BHUTAN, 2008

Susan's emails home
October 25
(Bhutan, Thailand)

Click on these dates/links, to see Susan's emails and pictures
from her 2008 Bhutan work:

Bhutan 2008 — Main page for 2008 trip
October 5
— California to Bangkok, via Hong Kong
October 9 — Bhutan arrival, practical life, television, toys
October 12 — Mt. Everest, bathing, Tsechu, the Dzongkha language
October 16 — Observing Resa, age 2.5; school, hospital, snakes
October 20 — Thimphu school, Punakha dzong, proper dress
October 22 — Montessori talk, parents praying, the rice harvest
October 24 — Jhomalhari, Jhodake, Cheli la Pass, farmhouse, hot rock bath
October 25
— Bangladesh, incense, Four Friends, the Coronation of the King of Bhutan

Coronation seat

This is a picture taken from the plane after we left Bhutan. It shows the flooded plains of Bangladesh where we had a stopover on the way back to Thailand.

This beautiful seat is being hand-carved for the crowning of the 5th King of Bhutan which occurs next month. It is for him to sit on as he watches the coronation celebrations.



Now that Gunilla and I are out in the country in Thailand, 2 hours east of Bangkok, not so far from the Cambodian border, we are struck by the differences between Bhutan and Thailand with so much more influence from modern Western cultures—even so far from modern Bangkok.

Yesterday we went to the local large store to get some yogurt and I took a little 1-minute video of the inside of the store just because it seemed so strange to us. Blaring loud speaker selling things, Colonel Sanders Kentucky fried chicken, loud toy cars with blaring horns being ridden by small children, gold jewelry stands next to eyeglass stores and isles and isles of clothing and pillows and everything produced for the modern way of life.

Please do not think I am judging this as bad. There is always both good and bad in any culture and the secret of learning is to observe without judgment.

One of my favorite sayings is: The definition of true ignorance is being down on what you are not up on. (or do not judge things you do not know anything about)

Two days ago Gunilla and I got up very early in the morning in Paro, Bhutan in order to have a good Bhutanese breakfast of rice and chilies in cheese sauce and milk tea, and to spend a little time with the family before leaving for the airport. In the two tiny cars, one borrowed, Dendy drove us and her husband Chencho drove the children and our suitcases.


After they left us at the airport one of the parents from their school, who had come to the talk, escorted us through the first part of the airport, with many thanks for our visit, then another parent who works with customs took us the rest of the way, through security, and settled us in the first class lounge with free tea and coca cola and a TV with finally some news of the election on CNN. In the last room before boarding, Dendy's cousin presented us with a gift of incense to take back to our families and the Montessori children and insisted that we join her for a last cup of tea and a chat. We really felt like royalty.

The airport in Bhutan is considered the most, shall we say, challenging, in the world as it is in a small valley between giant mountain peaks—the only valley large enough for a runway, so the plane has more power than other planes and very well trained pilots. If you look on the map you will see that we flew over the Bay of Bengal where there were storms because this is the rainy season in SE Asia. Our route took us to Dhakka, Bangladesh for a 1 hour stopover and we could see many flooded villages and fields as we landed and took off. The same landing in Bangkok.


Bhutan is wonderful in many ways but hopefully I have given some idea of the hardship as well. For example the deep cold of the nights with no heat, and the glaring sun during the days that high in altitude. The lack of water in homes and so the lack of much bathing. We saw many people grooming another persons hair looking for lice, and in the throne room in Thimphu where the king will be crowned on November 6, I saw a rat that looked like lived there happily. However because of the altitude there are very few diseases and it is only when people move to lower altitudes, like from Tibet to India, that their bodies have a lot of trouble learning to fight infections.

Morning incense
Four Friends

Incense accompanies the first prayers of the morning, outside or inside the home.

One of many images of the Buddhist story of The Four Friends, working together.

Although the rest of the world is having to deal with falling stock markets and weakening currency, Bhutan is not. It is very isolated geographically and depends on a barter economy and farming whereby people grow their own food. The government has strict control on how much of the forest can be cut, just enough for small heating fires and building, and over 60 percent of the country is in forest. Remember, there is free medical care for everyone and no real poverty, just a lower standard of living for most—less entertainment than in our country, but happiness.


I would like to tell you a little about this happiness. I saw a poster on Dendy's office wall two years ago and never forgot it. I think it is also on the site. it says.

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
1- Free yourself from hatred.
2- Free your mind from worries.
3- Live simply.
4- Give more.
5- Expect less.

Religion is easier to practice in Bhutan than in the USA. In the USA we are a melting pot of cultures, religions, languages, even food. Even the Native Americans came from somewhere else, across the Bering Straits from Asia. Bhutan is much more homogeneous.

Buddhism in the past was the influence, from India and Tibet, that helped calm down the fights between warring leaders and unify Bhutan. In the south there are Hindus who came from Nepal and who have their own culture and religion, but Buddhism is practiced throughout the country. That means that people agree, for the most part, on how to treat each other and how to raise children. In Dendy's home the 12-year-old boy Kinley has the responsibility of lighting incense in the shrine room. This is casual, normal practice of living Buddhism. And each year of school there is a higher level text on Buddhism where children learn to appreciate the moral lessons of Buddhism through simple stories.


One of these stories is of THE FOUR FRIENDS. And one often see pictures of these friends on t-shirts and paintings, and on temple walls. It tells how the elephant, monkey, peacock and rabbit combined forces to secure a constant supply of fruit. The peacock found a seed and planted it. The rabbit watered it. The monkey fertilized it. The elephant guarded it. When the tree grew so tall that no one could reach the fruit, the animals made a tower (the image one sees, one on top of the other) so they could reach the fruit. This is one of many moral stories that teaches people to care for each other.

The main prayer one hears is translated to mean a wish for the happiness of all sentient beings, animals as well as humans. Prayers are printed on long strips of paper and rolled up to place in small prayer wheels that can be held in the hand, and large prayer wheels that are turned with much effort as one walks around them. It is believed that as these wheels are turned the prayers are spread through the air to reach whomever needs them. This is a daily activity throughout the country.

Hand-held prayer wheel
Large prayer wheel

Just as in Tibetan communities around the world it is common to see people turning prayer wheels as they walk, sending prayers out into the universe. This woman's dress is Tibetan.

Large prayer wheels like these are turned by many people at the same time. These boys just finished turning this one.


In the mornings some young people drive their elders to a temple or other place of prayer on their way to work. And the elders spend their days praying with other old people as they walk turning their prayer wheels and praying for "the happiness of all sentient beings."

Sentient means any being that can feel sadness or happiness, whether they are humans, animals, or even trees, rivers, mountains, and so forth.

When people are driving over the high passes or between villages or cities, they are constantly saying a prayer. Dendy's mother who drove with us from Thimphu to Paro, in order to help cut the rice and stack it for the fall harvest, had a mala, or rosary, in her hands and prayer softly almost the whole way. These malas were the inspiration for the rosaries of the Catholic church many years ago.

They sometimes pray for their wishes (such as doing well on a school exam) to come true, but more often people here pray to be better people, to remove anger or hatred from their minds, to remove greed, envy, selfishness, or the need to control events and people, from their thoughts.

monks practicing for the coronation.
Northern Bhutanese

This is the dzong in Thimphu where one of the coronation celebrations will take place. This picture shows a group of monks practicing their dance.

These men and women, who have come to watch the coronation practice, are from northern Bhutan. Notice their special pointed hats worn in that region.

5th King of Bhutan


Everywhere we go we see people cleaning the roads and field, practicing dances, preparing for the coronation of their new king. Here is some information on the monarchy:

Kings of Bhutan are known as the Dragon Kings. Bhutan is known to its natives and its neighbors as the Drukyul meaning Land of Dragons. Druk means Dragon and Yul is land. The ruler of this country is called Druk Gyalpo. Gyalpo means King. The Bhutanese call themselves as the Drukpa meaning Dragon people. The current ruler of Bhutan is the 5th Hereditary King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, who is commonly known as the 5th Druk Gyalpo. The hat he is wearing is the Raven Crown which is the official Crown worn by the Monarchs of Bhutan. His Majesty the 5th Druk Gyalpo is the youngest reigning monarch in the world. He ascended throne in November 2008 after his father Jigme Singye Wangchuk a much loved King by the people abdicated throne in favor of him. 5th Dragon King is known as Prince Charming when he visited Thailand as a Crown Prince to attend 60th Anniversary Year of His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Even after getting crowned as a King, he still remains biggest subject of talk in the region for his good looks, simplicity, humble by nature and overall good personality.

The Hereditary Dragon Monarchs of Bhutan:

* His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuk (1st Druk Gyalpo)
* His Majesty Jigme Wangchuk (2nd Druk Gyalpo)
* His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (3rd Druk Gyalpo)
* His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk (4th Druk Gyalpo)
* His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk (5th Druk Gyalpo)

His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk the 5th Dragon King of Bhutan wearing Raven Crown. He was crowned the month after we were in Bhutan.

The above information and the pictures of the king are from:
And this is another good page of Bhutan information:


So, as we bring Montessori education to this culture, I hope we can do all that is possible to not only help to preserve what is wonderful about the life in Bhutan, but perhaps learn a little from it to help with our own peace of mind, happiness, and care for each other.

Now Gunilla and I have some work to do here in Thailand before I leave for home, to help the Thai Montessori teachers who finished the first AMI Montessori training course earlier this year who have no books translated in to Thai on the Montessori method, and no model schools.

I am happy to be sharing these pictures and emails home from this amazing experience.

And I would like to say a very special thank you to all of the people who made this Bhutan trip possible. Because of the effect of the present economy in the USA, instead of canceling this years volunteer work, I asked for help. Many friends and relatives came forward to help, including two Montessori schools. 16 students at the Cobb school in Connecticut pledged 1600 dollars for new Montessori language materials for Dendy's school in Paro, Bhutan, and for my flights. Then they raised the money to pay back the school with fundraisers. To the right are two letters from them. The school administrator, Mary Lou Cobb, writes that never before have they raised so much money for a cause and the children are really learning about Bhutan.



Dear Susan,
We are so happy to be part of this fundraiser to buy the materials for the Yoezerling Primary School in Paro. We are planning to have a booth at our schools annual Country Fair, which is on October 4th. We will be selling traditional Bhutanese and Tibetan clay pots, prayer beads, and Bhutanese and American jewelry. We will also be handing out traditional Bhutanese food samples. In addition, we will be playing a fun Bhutanese game. We are also hosting a holiday fair similar to what is described above in November. We plan to have more fun events throughout the school year. Once again, we are so excited to be a part of this fundraiser and to be the Yoezerling Primary's Sister School.    
Zeke Hodkin and The Elementary Class, at The Cobb School, Montessori   

Dear Susan,
Thank you for your e-mails. The class is very excited to be helping you. We had a very successful Country Fair. We had a Bhutanese Game, a jewelry booth, an information booth, Bhutanese food samples, and we had a table where you could make prayer flags. We also had Tibetan music playing during the fair. We raised $943.89.  We plan to have a holiday craft fair and bake sale with Bhutanese foods for our next fundraiser in November. We'll be sending pictures to you from the fair next week. We are looking forward to your next e-mail. Please let us know what materials the school will need next.
Best wishes,
The Elementary at Cobb

Return to the Bhutan Montessori Project home page — Bhutan, 2006

Return to Michael Olaf Children's Projects — Projects

See Susan's emails home form India, Nepal, ad Tibet, and some painting from these trips, here: