My favourite photographs from Bhutan

It's nice to read back through these old writings, now, as I prepare finally to chronicle the experience of those three years in Bhutan.  So much about life there made it difficult to write from Bhutan, but I think more than anything it was something I read from Hemingway in A Moveable Feast. He said that you can never write about where you are, only where you were, and I found that to be true.

Now that enough time has passed and I can reflect upon the many experiences that defined my three years in Bhutan, I will take up this blog again and finally tell the stories I was too busy living through to write about.

I'll begin with a few of my favourite photos from my time in Bhutan.  There are many more, so there may be a few posts like this, but this first set offers a glimpse into the life of a volunteer teacher in rural Bhutan.  I hope they're enjoyable, and please do comment if you have any observations or questions to share.

1. There was little holiday time for teachers in Bhutan.  During my first year, I returned with some friends, fellow volunteer teachers, to the heady luxury of Thimphu with its hot water, food, and heat.  We stayed as late as we could and took what turned out to be the last ever flight into Yongphula Domestic Airport before they closed it due to safety concerns.  I think this photo gives a pretty good idea what the safety concerns might have been. (photo credit: Colin Johnston - I was soiling myself inside the airplane.)

2. One year, I decided to walk by myself to Moshi Lahkang to observe Ascending Day of Lord Buddha.  Moshi was opposite my home in Wamrong, so to get there I had to follow a road along the rim of the valley for almost 2 hours.  This was along the way: an observation shack so farmers could monitor their cattle.

3.  I had "families" of dogs wherever I went in Bhutan.  This little guy was one of my favourites; he was really shy, so it took me a long time to earn his trust.  This photo is from one afternoon when he decided to tag along on my trip to Wamrong for potatoes.  I kept trying to send him home, knowing that the town dogs would want to tear him to shreds, but he just kept coming.  Eventually I surrendered.  We sat for a while together looking out over the valley, and then I returned home with no potatoes but with a peace of mind that was far more nourishing.

4.  During my second year in Wamrong, I was both more intrepid and more interested in being alone, so I found more places to walk.  This is a view down toward Lumong from a footpath that I often followed deep into the jungle.  The way was mostly through dense forest, but at one point it opened upon this view, where I would rest and meditate often.

5.  This was one of my favourite places during the first year I spent in the East, a short walk from my home.  Unfortunately, it was bulldozed during my second year to make way for a road that nobody used.  I watched it gradually return back to a muddy, impassable bog, but this wonderful, verdant prospect was never the same.

6.  How many long, lazy afternoons and evenings I spent in the main square of Trashigang, "hoping" for a ride that I quietly prayed never to materialise so I could call the school, say I was stranded, and extend my break from the sometimes claustrophobic world of a Bhutanese boarding school.

7.  These students at Rangjung Lower Secondary School embody the spirit of young Bhutanese: some of them were keen to pose for a formal photo, but off in the corner a little boy added a sense of hilarity to the scene.  This was pretty much how every moment felt with Bhutanese students.

8.  Celebrations were an almost weekly affair in Eastern Bhutan.  This is from a birthday party: daughter in the foreground, laughing mother behind her.

9.  Great though it was to get away from Trashigang Dzongkhag sometimes, the heart of every volunteer stationed in the East always filled with joy when we saw this milepost, telling us we had crossed the final pass and were now descending into the East, what most of us called affectionately, "real Bhutan."

10.  When the first major rainstorm hit Wamrong, I was stuck inside for three days.  On the afternoon of Day 3, the constant din of big drops hitting my metal roof suddenly went silent.  I went outside and saw this across the valley: clouds diving into the valley, mist rising out of it.  For a quick moment, the rising and falling split and afforded a view of Moshi Lakhang.


  1. the last picture... wow. keep it coming sir

  2. Hello, Jon - my name is Charlie Mize, and I work in Bhutan as the head of the country's helicopter trauma rescue team. We are mapping helicopter landing sites in Trashigang right now and was wondering if you might help me note Lumong on google earth. If you are interested, please reply and I'll send my contact info. Cheers.

    1. Hi Charlie, sorry -- I check back only infrequently these days. If you still need the help, I'm more than happy to do what I can.


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