the jury is still out

A note of warning: this post may be a little less cryptic than my previous ones. I would prefer to remain a little mysterious, but in the interest of reconnecting with civilization, I thought I would speak a bit to my recent experiences. I’ve been in the “Himalayan mountain kingdom” of Bhutan for about 10 days now, and the jury is still out. I’m always pondering one concept or another, and the possible “myth [or reality] of Shangri La” has been occupying my attention for the past few days. Well, that, and Sting’s song, “When We Dance,” while hopelessly romantic of saccharine proportions, has been a calming focus of concentration, for both mind and stomach, on Bhutan’s windy mountain roads. So there’s my concrete detail–a place. I’m experiencing Asia for the first time, and I’m experiencing this wild and wonderful continent in an incredibly unusual way. The Royal Government of Bhutan is…jealous of this country, its rugged mountain perch, its virgin forests, and its famous “Gross National Happiness” meter. In order to preserve all of this, the government levies significant limits on both the number of tourists entering the country and where the visitors can go while in the country. And oh yeah, one other minor detail–tourists are required to pay a flat fee of $200 per day to the government. Needless to say that this destination has some panache, and that the country has become synonymous with stunning vistas, pristine air, tranquility, and a pervasive sense of magic. I’m certainly enjoying my time “off the grid” (with the exception of this brief foray onto the Internet), and am grateful for the opportunity to travel to this unusual place, but my experience thus far has been clouded by the snow, sleet, hail, thunder, rain, and bottomless mud that joined me on my backpacking adventure in the western part of the country. We headed west to glimpse Jhomolari, a holy mountain of approximately 25,000 limit, off-limits for mountaineering as the towering peak is sacred in Tibetan/Bhutanese Buddhist tradition. The trek was tiring and trying…and we only glimpsed the sacred mountain with scrambled eggs and coffee in our mouths as we leaped up from a hiker’s breakfast when the clouds parted for a brief five minutes. And then we were back to the rain and mud as we headed uphill into the cloudy abyss to cross a pass at 16,040 feet. My “vacations” aren’t really ever complete without the elements…even when the elements include piles of mud that unfortunately reek of yak dung. (A fun fact: yak dung is actually an important source of fuel for subsistence farmers here…)

But I will proceed with an open mind (but a closed mouth to the ridiculously spicy and ubiquitous chili peppers that charm the Bhutanese palate), and keep close at heart the fact that these adventures are often most appreciated from a distance when one is back at home surrounded by photographs, creature comforts, and perhaps even a  slice of homemade chocolate cake.

I’m off to take my first shower in over a week, although I don’t have high hopes–cold water and low pressure seem to be the standards around here. But I’m all smiles; I would hate to disturb all the happiness…


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