The Kingdom of Bhutan is a mountainous, landlocked country located at the eastern end of the Himalayas in South Asia. With over 14,824 square miles of territory, it has a population of over 750,000, giving it a density of about 46 people per square mile. China and India, which border Bhutan on the north and south are the world’s most populous countries. The ruggedness of Bhutan’s terrain and the remoteness of its valleys have led to the formation of many scattered communities throughout the Kingdom. As a result, there are nineteen languages spoken by its inhabitants, including those who live in small communities in virtual isolation for many years keeping their traditional practices alive. The highest point in the country is Gangkhar Puensum at 24,840 feet, the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
The Bhutan Prayer Flag seems to dominate the landscape in Bhutan. These colorful flags are hung from bridges, staked on hillsides and mountain tops, placed along walking trails, around shrines and monuments, at the entrances to monasteries, and other places where people gather – everywhere, it seems, as a symbol for happiness, long life, prosperity, and luck, and/or to guide the soul of a departed relative or friend. Prayer Flags are located in places where the wind, considered an expression of mind and mental energy, can move them and activate the blessings. When the shadow of the prayer flag falls on streams and rivers, it is believed to be carried to the seas and oceans for the benefit of the marine fauna. The tradition of the Prayer Flag is just one example of the rich cultural heritage of the country that has remained intact, not as part of its history, but as part of its day-to-day culture, where ancient beliefs and traditions are vibrant, and guide every day life of the Bhutanese people. This cultural and religious heritage is considered the foundation upon which the identity of the Bhutanese people and the independence of the Bhutan as a sovereign independent nation was built.
Our group of five toured the country for 11 days, from Paro in the west to Bumthang, the cultural heartland of Bhutan, in the central region. The pages that follow provide photographic glimpses of that first part of our journey, which included a day-hike to Taktsang Palphug Monastery (known as the Tiger’s Nest) near Paro, and a 5-day 35-mile trek in the Himalayan Mountains from Paro to the capital city of Thimphu. The last part of our trip was a cultural excursion along the road from Thimphu to Wangdue. Descriptions and photographs of that portion of our journey can be found on my next blog.