In 1999, when I made my first trip to Bhutan, it was common to get a puzzled look when I mentioned my destination. Few people were aware of this small Himalayan kingdom between India and Tibet. Bhutan always has limited visitors and until the 1970s was closed to tourists. The country gradually has become known to the world because of the extraordinary protection that restriction has provided for the land and the culture.
Bhutan also has become known because of the work their Buddhist monarch did to develop the policy of Gross National Happiness, a policy that establishes the well-being of the community as primary, and for his intention to continue protecting the land and the culture.
When Bhutan began allowing some visitors and tourists, all but 1 percent of the population were farmers and education was available only to monks. There were no roads, no televisions and a long history of isolation.
Between 1999 and 2005, I traveled in Bhutan, spending in total about seven months there. My trips were a series of treks away from the one major road that now runs through the middle of Bhutan. Most villages can be reached only by walking and some take four to five days to reach.
During my time there, I found rural Bhutan still untouched by the change in tourist policy and the capital adapting with ease and eagerness to automobiles, computers and a way of life other than farming.
The desire to protect tradition and culture remains important to many Bhutanese. Visitors rarely are allowed to go inside monasteries and there are certain mountains that cannot be climbed because they are considered sacred.
Many things have changed as Bhutan has relaxed its policy on tourists and since television and the Internet have arrived. While traveling in Bhutan, it was easy to see life lived in traditional ways and to see those ways being replaced. It is a place I continue to watch with interest as more visitors and "modernity" arrive and while the government continues to explore Gross National Happiness as a guiding policy.
About the author
Mary Peck has been photographing landscapes in various parts of the world for 35 years. Her work has been exhibited internationally and her photographs are held in many collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Denver Art Museum.
She is the principal author of "Chaco Canyon: A Center and Its World" and "Away Out Over Everything: The Olympic Peninsula and the Elwha River." She is completing a book including her photographs from Bhutan.
Curve of Time"
By: Mary Peck
When: 7 p.m.
Thursday, March 26
High School cafeteria,
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Next Traveler's Journal presentation: There is one Traveler's Journal presentation remaining for the 2009 season. Be sure to see Willie Weir's presentation: "Colombia and Venezuela: Bicycling Beyond the Headlines." It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9, at the Sequim High School cafeteria.
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