THE INSIDERS BHUTAN
GO: Travelling the green valleys and mountain passes of remote Bhutan, a Buddhist country at the eastern end of the Himalayas, is a fine and rare experience. In the socalled Land of the Thunder Dragon, the philosophy of Gross National Happiness is taken to heart. Delight and serenity emanate from the Bhutanese people and being in their midst is unforgettable. Visitors can give back, in turn, by making a contribution to organisations such as RENEW, the Bhutanese Queen Mother’s charity supporting the empowerment of women and girls; tourism.gov.bt.
LEARN: I look forward to hosting a tour, Threads of Bhutan: A Textile Journey from East to West, later this year. A quest for the nation’s distinctive traditional textiles guides the route, gives us focus, and opens a door into Bhutanese culture. Intricately patterned fabrics and basketware reflect the texture and complexity of the nation’s ancient history, and its recent journey to a modern democracy. In the capital, Thimphu, visit the National Textile Museum and Royal Textile Academy, an education centre to keep alive traditions in the art of weaving; royaltextileacademy.org.
ENJOY: Bhutan is bright with colour. Against a backdrop of green hills, blue skies and snow-capped mountains, the brilliant hues of traditional dress stand out. Hot pink, emerald green and royal blue highlight the women’s elegant kiras, alongside reds, purples and earthy browns in men’s traditional robes, or gohs.
BUY: In Thimphu, gain a deeper understanding of Bhutan’s culture, crafts and economics generally — and take home great mementos and gifts — by shopping for fine arts at local galleries. There’s no better place to hunt for bargains than the weekend market on the banks of the Wangchhu River.
DANCE: Festival attendance is an exhilarating essential. For the Bhutanese, these celebrations are a religious imperative, a commitment to the preservation of their living culture. I love a spectacular festival of dancing and prayer in Bumthang, central Bhutan.
APPRECIATE: From majestic dzongs (halfadministrative, half-religious) to lhakhangs (temples) and traditional homes, Bhutanese buildings are striking and a photographer’s delight. While varying according to location, in the west they are characteristically white-painted and two-storey with ornate wooden cornices and windows, liberally decorated with significant designs.
Christina Sumner is a textile specialist and former principal curator at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. She will host Threads of Bhutan: A Textile Journey from East to West, in association with Travel on Q, from October 11-26. More: (02) 9357 6800; travelonq.com.au.
Graham Erbacher Graham.Erbacher@news.com.au