Had an amazing five day road trip into central Bhutan. I have been this way before, but it was rushed, and I had Dasho’s older sister in the car who started chanting everytime we passed a stupa. It was like being in a mobile monastery. But one does have to realise that it often takes five hours to cover 100km as the roads are narrow, pot holed, and it’s just one zig zag after another. Both up and down. And yet the scenery is utterly stunning. Totally jaw dropping. The air fizzes with energy and clarity. I have never seen a sky as blue as this. Cobalt blue. And it’s a brilliant, mediaval kingdom to drive though.
Reviewed a lovely ”lodge” in Jakar. Me and a mate, Nigel, who is a Phd scientist working for the royal family, were the only guests. My stay was free. His wasn’t. He moaned a bit, but when I pointed out that he lived in a beautiful, wood panelled, Bhutanese house in Thimphu, rent free, plus had a car and a very decent salary, while I was earning a civil service peasant’s wage, he saw things from my perspective.
All was damn fine and splendid until we were approaching the last high pass before home on the last day. It was dark. And freezing. We had been on the road for 11 hours. And then the clutch gave out. We had to abandon the car, yet within seconds luck turned up in the form of a Bhutanese Army major who just said: “It’s our duty to the King to stop and help anyone in trouble.” An hour later, we were buying him drinks in Thimphu and I got a bunch of info about the Bhutanese Army personnel. All 300 of them.
The Centre for Bhutan Studies are not going to renew the contract come the end of March (citing lack of funds and projects) but as I have already said to my mum, I was only here for six months initially, so 18 months ain’t bad.
Apart from that, I was getting a little bored there. They are the government think tank for Gross National Happiness and over the months I have come to realise it’s a complete load of bollocks. Nice idea. A fine aspiration. Even a work in progress. But, I see no evidence of it anywhere. All the positive aspects of the culture come directly from Buddhism. There is a lot of real poverty here- and therefore cynicism about GNH. To me, GNH has been hijacked by the intellectuals, ivory-towered and has little meaning – and more importantly, relevance – for those who are just trying to make a living. And yet, the world outside Bhutan thinks differently. Bhutanese ministers (including my Dasho) are invited to give lectures around the world about how wonderful it all is. If they don’t watch it, someone is going to come here soon and start asking questions.
And, as a recent arrival, I am just the fellow to do it.
It will all be in the book. I even have a working title. ”A Private View of a Sacred Place.” But that could change… So, it’s crunch time. Drukpa Magazine would love to have me on board, so I have written to them asking all the pertinent questions; my financial requirements etc, and what exactly they expect of me and what I can expect of them. They are good guys, laid back and clever, and utterly different from the CBS government thinking environment. Let’s see. I want to stay till Aug/Sept. I already have many insights and observations, but the book needs people. I have six interviews lined up…hi-so and low so.
You will all be the first to know….
All the locals agree that it’s been a truly bitter winter here. It is very, very slowly warming up, so it is now the season of burst pipes and plumber bills. But also, veggie gardens are being dug over. Fresh prayer flags have been hung. Spring is just around the corner. We hope.
I am also convinced that the first case of road rage here will be fought with swords.
But more of that later.