Buttertea at Sunrise: A Year in the Bhutan Himalaya
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Often seen as a magical paradise at the end of the world, Bhutan is inaccessible to most travellers. Set against the dramatic scenery of the Himalaya, this beguiling memoir recalls hardships and happiness in a land almost untouched by the West.
When Britta Das goes to work as a physiotherapist in a remote village hospital, her good intentions are put to the test amid monsoons, fleas, and startling conditions. But as she visits homes in the mountains and learns the mysteries of Tantric Buddhism, the country captivates her very soul. Gaining insights into the traditions of the mystical kingdom, Britta makes friends, falls in love, and battles illness.
Throughout it all, as she writes, she worries about the "destructive nearness of technology" and fears that Bhutan's charm and innocence may soon be lost. Still, Bhutan has endured for centuries, and there is no denying that the country has transformed her life forever.
from Dr. Bikul, and this is the first one I have actually been able to treat. Now Dr. Bikul is questioning my methods. Already this morning during rounds, I had a run in with him over the diagnosis of one of his patients. He thought it was a case of L3 (lumbar vertebrae 3) paraplegia. To me it looked more like an incomplete L4, and I voiced my opinion. We argued for a while over whether it could be caused by a tumour, an autoimmune disorder, or a compression fracture. Then he tested me on the
mother.” As if that explains everything, he turns to Ama and the two start to discuss something in animated voices, interrupted only by her bouts of giggling laughter. My ears are burning, and I get the uncomfortable feeling that yours truly is the topic of discussion. Impatiently, I ask Bikul to translate. With a mischievous grin, he explains that Norbu Ama is suggesting that I cook for him. To confirm, he addresses the smiling woman, who nods enthusiastically, looking at me and then pointing
somehow I grasp that each is telling a slightly different version of Meme and Abi’s romance. I cannot help but smile. Perhaps each of these three women does know a little magic. 16 Meme Monk “Where did you get this from?” I ask in a faltering Sharchhopkha, pointing at a small, yellowed picture of Jesus Christ that is sharing the altar with the colourful statues of Buddha and several honoured tantric deities. Pema’s grandfather thinks for a minute and then answers, “The foreigner’s Buddha.”
worry about it,” Bikul then adds. “Just feel it.” I try. Still self-conscious about Bikul and the old man beside me, I listen to the wheel spinning around, and then the need for an explanation vanishes. The more I turn, the more even the wheel’s motion becomes. The old man continues murmuring his mantra for me. An old man brandishes his prayer wheel in front of a large chorten. After a while I gratefully return the prayer wheel to its owner, who bows with another lovely smile. “Lasso la,” he
happening?” I ask Bikul, but he only shrugs his shoulders. The monks are all grinning. Standing with our backs to the altar, we prostrate to Lam Neten. Jigme pours a little holy water on our right palms and we sip at it before spreading it over our heads. Then we present Lam Neten with our white ceremonial scarves. Jigme motions us to sit, and we kneel facing the great lama, while the room becomes so quiet you could hear a pin drop. His gaze fixed upon us, Lam Neten starts to speak. I have never