Bhutan: Hidden Lands of Happiness; Texts and Photographs

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Bhutan: Hidden Lands of Happiness; Texts and Photographs

By John Wehrheim
Serindia Publications, 2008
280 pp. $65.00
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Wehrheim, in this engrossing and beautiful photography book, offers an encouraging message of happiness and sustainability from the Kingdom of Bhutan. In the 1960s, the third king of Bhutan constructed the first roads leading out of the country and initiated a development policy. The fourth king led the Bhutanese from absolute monarchy to a parliamentary democracy based on the principle that "gross national happiness" is a better measure of prosperity than gross national product. In 2007, after the first democratic constitution was carefully crafted, the 59-year-old king abdicated before his time in favor of his 29-year-old son, who became head of state but not head of government. The author, a photojournalist and hydropower engineer with special access to "the Land of the Thunder Dragon," provides a close-up view of a unique culture that has thrived for over 1,200 years, hidden in the towering peaks of the eastern Himalayas. Stunning black-and-white photographs, taken from 1991 to 2006, present a geographic and cultural passage ranging from the yak pastures along the Tibetan boarder to the nightclubs of the capital city of Thimphu. The nature of daily life, pervaded by traditional Buddhist culture, is conveyed through poignant tales, journal entries, folklore, dharmic teachings, and oral history. Wehrheim writes, "Excelling in the study of consciousness, [the Bhutanese] developed a highly involved environmental ethic." He concludes that the mystical kingdom poses cultural values worthy of consideration by the rest of the modern world.