Bhutan is an ancient kingdom secluded high in the Himalayas with unique customs and people with deeply held beliefs….” So reads the very proud introduction to the website of the Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited, one of the Bhutanese monarchy’s hand-picked, officially-licensed tour companies. The Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited website is visually stunning — who wouldn’t want to travel to such a magical land? Yet a closer look through the website, and through the websites not just of government agencies but also of individual Bhutanese (their facebook posts too), reveals a sensibility that is particularly curious to most Westerners: a wholehearted and genuine reverence for such things as the natural beauty of Bhutan and the King. Bhutan is a landlocked, consciously isolated country high in the Himalayas that tries so hard to stay exactly as it is. For a country that officially values its’ economy’s gross national product less than its citizens’ Gross National Happiness…can you blame it?    

Of course, there are many sides to Bhutan’s story. Bhutan is on its fifth King but only its first democratically elected government. Mahayana Buddhism is the official religion and sets the tone of daily life — the “Drigham Namzha,” the official behavior and dress code is very much in tune with Buddhist traditions — but 30% of Bhutan’s population, including the primarily Hindu Lhotshampas, practice “minority religions.” The ethnic situation Bhutan is complex — a hundred thousand Lhotshampas currently live in refugee camps and accuse the government of human rights abuses. So the real Bhutan may not be Shangri-La. But don’t you still want to go

[A personal note from Jay: When I was researching South and Central Asian songs for this session I wanted to sing something from Bhutan. Having a hard time finding Bhutanese children’s music on the internet I e-mailed the Centre for Bhutan Studies to ask for advice. Here is the Centre’s reply:

> From: “Centre for Bhutan studies, Post Box 1111, Lanjophaka,
> Subject: Re: looking for children’s music from Bhutan
> Dear Jay
> You are right. There is no children music in Bhutan. It will be futile to find it since none has been produced.
> Regards


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