THE IN­SID­ERS BHUTAN

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRISTINA SUM­NER

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

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