We have been in Bhutan for two days and there are already a lot of stories to tell. Before I begin, allow me to introduce myself.
“How did you come to know about Bhutan?”
I told the story of that fateful night in New York. “Do you know Sebastian? He’s in the tea buisiness…tall, thin man. American.” I said, hopefully. I imagined Sebastian must be a revered figure here.
“Nope,” she said,as if she were flipping through mental images of people he might be. “Don’t know him.” She paused for a moment. “So it was your karma that brought you to Bhutan. That’s cool.”
“No it…” As I disagreed, I understood. “Yes, it must be because of my karma that I came to Bhutan.”
I met Barry and Barbara Shaffer entirely by accident. I sat in a restaurant in Los Angeles with my parents and their friends, Michael, Judy and Anna Narvid. As we all dove into our plates and enjoyed separate conversations, Michael spoke up in a voice loud enough for me to hear on the other side of the table.
“So listen to this,” he said, looking at my dad and Anna, “Barry Shaffer has been invited by the tourism department of Bhutan to go and photograph their country. He was bringing a travel writer along to take notes and document the whole experience, and it turns out she’s unable to come. So now he has to find someone to go with him.”
Everyone at the table, except Michael, immediately stopped eating and looked at me. “Um,” I said, quietly and a little unsure of myself, “I’m kind of a writer.”
Michael smiled and said “Oh yeah, huh” in a mischievous tone that made me suspect he had me in mind the whole time. He sent Barry a text setting up a phone conversation between us for the following day.
I called Barry in the morning and he told me about his project. The idea was to travel to Bhutan, with our transportation, daily visa fee and lodging sponsored by the government, and take photographs of the more remote parts of the country for the image index of the Tourism Council. He would then return to the states and self-publish a fine art photography book, the proceeds of which would be donated to a charity of the Tourism Council’s choosing. In addition, he would be donating Nikon camera equipment and Adobe software and training our tour guide in fine-art photography so that the Tourism Council could continue increasing its image index after we left. He wanted a writer to accompany him and document what we experience and later write content for his book upon returning to the United States.
Needless to say, I accepted without hesitation. I knew little about Bhutan except that it was supposed to be the happiest kingdom on earth and I wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to see how that worked first hand. After a seemingly never ending series of emails between myself and Karma Lotey (both literally and figuratively my karma brought me to Bhutan), our contact in Bhutan, I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to Bangkok.
And now here I am, sitting on a balcony with an unbelievable view over Trashigang, trying to put into words how this all happened and wondering what on earth will come next. I’m excited to fill you in on all of the things we have seen for the past two days, our tour guide Jigme and our driver Pimba. We’ll be back in a few days to share pictures from our first few days in Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang and Trashiyangste. Stay tuned!
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