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Married to Bhutan    by Linda Leaming order for
Married to Bhutan
by Linda Leaming
Order:  USA  Can
Hay House, 2011 (2011)
Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having trekked in Bhutan (an isolated Buddhist monarchy in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between Tibet and India) in the 1980s and been enchanted by its atmosphere and people, I was fascinated to read about someone who chose to make a life there, in Linda Leaming's Married to Bhutan: How One Woman Got Lost, Said "I Do," and Found Bliss.

I already knew that Bhutan, the darling of the UN, was ruled by 'an enlightened monarch who said he'd rather have Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product for his people.' But I didn't realize its vulnerability to climate change. Leaming tells us that 'the glaciers in the north of the country are melting rapidly. Glacier lakes are swelling and threaten to overflow their banks and burst out into the valleys where everybody lives.' It's a disturbing prospect for anyone who knows of this 'modern day Shangri-La'.

Leaming recounts how her first visit to Bhutan in 1994 changed her life. Walking on her own in the Punakha valley, she twisted an ankle and was rescued by a kind, but rather mysterious local man on a motorcycle, whom she met again years later. After leaving the country, she pined for it and had to return. In 1997, she moved to Bhutan to teach English (as a volunteer) and ended up teaching at an art school in a suburb of the capital, Thimphu. There she met and married Namgay, a talented artist and teacher.

Along with her personal history in Bhutan, the challenge of learning the language, and the adjustments required to live there, Leaming shares what she knows of its culture and history. We learn that spirits called naga (beliefs carried from an ancient animistic religion) live everywhere and must be propitiated. She tells us about legendary figures like Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to the country; and the skill of Bhutan's first king (Ugyen Wangchuck) in playing the Great Game with England.

Leaming says of life in Bhutan versus in the West: 'the mental energy here, the level of awareness that comes from paying attention, from having less stuff around and having less on our calendars, is formidable.' She comments that 'If we choose to follow our dreams and desires, then other things, good or bad, fall into place.' Married to Bhutan is a delightful and enlightening memoir, with A Little More About Bhutan at the back to satisfy the curious reader. It's a must read if you enjoy travel literature - or seek your own bliss.

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