The mountainous terrain of Bhutan left a strong impression on Hawai'i Community College professor Dr. Trina Nahm-Mijo during her visit there earlier this year.
"One cannot travel the precarious roads of Bhutan, which can either suddenly disappear from a landslide or plunge thousands of feet straight down into a gorge, without feeling the ephemeral quality of life and the thinness of the veil to the next world," said Nahm-Mijo.
Nahm-Mijo's impressions of Bhutan, including the prayer flags that adorn the dramatic landscape, will be the subject of a specially created exhibit available for public viewing in the Edward Mookini Library at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo from November 4-29. The exhibit is being held in congruence with International Education Week, November 18-22.
Nahm-Mijo, a professor of psychology and department chair of social sciences at Hawai'i CC, curated the exhibit after spending her spring sabbatical semester, from January through May 2019, in the remote but beautiful environs of Bhutan, a small country wedged between China and India. For her sabbatical project, she volunteered as a counselor in the psychiactric ward of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital, which is the only in-patient psychiatric service available in the country.
During her stint in Bhutan, Nahm-Mijo and her husband, Jerry, were able to travel to 14 of the 20 Dzongkhags (districts) in the country, and she was inspired by the plethora of colorful prayer flags that adorn the environment, especially at the many passes, called La, which dramatically connect the valleys and gorges all over the country.
"Situated on the eastern end of the Himalayan mountain range, Bhutan has often been associated with Shangri-La or the mystic lost Kingdom," stated Nahm-Mijo. "True to its reputation, Bhutan is a visual feast and is still steeped in rich myth, religion and ritual, which interweave with everyday reality. Ninety-eight percent of the country is Buddhist, and the people are devout about visiting the many temples that inhabit the landscape, often perched on precarious cliffs, and endlessly turn prayer wheels and recite Buddhist prayers and mantras to the sacred deities, both major figures and local. The stories and mythology about these deities are very much alive and permeate the consciousness of the Bhutanese people."
The exhibit includes an array of pictures of prayer flags bedecking the passes and sacred sites, and there are also pictures of all-white flags that are erected near homes and temples as tributes to deceased ancestors. A special feature of the exhibit is the display of two, 100-year-old, large Tankas (hanging sacred paintings) obtained in Bhutan. They are hand-painted with natural stone pigments and more than 100 traditional herbs gathered from 4,000 meters above sea level, which make them resistant to humidity. Tankas are believed to have the power to heal one’s self and others.
"Whether one visits Bhutan for a short or extended time, one cannot go away without feeling a profound sense of awe for the dramatic encounter with nature and the kindness of the Bhutanese people," said Nahm-Mijo. "Tashi Delek!"