Zham Danang Chu bridge, Gasa, 2006

Zham Danang Chu bridge, Gasa, 2006

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It's a twenty-minute walk to Dawa's house. As we cross "the Bridge of Prophecy," trout swim in the still pools between rocks and white water. Scattered bits of colorful prayer flags cover the stream banks and gravel bottom.

We start up a steep road past a ragged cottage of bamboo and thatch under a thin, broad-leafed canopy.

“They don’t pay rent or taxes and they’ve been here for over thirty years,” Dawa says, about his neighbors.

“Anytime someone tries to move them they go to the King and he lets them stay. It’s Government land. Where would they go?” We walk past his neighbors’ well-kept vegetable garden. A staked cow grazes next to a little stream spilling through a culvert. The chime of small bell ringing with the flowing water breaks the quiet.

We climb to a clearing below a steep hill of pines. A white Tudor house with a red roof stands above a terraced garden. Dawa’s wife Tashi, a tall, beautiful woman with long hair and bright eyes, greets us carrying their four-month-old baby.

Dawa smiles as his three older girls run up behind their mother. “Everybody thought we were crazy buying a house on steep land this far from town. When we were kids people would walk all day from village to village. Now they think this is a commute. Thimphu people drive their cars to cross the street!”

Fields, orchards, and pastures patch the mountains to the west. Below, the Wang River rushes past the quiet capital. Ancient temples stand above the town—the only buildings taller than the trees. On a table under a willow, Tashi serves roasted chicken and rice, mixed vegetables and sweet raw onions with salt and chilies. We wash down the fiery hot food with Red Panda beer from Bumthang.

“You might say we have the American Dream here,” says Dawa, handing me another beer then turning to enjoy his view.

From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)

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