And then.....

Monday, July 30, 2007

Bhutan - Punakha Dzong

A dzong is a fortress like structure in Bhutan that houses the monk body and, usually, administrative offices as well.

The Punakha Dzong above is significant for many reasons and it magnificence sitting alongside the river in the beautiful Punakha Valley is only one.

Located in the warmer southern region of Bhutan, it is the winter home of the major monk body. As such, it is the headquarters, during those months, of the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan.

The Je Khempo shares power equally in Bhutan with the King, thus making Buddhism an extremely important facet of the Bhutanese point of view. Gross National Happiness with its pillars of respect for the enviroment, respect for Bhutanese culture, intention for good governance and detirmination for a sustainable ecomony seems to be, to me, Buddhism in action.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bhutan - Tarayana Foundation

As mentioned yesterday, the sponsor of the festival pictured below was the Tarayana Foundation.
The following is from the Tarayana Foundation Annual Progress Report.

The Foundation was formally launched by HRH the Crown Prince Dash Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck o May 4, 2003. Tarayana Foundation is a non -profit organization working to uplif and enhancelives of vulnerable individuals and communities in Bhutan. The Foundation complements and supplements to efforts of the Royal Government in poverty reduction. The President and Founder was moved to establishing the Foundation as a means of organizing and steamling assistance to the vulnerable communities and individuals. Having trekked* to all of the remote communities, it became apparent that specially targeted interventions would be required to mitigate the challenges faced by the most vulnerable groups.

Why should Tarayana focus on the vulnerable people?
All human beings aspire to be happy. This is reflected in the balanced development philisophy pursued by the Royal Government to enhance Gross National Happiness. Bhutan's people centered development has focused on poverty reduction and improving the lives of people.

The publication goes on to say that, despite efforts of the government during the past 40 years, 1/3rd of Bhutanese live under the poverty level. Because the Himalayan terrain is daunting and the tiny villages are often so remote as to require days of trekking in order to reach them, it has been difficult for the people living there to receive social services or establish markets for their wares.

At the time of my visit the Foundation ,with the help of significant volunteerism from Bhutanse youth, had just completed 32 of the 47 houses being built in a small community called Lhop. I was fortunate to see photos of the lean-tos these new structures replaced. Very often the primitive structures were nothing more than straw matting with huge gaps that monsoonal rains surely must have poured through. I saw pictures of the tents the volunteers lived in for long periods as they prought in materials and taught the residents to build their houses. And I saw pictures of the finish stone houses built by the people and in the style of their choosing.

I was deeply moved by this organization whose core values are listed as:compassion, dignity and integrity and whose vision is a happy and poverty free Bhutan.

Above is the very beautiful and gracious director of the Tarayana Foundation and some of the recipients of allowance. The latter were in the office the day I visited.

* Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has recently published a wonderful book entitled A Portrait of Bhutan that describes her intensive treks throughout the country.

Tarayana's site is If you go there you will learn quite a bit and see pics similar to those described above. I strongly reccommend that you check the site out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Bhutan - break dancing and face painting

Having arrived in Bhutan on a Saturday and having perceived rather quickly the absence of things western, I was more than surprised on Sunday to encounter a festival for children in the center of Thimphu that featured break dancing and face painting.
The festival was presented by Tarayana, an agency under the sponsorship of Her Majesty the Quenn, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. The intention of this Foundation is to offer solutions to the problems of the disadvantaged. The work of the foundation is impressive. Stay tuned and I will tell you more about it tomorrow.
As to the pictures above, you will see in subsequent pictures how very unusual the site of break dancing and face painting was. In fact, in the 3 weeks that I was in the country I never saw any thing occur like it again. I couldn't help wondering where and how these kids learned to break dance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bhutan and reverence for kitten life too

Actually, I didn't see many cats in Bhutan as dogs, perhaps because dogs rule, but those that I saw, as with all the animals, were well cared for. I spotted these newcomers at the Punakha Dzong, the official winter home of the most important members of the monk body. They were, as you see, sleeping comfortably on a monk's robe.

Tomorrow I will show you something that really surprised me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Bhutan and reverence for life

Perhaps the next thing you notice in Bhutan after the incredibly beautiful land is dogs. Bhutan is a Buddhist country and as such has a reverence for all life, even insects. As a result, there is no such person as a dog catcher. Dogs seem to be everywhere and, perhaps because they have spent most of the nocturnal hours either practicing or performing in various canine chorales, a majority of them seem to be sleeping.
While the dogs have, in fact, become a problem - there are so many - and there is much thought and discussion regarding what is to be done about them within the framework of Buddhism, it is very touching for a westerner like me to see, over and over, stray dogs being fed, petted and respected.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bhutan is a beautiful country

One of the first things you appreciate about Bhutan is it's beauty. As you are making an approach to the country's one airport in Paro, the Druk Royal Air pilot tells you: you are about to fly as close to mountains as you ever have in your life. Don't worry. We do this everyday. So, you tell yourself to relax and, feeling a bit like this could be a dream, give yourself to the mountains, the nestled valleys, the tucked away houses.

The above pictures are , top to bottom, Thimphu, the capital city, Gantey valley, a high mountain valley with the Gantey Dzong overlooking the valley and Punakha valley, in the southern part of the country.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Gross National Happiness of Bhutan

Can the happiness be disputed?
Here is a woman that I met at a shrine. It was an auspicious day for practicing Bhuddists and was there with two of her friends chanting prayers from her prayer beads. During lengthy breaks the four of us had a great time laughing just, I think, for the sake of laughing.
As I go along telling you about my time in Bhutan and about the people I met, I will also be telling you about the project's assignment, Gross National Happiness. For now though I will let this woman speak for herself about GNH.
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