The Wisdom of Kings and Black Neck Cranes

Bhutanese Stamps - A Century of Kings

Led by a series of socially radical kings, the government of Bhutan has made a long series of stunning, often-difficult, choices. The first, perhaps most radical step, was taken in 1962. The then current king wiped out, in a single stroke, the medieval feudal system, which had shaped all of the secular activities in Bhutan for centuries. Before 1962, there were families who owned manor houses and all the land around the manor as far as the eye could see and beyond. The crops, grown by the serfs, were shared 50/50 with the manor. That ended overnight, by decree, after which no one was to own more than twenty-five acres.

Radical, sweeping changes have continued to be made. In 2007, when the extremely popular and highly revered king announced the Bhutan’s shift of democracy, the people of Bhutan demanded he change his mind and have Bhutan remain a monarchy. The king refused. In the spring of 2008 with elections complete, Bhutan became the world’s newest democracy. In the fall of 2008, the king, then in his 40’s, abdicated in favor of his son, who was crowned in a stunning ceremony, thus completing that round of radical, central governmental change.

From the Black Necked Crane Museum

Surprising and wonderful choices are being made at the village level as well. We stayed two nights in the Bhumthang Valley, winter home to the extremely rare, black neck crane. The Bhutanese government brought electricity to the valley a couple years back, to improve the quality of life. The black cranes didn’t adapt and many died by flying into the electric wires. When the government was notified of this, the wires were quickly removed and each household was provided with solar panels instead. While our hotel had a generator, it was used for only an hour in the morning and three hours in the evening, leaving the sky dark at night and village quiet after 8:30. Bhutan seems to be the land of unusual problems, difficult choices, and uncommon wisdom.


Published by


Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *