A tiny earthen lhakhang built over a rapidly flowing stream sits just off the trail. I step inside the temple where two prayer wheels turn with the force of the current running under the floor.
Painted with the syllables Om Mani Padme Hung, the spinning cylinders repeat the ancient mantra of wisdom and compassion.
Though flowing water has powered prayer wheels and flour mills for centuries, electricity and hydropower first came to Bhutan in the 1960’s. Bhutan’s hydros are “run-of-the-river” without storage dams, significant deforestation or major population displacement. Diversions have state-of-the-art fish ladders that diminish disruption to aquatic migration.
Bhutan currently taps only five percent of its 30,000 MW potential, yet hydropower contributes over twenty-five percent of the nation’s revenue through electricity sales to India, drives the country’s development, and has enabled the Bhutanese to lead Asia in economic growth.
Much of this wealth has found its way to the people. Only twelve percent of Bhutanese now live below the poverty line. Compare that to the USA where fifteen percent of Americans live in poverty.
The Bhutanese believe that earth, trees, sky, and water all contain spirits and are guarded by protective deities. They know on every level, from superstition to science, that if they cut down their trees, pollute the air and foul the water, their prayer wheels will no longer send blessing out into the universe and the primary source of their life and livelihood will dry up.
From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)