In October 2018, a memorable sixteen-day hike took us on the Manaslu Circuit trek. Our guide, Kami, and our young porter, Dawa, led us on sometimes perilous trails, through lush forests, past snowy peaks and alongside tumbling waters. It was a memorable experience and there was much to sketch, particularly at one mountain community, Samdo village, 3,480 metres above the tree-line. This small friendly Tibetan community had been there for centuries, enjoying the benefits of a trading route which stretched from China to India. The historic way of life of the Samdo had ceased in 1949, when China invaded Tibet, and I noticed another change since my last visit forty years ago, when I had followed the pristine trail above Pokhara Lake. We now saw a lot of garbage, plastic bottles and bags along the trekking route. This was the downside of tourism, now an important economic benefit to many remote communities in Nepal.
Not long after, in December 2018, we began our long-awaited, two-week journey through the mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. As we left Paro airport and, in contrast to our recent visit to Nepal, we noticed the absence of billboards and litter. The colourful costumes and movements of the Bhutanese men and women stood out, and their houses were also graceful, built in the traditional style and never higher than six floors. There were no jarring eyesores to spoil the spectacular views of snowy peaks and terraced rice fields.
With quiet humour and dressed in their traditional costume, Tim, our guide and Sonam, our driver, embodied and reflected the qualities that the current King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and the Bhutanese Parliament all seek to maintain: a strong national, cultural identity. The idealistic metric of enhancing Gross National Happiness (GNH) is embedded in Bhutan’s constitution. In Bhutan, human and environmental welfare is prized over chasing the almighty dollar, euro, yuan or rupee. Buddhist philosophy permeates and binds both their practical policies for the harmony and well-being of 750,000 souls and their stunning environment. Strong references to Buddhism were evident everywhere and these resonated with us both during this memorable journey in the Himalayan mountains.