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Maestro Classics in Bhutan, a Kingdom in the Himalayas

Tiger's Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Taktsang

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.

Traditional home in the countryside.

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.

School children in Bhutan

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.