Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world”
Khuddaka Nikāya, Sutta Nipāta 9
“How would you like to hike to a village in the Tang Valley and visit a local family?” asked Namgyel, our young Bhutanese guide. “Many Wind Horse guests who have done this in other places in Bhutan say it was the highlight of their trip.”
We were in Bumthang, the spiritual and historical centre of Bhutan, birthplace of the country’s first king and home to the most venerated Buddhist temples and monasteries in the country. In this mountainous region, the Tang Valley is the most remote.
Winding our way there with Tashi carefully driving on the unpaved road, Namgyel turned around to Magellan and me in the back seat and asked, “Do you know about the Wind Horse Ranch?”
We did not, so he told us the story.
“We knew tourists would enjoy horseback riding in Bhutan and that it would help the local economy,” he explained, “and no tour company in Bhutan was offering it. So Wind Horse leased 20 acres of land. On one side of our horse camp is the Wobthang community sheep and dairy farm, and on the other side is pure wilderness.
“We started by clearing miles of overgrown ancient trails. Around the end of 2012, we advertised for an operations manager,” Namgyel continued. “It wasn’t easy to find someone. You have to know horses. You have to guide treks in this area. And we have overnight camps, so you have to cook and communicate well with the guests. We found someone from Eastern Bhutan who is perfect. But he would only sign an eight-month contract because he wasn’t sure he’d like it.”
Turns out Sonam, the man they hired, is excellent at his job. And he’ll be sticking around. Because, as Namgyel explained, “He fell in love with a local woman. They built a house together in her village and had a baby last year. That’s the family we’re going to visit.”
Tashi let us off at a stabling area near the Wind Horse Ranch, slowly driving down the tractor road to the village of Tandigang where he would rejoin us. “You won’t meet Sonam. He’s out with some of the horses today,” said Namgyel as he, Magellan and I began our walk through the wide valley to Tandigang, the wind ruffling the air with the promise of spring.
It’s easy to see why this area is called the Switzerland of Bhutan, especially as we entered the village with its cluster of timbered farm homes, clear flowing streams and chickens free-ranging among the sleeping dogs.
We climbed the steep stairs to Sonam and Lhamo’s home. More purely than my words could ever express, our photos distill why—as Namgyel predicted—this was our most profound experience in Bhutan.
It was the serenity of this young mother, Lhamo, who welcomed us with yak butter tea and toasted rice snacks. The sturdy simplicity of their home, where we sat cross-legged and talked, Namgyel translating Lhamo’s description of the interior finishes she and Sonam were planning, the age of Nima Wangdi (ten months) and his cousin Yudan (four), the number of people in Tandigang (about twenty-five households)…. Magellan and I were entranced by the tender care little Yudan showed toward her baby sister. With her sibling swaddled on her back in a cradle of cloth, Yudan carried her everywhere. We were overwhelmed by Lhamo’s generous offer to make us lunch (our hotel had provided sandwiches). Then Lhamo’s father dropped by. “He would be so happy if you would stay the night,” Namgyel translated. Here, among the yak-hair rugs, flower-painted cupboards and wooden-plank floors was the Buddhist spirituality of loving kindness that now, months later at Christmas, seems even more poignant.
We ate our picnic by the Tang Chu River, our silence one of humble reflection. In this peaceful corner of the world, it was Namgyel who spotted the pair of red foxes, frolicking in the high meadow where the grass was soon to be greened by the warm welcome of the sun in springtime.
Jayasaro, Ajahn. Without and Within: Questions and Teachings of Therāvāda Buddhism. Bangkok: Panyaprateep Foundation, 2013. In our room in Bhutan’s Chumey Nature Resort a few days before we went to Tandigang, we found the opening quote in this post in this question-and-answer book on Buddhism. Or maybe it found us.
The Buddhism Brahma Viharas ennobling quartet: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. They are also called the Four Immeasurable.
Among their many other fine qualities, Wind Horse is the only tour company in Bhutan to offer horseback riding.