Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Kingdom of Bhutan

Sandwhiched betweent eh two Asian giants India and China, Bhutan has kept its soviernty by preserving the unique aspects of its culture that differentiate it from Tibet and by remaining cut off from the modern world until the early 1960's. on the Eastern slopes of the Himalayan foothills, Bhutan looks much like the Pacific Northwest, covered with trees and blessed with blissfully clean air and water. Bhutan is the only country in the world without a traffic light; national mandate keeps the country above a 60% forest cover (presently at 72%); the small population of 600,000 to 680,000 (estimates vary) are required to observe traditional dress in all governement buildings including schools-- though most people wear the robe like outfits and long elegant skirts for women everyday. Bhutan has the unique position of joining in the modern world in the late 20th century: it is able to by-pass outdated or destructive technology and jump the linear history of time to pick and choose the aspects fo modernity it pleases; thus, 100% of its electricity is from hydropower, the surrplus of which it sells to India to make up the mmajority of its GDP, as 80% of the population are subsistence farmers. But GDP is not a large concern of this country. Indeed, the 5th King, responsible for the gift of democracy to his people, has decided to measure the value of his country using Gross National Happiness (GNH) and reject the materialistic competition of the rest of the world. Fortunately for me, a pillar of this attempt to redefine society rests on education that centers around a quest for happiness, inner development and contemplative practices stemming from the country's Tibetan Buddhist heritage. Seems like Ive come to the perfect country in which to do research and I didnt even know it. But more to come on that later when i start my four week independent study.
I've been in Bhutan for almost a week now, and I'm already trying to work out a way to come back. Getting around $200 a day tourist fee might be a bit difficult, but I'll find a way. In a word this country is breathtaking. When I stepped off the plane I immediately drew in a huge breath of freash mountain air-- such a contrast to the dust and smog of Kathmandu. The himalayan foothills that constitute the entire country are covered in trees and drapped by a sky that puts on a show every day- rainbows, beams of light busting through the clouds lighting up piney mountainsides. On our second day in the country the weather went back and forth between sunny skies and snow as we road horses up to one of Bhutan's most spectacular monasteries, the Taktsang, or Tigers Nest, a stone building carved onto a cliff wall high above the forrested valley below. It was amazing, and the sights spectacular. I strongly encourage anyone who has the money or knowhow to visit Bhutan, theres just nothing like it. I'd say the best description would be if Asian Buddhists built a small villiage using traditional German architecture in a deep valley in Colorado. Yeah...
Anyway, I'm bored of writing and I'm sure by now you're bored of reading so I'm going to stop this blog post here, most to come the next chance I get. I'm off to take a (free*) warm shower for the first time since leaving New York (*upon landing back in Kathmandu from a week in a village in Eastern Nepal to find my family had no water, I paid Rs.100 [about $1.25] for a hot shower a a public bath)
Take care,

p.s. sorry I tried to load photos on to this post but the internet was too slow. perhaps I'll revise in the future. Until then I'll put some on facebook eventually...

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