OK, I get it. I tend to gush about Bhutan, the people, the experiences, the moments of sheer unadulterated laughter, the kinds of conversations that open you up to a wider world and new ideas that transform one’s mind and heart. Bhutan has always been that place for me.
And…and it’s the students that have brought joy by seeing their eyes opened to another way of thinking, to see another kind of world, one that they will, without question, run. I am heartened by the fate of our planet when I see these people finding their way through moments on this trip. It is at once life affirming and truly wonderful in ways that transcend the moment.
That prologue leads me to this day. It started as it ended yesterday in rain; pouring rain at Yangkhil. We made it to breakfast and were ready but weary of what we thought was to come: a day of slogging through the mud. At the same time, this is Bhutan, and happiness is not too far away from one’s mind in this place.
We gathered on the bus and headed to Trongsa Dzong. The rain eased slightly as we walked, almost entirely alone, through the courtyards of this massive structure. As we meandered around, monkeys climbed all over the roof tops and along the walls. They came in pairs and scoured the grounds looking for food. We walked into the upper courtyards toward the classroom for novices and Namgay regaled us with the story about the stages of life and the three poisons: ignorance, lust, and fear. We listened intently as he told us of Buddhist cosmology and understanding of the world. By the end, questions were asked and our minds were opened to how this culture, these people view their world. It was an insight few people have the chance to hear.
The rain slowed markedly, and we headed to a local growers market, looking at the wares and wondering at some of the vegetable produce. Even Namgay had no idea what some of the fruit or vegetables were, commenting, “they must be from India.” When we asked other Bhutanese folks, they were equally flummoxed! That one mini experience was the kind of day this one turned out to be. A shared, joyful moment in time.
After the market, we boarded the bus once again to brave the treacherous road. The mud, sand, and gravel mixed into a light brown goo spread across the roadway as we headed up the hills toward Pele-la pass. The thing is, something had happened. The weather was still yucky, the road still a mire and yet we had somehow changed. The challenges seemed less difficult; even our driver commented on how it seemed easier in some way. The mood, the feeling of the group was a little bit lighter, a little bit easier going.
Along the way we made two stops: a waterfall near the road and a small restaurant. The waterfall was gorgeous, the water coursing down the rocks into the stream that crossed under an ancient looking bridge. The bridge, covered in moss and lichen, was clearly crumbling around the edges and one section of its wall had entirely collapsed making way for water on the bridge to flow into the stream below.
I won’t bore you with our stop for food. We headed up the road toward the pass and then on to Phobjikha Valley. This massive valley, cut long ago by a receeding glacier, is awe-inspiring. The landscape opens in a way that is rare in Bhutan…a wide valley with a small stream running through the center. We found the start of the trailhead for the trail that spans the valley, and made our way along the hillsides to eventually land in the floor of this verdant landscape.
Along the way we saw cows, yaks, horses, donkeys, and the occasional monk. Our group split into two. One group chatting the whole way made it to the road very quickly, as the conversation spilled out into this open space. The other group found a patch of wild strawberries and gathered hundreds. Namgay taught the group how to make a basket from ferns to carry the bounty and they made their way, much more gradually, back to the road.
It’s in these moments when one realizes what perfection is. We all found, in our own way, the perfect day, the perfect moment, the perfect experience. It could not have been better, it could not have been different. It was magical in ways that only Bhutan, it seems to me, is capable of creating. I know, I know; these experiences can happen anywhere. Yet, I must say that on this day and in these few hours, you would have a hard time convincing me of anything else.