Shangri-La: The Demon’s Stomach; The Mother’s Womb

By Jheri St. James

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People’s Republic of China. Bhutan is separated from the nearby country of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by West Bengal.

In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the 8th happiest in the world, based on a global survey. Two years later Bhutan held its first democratic elections after centuries of absolute monarchy.

The landscape ranges from subtropical plains in the south to the Sub-alpine Himalayan heights in the north, with some peaks exceeding 23,000 ft. Vajrayana Buddhism is the predominant religion with Hinduism following. The capital and largest city is Thimphu.

The term “Shangri-la” is often used much as the “Garden of Eden” might be used, to represent a paradise hidden from modern man, an analogy for a life-long quest or something elusive that is much sought. It might also be used to represent perfection that is sought by man in the form of love, happiness or Utopian ideals, particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia—a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world, where people are almost immortal and only very slowly aging in appearance.

The Nazis had an enthusiasm for Shangri-La, where they hoped to find an ancient master race similar to the Nordic race, unspoiled by Buddhism. They sent one expedition to Tibet in 1938, led by Ernst Schafer. Many independent nations isolated from the West have been termed Shanri-Las—Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, Tuva, Mongolia, the Tocharian Tushara Kingdom of the Mahabharata and the Han Dynasty outpost Dunhuang. Bhutan has been hailed as the last Shangri-La.
It is believed that the inspiration for the novel “Lost Horizon” by British author James Hilton was the Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan, close to the Tibetan border, which Hilton visited a few years before his book was published in 1933. A film of the same name was made in 1937.

Our collectors for Bhutanese soil were Tashi Lhendup, Reva Gupta (US Embassy), Tshoki Choden (Bhutanese Embassy) stationed in New Delhi, India, and Larry Schwartz from the US Embassy in India. Their sample came from the historical site Simtokha Dzong, “the oldest Dzong in Bhutan (built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1629, he being the Drukpa Kaygud religious leader who came to Bhutan in 1616 and unified the country). This location is south of Thimphu, the capital, approximately five kilometers along the Paro Phuntsholing Highway. History says Zhabdrung chose to build the Dzong here, where the area was inhabited by many demons. The word Simtokha means: ‘sinmo’ (demon); ‘tog’ (stomach) and ‘kha’ (on) – the Dzong on top of the demon’s stomach.”

Author and American journalist Lisa Napoli published Radio Shangri-La, her memoirs of living for one year in Bhutan in July of 2011. She says, “Foreigners coming to Bhutan generally fall into 3 categories: 1) Those wearing rose tinted glasses, who never once take them off and leave with the glasses very much on; 2) Those who, by the time they are done, realize they can see better without the glasses; and 3) Still others who take off the rose tinted glasses only to realize that Shangri-la is a poor country with real life problems, then don another pair that makes things more skewed than the first.” She had never traveled to the Himalayas nor heard of Bhutan, except vaguely in its relationship to Happiness. She went to Bhutan to assist with Kuzoo FM, the only other radio station in Bhutan other than the BBS, set up by His Majesty the 5th King of Bhutan.

Then she crosses paths with Nawang, a young Bhutanese woman who seems to cherish and want the very things that Lisa is trying to run away from - the fast life in a media and material-saturated world in the US:

“Everything in Nawang’s line of sight conspired to make her feel that if you could only get your feet onto American soil, piles and piles of money could be excavated from the streets or would fall from the heavens. And that money would buy things, items that were the keys to happiness. That message was conveyed in television shows and movies, which Nawang watched in a near-continual feed at home, enhanced by tales of the few Bhutanese who made their way to the United States and sent back stacks of cash. They managed not to explain how hard they worked to earn that money, at what kind of jobs, or the cramped dorm-room style living conditions they endured to be able to save the few dollars a month they wired back home. And how they lived with the constant fear of being found out and deported.”

Yoshiro Imaeda was born in 1947 in Japan and worked as an Advisor to the National Library of Bhutan from 1981 to 1990. He is currently the Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris. He regularly visits Bhutan. Narrated in the first person, the 211-page paperbound non-fiction was published by KMT Printers and Publishers. When the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, announced his abdication of the Throne in December 2006, the nation felt suddenly orphaned. Yoshiro, who worked for Bhutan for a long time, was one such person. For him, the ‘magic’ of the end of an era of the fourth Druk Gyalpo opened the floodgates. His memories of the leadership of the fourth King and of his 34 years of life in Bhutan, beginning in 1978, spurred him to record them in the form of a book, “Enchanted by Bhutan.” This author succeeds in sketching many aspects of Bhutanese life in minute details--politics, treaties, beliefs, medicines, environment, culture, Gross National Happiness and touches upon the issues of migrants in the south. The author does not even spare the famous night-hunting culture.

The Takin is Bhutan's national animal.

Night hunting is a total misnomer for the traditional culture of nightly courtship and romance that was practiced mostly in eastern and central rural Bhutan. There is neither the word 'night' nor the word 'hunting' in the original terms. The original words can be best rendered as 'Prowling for Girls,’ the rural equivalent of a date. The book “Love, Courtship and Marriage in Rural Bhutan” (2009), is about night hunting. According to the author, Bomena, a “custom whereby a boy stealthily enters a girl’s house at night for courtship or coitus with or without prior consultation”, is commonly misunderstood in Bhutan as ‘night hunting’. The use of a vernacular word ‘bomena,’ not ‘night hunting’, is a term loaded with ignorance of the custom, and tells a lot about this original village activity. The current understanding of bomena, according to the author, is naïve, biased and misrepresented, heavily influenced by changing values especially among the urban societies. One common notion is that any rural culture is ‘inferior’ and all urban cultures are ‘superior’, and replacing the rural culture with urban ‘superior’ culture is seen as a way of emancipating the Bhutanese farmers from their ‘primitive’ culture, and advancing the country.

* * *

So the soil of Bhutan came from the location of the stomach of the demon. The night hunters are being forestalled. Books are being written to describe life in Bhutan, the last Shangri-La, and once the Happiest Place on Earth. At this time of dramatic change, some believe that Mother Earth has started her ascension birthing process and will soon be moving into the new Earth energy. Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes represent the crust of the Earth opening up in various forms of rupture. This could be like her cervix opening, her water breaking and the tidal wave of the birth process. Mother Earth is now free to merge with a higher dimension reality just like we do when we connect with our higher selves. And even though the part on which mankind lives is only 30% of the planet, under all the 70% water is more soil, more common ground.

There exists a history / mythology / folklore that our earth has a hollow center, a mystical and physical place of great mystery and wonder, a womb. The hollow earth theory is represented in the history of many diverse cultures throughout the world. The Avalon of Camelot, the Garden of Eden, Paradise Lost, Shangri-La and Valhalla are names assigned to a mystical and physical place thought by some to house prehistoric animals and plants and by others to hide alien beings bent on conquering the outer Earth. (“UVOTV Presents: Journey to the Hollow Earth”) Only time will tell and in the interim, we must strive to live good lives on the surface, perhaps on the demon’s stomach, perhaps on the Mother’s womb where: “The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of the bucking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.” Terry Tempest Williams. Thanks to our collectors. The word for peace in Bhutan is zhidye.


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