Sender: Guido van Enckevort
2374 AL Oud Ade
Recipient: Department of Local Governance
Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs
Tashichhoedzong – Timphu
Oud Ade, 16th of January, 2021
Subject: Journey to and stay in Bhutan
Dear madam / sir,
Kuzu zangpo la! During these strange times I hope you receive this letter both in good health, and in good spirits.
My name is Guido van Enckevort, 32 years old and a few months ago I started planning a bicycle journey from the Netherlands to Bhutan. Knowing perfectly well that visiting Druk Yul in a conventional way is quite an undertaking, planning a visit by bike will probably become a proper challenge.
It is for this reason that I am contacting you, explaining the purpose and nature of and the motives for this journey, quietly hoping that you can somehow help me in reaching and, who knows, staying in the land of the thunder dragon for a certain period.
From the moment I first heard of Bhutan – I remember it very well, it was in my fourth year of secondary school (2006) – the Himalayan Kingdom has been lingering in my head. Back then, during one of the final lessons of the year, our economics teacher, who had the privilege of visiting Bhutan the previous summer, showed us pictures of his journey to this pristine country with its majestic mountains, its ancient forests, its beautiful temples, and its icy rivers full of grey water.
My curiosity and fascination grew with every picture he showed on the blackboard. ‘If I get the chance, maybe one day, one day…’
After finishing secondary school two years later, with Bhutan fading to the back of my head, I continued studying, tried different things, chose eventually public administration as a major, did research at the ministry of the interior on how to strengthen local democracy, graduated, realized what my strengths and weaknesses were, figured out how I could contribute to a better world, became a policy advisor on sustainability and started working for a small municipality called Kaag en Braassem.
Ever since then, together with its inhabitants and the different communities, I have been working on the energy transition from fossil fuels to sustainable alternatives, trying to strengthen biodiversity, holding back subsidence and preparing our environment for the effects of climate change.
Being among citizens, colleagues, farmers and local entrepreneurs I quickly noticed two things. First, I, as a policy advisor, was way more effective when I not only talked the talk but also walked the walk. Whether that is a good thing or bad thing, I, to this day, still don’t know but anyhow, I started taking more and more steps in reducing my carbon footprint: I already was a vegetarian but I also stopped using many dairy and animal products, made a vow never to own a car, promised not to set foot in an airplane again, started buying second hand things and leave new devices and other unnecessary things as much as possible on the shelves.
Secondly, gaining more (toxic) knowledge about climate change, its causes, its consequences and what is necessary to stop further warming of the planet, I realized: we, as a global community, have to make some radical changes or things will not end very well for a lot of us. So I kept asking myself: how can I, as a person and policy advisor, make more impact? How can we, as a society, be more in harmony with our environment? How can we change the world in a more durable and balanced direction?
And then, somewhere in my second year working as a civil servant, like thunder in a clear sky, there was Druk Yul again. How could I forget this carbon negative land that has been doing things so differently? More in harmony with its surroundings, more balanced with its environment. If only I could visit that country and learn from them. You can, but did you not recently vow you would no longer fly? I most certainly did. How then, do I reach such a distant country? Travel by boat? By car? By motorcycle? No, the only options I could think of, that were in accordance with my newfound principles, were travelling on foot or by bike.
So last year, after saving enough money, I bought Ziggy Two-Shoes, my travel bike and we started our training. First a trip from the Netherlands to Samsø (a Danish island renowned for its sustainability policy) and this year we travelled to Italy. Despite some setbacks and discomfort, I sincerely was happy on the bike and came to a conclusion: next year, in 2022, Ziggy Two-Shoes and I, we both can be ready for Bhutan. That is, if there is a way to reach Bhutan by bike. And after doing some research, it seems possible. Indeed, there is a way, although there are some minor ifs and major buts.
Nevertheless, if I am given the opportunity to enter this unequalled country with its exceptional culture, its fenomenal temples and archers, its broad concept of prosperity, its recent transition from a monarchy into a democracy, its unique relation with its surroundings, its flowing landscapes, Ziggy and I will start cycling this March, hoping to reach Bhutan before the 17th of December.
The main purpose of this trip to Bhutan is to learn. I am convinced that I can learn a great deal from this monarchy, such as how to anchor sustainability in a completely different way. I can learn from their government, their education system, and their culture. I can learn from the children, the elderly, the farmers, the entrepreneurs, the civil servants, and the monks. I probably can learn in other ways, ways that – never having been to Asia, let alone such a unique country as Bhutan – I cannot imagine or comprehend at this moment.
Concluding therefore with a rather impertinent question: is there perhaps a possibility that you, your organisation or any acquaintances of yours can somehow help me with visiting Bhutan next year? If given permission I would love to stay in Bhutan for a certain period (three to six months if possible) in order to learn from the people of Bhutan. Although I saved some money for this journey, I am financially not capable of staying in Bhutan for such a period on regular tourist terms. Of course, I would be more than willing to contribute to a prosperous and happy Bhutan in such a way that the people and the environment of Bhutan have decent benefits from my stay.
I am prepared to work the land every day, to clean, to maintain, to build or to labour in a different way. Besides my work as a policy advisor in sustainability and enhancing the local democracy, and the corresponding competences, I have a background as a gym teacher and football coach. Also, although not having an official Cambridge certificate, my command of the English language is above average. If there is any demand for it, maybe those skills will come in handy.
When I am writing these lines, I sense that this open application might come across as if I am convinced that I can teach the people of Bhutan something. This is absolutely not the case: it is I who can, and hopefully will learn from Bhutan and its inhabitants. I am only giving you this information to paint a picture of my attitude: I am prepared to do pretty much anything in order to stay and learn in this unparalleled country. And, if I have been given the opportunity, in doing so, hopefully I will implement the learned lessons in my country of birth when I return to the Netherlands.
I am fully aware that this is a rather unusual request but I am guided by the following Bhuddist saying: ‘endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.’
Namey samey, for your time and effort invested in this matter. If you have questions or remarks as a result of this letter, I would be more than willing to answer or explain them.
Tashi Delek! I wish you all the best and hope to hear from you again soon.
Guido van Enckevort