It’s 5 pm on a Saturday afternoon. Monsoon rains are hammering
on the roof of the marquee, the air is steamy and I’m quietly drowning in sweat inside my kira, a thick, heavy piece of woven cloth that is so tightly wrapped around me I can hardly breathe. In front of me sit the Queens of Bhutan, four elegant and beautiful sisters who are all married to the country’s ruler, the Dragon King.
Beside me, my partner Mal is exhausted and relieved. The movie he produced has just had its world premiere, here in Thimphu, Bhutan’s tiny capital. Travellers & Magicians has been given the royal nod and at this genteel post-premiere reception he can finally relax.
Cavorting happily in the rain in front of the royal entourage is our eighteen-month-old daughter Kathryn, stumbling about on the grass in her miniature kira. It is the country’s national costume, which by law the Bhutanese women must wear, and out of respect, we do also. While she looks cute, I look like a round multicoloured keg.
One of the Queens turns her head and exchanges pleasantries with Mal and me. It is one of the few occasions that we can look Her Majesty in the eye without being considered rude.
In this unique little kingdom nestled in the Himalayas, royal protocol normally forbids such intimacy. I have heard many funny stories of drivers who, spotting a royal car on the road ahead, have driven into fields and rice paddies as they dutifully lowered their gaze. The reverence the people feel for their first family is extraordinary. The Royals are considered a national treasure.
The King has decreed that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. And that’s how his people live. For many, life is a struggle, yet they remain remarkably content and happy. It is a little pocket of sanity in a world gone mad.
It seems like just a minute ago that I was Editorial Director of an Australian weekly women’s magazine. It was a crazy, hyper world of celebrity gossip and glamour, big money and even bigger egos. And I loved every mad minute of it.
Interrupting my thoughts, a handsome waiter with feline eyes and angular cheekbones (and wearing what looks suspiciously
like an orange tartan dressing gown) offers me another yak hors d’oeuvre. The Queen engages me in polite conversation,
saying kind things about my daughter as she frolicks in front of us, wet but happy.
This is about as far away from that Sydney magazine office
– and all the corporate brouhaha that went with it – as I could possibly get without actually leaving the planet. By some fortunate
set of circumstances that I never saw coming and wouldn’t have dared even imagine, I have arrived here, at this enchanting
moment, in Shangri-la.