National Geographic : 1952 Dec
716 Drawn by William N. Palmstrom and Irvin E. Alleman Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, Hides Away among Earth's Highest Mountains Stretching from India's jungles to Tibet's peaks, Bhutan offers a variety of scenery and climate. Yet few travelers have been permitted within its forbidden borders. World affairs threaten to break this policy of isolation, for Bhutan, like neighboring Sikkim and Nepal, stands buffer between India and the Chinese Reds now occupying Tibet. Mountainous Bhutan is no easy route for invasion, but reports tell of infiltration by Communist agents. Bhutanese cherish dragon and thunderbolt as national symbols. ing off the leeches with their knives, but many stuck tight till swollen with blood to three times their original size. In midmorning of the eighth day we reached the 12,000-foot Sele La. Far below, with the unexpected allure of a Shangri La, lay my destination, the Ha Valley. The beauty of the valley, bathed in sunlight between oppos ing wooded peaks, rubbed out the memory of steaming, leech-infested jungles. The moun tain barrier on which we stood seemed to hold back the overburdened nimbus clouds from reaching the valley below. Thickets Yield to Airy Pinewoods Laughing and joking now, we started down the mountain. At once we noticed that the vegetation had changed completely. Instead of thickets of rhododendrons, magnolias, oaks, chestnuts, and bamboos, we were in the center of what seemed like a Canadian pine forest, here chiefly Pinus excelsa. It happened so suddenly that it looked as if a gigantic knife had divided one group from the other. The ease of travel through the open pine forest was a relief. Several hours of hiking brought us down into the Ha Valley. Here the road was good and, for a change, fairly level. We passed several villages, and I was amazed at the ingenuity of the Bhutanese in housebuilding. I saw no nails in these structures, the parts being fitted together instead by wooden cross bars and beams. Of molded mud blocks and pine timbers, they were nevertheless imposing. Outer walls three feet thick supported three main stories. The ground floor was a stable for the cattle and a storehouse for farm implements. The second floor, reached by a ladder, was divided into four or five rooms-kitchen, chapel, strong room, and sleeping chamber. The third floor, open on all sides, was the granary. Here hung sheaves of wheat and barley, safe from animals and the elements. Large stones weighted the shingle roofs in alpine fashion to prevent their being blown away by the winter winds.