My own private Bhutan

Everyone, I think, has their own list of places they would like to see before they die.

Of the many places I have yet to discover I would love to visit Bhutan one day.

“Bhutan is a world that you had only hope existed.

Vertical prayer flags flutter in the breeze and men dressed in a traditional gho (long flowing red robe) and Argyle socks stroll past yellow-roofed shrines.”
(Bradley Mayhew, Lonely Planet Bhutan)

Ah, to see beautiful monasteries cling to sheer cliffs above whispering pine forests…

Dancing monks in colourful costumes of angry and compassionate deities, heroes, demons and animals…

Traditionally dressed farmers tending their crops and animals according to century-old traditions…

Traditional bamboo bow archery competitions propelling arrows at astonishing speeds across immense distances to strike impossibly tiny targets…

Murals and frescoes that tell stories and mesmerize those who gaze upon them…

Jacaranda trees splashing lilac flowers down whitewashed walls as red-robed monks wander seas of purple petals…

A place that places real value on cultural heritage, health, education, good government, ecology and individual happiness…

Bamboo baskets, brass butter lamps, yak hair blankets for sale at art schools and handicraft shops and local markets…

Dried fish, soft cheese, betal nut, chili, curly fern fronds and red rice that tantalise the senses…

Cantilever bridges, rolls of prayer flags and other exotic offerings…

Evergreen forests with amazing diversity of plants and birds…

This is what I want to see.

But am I already too late?

“Bhutan is a country that is a Buddhist sanctuary unto itself, a refuge from the world and its ills.

In the 1930s James Hilton, in his novel, Lost Horizon, called Bhutan “Shangri-la”.

The King of Bhutan decided that, as a spiritual society, happiness was the most important thing, and in 1998, defined Bhutan´s key aim as “Gross National Happiness”.

Bhutan was the last country in the world to introduce TV.

It arrived in 2002 with 46 cable channels, throwing Bhutan headlong into the global culture of the 21st century.

Everyone underestimated the impact that TV would have on local life and culture.

One third of Bhutan´s girls now want to look more American (whiter skin, blonde hair).

A similar proportion of girls also aspire to a new approach to relationships (boyfriends not husbands, sex before marriage).

An editorial in a Bhutanese newspaper warned:

“We are seeing for the first time broken families, school dropouts and other negative youth crimes. We are beginning to see crime associated with drug users all over the world, shoplifting, burglary and violence.”

Swapping Gross National Happiness for the joys of The Big Bang Theory may not have been such a good thing after all.

US children spend more time each year in front of a TV or an electronic display screen than they do in school.

In the UK four-year-olds spend four hours a day in front of a TV.”
(Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World: How to Make a Difference…One Day at a Time)

As an adult Canadian ex-pat resident in Switzerland, Swiss TV doesn´t really interest me, but I find myself far too often lying on the couch watching DVDs of American sitcoms or drama series that I don´t see regularly here as we don´t have cable TV and I don´t like paying for unnecessary apps.

Imagine what I could do with all the extra free time that I waste lying on the couch…

Exercising, hiking, writing, changing the world…

Electricity, satellite TV and mobile phones now connect rural Bhutanese to the rest of the globe and perhaps life now no longer revolves around crop cycles and seasons, so perhaps the Bhutan I am searching for may no longer exist.

Or maybe Bhutan, or the Swiss version of Shangri-la, is just outside my door.

I need to take my overweight bulk of an unfit middle-aged man off the couch and turn off the DVD and TV and find myself a life beyond the living room.

Bhutan beckons…

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