Book Review: Journey in Bhutan

Journey in Bhutan:: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder DragonI know I missed blogging Friday. Had a right little snit over it too — too many things scheduled and just not enough time to both read and write. A girl has to have her priorities, so I just read a little more.

What I read whipped me away on a delightful journey to a country few are aware of, let alone have the gumption to arrange travel to: Bhutan. It’s the world’s only Buddhist constitutional monarchy. The product description touches on the various elements of the book:

“Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon” is not a guide, it is the trip. Through informed and sensitive narrative and personal journal, Trish Nicholson shares her experience trekking and absorbing local culture and history in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, the unique Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan hidden deep in the Himalayas. An anthropologist and storyteller as well as a photographer, the author takes us on knee-wrecking gradients over passes three miles high, following the footsteps of Buddhist pilgrims, to meet yak herders families. We listen to monks chanting in ancient monasteries, and enter fortified dzongs containing religious treasures. We visit shops with smoked yak cheese, car parts, felt boots and silver coated biscuits on the counter. The author’s photographs – 20 original colour plates – let us see for ourselves the sacred mountains, smiling people, and amazing architecture.In this Year of the Dragon, if you are unlikely to get to Bhutan any other way, this book will take you there. If you’ve been, or plan to go, it will enrich your experience. For those who like to dig deep, there are suggestions for further reading, a glossary, historical time-line, and a survival guide to Bhutanese Buddhism.

It is an adjustment for an American English reader to get used to some of the alternate spellings and phraseology, but in a way, it also highlighted the complete dislocation into a foreign land. Just getting into Bhutan, which is landlocked in the uncomfortable junction between India and China, perched on the teeth of the Himalayas, could be deterrent enough to the faint of heart. The travel restrictions complicate the journey, and limit your options further. But the potential for trekking through high mountain passes, some of which are also included in pictures, really fired up my imagination. In fact, I’m thinking Bhutan may be visited by my own dragons in an upcoming installment of my Red Slaves series.

Nicholson’s style is not dissimilar from Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Therous or the Fosters’ Forbidden Journey: The Life of Alexandra David Neel. Her use of language was right up my alley–descriptive and lyrical by turns:

Ahead of me, Ngawang and the Immaculate Blonde are coaxing Caroline down, I am going slowly–hardly daring to breathe; Stefan is behind me, probably feeling the same. Arabella suffers from vertigo, she and Doc decided already to explore the area further back and wait for our return.

At the bottom of the steps, the deep cleft where the mountain joins the cliff is filled by a narrow waterfall of glistening foam, like a white satin ribbon fluttering in the breeze. Uninterrupted, it falls out of mist a thousand feet above me before streaming down into the abyss below. A wooden footbridge crosses in front of it to take us across the cleft; beside the bridge is a prayer-wheel, the insistent mantras of its bell barely audible. I stand for a few minutes, deafened by roaring water, cooling off and regaining my composure in the cold, drenching spray.

I don’t know that getting to Bhutan will actually ever happen for me, but based on the detailed descriptions Nicholson provided in this easy-to-read travelogue, I know some of what I’m missing. I would highly recommend this short introduction to a completely foreign locale to anyone interested in adventure travels, the Himalayas, or Asian cultures. There are enough distinctions in this country, including pictures of local garb (which Nicholson also blogged about later), that it’s worth acquainting yourself with what she has painstakingly outlined.

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