Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across The Last Himalayan Kingdom, by Michael Hawley
There are two particularly notable qualities about this book that demand discussion. The first thing is that this book is very big. I happen to have read the smaller version of this book and it is still larger than the monitor I am looking at as I type this review. The larger version of this book is large enough that one could use it as a shield against urban rioters or as a small bridge over a creek. Be that as it may, the second quality about this book that demands discussion is that this book is simply gorgeous as far as its photography goes. Now, more than most people I am used to looking at beautiful photographs of Bhutan, which is by no means a bad thing to be used to, but this book goes above and beyond with its photorealism and its amazing color gradient. One of the shots of this book has a look at a foggy day where the fog looks purple. That sort of photography deserves high praise and certainly is exactly what this book was created to show off. The printing that was required to make this book, even in its slightly less bulky version, is precisely the sort of book you want on your coffee table.
This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it consists mostly of extremely large and gorgeously rendered photographs taken over the span of several areas of Bhutan. The author talks about the ideas that led to the creation of this book. There are then various pictures taken on a helicopter trip from Trongsa to Phongmey (1). After that an entire chapter contains photos of festivals at Drodul Dongug-Ling (2) as well as the rough road to Mongar and Jakar (3). Another chapter contains photos of Jakar and the Bumthang valley (4), while another focuses on Trongsa (5), labeled as the heart of Bhutan. A chapter discusses a trip from Trongsa to Punakha (6) as well as Thimpu (7), the capital of Bhutan. After that the author photographs a trek to Jhomolhari (8) as well as the climb to Taktsang Goemba, high in the mountains (9). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of memories of Paro (10), after which there is an epilogue as well as acknowledgments, a colophon, and a look at a gorgeous sunset over the Himalaya Mountains, which nicely caps off this immensely beautiful book.
It is not mysterious at all that this book exists as a way of promoting tourism or at least the knowledge of Bhutan. Bhutan has a lot of beautiful countryside and architecture, and is a remote nation that is difficult and expensive to visit, not least if you want to see more than just the area close to the international airport. So far as I have been able to see, there is little tourist infrastructure in the nation that does not involve getting to know the people in charge of the country. This is even more to the point because the nation is itself organized around fortified monasteries that combine religious and political power and defensible places given the history of the nation. When even Tibet has been a historical bully, a small nation like Bhutan needs to be able to defend itself. The melancholy fall of the Nepalese government to Maoist rebels has made Bhutan the last Himalayan kingdom. One hopes it will be able to survive for a good long while, especially because however one may think of Bhutan’s religious beliefs as they are shown continually in books of this nature, they are certainly no threat to anyone else in the world.