Posts Tagged ‘bhutan’

Best of the Blog: 2009

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

We’re celebrating our first year of the Smithsonian Journeys blog! We love traveling, but we love sharing our stories even more. Take a look at some of our favorites from 2009.

From all of us here at Smithsonian Journeys, we wish you a Happy New Year!

Self portrait: Petra  Photo by Richard Kurin

Self portrait: Petra Photo by Richard Kurin

Richard Kurin, Under Secretary of Art, History, and Culture here at the Smithsonian, blogged his entries from our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey around the World tour. Read his testimony that cultural diversity is alive and well in what seems like an increasingly globalized world.

A boy in Bhutan

A boy in Bhutan

Amy Kotkin, Director of Smithsonian Journeys, has been around the world several times over. But traveling from the National Mall to Bhutan had a few surprises. People in Bhutan speak… English?

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

The tomb of Ramses II on the West Bank

Senior Program Manager Jean Glock will never tire of traveling to Egypt, home of some of the greatest archaeological finds the world has ever known. Here’s why.

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Mont -St-Michel sits dramatically off the coast of Normandy

Explore Mont-St-Michel with Sadie McVicker, Education Manager, who beautifully illustrates walking through the gates of the abbey as strolling back in time.

Future Racer   Photo by Alyssa Bobst

Future Racer Photo by Alyssa Bobst

If you adore animals, you’ll love Alyssa Bobst’s personal experience with the dogs and mushers from the Iditarod in Alaska. As our Program Support Coordinator, she’s amazing juggling multiple projects. With 16 dogs on each team and 67 teams competing, she found her calling assisting mushers with their dogs as a volunteer right before the competition.

Our commitment to World Heritage sites is serious business, but traveling to them is so much fun. Here are some of our favorite sites from around the world.

Which World Heritage site will you visit in 2010?

Exploring Bhutan

Monday, August 17th, 2009
Amy Kotkin is Director of Smithsonian Journeys, the educational tour program of the Smithsonian Institution. She joined the Smithsonian in 1974 and over the past 35 years has developed a wide range of educational benefits for Smithsonian members nationwide. Click here to read Amy’s bio.
Boy monks at monastery, Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

Boy monks at monastery, Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

My fascination with Bhutan started right here, in Washington DC, when the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival featured a magnificent living exhibition of traditional Bhutanese culture during the summer of 2008. Singers, dancers, craftspeople, skilled archers and many more Bhutanese who embodied the spiritual and cultural legacy of this eastern Himalayan nation enthralled me and a million other visitors to the National Mall over a hot and sticky two-week period.

Several months later, I took off from Kathmandu aboard Bhutan’s Druk airlines and rose above snow-covered mountains. I know that Druk’s skilled pilots fly this route every day, but still, as I looked out on an endless series of peaks, I nervously wondered where we could possibly land! Less than an hour later, the plane suddenly banked and threaded its way through the peaks and into a narrow valley dotted with whitewashed farmhouses. We landed in Paro – truly a world apart!

My first impressions? Cool, clean air. The smell of wood burning in farmhouses, keeping them warm. Spectacular blue skies, greenest of evergreens, a hushed carpet of pine needles, and the delightful, incessant sound of water cascading over smoothed pebbles – an endless spring run-off from the towering Himalayas.

We were welcomed in perfect English by our guides dressed in gos — traditional knee-length robes worn by Bhutanese men. First stop – the stunning Uma Paro hotel – the perfect melding of traditional decoration with five-star amenities. After a welcome dance, we sat down to the first of several extraordinary meals. Our afternoon visit to the National Museum featured amazing thangkas, painted or embroidered Buddhist banners which were hung in a monastery or a family altar and occasionally carried by monks in ceremonial processions. The museum’s collection included centuries of such detailed, symbolic, brightly colored works. We visited with the museum director, who is also a Buddhist monk and a highly respected scholar. The topic? How to maintain Bhutan’s traditional values now that TV and the Internet have become part of the culture.

Vegetable market, Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Richard Kurin

Vegetable market, Paro, Bhutan. Photo: Richard Kurin

During a school visit we quickly learned why virtually everyone we met spoke English – it is taught from the start. What a great treat to sit down among seven-year-olds and read right along with them! Our visit to the weekend market offered even more opportunities to meet local people and gain some insight into the rhythm of their lives as we strolled among pyramids of gorgeous produce and watched it being weighed using hand-held scales. Then we witnessed firsthand why the Bhutanese are such superb archers. Wherever we traveled, we saw young men out in stony fields, practicing their technique.

Everyone in our group connected personally with Bhutan. Some like me were struck particularly by its natural beauty, its stunning architecture, and the ease with which we could interact with the people. Others found their challenging hike to the iconic Tiger’s Nest , a monastery built on the side of a sheer cliff, to be their most compelling experience. And for still others, the opportunity to visit with a farm family and taste fresh-made yak butter tea provided an instant and richly satisfying cross-cultural experience.

We left the country way too soon – once again flying straight upwards and out of Paro’s green valley and across the Himalayas, but we took with us wonderful memories and fervent vows to return!

To safeguard its rich culture based on Buddhist spiritual principles and its natural environment, Bhutan’s government (a monarchy whose former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, famously proclaimed “Gross National Happiness” as a national goal), has deliberately limited tourism and development. In 2008, only 21,000 tourists entered Bhutan, and that number is not expected to grow significantly in the near future.

Fortunately, Smithsonian travelers will have the opportunity to visit Bhutan in 2010 on special tours led by Preston Scott, curator of the Bhutan Project at the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Preston’s extraordinary contacts throughout the country will make this trip as personal, insightful and memorable as was my trip this year.

Click here for more information on travel to Bhutan and here for travel to Asia.

What country fascinates you? Share below.

Photo: Lively Bhutan

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009
A woman sells hot peppers and other home-grown greenery at a market in Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

A woman greets shoppers with a smile, selling hot peppers and other greenery at a market in Bhutan. Photo: Amy Kotkin

The isolated mountain nation of Bhutan can be as bustling and colorful as any big city when it comes to street markets. In a country where Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product, Bhutan’s friendly inhabitants offered a warm welcome for Smithsonian travelers. On our recently returned Extraordinary Cultures by Private Jet trip, Journeys travelers enjoyed Bhutan’s warm hospitality, where the remembrance of the highly successful collaboration during the 2008 Folklife Festival created many special opportunities. Click to read more about this special visit.

Interested in discovering Bhutan for yourself? Join us on Lands of the Great Buddha for a once-in-a-lifetime private jet journey.

See all of Amy’s photos from Extraordinary Cultures on Flickr.

Click here to learn more about our new active adventure to Bhutan.

Did you make it to last year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival featuring Bhutan? Tell us about your experience.

Bhutan: Dispatch 12 from Extraordinary Cultures Tour

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Richard Kurin is the Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture here at the Smithsonian Institution. He is a cultural anthropologist specializing in the study of knowledge systems, folk arts, museums, and development. He is currently Study Leader on our Extraordinary Cultures – An Epic Journey Around the World tour, and will be blogging periodically while traveling. This post is twelfth in a series. To see the other posts, click here.

Dateline: Bhutan

Young Bhutanese monks. Photo: Amy Kotkin

Young Bhutanese monks. Photo: Amy Kotkin

Tonight we dined with Her Majesty Ashi Dorgi Wangmo Wangchuck, a Queen of Bhutan. She was extremely gracious and a lovely host who greeted each one of our group personally and presided over a performance by the Royal Academy of Performing Arts.

She is one of four sisters who married the 4th King of Bhutan and is from the family whose ancestor unified Bhutan centuries ago. She has supported grassroots causes in Bhutan through her Tarayana Foundation. She also recently edited and contributed to a recent book on Bhutanese poetry. Needless to say, our travelers were thrilled to meet her.

Her Majesty also chaired the committee advising on Bhutan’s participation in the 2008 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. That program brought more than 100 scholars, monks, artisans, dancers, musicians, architects and builders, cooks, archers and other cultural exemplars to the National Mall in Washington to perform and demonstrate their traditions to more than one million grateful visitors. That delegation was led by the Prince and came as Bhutan was making the transition to a democracy by planning its first election and the coronation of the King’s successor.