BHUTAN: THE MYSTERIOUS THUNDER DRAGON KINGDOM
In the kingdom of Bhutan, it is nature who reigns. Arriving by air, this is immediately apparent. Looking down, one sees nothing but indistinguishable gradients of green, the different shades climbing up and down the dragon's back hills. During the descent, you have to strain your eyes for signs of human society. A sharp bank into a valley reveals the clean lines of traditional Bhutanese rooftops and the deep golden rugs of rice paddies, neatly arranged in terraces that flank the rivers. It's as peaceful from above as on the ground.
I am now thinking that to say nature reigns would be an overstatement. To reign would imply some kind of domination or power, superiority over human endeavours. Upon further contemplation, I must say that I observed more of a harmony between the Bhutanese wilderness and its man-made beauty. One is not more important than the other, or more prominent. As one experience flowed into the next, each unique, there was still a distinct thread of unity that tied everything and everyone together so tidily.
Each town and village was so carefully placed, so unobtrusive to the surrounding environment. The structures, whether Dzong or market or family home, all donned the same carefully selected colours. Deep yellows, greyish blues, dark reds. Never standing more than six storeys tall, they stood out from their dark green backdrops most subtly. Most famously, the Tiger's Nest Monastery is literally one with the mountain, clinging to the cliffside almost effortlessly. Take a closer look, however, and Bhutanese architecture becomes anything but subtle. Intricate, hand-painted wood carvings decorated even the most modest buildings, just one example of this country preserves its many traditional arts.
Traveling around Bhutan brings a sense of calm contentedness that must be picked up from the locals. It's the land of Gross Domestic Happiness, where legislative moves are carefully considered against indicators of personal and family satisfaction before they can be ratified. Life in Bhutan seems very traditional and simple. It is a developing nation, though many who leave to seek opportunities elsewhere eventually return. Whether this signals unpreparedness for existing elsewhere or deep love of country, I'm unsure. While in Bhutan, we were welcome to integrate ourselves into many religious rituals, educated on Bhutanese Buddhist beliefs, and invited to experience the Bhutan way of life. This country was presented to us, by all whom we met, as a source of deep pride and love for its people.
The distinct sense of integration was what I left behind in Bhutan. The vast sky is so close that you felt you could touch it. The villages cascade down from the hills in such a way that makes you question their possibility. The prayer flags catch the light and flap so beautifully and you think, yes, of course these thoughts are being carried throughout the universe. The trees, easily some of the most imposing structures in the country, encircle the mountains with entirety. Everything, every little thing, feels deliberately situated and spiritually significant. Spending time in Bhutan was as close to a religious experience as I think I'll ever have.