The last time I felt this way was the day we got married. Each moment of that incredible September day held a memory I knew I’d want to savor later. Best-in-a-lifetime occurrences piled one on top of the other, and they began to blur together. I longed for a way to capture them all so I could pull them out individually and relive them, say, on a bleary Tuesday afternoon in mid-winter.
That longing is back now that we’re in Bhutan.
The very fact that we’re here, in this Bucket List Buddhist kingdom on the other side of the globe, seems unreal. We’d heard tales of this place for years—the nation of the Gross National Happiness Index and the 2007 practice election where voters resoundingly elected the color yellow. We’d read that television didn’t arrive until 1999, and that the Internet came a year after that. That there were no traffic lights—or rather that there used to be one, but popular demand led to its replacement by a white-gloved traffic cop.
Bhutan’s siren song lured us in, and we wanted so badly to head for the Himalayas. But we didn’t think we’d be able to get here so soon after it opened to tourists. It was too far away; the high altitude too perilous; our children too young.
And yet here we are, crossing 600-year-old bridges over turquoise mountain streams. Learning to harvest rice from a weathered farmer we happened upon during a hike. Eating roasted corn on the side of the road. Hiking up a misty mountain to an ancient monastery in the clouds. Cheering alongside businessmen and schoolchildren at a weekend archery tournament. Sitting cross-legged with chanting monks in a tiny room at the top of an old house in the middle of nowhere, a cat asleep in my lap.
Just one of these experiences, taken alone, would be a lifetime travel highlight. And now we’re having two or three of them before lunchtime. We need a way to hold onto them—or a way to stop time.
Adding to our incredulity is the fact that so many of the memories we’re making here are thanks to extraordinary Bhutanese people with Nashville-area ties. Our guide (who is really not a guide at all but instead a revered former bodyguard to the royal family) is a friend of Franklin Mayor Ken Moore, showing us around after the mayor made the connection. And the childhood friend of Harper’s godfather lives here. We sipped tea in her living room and learned how the art of “simulating Bhutan” helps her keep calm when she returns to the busyness of her hometown—and ours. Six degrees of separation have shrunk to just one.
Our time here feels unreal.
Perhaps a bit of the extraordinary is in order here in this otherworldly place, where the mystical and the ordinary go hand in hand. From the saffron-robed monks to the incense-scented temples to a view of our children spinning a colorful prayer wheel, it’s not just the altitude that makes Bhutan feel a bit closer to heaven.