Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bhutan: Druk-Yul, Land of Thunder Dragon - Part 1, Nature

The Tiger Nest Monastery

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by mountains. When immersed in the majestic beauty of the mountains, I feel a powerful connection to life, to a higher power who entrusted this extraordinary beautiful planet to us, humble humans.

Ever since my experience in Tibet (here), I have wanted to return to the Himalayas which to me reflect the magnificence and power of this beautiful creation we call Earth. 

Its hard to articulate. When I'm in the mountains, I feel as if I'm merged with nature and I completely leave my self behind.  I am able to shed all of the trivialities and mindless materialism of my daily life.

Magnificent conifer forests of the Black Mountains separating west and central Bhutan

I have travelled through Kashmir, India, Tibet, Nepal and experienced Buddhist culture in its many forms. Bhutan is the only country in the world where Mahayana Buddhism in its tantric form is the official religion. Bhutan is a secluded country in the eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet, sparsely inhabited by 700,000 people in a land the size of Switzerland. Bhutan's policy of restricting tourism is to preserve its natural environment and the lifestyle of its people, but it also has much to do with Bhutan's lack of infrastructure.

The first thing you notice as you disembark at Paro, the only airport in Bhutan, is the purity of the air and the nearly complete absence of noise. Immediately, you feel that Bhutan is unlike any other place. With very few cars, just two planes a day and no trains, the bucolic Paro valley is the perfect welcome to Bhutan.

The first paved road was built in 1962 and by 1992 plans to build by hand 1000 kms to link the valleys was put in place... well... driving is a harrowing experience, mostly dirt, muddy frightening steep roads with hair-raising turns cut into the mountains, wide enough for one and a half car, no guardrails, with passes at 16,000 feet and sheer drops... did I mention that supply trucks from India travel though these roads at full speed with little regard for any one coming across their path... I will mention that I had to resort to prescribed calming drugs after my first complete panic attack which went from screaming to shaking to sobbing.... after 2 days of pure terror (but incredible beauty) we finally reached our final destination where our trek started. Mules and sherpas were waiting for us, the poor mules were loaded with our bags and camping gear. The most rewarding adventure started, just us in the midst of Bhutan's immense mystical mountains, crossing rivers and streams, climbing up the steep terrain, our wonderful guide always watching out for bears and tigers. At sunset, we would arrive at a perfectly set up camping spot, wash out the day with utmost efficiency in freezing temperature, a hot meal prepared on the campfire, listening to tantric stories recited by our highly educated and entertaining guide and off to our tent to sleep.

Mules ready for the trek

Trekking is the ultimate way to experience the landscape,
 the nature, the efforts so rewarded

Farming landscape. Prayer flags are everywhere in Bhutan,
on mountain tops, near clearings, temples, rivers...

Dzongs are part of the Buthanese landscape

The Black Mountains trees are several hundred years old.
 Forests cover 72% of Bhutan and it is strictly illegal to cut down trees.

The enchanted forests of Bhutan

Part two of this post on Bhutan will be about tantric Buddhism, its rituals, and the magnificent Dzongs and monasteries. The last post on Bhuthan will highlight the people and their children. 


  1. I was reduced to tears by your journey, I am a newly practicing Buddhist would give anything for the experience you had. The more and more I learn and understand I wonder if We(humanity) have lost our ways a little. By 2012 my hubby and I plan on moving away from the west in pursue of a more balanced,spiritual and cleaner life in Africa.I know true happiness can only be found within one,but it can get a little difficult in a world (the West) that only encourages feeding Egoistic urges. Namaste

  2. Francine, That first photo is so gorgeous, I'd like to paint it someday. It is so mystical, what an experience you had. The third photo at the far
    left has a beautiful tree, do you know what it is?
    The Terraced fields are beautiful, what do they grow? The moss is not spanish , never saw anything like it. Can they cut dead trees? This was fasinating. Awaiting part 2. yvonne

  3. These images are absolutely breathtaking, Francine! thank you for sharing.
    Have a wonderful Sunday.

  4. Francine Oh my those images are astounding, the Monastery breathtaking!


    Art by Karena

  5. Beautiful images - what an amazing experience. I need real civilation, but I do appreciate and enjoy time out of the rat-race from time-to-time.

    Thanks for leaving a note on my last post.

  6. Francine, I can see that your trip was everything and more that you hoped....I can't wait for part two....I am fascinated by this journey of yours as Bhutan is definitely somewhere on my wish list. Thank you for your lovely comment by the way and so glad you are home safe and sound...xv

  7. Hi Francine, I'm so glad you posted about your trek..since I don't think I could tolerate the drive up to the base camp, seriously it sounds like a terrifying drive! but so worth it...those photos are truly amazing. How long were you out on the trails? did you have the same drive down the mountain? did you practice meditation on the trek? I also wondered about that gauzy moss, it's ethereal and makes the forest look surreal.

    What an amazing journey, and how do you settle back into Manhattan after such an experience??? :)

    That monastery! sent chills down my spine!



  8. These images are enchanting - what fabulous inspiration. Thank you.

    Jamie Herzlinger

  9. Gorgeous photos...can't wait to see and learn about more, and no doubt you came home fully inspired! Just viewing these images here is inspiring me!

  10. i am completely in awe of you doing this.

    this is wilder than one could imagine it to be.
    i have been in the mountains in china where the fog and the tree lines look similar.

    but this monastery on the side of the cliff is just amazing.


  11. i am speechless... and happy you were able to get away from the madness and enjoy this amazing journey... xx

  12. How incredible!! Both fascinating and beautiful!!

  13. Francine - thank you for posting about your amazing journey (the I'm like Pam, speechless. Your photography alone is astonishing that I cannot imagine in my dreams what it would be like to be there experiencing it all; taking every aspect of Buthan in. You are such a brave woman. A woman of great substance and whom to admire.

  14. These photos are extraordinary and it must have been an amazing journey. Those mountains look straight out of a painting. Carla

  15. Two days here then returning to your business for a Vincente Wolf book signing??????? How cool is that??????????? Great shots by the way.....Maryanne xo


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