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When there is too much misery and distress in the world, said the 8th century Buddhist master Padmasambhav, you can find refuge in beyuls -- mystical sanctuaries hidden deep in the snow-tipped Himalayas.These are sacred valleys, Paradise-like places – and Bhutan is supposed to have many of them.This was the early 2000s, when Bhutan was still relatively disconnected from the outside world.The country opened its doors to visitors only in 1974; by the end of the Nineties, the number of tourists was just a little over 7,000.Though she had studied journalism, Serena took up a job in PR (the money was better), and eventually found herself running a home furnishings export business.Till she went to Bhutan on a trekking holiday in 2002 with 16 other Indians and 40 horses. The immediate trigger was that she had just bought a Hasselblad medium format camera and wanted to try it out.
“There is a beautiful legend behind the dance,” says Serena. I was honestly just rejuvenating myself.” But she finally did bring out a lush, heavy 360-page coffee table book called The Ancients in 2015.The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small Himalayan country east of Nepal, nestled between China and India, with an estimated population of 700,000.Last month, Bhutan celebrated the wedding of monarch Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the fifth Druk Gyalpo ("Dragon King"), to 21-year-old commoner Jetsun Pema, now Druk Gyal-tsuen ("Dragon Queen") of Bhutan.“When you do a body of work, you don’t tuck it away, you show it again,” says Serena.“You can look back historically at something.”Those years of intense travel led to a deep relationship with Bhutan; from an observer, Serena became a participant.
Most guides steer visitors away from any discussion of ‘Western influence’ that might complicate the tourism board’s official narrative of Bhutan’s Shangri-La status.