Bhutan: Kingdom Of The Dragon, by Robert Dompnier
Most people who know me would recognize that I am not a particular fan of dragons. There are a variety of reasons for this, and it is worth discussing them for a bit because they relate to the essential problem I have with the books I have read about Bhutan. The government of Bhutan believes that showcasing religious and folk dances where people wear demonic masks and celebrate tantric sexuality as a way of scaring away the devils is something that is appealing to Western audiences or the sort of image that they want to present of their country. As a Christian, this is precisely the image I do not want to have of another nation, and the authors of the book (and presumably their handlers in the Bhutanese government) do not appear to realize that this is not the imagine that is going to be appealing to Christian tourists. Perhaps this is not thought of or considered, but when the terrain and architecture of a nation is so gorgeous and when the people of a nation do not lack for attractiveness, it is a shame when the dances that people photograph over and over again are so unappealing.
This book is a bit less than 200 pages long and it is divided into several unnumbered chapterse. The book begins with a map of the country and then a preface and introduction that discuss the recent history of Bhutan as well as the remoteness and obscurity of the place. After that there is a chapter that looks at the terrain of the nation of Bhutan as it moves from the jungles of the Himalayan foothills to the glaciers of the high mountains at the northern boundary of the country. After that comes a look at the structures of Bhutan and their creation from earth, stone, and wood. The author spends a whole chapter looking at the great Punakha procession before looking at Bhutanese society. A chapter looks at life in a dzong for monks who appreciate being fortified for self-defense, as well as with the various heathen dances that photographers of the nation are so enamored of. The book then ends with a look at the area of northern Bhutan as well as the eastern part of the country, before the glossary and recommended books list end the work.
This book has a lot of beautiful photographs and it was made in 1999, making it the middle of the three very similar books I read about Bhutan that are all coffee table books that promote a certain propagandistic perspective of the nation of Bhutan. I am not aware of other countries doing this but Bhutan appears to have had a consistent view of seeking to encourage the creation of gorgeous coffeetable books that show the austere beauty of the country while also presenting Bhutan as a happy nation and showing that some parts of the country are out of bounds to all but the most privileged tourists. The wise reader of this book will reflect on the fact that the views and photographs seen here are not available to ordinary people who visit the country, and that an ordinary tourist without contacts in the Bhutanese government is not likely to have the same sort of view and access as the photographer did. Whether or not that affects one’s desire to visit Bhutan and see the country for oneself is unclear. There are plenty of good views to be found in the country, even if traveling there seems a bit austere and the country does not look like it has aimed at mainstream tourism, to the point of blocking off parts of its country to avoid environmental and cultural damage.