After our trek through the Everest region, I went on a five day tour of Bhutan, the Buddhist kingdom that measures its success in Gross National Happiness (intead of GDP). I have wanted to see this peaceful country since I learned about it in high school. The king is well loved, and places an emphasis on environmental sustainability, a strong economy and preserving culture. Tourism is limited to protect the agrarian society, and I had my own guide and driver to take me to ancient monasteries and through the countryside.
Pictured above is my guide, Chenda, in national dress, spinning prayer wheels. We spent a lot of time sending our prayers up to heaven. I had the opportunity to sit in monasteries and watch monks bless their offerings, hear nuns practice their recitation and receive blessings and holy water.
A little girl spins prayer wheels in a rice paddy in the photograph above. We made our way across this field to spin them on the way to the Temple of the Divine Madman. He is said to have subdued evil spirits with his large penis, so there is a painting of a phallus on almost every home and business in the village. It's a unique place.
Bhutan is a clean, beautiful, peaceful country. I visited government dzongs (see photo above) - one half of the building is administrative offices, and the other half is a monastery. Monks have a voice in government in a Buddhist state. Hunting, fishing and tobacco use are prohibited. The culture is egalitarian, family planning is well supported by the government and divorce is becoming common as people move into urban centers.
The highlight of my tour was hiking the 90 minutes up to Tiger's Nest Monastery. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche flew on a tigress to this cave and brought Tibetan Buddhism to Bhutan. The monastery has a peaceful energy that is all encompassing. While meditating at the top of the monastery, all I heard was a waterfall crashing down the mountain.
Pictured above is a takin, Bhutan's national animal. I was told it was created by a Buddhist teacher who put the head of a goat on a cow. At the end of each day, I generally ate rice and vegetarian fare like cabbage, potatoes, fiddle head fern and spinach. The Bhutanese put hot chilis on their food, but they were too spicy for me, so I ate a very bland diet. Since they don't kill animals, meats are mostly imported from India. I tried goat, buffalo, yak cheese and local vegetables during my trip.
Flying from Bhutan back to Nepal, I saw the most beautiful scenery. Pictured above is Mt. Everest from the sky.
Jennifer Johnston works for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a national non-profit fighting childhood obesity, and lives in Tampa, Fla.