It’s fairly hellish to get to, but Gangtey is an unfeasibly lovely place. It’s 3500m above sea level and the air’s very thin but so clear, it’s like having a lung bath. The village perches on the side of a wide, flat valley famous for it’s migratory crane population and is chocolate-box picturesque.
It’s also so much like Switzerland it takes what little breath you have left away.
The views are gorgeous:
The children are gorgeous:
Even the cows are gorgeous:
The only bit I’m not in love with is the Gangteng Monastery itself. It’s an important site of a particular strain of Buddhism and was built in the 17th Century but it’s also home to monks as young as 4 years old. Local families routinely donate their youngest son, to – y’know – save some cash and free up a bedroom. To be fair we didn’t actually *see* any toddlers but I found it depressing as hell nonetheless.
I think it’s a nasty case of what’s known as Temple Fatigue, Buddha Blues, a Monk Funk, a sense that it’s all gone Dzong. This is a beautiful, spiritual place but the reality of the religion – thousands of young men cloistered in dark rooms filled with incense, rotting offerings and psychedelic art, mumbling and unable to have sex…. well, it’s basically boarding school. Except this never ends. And is really, really repetitive.
In fact repetition seems to be a massive part of the point of religion: repeating words, phrases, actions; as though merely the act of repetition makes something holy. If you stand staring at an Anglepoise fondling a fidget spinner saying ‘I am Dustin the Magic Tortoise’ enough times, does it constitute a new religion? If so, how do you go about monetising it? Well all you need is an origin story so fantastical it can’t possibly be true that involves elements of all your nation’s favourite things: food, sport, art. And then add a few mentions of genitalia and charge pilgrims for your blessings and you’re away.*
Bhutan is unbelievably cool. But two weeks of antique Buddhism is enough. We left the Gangteng Monastery with an extra spring in our steps, quite literally. Freedom is so awesome.
*Like: “Dustin the Magic Tortoise was kicked across the North Sea on the back of a football and landed in the exact centre of an enormous wheel of Stilton, making an indentation that weeps real tears annually, on the eve of the Festival of Tracey Emin’s Crotch in Dedham Vale”. Right, that’ll be twenty quid please.