Leaving Bhutan

It was apparently most auspicious to pass a dead body being prepared for transportation for cremation. On our last drive together to the airport, we paused to learn why the road was filled with cars and people at such an early hour. A crowd had gathered around a farmhouse, and I could see a bright orange and yellow canopy which had been placed over the container with the body.

Cremation

Wangchuk & Sonam
Wangchuk & Sonam (my guide & driver)

It was only a brief moment but after the now so familiar sighs, more of compassion than disappointment, from my guide and driver, I learned of this customary ritual and how lucky we were to start our day seeing it.

It was hard to keep the tears away as my driver of the past sixteen days, Sonam, plugged his USB into the car and turned up the volume of the selection of Bhutanese chants and songs that now had become so familiar.

‘Penor’, with his Hawaiian style prayers over a melodic tune brought back memories of our twisty road journeys. This Bhutan adventure has reminded me often of my trips to Hawaii, another spiritual centre. Penor’s music reminded me of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

…’its all about sacrifice, be it money, time,

energy or a goat’…

 

What was making me so sad to be leaving? This sadness was deeper than the ‘end of a holiday’. There wasn’t a holiday romance to be leaving yet despite looking forward to returning home, I really couldn’t bear the thought of never returning to this land of the Thunder Dragon. I had made so many new friends, met up with longer term ‘virtual friends’ and joined the community of those who’ve ‘been to Bhutan’.

Birthday drummers
Birthday drummers

Bumdrak Trek

My last two days were spent walking the Bumdrak trek. Possibly the easiest and shortest of Bhutan’s treks, camping near Bumdrak temple and descending to the hundreds of pilgrims visiting Tiger’s Nest Temple, the most famous of this Buddhists’s Kingdoms temples.

Taktshang Goemba : Tiger’s Nest monastery
Taktshang Goemba : Tiger’s Nest monastery

After my own pilgrimage, we stopped for lunch at the cafe, around half way between Tigers Nest and the bus filled car park at the base. Sitting next to a Bangladeshi Christian he told me of his groups trip to Bhutan, to learn and meditate. His recollection of their guide telling of Bhutan’s three guiding principles, no anger, no greed and no ignorance. Although I’d not heard of this before, I was very aware that I’d not witnessed or sensed a moments anger during my stay.

Anger

Narrow mountain roads in Bhutan
Narrow mountain roads in Bhutan

The roads, twisting around mountains would give many a western tourist reason to anger. If not being behind a slow moving highly decorated lorry, sleeping dogs, cows, monkeys and farmers to give a cause of irritation, then cars overtaking on blind hairpin bends, drivers trickling out in front, stopping or turning without warning would. I could see many a cause of road rage. Despite this the roads remained calm, the odd ‘oh’ when a manoeuvre looked a tad dangerous, giggles when any livestock blocked a lane and extreme patience when engines were turned off completely as a pot hole was filled or a digger filled a lorry with rocks or gravel

Imagine our own daily lives with anger simply removed.

Greed

Filling Potholes in Bumthang
Filling Potholes in Bumthang

There was talk during my stay about how the non compulsory tipping of guides and drivers had reached an expensive peak a few years ago following over generous visitors setting a president. This had now calmed down, a local told me that ‘any sized tip given with a good heart was much appreciated’. That was a relief knowing that no financial tip would fully show my appreciation of the tireless attention and care I received from my own guide and driver. Getting hold of extra cash is not so easy in this country either as they’re only just beginning to have ATMs and shops accepting cards. If you do find an ATM the chances of it happily giving you cash from anything other than a Bhutanese or Indian card were remote. Greed was therefore not a major issue.

Often, I was reminded that those with the least give more. Never more apparent than in the temples where visitors regularly hand over large portions of their daily income to statues of Buddha or some of the other, many, deities and gurus represented around the country.

As my Bangladeshi Christian reminded me, ‘its all about sacrifice, be it money, time, energy or a goat’. Being strictly against killing of any kind, money, food, milk and time were the currency of sacrifice in Bhutan. The more you gave, the more the gods bestowed on you in good fortune and blessings. Giving could be sat spinning a prayer wheel all day.

Ignorance

Prayer wheels at Memorial stupa
Prayer wheels at Memorial stupa

Bhutan therefore is a country unlike any other I’ve visited. Preserving their landscape, nature and heritage, they have managed to escape the trappings of Western ‘civilisation ‘. TV was introduced in the late 1990s, yet they are bemused as to why we would put chemicals on our food or on the land. Each hospital in Bhutan has its own traditional medicine department and in the capital, Thimphu, a state of the art Traditional Medicine hospital was certainly a centre that I would love to see closer to home. Bemused that we could have lost such obviously beneficial aspects of living, the Bhutanese are pleased to have what they do and certainly don’t appear eager to move West.

Spiritual enlightenment

Many westerners are drawn to Bhutan though. I wasn’t the only solo middle aged woman travelling to find peace, organic food and spiritual enlightenment.

If I knew that I could be returning home to a place where I didn’t have to explain why I want to eat organic food, natural medicine or just the time to pause and meditate, I wouldn’t be feeling so sad to leave. It may be easy to think that rural uneducated farmers maybe living in ignorance, yet I’m sure it is us ignorant to our connection to all things. We may have learned much with our education for all, yet it is the simple Yak herder or Bhutanese school child who understand truly what damage ignorance does to our earth and our nations.

Me at the Iron Bridge Tamchhog Llakhang
Me at the Iron Bridge Tamchhog Llakhang

 

Hopefully a little bit of Bhutan will stay with me and can be shared back at home. The short song ‘hello’ on Sonam’s usb, cut short when his hands were free to leave the steering wheel, was always greeted with a giggle and a ‘goodbye ‘ . I now hope the sweet Bhutanese voice will say hello to the world and inspire us to listen. Hello? Are we listening? Can we bring some of the Bhutanese wisdom to our own worlds creating more countries where happiness is measured and valued.

I hope so.

Leave a Comment