Note: While this article is focused on Bhutan, I have augmented the few 1X images of Bhutan with other beautiful images of the Himalayan region. While many were not taken in Bhutan, the Himalayan region shares many similarities, and many differences. I hope no one will take offense at this artistic liberty.
When I was in 6th grade, I wrote an essay on the Kingdom of Bhutan for my Geography class. It is hard to know what makes a 12 year old kid from the United States, who had only been to one foreign country in his life at that point would pick a tiny, isolated and mysterious place to study. But, the fact that this country was unknown, unspoiled, and difficult to visit made it all the more fascinating to me. Little did I know that 40 years later I would find myself on a 30 hour trip to the Buddhist country that I fell in love with through the grainy images and the exotic descriptions from my childhood.
Flying into the one international airport in Bhutan, located in Paro, is part of the adventure and, for some, perhaps more adventure than they bargained for. The airport is nestled in one of the deep, narrow valleys that define Bhutan. DrukAir (Druk means dragon) is the official airline of Bhutan and they fly specially equipped Airbus 318s that are designed to take off and land at steep angles. Only 12 pilots are certified to fly through the rain, fog, and to navigate the steep valleys into Paro. So after a couple of cocktails, a few moments of reconciling my life with a higher power, and after a series of banking turns performed so close to the valley walls that I could see children playing in their yards, we made one final plunge onto the landing strip in Paro. We were safely in Bhutan.
Bhutan is a small, sparsely populated, and mountainous country landlocked between India to the south and The Autonomous Region of Tibet to the north. Nepal lies to its west. The capital city of Thimphu is a unique, and civilized place of thin air (2300 m), colourful houses, monasteries, and temples...and no traffic lights! One was installed a number of years ago, but the local residents complained and so the traffic lights were replaced by policemen to direct traffic.
Bhutan is a country that has Buddhism at its core. Monks in bright red robes, spectacular temples, hillside monasteries, and nunneries are reminders that Bhutanese life revolves around Buddhism.
The best known monastery in Bhutan is Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) which is nestled into a steep hillside near Paro. The hike to Tiger’s Nest is short, but difficult. Of course, the fact it is situated at over 3000m in impossibly thin air might have something to do with the difficulty. The temple complex is sacred, beautiful and worth the effort to see.
For the truly adventurous, there are longer treks that lead from the lush valleys of central Bhutan north to the spine of the Himalayas where dramatic peaks over 7,000 meters pierce the pristine mountain air. The “Snowman Trek,” is perhaps the best known long trek in Bhutan and is less travelled than the more visited ones in Tibet and Nepal.
What I found in the Kingdom of Bhutan, was a place of unmatched beauty, spiritual and cultural traditions, and people who smiled easily and often. It is no wonder that the concept of “Gross National Happiness” was conceived in Bhutan as a way to evaluate the utility of various projects and investment on the well-being of it residents. The "four pillars" of GNH are good governance, sustainable development, preservation and promotion of culture, and environmental conservation. This seems like a very Buddhist perspective to measuring success. They are on to something.
Every place that one visits leaves impressions that last a lifetime. For me, I will remember Bhutan for the prayer flags of white, green, yellow, blue, and red that seem to be nearly everywhere, especially in the mountains. The white prayer flag is for good fortune by purifying negative karma. The blue prayer flag is for health and longevity. The yellow prayer flag is for victory over obstacles. The red prayer flag is for fulfilling your wishes and the green prayer flag is for compassion.
The Buddhists believe that we are all connected. So in this time of pandemic and growing economic hardship, perhaps the promise of the prayer flags that flutter in the cool winds high in the mountains of this tiny Himalayan kingdom will spread their wistful optimism to all of us.
thanks for the inclusion....a beautiful compilation...
Jassi Oberai PRO
Delighted to be a part. Awesome selections
Thanks for the fantastic trip. It was as if I had been there, at least for a short time, a part of my being.
This is beautiful, thank you for compliation.
Thank you so much for including my image too: I am very honored!
Thierry Dufour PRO
Splendid images, superb reportage, I like very much, congrats Rob and Yvette !!!
Yvette Depaepe CREW
Thank you, Thierry!
Yvette Depaepe CREW
Thanks for this amazing article, Rob! Congratulations to all the authors of this great selection of images too.
Thank you for the gentle and helpful critiques. Always much appreciated.
Yan Zhang CREW
A great collection of the works from this amazing region. Thanks for Yvette and Rob to make this happen.
Thank you Yan
fantastic set of works from that region. Color mixes with gray, joy and sadness (in a few photos, although it is not known whether it is sadness or just authenticity). The real picture of life - wonderfulness ...
Thank you Konrad!