Sunday, March 18, 2012


I’ve been living and working in this truly wondrous country for about 16 months now, and just a couple of days ago, returned from a quick trip home to Australia, where I visited family, friends and old stamping grounds. It also gave me time to reflect, from a distance, on the nature of life in one of the most intriguing nations on the planet. Bhutan is a nation truly at the crossroads of its future; a most enviable yet extremely daunting place to be.

This blog is never meant to be about me, but in order to explain my own thoughts on this country, a little background may help.

I accidentally spent many years working in the corporate world in Australia, climbing as one does, the slippery rungs of that clichéd ladder to achieve a modest level of success, before throwing it all in to follow my passion of horticulture. But even in those days of hustling, bustling meetings, appointments, business-travel, budgets, deadlines, suits and ties, I never really believed it was important in the grand scheme of life. I was always able to step back mentally, observe life as an outsider and treat it as a psychological and sociological experiment on myself, on those with whom I interacted, and on society at large.

People who know me also know that I constantly rant and rage against overt capitalism, rampant consumerism, the uncaring greed and selfishness of individuals and corporations. The dog eats dog existence of a materialistic world where “things” come before all else. A widespread deficit of “soul”, and the inability or lack of desire to put the needs of others first. The gross injustices and inequalities of society have always rankled with me badly.

That all sounds a bit bleak and gloomy now that I see it on the written page, but strangely, I’ve always considered myself to be an here’s a pretty picture to momentarily break my grandson, Jack!

Bhutan existed, deliberately isolated and blissfully untouched by the rest of the world until 1950, when China invaded nearby Tibet. Not unexpectedly, that set off the alarm bells, and to paraphrase decades of history, Bhutan’s king made the decision to align his country with neighbouring India and to embark upon a national program of modernisation. Royal rule gave way to a democratically elected government (although the Royal Family still has an enormously strong presence and is genuinely loved by the people.)

This Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is often thought of and referred to by westerners as “Shangri-La”, and while of course perfection is unattainable, I believe this country is closer to it than any other. Simply because it has been protected from and unsullied by most of the vices of the rest of the “civilised” world. But (to misquote Shakespeare!), therein lies the rub.

Due in part, I am sure, to the recent introduction of television and western media, the people here want a more modern lifestyle, with easier travel, better and wider communications, new technologies, exotic foods and all the creature comforts enjoyed by more developed economies. And of course they should have these things.
But the benefits of modern living always come with strings attached. Drugs, crime, cultural cynicism, a loss of innocence, a more frenzied pace of life, and yes, capitalism and its attending greed, jealousies and other ugly traits. While no-one would claim the basic human failings don’t exist here, they are greatly diminished in this peaceful Buddhist nation.

It is this conundrum that the nation’s leaders are trying to solve, in an extremely delicate balancing act.
And these are very clever people trying to solve their nation’s greatest problem.

The current King was educated at Oxford and all government ministers are required to have a university degree before standing for election. Collectively, they have studied at some of the world’s greatest educational institutes.

This may be the planet’s last chance to get it right. Here is a nation that hasn’t imploded yet, still has the opportunity to set up that Utopian society, and the high government officials and key decision makers are well aware of this fact. This is why I feel so lucky and privileged, and excited to be here as this transition takes place.

So, although I’m just one person with a dream rekindled, I’ll do anything within my ability to help, figuratively and literally, to Landscape Bhutan.

STOP PRESS: An interesting and  related article in today's The Guardian newspaper for anyone with the time and inclination to read it...

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