The Hidden Kingdom: Boundless Expedition into Bhutan
We arrived at the magnificent Punakha Fort, where the PhoChu and MoChu rivers meet in a zesty convergence. The warmth of the bright sunlight caught us off guard, all of us assuming the middle of the Himalayan Foothills was cold. The weather was ideal.
The Kingdom of Bhutan, a democracy as of 15 years ago, is still a monarchy in practice. Pomp and circumstance, typically played out in vibrant festivals and elaborate holidays, stir up millennia of memories for these rugged, joy-filled people. As one of the only nations in the world with no access to a large body of water, Bhutan is a mountain island surrounded by its Asian neighbors. This is a land outside of time and place, with no fast food restaurants, limited cell service, and a population of under 800,000 in a country the size of Switzerland; the perfect location for our first Asian Boundless Expedition.
Crossing the ornate wooden covered bridge leading to the winter capital of Je Khenpo, the religious head of state, one is overcome with the grandeur of it all. At the fort’s entrance is a 40-foot wooden pole with a long white flag covered in art and Buddhist scripture. We happened to arrive at the exact moment, once every three years when the flag is lowered and replaced. The governor of the region, who insisted on being called by his moniker, Bull, greeted us warmly, inquiring where we were from and what we thought of his country. We were invited to join the district leaders as honored guests to help raise the flag. For the next hour, we were a part of this glorious occasion. This was the first of a daily occurrence of wonder that met us on every step of the journey.
Boundless is not for everyone. These hardcore travelers are infected with wanderlust. They know they will never satisfy their curiosity for people and places around the planet, but they work hard to get as close as they can in this lifetime. Our first Boundless Expedition was in Antarctica, setting a high bar for hard-to-reach places. Over the last few years, we’ve taken travelers to five hard-to-get locations on five continents, Asia being our current locale. Our BE community understands that every day is an adventure. They are not privy to an itinerary. Trust and adventure fuel their desire, and the chance to experience a place with minimal preconceived ideas is a feast they savor.
Bhutan is hard to get to, expensive to get the rights to travel into, and limited in the number of visitors that may enter a year. Their culture is a treasure. Our small group always showed up at the right time. Whether it was participating in the Fire Blessing festival in Bumthang with thousands of Buddhist pilgrims, spending 30 minutes with the future Prime Minister of Bhutan in a restaurant, spotting three endangered black-necked cranes, or entering the inner sanctuary of the Gangteng Monastery, where outsiders are not allowed to enter, to see the mummified body of a legendary dwarf (you can’t make this stuff up), or hiking over 3,600 feet over a mountain pass to get to a small village, our BE crew went from wanderlust to wonderlust. Every day, every hour, an unexpected jaw-dropping moment met us on the road.
To our illustrious crew: Walter, Kris, Shawn, and Roy, thank you for your willingness to go to the ends of the earth. And to the director of BE, Michael Damiano, who put the expeditions together, thank you for this rare opportunity to visit a place out of time. You live your tagline: BE Boundless.
After a decade working in parish youth ministry Shawn started Wonder Voyage Missions. Over the last 15 years, WVM has led thousands of pilgrims to over forty countries. Shawn is a storyteller and an award winning filmmaker. He is an author who brings the gift of engaging narrative to our journeys. Shawn is dedicated to creating voyages that give people abundant opportunities to encounter God.