Bhutan, the remote, lofty Himalayan kingdom
remains one of the region’s least-visited countries.
A journey through its peaceful alpine forests and valleys
offers a window into a uniquely preserved Buddhist culture.
The very first photograph I had published in National Geographic Magazine nearly 10 years ago was a picture I made in magical Bhutan. Since then, my images from the mystical Himalayan Kingdom have been published in international editions of National Geographic Magazine as well as in the Best of National Geographic coffee table book. It seems only fitting, then, that it’s my Bhutan photography that once again appears in a National Geographic title — this time illustrating a feature that includes Bhutan among 20 “Trips of a Lifetime” in the July/August 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
The five-page story, written by Senior Editor Stephanie Cavagnaro, provides a window into the deeply devout Buddhist nation of 800,000 people, wedged between China and India and surrounded by the soaring Himalayas. As Stephanie extols, “Religious conventions still wield a strong influence over life in this mountainous kingdom. It’s peppered with thousands of monuments and monasteries, while handmade chorten (stupas) crowd remote caves, bald-headed monks pray in temples, and clusters of white prayer flags mounted on poles dance on windy mountains.”
Stephanie’s journey across the Land of the Thunder Dragon is intersected by her various spiritual encounters, each affording the reader a glimpse into the uniquely preserved Buddhist culture of Bhutan. But it’s at her final
stop, at one of the Kingdom’s holiest sites, Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) — perched precariously on a sheer cliff face 900 meters (3,000 feet) above the Paro Valley at an altitude of 3,210 meters (10,300 feet) — where she literally feels her way in the dark before stumbling into a moment of enlightenment.
As Stephanie shares at the conclusion of her feature, “There’s a crack in the precipice to one side with a vertical drop, so I head blindly the other way, feebly feeling damp rocks to guide me through the dark. I squint towards the outline of a huddled family. When they stand up to leave, a monk and I flatten ourselves against a wall to let them pass. I blink against jet-black darkness as the light of a solitary butter lamp comes into focus, illuminating a small shrine with white ceremonial silk scarves and a picture of Rinpoche. As the lamp flickers, I think of all the lights brightly burning across this Himalayan kingdom and [my guide] Tshering’s simple words about their significance: ‘Whoever is in darkness, it clears the way.'”
Browse a broader selection of my Bhutan portfolio, editorial work, exhibited reportage and branded content from Bhutan. I also led a custom photography workshop to beautiful Bhutan for a small group of photography enthusiasts.