Books about the Mountain Kingdom of Bhutan

The country of Bhutan issues stickers showing an orange dragon, with the words – Land of the Peaceful Dragon. Truth is, Bhutan is the Land of the Thunder Dragon. The problem is that a ‘thunder dragon’ is sometimes construed as male reproductive hardware, and that the renowned historical, perhaps apocryphal, hero known as The Divine Mad Man used his own thunder dragon to subdue evil spirits after one of them transformed into a dog. I’m not going to speculate on the imagery of what took place, but I can see why the tourist board might want to avoid detailed questions regarding that story.


Land of multiple monasteries


Before venturing to Bhutan, I read a few books about the country. Even if you don’t plan to visit, these are good armchair travel reads about a small nation that will likely grow in international renown, and soon. First, Bhutan has the fourth fastest growing economy in the world; second, the King’s casual comment at a summit in India in 1979 that he was not interested in gross national product, but in gross national happiness, has been latched onto by philosophers, economists, development experts, and politicians as an alternative way of viewing economic progress as most nations currently regard it.


Happy? Seems that way.


Third, in about four years from now, the 22 year old Rimpoche will be inaugurated as the spiritual leader of Bhutan. Why is this important? Because he is the seventh reincarnation of the 17th century Guru Rimpoche, who transformed to a flying tiger and instigated construction of the country’s most spectacular cliff-hanging monastery. But apparently several reincarnations were never discovered, and in their place the spiritual leaders of Bhutan were appointed. So, this rather unique Rimpoche may, in a few years, begin occupying a niche with a level of international reverence approaching that now shown to the Dalai Lama.

Stay tuned.


Easygoing, though devout and dedicated Bhutanese monks



Ornate clocktower in sleepy, downtown Thimphu


The book Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered on my Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli is a tale of surprise; imagine one day that your relatively humdrum Southern California existence is shaken when you are invited to move to Bhutan for more than a month and help establish a radio station in the capital city. Lisa describes both frustrations and joys: the camaraderie and kindness of coworkers as well as the frustrations of befriending a Bhutanese woman who ‘visits’ her in the United States, but really only moved there to stay and find work. Lisa works in Bhutan, leaves, and then returns only to discover, surprising and abruptly, that the city of Thimphu is not really a place she can call home. This is the rawest revelation in the book; that the romance has ended, and she realizes that her own roots and home are elsewhere.


Plenty of mountains and valleys; just need some road improvements.


Married to Bhutan – How One Woman Got Lost, Said ‘I Do,’ and Found Bliss by Linda Leaming

Linda Leaming eases herself into the culture of Bhutan, and then plunges in by marrying a local man. Her insights into the culture are, from this relationship, direct and honest. At times she finds herself mystified by the culture and the people, regardless of how close she wants to become to the Bhutanese. The book is also a paean to the strength and benefit of a good marriage between two people dedicated to working hard to make the union solid and lasting. Her descriptions of spending winter nights in unheated, or poorly heated buildings, brings home the reality that Linda has shucked the habits of visitors, embraced the ways of locals, and moved on from any soft living she may have enjoyed before moving to Bhutan. As with all books about Bhutan, there are plenty of scenes about one of the most common events in the country – sitting down, chatting, and drinking tea.


Anytime is tea time



Comments from Readers

  • Love the clock tower – so unique. I wonder if Lisa knew what she was getting into before making that leap. So many people don’t. Other than smiling faces, what Signs did you see of achieving ‘gross national Happiness’?

  • Tom

    People are enjoying their own lives and culture – they practice archery on free days, visit the multiple monasteries in the country, and take time to enjoy cooking and eating together. They always have time for tea and talk. They are in no rush. In a guest house, I once asked a woman a question before I had properly greeted her with good morning. She replied, then said, “and so, how are you this morning?” Their priorities include civility.

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