Words by: Hyo Kim
Photos by: Michael Turek
I’m caught in a meditative state before I even arrive at the monastery. The sun feels warm on my skin, and I find comfort in the cool shade with the pine-scented breeze blowing through my hair. Ahead of me is an open valley with clouds weaving through the mountains in the distance. Melted ice from the Himalayan Mountains chill the air temperature through the river running nearby. Far away, it seems like rain is approaching, so my feet continue to step on the dirt path alongside the steep mountain, with loose rocks to my left and cypress trees to my right. I hear an unfamiliar rustling and my feet stop. I stand still as I count seven wild horses in front of me. They continue their way, and my feet startup again.
Bhutan is like the tasty melted cheese in the middle of a good sandwich. It’s planted in the middle of the Himalayas, between two huge nations (India and China). The roads snake through mountains, valleys and forests. A beautiful, carbon-neutral country with the happiest and purest people I’ve ever met.
The locals live by many Buddhist philosophies and their perspective in life amaze me. A line that was apparently told by their King encapsulates the time I spent in Bhutan. The line went something like this: “In the land of happiness, there should be no tears, and co-existing with nature while living in harmony is the only way to find true happiness.”Bhutan opened their doors to tourism only thirty years ago, but access to the country is still very limited. The two biggest sources of income for the country come from hydropower electricity, which is sold to India, and tourism. Their goal is to bring quality tourism in low volumes so that their sacred land isn’t spoiled. Both sources of income were designed around the goal of keeping the heritage and natural resources of the country as intact as possible. This tactic seems to be working, but tourism could slowly decay their land and potentially change their culture for the worse.
Unfortunately, some of this decay is already apparent with the influx of single-use plastic items created by tourism. I spotted plastic in the most unexpected places throughout my trip. Thankfully, the country has a strict set of laws in place for its tourists to encourage sustainable tourism. It is our responsibility as tourists to respect the land and treat it as if we are in someone’s home.Bhutan is financially poor, but rich in nature and happiness. As a self-sustainable country, its citizens have a job, a house and the support of their government. The people of Bhutan believe that if they have the necessities, such as housing, food and family, then they will find true happiness, enlightenment and fulfillment in life. This is a simple concept that is sometimes overlooked when coming from a modern world.
I leave Bhutan on a plane that glides through the valleys, almost touching the trees. I sit here recapitulating all the lessons and amazing moments I had in this beautiful Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. I can’t help but wonder when I’ll be able to come back to this country. It will be different, as change is inevitable, but we can do our part by traveling more consciously.