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Department of Geography

 

Hidden Lands & Sealed Mountains

Hidden Lands & Sealed Mountains

Geography Library Exhibit

Places and Spaces in a Conservation Landscape - PhD project exhibit by RS Kuyakanon Knapp

This exhibition took place at the Department of Geography during Spring/Summer 2014.

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About the project

Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country in the eastern Himalaya that has been described as 'Shangri-La' and a 'nature-lover's paradise'. It has a strong conservation ethic with over half of national lands declared as protected areas. In addition to its biodiversity, Bhutan is known mostly for its promotion of Gross National Happiness as an alternative development model and its recent (2008) transition from absolute monarchy to democracy. This project explores and interrogates the perceived spaces of interconnectedness between conservation, culture and development. It focuses on what are considered to be sacred natural sites and culturally motivated conservation practices: practices in space, such as 'hidden lands' and practices in time, such as sealing mountains, and practices that make spaces into places (and vice versa), such as pilgrimage.

Hidden lands

A lhakhang (Buddhist temple) in a hidden land. Beyuls or 'hidden lands' are believed to be sacred places of power conducive to Buddhist practice.

Hidden lands

Chorten Kora

Chorten Kora in eastern Bhutan hosts a religious festival every winter that is attended by both Bhutanese and people from Tawang across the border who circumambulate the chorten to gain merit. Legend has it that in an act of great sacrifice a princess agreed to be walled into this chorten in order to subdue the local spirits.

Chorten Kora

Nabji Korphu

The village of Nabji in Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park is the legendary site where Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava made peace between warring kings in the 8th century.

Nabji Korphu

Rainbows and clouds

A rainbow above fir forests seen from a mountain road. In Buddhist texts, rainbows often symbolise ephemeral beauty. In some villages however, they are believed to be demon's bridges and to point at them brings illness.

Rainbows and clouds

Libation offering

These villagers make libation offerings to deities and spirits and sing songs to welcome and bid farewell to visiting guests.

Libation offering

Community meeting

A community meeting at the opening of a national park office. In Bhutan, national parks are inhabited places and environmental conservation is presented as a means to sustainable development.

Community meeting

Riling tshechu

A village festival in eastern Bhutan is one of the most important annual events, and everyone attends dressed in their finery. As part of the ritual symbolic weapons against the obstructions and enemies to the village's wellbeing are thrown into the fire.

Riling tshechu

Guru

Tantric master Guru Padmasambhava came to Bhutan in the 8th century and tamed the wild landscape and inhabitants by converting them to the Buddha's teachings. He is revered as the second Buddha in Bhutan.

Guru

Acknowledgements

Sincerest acknowledgements and gratitude are expressed to the Royal Government of Bhutan, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Ugyen Wangchuk Institute for Conservation and Environment for enabling fieldwork in Bhutan, to all those pictured in these photographs and to all who enabled this study to come to fruition. All images were photographed with permission.