Tuesday, March 25, 2008

News from the Land of the Thunder Dragon

“When the king of Bhutan told his people to take power for themselves and embrace democracy, few of them wanted to listen at first.” (Vancouver Sun, March 25, 2008)
The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan isn’t often in the North American news, but recently it captured worldwide attention when it held its first election – at the direction of the king. Reluctant to make any changes in a country ruled by a philosophy of “gross national happiness”, the Bhutanese turned out enthusiastically to the polls, and voted to keep things pretty much the way they were.
Some years ago I decided to write a fantasy novel set in one of Himalayan kingdoms , and I looked for a country in which northern Buddhist culture has been preserved to the present day. Nepal has been overrun by tourists; Tibet has had its culture systematically destroyed. Sikkim? Ladakh? Then a friend who had just been to a performance of the touring Royal Bhutanese Dance Troupe said “Write about Bhutan.”
By restricting tourism, the kingdom of Bhutan has preserved its ancient culture in an almost pure form. Though inevitably western civilization is encroaching, the magic and mystery of this little-explored kingdom has endured. I found a number of fascinating books by the independent travellers who have been allowed into the country. In those accounts, in Buddhist texts, and in descriptions of life in the monasteries of an earlier Bhutan, I found my story.

Dance of the Snow Dragon, set in 18th century Bhutan, tells of the young monk Sangay, who sets out on a perilous journey to the mystical kingdom of Shambhala, beyond the farthest snow peaks. It was first published by Thistledown Press in 1995, and happily is still in print. It is still, as far as I know, the only fantasy novel set in Bhutan. You can read an excerpt, and some reviews, on my website.

Here is a link to some wonderful photos of Bhutan.