San Miguel de Allende to Bhutan and Back

Posted on March 09, 2016

Unlike many residents of San Miguel whose status as retirees leaves them commute free, my commute involves flying to Asia, via Houston, Tokyo, and Bangkok. I work in Bhutan. Long commute, big carbon footprint, exceptional job.

A common question: where is Bhutan? Between Tibet and India, in the Himalayas. In 1960 the king opened his isolated and never colonized country.  Before then Bhutan had no roads, cars, electricity, or schools. A road was built, and cars appeared. They often caused panic; people ran screaming, thinking them to be monsters. Schools were built, and English was chosen as the language of instruction. With so few schools and roads, early policy was that no student would have to walk more than 5 days to school. Consequently, boarding schools were built. Bhutan began emerging from isolation.

Tourism came in 1974. Early visitors had it tough. It took three days of travel from India to reach the capital, Thimphu, where only one hotel existed. Numbers of tourists were limited, to avoid negative impact on the culture. An airport was built, followed by more hotels.

I had always wanted to visit Bhutan and seven years ago made my first visit. I was dazzled by soaring mountains, virgin forest, tiny hamlets with centuries old buildings, friendly people in traditional clothing, men wear knee-length dresses, and women ankle length skirts made from hand-loomed textiles, in an astounding array of colors and patterns. Everyone spoke English. High school kids wanted to discuss Shakespeare with us, though I had to admit that in my high school we did not study Shakespeare (or did I sleep through that class?). Dorji, our guide, was a great mixture of fun and information. My travel companions proclaimed him the best guide they had ever encountered. Hearing this, I made a decision: I’d start a business bringing people to Bhutan.

I’ve just returned from my 25th visit to Bhutan. San Miguel to Bhutan and back. The 2 places are very different. Both fascinate me, and I notice some parallels. Cultural preservation is key in both. Bhutan has no UNESCO world heritage status, though by government decree all buildings are in traditional style, the result is a San Miguel like architectural cohesiveness.  I’m not sure who is friendlier, the Sanmiguelenses or the Bhutanese.  Traditional arts are promoted in both places. The altitude is similar as is the climate, though Bhutan’s greater rainfall makes for lusher vegetation. I feel a sense of community in San Miguel and Bhutan; locals have befriended me in both places. Dorji has become a great friend; together we guide all my trips.

I feel privileged to divide my time between San Miguel and Bhutan, and descending from the plane in either Mexico or Bhutan feels like a homecoming. While the thrill of my first visit to Bhutan is gone, I experience it vicariously through those who travel with me.