Many people have never heard of Bhutan, the country that values Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product! Bhutan is a landlocked little country roughly the size of Switzerland. It is bounded on the north and northwest by Tibet, with India touching its remaining borders and Nepal a bit to the west. Virtually the entire country is mountainous, peaking at 24,777ft. North to south it features three geographic regions; the high Himalaya of the north, the hills and valleys of the center, and the foothills and plains of the south.
For centuries Bhutan has remained isolated from the rest of the world. Since its doors were opened in 1974, visitors have been mesmerized by the beautiful and pristine country and the hospitable and charming people. The best time to visit is October and November and during major festivals which of course is when we will be visiting there. The climate is best in autumn, from late September to late November, when skies are clear and the high mountain peaks are visible. It’s not unusual to experience rain no matter what the season, but we avoid the monsoon season, June-August, when buckets of rain come down.
Buddhism was probably introduced in Bhutan around the 2nd century although traditionally its introduction is credited to the first visit of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. Before that the people followed a shamanistic tradition called Bon that still exists today, merged with their Buddhist traditions.
Guru Rinpoche is the most important figure in Bhutan’s history, regarded as the second Buddha. His miraculous powers included the ability to subdue demons and evil spirits, and he preserved his teachings and wisdom by concealing them in the form of terma (hidden treasures) to be found later by enlightened treasure discoverers known as tertons. One of the best known of these tertons was Pema Lingpa; the texts and artefacts he found, the religious dances he composed, and the art he produced, are vital parts of Bhutan’s living heritage.
The largest and most colorful festivals (tsechus) take place at Bhutan’s dzongs and monasteries once a year, in honor of Guru Rinpoche. Tsechus consist of up to five days of spectacular pageantry, masked dances and religious allegorical plays. These festivals play a large part in the Buddhist teachings and are also social gatherings. The Bhutanese revel and rejoice together, dressed in their finest clothes and jewelry, in an infectiously convivial atmosphere where humor and devotion go hand in hand. For us these festivals provide an ideal opportunity to appreciate the essence of the Bhutanese character. The temple of Jampa Lhakhang hosts one of the kingdom’s most spectacular festivals, the Jampa Lhakhang Drup, in October – just one of many throughout the year.
Because Bhutan has no domestic air service, possesses no helicopters, and does not include an inch of railway track, the only way to see the place is by foot or by road. This journey will definitely be an adventure! We will also be meeting with some of the temple monks so we can learn more about their traditions and ask them questions. This country is stunning magnificent – and pictures do not do it justice. Please consider joining us this year for our Bhutan journey – it will open your heart in ways you could not imagine!