You may remember Bhutan as the country that prides itself on being more concerned with its citizens’ Gross National Happiness than the GDP, a country that did not have radio broadcasts until 1973 or access to television or the Internet until 1999. Most of us will never have the opportunity to travel to this Himalayan kingdom, touted as the Last Shangri-La on earth. Difficulties with travel arrangements needed to reach this tiny mountain top country, the lack of roadways and the daily two hundred dollar tourist tax all work against us visiting any time soon. So, it appears we need to enjoy Bhutan from afar, perhaps through a vicarious reading experience.
Luckily, there have been a number of books written about this mysterious land that are sure to captivate your senses and magically carry you away to this far flung Eden. Here are two you are sure to enjoy. The most recent Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in the Happiest Kingdom on Earth, written by Lisa Napoli, is a memoir about her time spent in Bhutan, often called ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon’. Lisa, an accomplished radio journalist, arrives ready to help the first Bhutanese youth oriented radio station, Kuzoo, get off the ground. She finds the Bhutanese people delightful but also overwhelmed by all the technological advances that they are rapidly embracing, decades after the rest of the world. There are two especially effective parts to her book: the first are her musings on the clash between the traditional Bhutan values and the changes that rapid modernization has caused. Second is Napoli’s realization that her trips to Bhutan and the relationships she has forged have forever changed her vision of her world, goals, and life.
An even more memorable book about Bhutan, and, my personal favorite, is Jamie Zeppa’s Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan which was published back in 1999 but still gives the most beautiful glimpses of life in this mountainous fairyland. Zeppa moved to Bhutan to teach English and she made friends, found romance and gained a respect and love for the country that is reflected in her book. You will hear the running streams, experience a monsoon, gaze in awe at the mountain top prayer flags and feel the gentle tranquility arising from the Buddhist monks all through her writing.
These two books represent the past, present and future of this unforgettable and beautiful country. Come along for the ride as Bhutan enters the twenty-first century while still clinging to its cultures and traditions.