In October 2018, a memorable sixteen-day hike took Alison and Ken on the Manaslu Circuit trek. Their guide, Kami, and young porter, Dawa, led them 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. Alison noticed another change since her last visit forty years ago, when she had followed the pristine trail above Pokhara Lake. Unfortunately, hikers 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, Alison and Ken began their long-awaited, two-week journey through the mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. As they left Paro airport and, in contrast to their recent visit to Nepal, they noticed the absence of billboards and litter. The colourful costumes and movements of 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, their guide and Sonam, their 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 strongly during this memorable journey in this Himalayan kingdom.