SECLUDED IN THE EASTERN HIMALAYAS BETWEEN INDIA and Tibet, Bhutan remains the enigma of Asia. Its peaks are shrouded with mist and magic, the forests are dense, the people friendly, the air pure and Buddhism the dominant factor of daily life. When you’re there it feels as though time stands still.
While shooting a documentary on Bhutan in late 2004, I travelled at altitudes ranging from 6,000 to 13,000 feet on some of the windiest roads in the world with hairpin turns from dawn to dusk. I saw the entire breadth of the country, from the Ha Valley in the far west (only recently opened to foreigners) to the Thrumshing-La Pass at 12,5000 feet on the eastern border. Journeying alone in the off-season, as free as the wind, was a life altering experience. I was blessed with daily adventures, unexpected spiritual encounters and extraordinary good luck weather and the timing of key events. Bhutan has a way of making you feel like it’s your destiny to be there.
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY DARYL HAWK
NOVEMBER 15 // THIMPU FORTRESS THE ANCIENT CEREMONIES TO MARK THE MOVE OF BHUTAN’S CHIEF ABBOTT FROM HIS SUMMER RESIDENCE IN THIMPU TO HIS WINTER RESIDENCE IN PUNAKHA ARE JUST BEGINNING. AFTER THE CEREMONY, THE ROADS OF THIMPU AND PUNAKHA ARE LINED WITH BHUTANESE ANXIOUSLY WAITING TO BE BLESSED BY THEIR SPIRITUAL LEADER.
NOVEMBER 17 // PUNAKHA
WHILE TREKKING THOUGH SOME FARMLAND I COME ACROSS THIS WOMEN SIFTING GRAIN. FARMING AND RAISING LIVESTOCK ARE THE MAIN PILLARS OF THE ECONOMY WITH 80 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION DEPENDENT ON THEM FOR THEIR LIVELIHOOD; AROUND 98 PERCENT OF BHUTANESE PEASANTS OWN THEIR OWN LAND. COME MARKET DAY THEY EARN THEIR WHOLE WEEK’S INCOME.
NOVEMBER 21 // TRONGSA DZONG
THE UBIQUITOUS SMILING FACES OF THE BHUTANESE PROVIDE SUBSTANCE TO THE COUNTRY’S CLAIM TO MEASURE THEIR STANDARD OF LIVING ACCORDING TO “GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS.” DURING MY INTERVIEW IN THIMPU WITH PRIME MINISTER ZIMBA, HE TOLD ME THAT “GNH” RELIED ON “FOUR PILLARS” ALL WORKING TOGETHER IN HARMONY-GOOD GOVERNANCE, ECONOMIC GROWTH, PRESERVATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND MAINTAINENCE OF CULTURAL IDENTITY.
NOVEMBER 23 // JAKAR
PRAYER WHEELS ARE A CONSTANT FIXTURE. YOU OFTEN SEE OLDER PEOPLE SPENDING THEIR DAYS SPINNING THEM TO ENSURE GOOD FORTUNE FOR THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES. THE CYLINDRICAL WHEELS, WHICH COME IN SMALL HAND-HELD OR HUGE POWERED VERSIONS, ARE FILLED WITH PRAYERS WHICH ARE “SAID” EACH TIME THE WHEEL IS TURNED. MONKS AND DEVOTEES SPIN THE WHEELS TO GAIN ADDITIONAL MERIT AND TO CONCENTRATE THE MIND ON THE MANTRAS AND PRAYERS THEY ARE RECITING.
Daryl hawk is a Connecticut-based photographer, writer and adventurer whose articles have appeared in magazines worldwide. He is also the host and producer of the television show The Unconventional Traveler. His Bhutan road trip was an official Explorers Club expedition.