Last year, John and I trekked through Bhutan. I recently received an email from Phuentsho, the principal of the school in Laya (the second highest village in Bhutan at 12, 680 ft). We had spent a rest day there, and Phuentsho gave us a tour of the school.
Bhutanese children learn both Dzongkha, the native language, and English. As we walked through the school, the children practiced their English on us, “Good Evening, Madam,” “Good Morning, Sir.” “Would you like to play football?”
Laya is a remote village in the Himalayas. Water comes from a stream, piped above ground to a few spigots spaced along the terraces, and heat comes from wood fires. Layaps are considered wealthy since they are the only people allowed to forage for the rare mushrooms found only in their region. However, the children do not have enough books. The few dog-eared English books come from India, with stilted language and outdated diction.
I asked Phuentsho if it was possible for me to send books to the children. He smiled and said, “No problem.”
“How would they get here?” I asked.
When winter comes, most of the villagers hike the two or three day trek to Gasa, spending the coldest part of the year in the lower elevations. Students take three months off school for “winter break”. Phuentsho gave me his address in Gasa, and told me to send the books there, where he could arrange for the yak travel when he returned to Laya for the new school year in the spring.
When I stood at the post office with my box of books many weeks later, the employee behind the counter squinted at the address. It was simply, the Principal’s name, the town and the country. Nothing else. “What’s the last name?” She asked.
“That’s it,” I said. “He only has one name.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
She raised her eyebrows, strapped several strips of tape across the box and handed me my receipt.
I wasn’t sure if the box would make it. But Phuentsho recently emailed me to tell me it had. The children loved the books and the pictures I sent. Many of them have only seen their photographs on the camera’s digital displays of the tourists taking them. Most Layaps do not have mirrors.
Bhutan is the world’s youngest democracy. A few years ago, the beloved King, Jigme Wangchuck, abdicated his throne, transferring power to his cabinet ministers in preparation of the first election in 2008. Now is the time to see this amazing country as it opens and changes.
You must have a local guide service. We used International Mountain Guides www.mountainguides.com, and they were fabulous. I also met Tshering Tobgay, a government minister and wonderful host (he sent a box of wine, cheese and chocolate to our trekking group on the trail, it arrived by yak). His wife has started a guide company, Tergo Travels, www.tergotravels.com/.