by Jessica Beaghen
Words will never describe my trip to Bhutan adequately. I travelled there via Bangkok and Kathmandu on a long and arduous journey, not helped by a broken aeroplane and bad weather, although I am glad they don’t fly when they can’t see the mountains, as they do get very close. I went to help develop the Royal Botanic Garden in whatever way I could. It is very new, having only opened to the public in 2000, and covers 29 sq km, with a lot of work still to do. It is intended as a site for recreation of the Bhutanese and tourists, and is situated 15km from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
My main task was to design and plant the flower gardens with the help of the labourers. A few annual and perennial plants, as well as some shrubs were in their two polytunnels. These could be supplemented at a later date by plants collected on field trips. I was very aware of the differences in our cultures, and didn’t want to offend anyone, so relied heavily on Sithar Dorji, Assistant Conservation Officer and Namgay, Head of the Labourers, for guidance, and together we came up with a colour scheme for the Garden based on the colours of the prayer flags and the colours used when dignitaries visit. We also paid particular attention to the order the garden would be planted in, as this also has great significance.
At the end of my first week I went on a hike to the top of the world, or so it seemed. The Americans had arrived to give a workshop on biodiversity and bioprospecting, and they had room in their minibus for me, so I joined them. We climbed up and up and up, past lots of fantastic plants and trees, including Betula alnoides and Rhododendron arborescens. At the top we were at 3,700m, and it had been a very hard climb, but worth it for Phajoding Goemba, a monastery built by Shagcha Rinchen in the 15th century, and the views of Thimphu in the valley below.
The following week I attended the majority of the workshops the Americans were running, learnt a lot and met a lot of people. I also attempted installation of a database at the Garden (but wasn’t very successful with this), continued to oversee the work of the labourers, and organised an unofficial visit to the Garden by the Honorary Secretary of the Bhutan Society with a view to them providing some sponsorship for part of the Garden.
My last week in Bhutan flew past. My trip to Bhutan was a chance in a lifetime to experience first hand a place that is one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. I was very lucky to achieve what I did in the short time that I was there and am privileged to have met the people that I did, and to have experienced such a beautiful landscape. Being a part of the development of the first Botanic Garden in Bhutan was a privilege, and I am honoured to have been a part of it.