Shangri-La

Kids in the Mongar district of Bhutan

Many years ago, when I was working at the NYTimes.com, a colleague of mine, Lisa Napoli, introduced me to a man who ended up becoming my partner in life and love. Several years after that fortuitous introduction I learned that Lisa experienced a similar chance meeting of her own, one which led her to travel to Bhutan to start the tiny country’s first radio station.

At the time that I heard this news, I happened to have recently begun an informal study of the small Himalayan kingdom which I had never been to, but whose Shangri-La reputation captivated me. Nestled between China and India, Bhutan is known for its isolation, Buddhist temples and lively ancient cultural traditions. Additionally, it has gained notice for its use of a unique national progress indicator they call GNH (Gross National Happiness) as well as its efforts to embrace the challenges and opportunities of modernity with wisdom and joy.

I wasn’t surprised that Lisa actually went there. It seemed fitting that the instigator of great journeys in others’ lives (I am not the only person who has a story about how an introduction from Lisa transformed their lives) should embark on such a grand adventure herself. As soon as I learned that she was going to write a book, I eagerly looked forward to reading it.

During the course of her many trips to Bhutan Lisa informed me of the passion for literacy and technology among the Bhutanese people and its government. And once again, she has facilitated an introduction, this time by bringing the Reading Kingdom to the Kingdom of Bhutan. Our reading program appeals to the Bhutanese both for its ability to teach English with minimal adult supervision (no trained teachers are required) and the fact that it makes people fluent in using a computer.

Lisa and I are currently working together to raise funds for a new library in rural Bhutan, and we’re eagerly awaiting the near future when there will be Internet access at this library.

Last week, I was finally able to read Lisa’s book Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth. It is funny, ironic, entertaining, deeply personal and culturally incisive. For those of you interested in reading Lisa’s book, it has just been officially released by Crown Publishers today! I urge you head over to Amazon and buy it.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our project to raise funds for the library in Bhutan, please visit this page.