Trainee monks at Punakha school

Bhutan East to West

by Peter Sheppard

Bhutan is a country secluded in the Himalayas north of India. The small population is deeply traditional, and it keeps its distinct identity based on Buddhism and a popular constitutional monarchy. The society is notable for its sense of values, such as the concept of gross national happiness. And most people live in rural self-sufficiency with a close-to-nature philosophy. Much is protected alpine forest. Visitor numbers to Bhutan are limited although quality tourism is now enabled.

There’s a custom of wooden vernacular architecture – the rural houses are two to three storeys. The ground floor serves as a store-room and animal shelter. The family occupies the next floor which has simple living quarters and a kitchen. The top floor is a shrine and guest room, with ventilated storage roof above. But the grand architecture is the historic Dzong – both the administrative and monastic centre of the district. Spiritual temples are wonderfully sited in relation to natural landform – revered and beautifully crafted and decorated.

One patchy road traversing high mountain forest connects east to west. We enter Bhutan from northern India climbing to Trashigang. Then west to Mongar, the Bumthang, and Jakar, central Trongsa, the Phobjika and to Punakha. We cross the DochuLa (Pass) to Thimphu, today’s capital. Then farther west to the remote Ha valley. We return to Paro town, spectacularly perched Taktsang Tiger’s Nest, and finally fly out from Paro.

Enjoy Bhutan with its rich rural depth of integrity, culture, artistry, tradition, and visual memories !

Brokpa semi-nomadic pair, East Bhutan. The Brokpa came over the high Himalayas from Tibet. Note the distinctive “shamo” head-gear from woven yak fur, with downpipes
Brokpa semi-nomadic pair, East Bhutan. The Brokpa came over the high Himalayas from Tibet. Note the distinctive “shamo” head-gear from woven yak fur, with downpipes
Traditional decorative entry detail, Trashigang, East Bhutan
Traditional decorative entry detail, Trashigang, East Bhutan
Approaching Kurjey triple temple, Chokhor near Jakar, Bhutan
Approaching Kurjey triple temple, Chokhor near Jakar, Bhutan
Entry mural Ogyen Choling manor-house museum, Tang Valley
Entry mural Ogyen Choling manor-house museum, Tang Valley
Monks in central courtyard, Trongsa Dzong, central Bhutan
Monks in central courtyard, Trongsa Dzong, central Bhutan
Garuda, mythical symbolic bird, Gangtey monastery, Phobjika
Garuda, mythical symbolic bird, Gangtey monastery, Phobjika
Part of typical farmstead group where we delighted in lunchtime hospitality, Phobjika Valley, central Bhutan
Part of typical farmstead group where we delighted in lunchtime hospitality, Phobjika Valley, central Bhutan
Friends at roadside, Nobding, Bhutan
Friends at roadside, Nobding, Bhutan
Punakha Dzong and river confluence
Punakha Dzong and river confluence
Trainee monks at Punakha school
Trainee monks at Punakha school
End part of Punakha Dzong
End part of Punakha Dzong
Community circumambulating of National Chorten, Thimphu
Community circumambulating of National Chorten, Thimphu
Self,  adopted by local kids, old Thimphu
Self, adopted by local kids, old Thimphu
Taktsang Tiger’s Nest above Paro
Taktsang Tiger’s Nest above Paro

About the Author

Peter Sheppard comes from New Zealand, down under. He’s an award-winning Architect, both practice and university lecturing. Over the years he has greatly enjoyed exploring the world for architecture and culture, ideas, landscape and community. He looks for sharing human interest, not sales. And as it’s the “Mind’s eye” that learns from photography, he believes that taking photos should primarily be with the mind’s eye rather than technical diversions. He sketches and makes notes for write-up as he travels. He has over 7,000 photos published on Flickr.

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