Tuesday, August 30, 2011
How does Bhutan beckon?
One of the highlights of the book, in my view, is the discussion of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, whom Tshering describes as the founder and conscience of Bhutan. Tim tells the story of how two Jesuits visited Bhutan in 1627, when Zhabdrung was a young king. Zhabdrung offered them hospitality and apparently allowed them to attempt to convert local people to Christianity. Zhabdrung might have been confident that the Jesuit’s proselytising efforts would be unsuccessful, but he also claimed to be respectful of individual liberty in other contexts. Tshering notes that many times the king told his lamas that ‘though they are most submissive, everyone is his own master to do what he likes’ (p 25). It is not clear from the book, however, whether Zhabdrung’s acknowledgement that everyone is his own master extended to their use of what he described as ‘the evil, stinking, poisonous weed named tobacco’ (p 29).
Zhabdrung stressed the virtues of perseverance and self-discipline. He quoted his teacher who said: ‘If you do not work hard you will not find sweet food. If you do not know the taste of suffering, you will not know the taste of happiness’. Zhabdrung’s achievements include the building of seven dzongs (combining the functions of fortresses and monasteries) built in strategic locations in different parts of the country. The first was built in 1629 at Simtokha, about 5 km south of Thimphu (the capital city) on the road to Paro and Phuentsholing. The photo below was taken from the road from Thimphu to Punakha.
The Punakha dzong, shown in my last post, was also built by Zhabdrung.
Another highlight of the book is Tim Fischer’s discussion of road-building in Bhutan in the 1960s. While we were being driven along the relatively good road from the international airport at Paro to Thimphu, my fellow passengers were discussing the fact that Bhutan was virtually closed to the outside world before the major road construction effort that occurred about 50 years ago. The idea that road construction in Bhutan began only when I was in my final years at school resonated much more strongly a few days later, however, when I was being driven over the narrow, winding mountain road from Thimphu to Punakha. This road barely copes with the amount of traffic using it, but I was impressed with the regard to safety of most of the drivers and with the signaling system that drivers use to let following vehicles know that it is safe to pass. (The left indicator means that it is safe and the right indicator means that it is unsafe. Vehicles drive on the left hand side of the road.)
Since I have already distracted myself away from reviewing the book, this might be an appropriate opportunity to present some photos I took on the road from Thimphu to Punakha.
This is my guide, Nado Richen, who was most helpful. After my return to Australia, Nado emailed a fact sheet to me to ensure that I understood what he had been saying. Nado was concerned that his command of English was not strong enough to answer some of my questions.
Bhutan is very keen on use of hydro power - and not just for electricity generation. This photo shows a water-powered prayer wheel.
These are the Druk Wangyal Chortens -108 stupas at Dochula pass (3050m) a popular place, with panoramic views. Stupas are spiritual monuments offering observers a direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity.These stupas were built by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, in honor of soldiers who fought in the 2003 low-intensity border conflict to expel Indian militants. The Indian militants had been threatening Bhutanese sovereignty by using camps in Bhutan as a base to pursue their revolutionary aims in India. Tshering Tashi wrote a chapter discussing the conflict in ‘Bold Bhutan Beckons’.
Prayer flags at a lake in the Royal Botanical Park at Lamperi.
This truck is typical of those passed on the road from Thimphu to Punakha. The prayer wheel in Nado’s car is shown in the foreground and is reflected in the windscreen.
Some cows on the road near Punakha.
Rice fields near Punakha.
Now, where was I before I interrupted myself? I was writing about Tim Fischer’s account of road building in Bhutan in the 1960s. Tim was helped in writing this story by his discussions with Hardy Pradhan, an Australian engineer who worked on the first roads in Bhutan. The roads were built with the help of Indian expertise but the labour involved was largely a national effort by Bhutanese people. All Bhutanese were apparently expected to work on the project for 33 days.