Earlier this year while preparing for my Bhutan trip, I stumbled upon this narrative written by British travel writer Katie Hickman on her journey through Bhutan spanned over a few weeks. Her travel memoirs to Bhutan have been relatively popular in the European travel circles.
Back in early 1970s, she happened to be one of the few known European travellers to be allowed an entrance into Eastern Bhutan. Internationally, first published in 1987, the India edition of the book was made public much later in 2012 by Timeless Books. In about 190 pages, the author chirpily writes about the routine tussles between her adventurous self and her discoveries or findings upon landing in an area.
Before 1974 when tourism in Bhutan was formally opened for foreigners, the only non-nationals permitted in were guests of the royal family. Katie chanced to be one of the very few visitors who could manage an invite by the royal family. Initially permitted for a week, the queen not only generously extended her stay by a few weeks but provided her with a guide and related paraphernalia to visit the tribes of Eastern Bhutan.
Partly on four wheels, in part on ponies and the remainder on foot, she along with her photographer travel-companion Tom Owens travelled east from Thimphu to Bumthang and Tashigang. Their journey maxed out at the far eastern villages of Mera and Sakteng dominated by the bragpa tribe. Her memoirs provide a casual insight into this region that was, until recently, relatively untouched by the outside world.
Be it the evocative images of phallus, the talks about yeti, continuous torture of blood sucking leeches, the performance of the weed consuming horse, jitters created by the homely lama or the welcoming bragpas, her ingenuous account leaves the reader with an interesting as well as pleasant imagery of the mystic Himalayan land. As she wisecracks in the beginning, “We do not only travel to find the truth, but also to rediscover the mysteries that are in life. Ours is a world in which few stones remain unturned”. Bhutan is a country that every traveller dreams of.
Yet, on the downside, despite the fact that her travels were supported by the Queen, in her attempt to present the hidden treasures of the Land of Thunder Dragon to the world outside, I feel that Katie has, like a babe in the woods, missed the boat in bringing forward the serenity and beauty of the raw countryside of Bhutan. Considering it was a maiden interface for both, one would expect a lot of treasure trove in the form of knowledge and first hand raw information on the region. Downheartedly, her narration has simply been condensed to her personal experience against the observed handicap of her prior lack of awareness about the traditions of the region specifically pertaining to religion, customs, Himalayan life and geography.
For a travel-fiction fanatic, the book is full of adventurous as well as necessary information and anecdotes to support the flow. All in all, if you are looking to buy just one informative read on the region, this one might not be able to foot the bill and in case you have the luxury to access some more than don’t miss this one. Overly priced at Rs 495, the book, nevertheless, makes for an interesting and candid read.
You can buy the book online at Flipkart.