In the fall of last year, I was invited to join in a birding tour of Bhutan. My response was a quick, “I think that the trip might be wasted on me. I know the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay, but I am not a birder. Plus, I do not think that I can commit now to a 3-week trip to Bhutan in April/May of next year. But, do give me a shout before the doors close.” I thought little of it until an email arrived in February saying, “Are you sure you don’t want to join us in Bhutan?” I thought for 2 minutes and then said to myself, “You have always wanted to see the Himalayas, how can you turn down this opportunity???” With much help from Massachusetts Audubon Society - last minute visas, airline flights into Bhutan, hotel reservations were squeezed in - and in May I found myself on a plane to Bangkok via Dubai and then on to the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan.
For many years, the country of 600,000 was closed to the outside world. In 1960, Bhutan was a medieval place with no roads, cars or hospitals. But in 2008 the fourth king declared that the country must become a democracy and insisted that the people should even be able to vote the king out of power if they felt he was not doing a good job. Today they are building the first road from the west to the east end of the country. There is universal education and universal health care. There are still villages where you must walk to reach them, but Bhutan is joining the international community steadily.
We traveled up and down winding mountain roads; we crossed 14,000 foot high mountain passes. We camped way out in the countryside. We learned about Buddhism, the requirements that new architecture adheres to the traditional designs, and saw most of the population still in their traditional dress. I arrived home feeling that I had been privileged to experience a culture so different from my own.
Imagine my surprise when out of the blue we at Maestro Classics received an email from The Netherlands asking if we would donate a set of Maestro Classics CDs to the Kilu Music School in Thimpu, Bhutan. The email began:
The Bhutan Music Foundation, a non-profit organization formed in 2011, is based in The Netherlands for the creation and promotion of musical activity and education in Bhutan, with an emphasis on traditional Bhutanese cultural heritage. They also support general musical education and promote Bhutanese music abroad.
The Kilu Music School was established in March 2005, the Kilu Music School is the first of its kind in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Located in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, It is run as a non-profit institution and is open to students of any age who want to have a better understanding of the language of music. Students are taught the essentials of music: they practice their music reading and writing skills; they improve their listening skills, and they learn how to play an instrument of their choice. I wondered if they had gotten my name off of a travel list, but no, they had simply discovered our CD series on the internet and thought it would be an excellent addition to the Kilu Music School curriculum. When I left Bhutan, I knew I wanted to share something with this special country. What I did not know was that I would be asked to send the perfect thank you gift: a set of Maestro Classics CDs.