of the cows in the road.
Tourism was not permitted until the 1970’s so much of the ancient culture survives intact.
As I said, I felt like I had stepped into the pages of a National Geographic Magazine. It’s peaceful and serene. This is the place John McCain went to find peace and solitude after he lost the presidential election. If Bhutan had been open to the world, I’m sure Steve Jobs would have hung out here in the 1960s when he went to India.
We went into the Bumthang Valley where we saw very few signs of modern times except the cell phones. To see cell phone pictures, take a look at last week’s blog post. Click here.
The stores are charming little businesses with a wide variety of merchandise in very small quantities. At one point I realized I needed a couple of ball point pens. I had to go to five “general” stores before I found a shop that had pens and there were only six in stock. Four blue and two black.
We saw prayer wheels everywhere. I will do a blog about them and the flags and the chortens and the endless chanting and the monks and nuns.The role of religion fascinated me. Church and state go hand in hand in Bhutan. More about that in future blogs too.
But what really fascinated me were the people. Camera in hand, I tried to capture the faces of the people who live there, asking permission when possible and enjoying the opportunity to try to capture the spirit and the soul of this faraway land.
I hope you enjoy.
I traveled with GeoEX, a company based in San Francisco. Click here for their web site. For more about my trip, take a look at last week’s blog post. Click here for that one.