The Lost Shangri-la:
A Santa Cruz Traveler Explores the Kingdom of Bhutan
by Linda Fessette
"Distilled from the magic of the ages and miraculously preserved against time. A deep spiritual emotion encompassed my being and time stood still as I approached the last bend on the path to Taktshang Monastery, commonly known as Tigers Nest. Rounding the bend appeared a wooden rail much like the rail in James Hiltons 1930 black-and-white epic, The Lost Horizon, a search for Shangri-La and eternal happiness. As I touched the rail, tears filled my eyes. Somehow it seemed to be the answer to all prayers. Bhutan is the discovery of happiness in the present.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is landlocked, bordered by Tibet, China and India. With a population of approximately 670,000, the country is about the size of Delaware. Virgin blue pine forests blanket the Himalayan mountain nation. Prayer flags flutter throughout the countryside over medieval dzongs, monasteries and watchtowers. In the company of enchanting Bhutanese people, you are at once immersed and transported through your own time machine to a medieval age: Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Bhutan is the last bastion of Mahayana Buddhists. Religious dance festivals known as Tsechus are held to honor Guru Padmasambhava. Those, like myself, who witnessed the festivals, understood the intensity of this country and its people. The festivals are riots of colorful brocaded costumes, terrifying deities and animal masks. Dances are performed by monks and lay people and give religious merit and blessings to all who attend. 2002 cultural tours and treks took my groups to four different festivals, all with their own intensity and uniqueness. Each time the horns blew, the cymbals clapped and the dancers began, my breath was literally taken away with oohs and ahhs. Held once a month in different districts, these festivals go on for days. Each Tsechus evokes its own special blessings and purification. Laya women, living in the high Himalayan Mountains, bring down the yak herds in harsh winter to attend festivals to socialize and graze the herds. Elders attend to ready for The Bardo. Once again I was immersed into Shangri-la. Exquisitely unforgettable.
Bhutan is a country of extremely diverse terrain. Within 100 miles, one can trek the highest mountain range in the world or visit a tropical jungle with Horn-Billed birds, Langurs monkeys, elephants, blue-sheep, tarkin, snow leopard, yak, and perhaps a Yeti. I was privileged to observe rare birds the Black Neck Cranes for example migrate from Tibet and Siberia. There is only one main road in Bhutan. In some areas people live without electricity and modern conveniences, but what does that matter when you are in Shangri-La? The Bhutanese people are without a doubt the happiest in the world. The king of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, has proclaimed happiness as the gross national product of Bhutan! Bhutan is, indeed, the Lost Shangri-la many have searched for. The country and its unchanged landscapes, dzongs, 12th century monasteries, customs and people are living proof. There are over 650 different types of flowers, including wild orchids andn rhododendrons. The Blue poppy, which is the Bhutanese national flower, blankets the earth in spring. Pristine rivers flow through Bhutan valleys as high Himalayan snowcapped peaks rise majestically above. Bhutanese people are the real essence of Bhutan. There is happiness within. I found peace, love, kindness and friendship in this tiny Himalayan kingdom.
Tourism is closely monitored by Bhutans government, to maintain the rich culture of this magnificent land. Tourists can gain access into Bhutan only through a local tour operator. Our English speaking Bhutanese guides will overwhelm you with hospitality and personalized attention.
Linda Fessette lives in Santa Cruz and is a certified Tour Director and Travel Agent. Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon