National Geographic : 1991 May
toward the stone monastery at the top. From the distance Tiger's Den appeared to be an integral part of the mountain itself, teetering high above the valley. Below I saw a land carpeted with thick green pine and spruce, interspersed with rice fields and houses where red chilies dried on the rooftops. According to ancient scripture, a saint known as Guru Rimpoche (Precious Teacher) landed on this mountain from Tibet in the eighth century, astride a flying tiger. The guru, who had come to fight spirits then plaguing the Bhutanese king dom, later became one of the country's most important religious figures. Gempo guided me through the shadows Timeless, modern Bhutan AREA: 18,147 square miles. POPULATION: Approximately 700,000. CAPITAL: Thimphu. RELIGION: Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism. LAN GUAGE: Dzongkha, Tibetan and Nepali dialects. LITERA CY: 30%. LIFE EXPECTANCY: 48 years. ECONOMY: Food processing, distilling, handi crafts. Export crops: fruit, vegetables, cardamom. Wedged between giants, Bhutan is linked histori cally and culturally with its northern neighbor, Tibet. Yet politically to day's kingdom has drawn much closer to India. Known as Druk Yul, Land ofthe Thunder Dragon, Bhutan was a loose confederation of fief doms until 1907, when it elected its first hereditary of 40-foot cypresses, Bhutan's national tree, and past conifers draped with moss. We reached a waterfall cascading down the cliffside at the entrance to Taktshang and quietly crossed stepping-stones set in a pool, which spilled out into a ravine some 250 feet below. "The waterfall helps focus one's medi tation," said Gempo, making his way easily to the other side. I followed, and he explained how some monks have mastered a form of meditation called lunggom-literally"walking on air" -which allows them to bound across the landscape with great strides. "Unfor tunately, it takes much time to learn the theoretical (Continued on page 88) Pv SRI 80 LANKA 90°E king. In the 1950s Bhutan began moving toward mod ern systems of health care and education. Development proceeds cautiously; Bhutan severely limits tourism and the logging offorests, which cover halfits territory.