A little country with big spirit | VailDaily.com

A little country with big spirit

by Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyRuss and Blyth Carpenter have traveled extensively through Bhutan, which is blessed with forests, mountains and other "drop-dead gorgeous" scenery, such as these lush terraces in a low-altitude area of Eastern Bhutan.

After spending a summer studying in Italy more than 40 years ago, Blyth and Russ Carpenter decided to take the long road home – the couple backpacked through Asia. Now, the two continue to be cohorts in all sorts of nomadic adventures, including Bhutan – the Dragon Kingdom. They will speak for the Vail Symposium Wednesday, 5:30-7 p.m. at the Cordillera Valley Club in Edwards. The event is titled, “Transcending the Ordinary: Insights from the Kingdom of Bhutan.”

Bhutan is a small country, the last independent Buddhist state in the Himalayas. The Carpenters discovered it in on a cultural tour in 1996, which whetted their appetites for more. That trek led to public service projects ranging from assisting a desktop publishing company to promoting silk and wool textiles. They even helped manage the construction and installation of two-way radio transceivers for 100 remote Himalayan villages. They’ve returned to the country countless times, leading groups through the Dragon Kingdom.

“It’s not a Shangri-la, we’re very careful about that,” said Blyth. “Most of the people are farmers, they’re not living in luxury. But it is an inspiring place. They’re trying to improve the lives of their people without

destroying their natural resources.”

Their talk will be introductory about the country, and will include slides. The king of Bhutan is dedicated to preserving the pristine nature of the land. The scenery – the hills, the houses, the fields – are beautiful indeed, and capture the imagination.

“We’re not Buddhist, but we have a great deal of affection for Buddhist principles,” explained Blyth. “We wanted to go to a country that hadn’t been colonized by Europe and one that hadn’t been taken over by another religion. That’s what got us there in the first place. It’s really a magical place. The people are exceedingly gracious and exceedingly welcoming. The countryside is drop-dead gorgeous.”

Though the Carpenters had studied both Buddhism and Asia for more than 30 years, they weren’t prepared for the way Bhutan called them to return.

“At the end of that first trip, we knew we needed to return,” writes the couple in the introduction to their book, “The Blessings of Bhutan.”

Traveling as a tourist is easy, but burrowing down into the culture is another matter altogether. A bit of serendipity allowed them to find a situation that had them living in a Bhutanese guest house, in exchange for helping the family enter the electronic age with their publishing business. And that was only the beginning.

The Carpenters write:

“Our love for Bhutan is a sword with two edges. You probably have sensed the love by now; here are some hints about the other side. We observe cultural divides at every turn. We (the authors) are linear, the Bhutanese are intuitive. We are agnostic, the Bhutanese are Buddhist from birth. We watch the clock, the Bhutanese see time as a relatively unimportant element of life.”

The differences go on and on, but still the authors were captivated by the country. During the Symposium’s evening of discussion, Blyth and Russ will share many “surprises, contradictions and dilemmas of this Himalayan Kingdom.” They will also have information for trips they lead through the land.

Unrelated to the program, but a fitting tie-in, is the visit of Tibetan monks at the Plaza Gallery from Gaden Shartse monastery. They are creating a sand mandala of compassion, called the Chenrezig, in honor of world peace. They will be at the gallery in Vail from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, with a dissolution ceremony on Saturday at 2 p.m.

For more information on the Vail Symposium event with Blyth Carpenter, contact the Vail Symposium at 476-0954.

Transcending the ordinary

what: Insights from the Kingdom of Bhutan

when: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.

where Cordillera Valley Club, Edwards

more info: 476-0954

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.

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