Prayer wheel behind UTEP’s Centennial Museum
This morning around dawn, on Veteran’s Day, which also happens to be the birth anniversary of the fourth King of Bhutan, I turned an authentic Bhutanese prayer wheel in an unlikely place: on the campus of the University of Texas El Paso.
The palm tree is the dead giveaway: This is El Paso, not the Himalayas.
The entire school is built in the distinctive style of the Kingdom’s architecture. If that wasn’t strange enough, the connection dates back to 1914, long before anyone from Texas could have imagined stepping foot in Bhutan (since the tiny country wasn’t officially open to outsiders until the 1970s.)
Campus library: A giant thangkha of the Four Friends hangs over a 100-foot altar in the lobby. At the espresso stand on the left, the barista told me the architecture is even starting to seep into other places around town.
I’ve written about this surreal connection in my book, Radio Shangri-la, and before on this blog, so I won’t detail the interesting history here, but my fascination with this bizarre and wonderful bit of pre-globalization globalization never ends. This week, I’m on the campus of UTEP to speak to a number of classes and to deliver a talk at the museum tomorrow night at 5pm.
Here are some photos (and if you’d like to see some videos, please click here.) The first one below is of an authentic Bhutanese temple that was constructed on the National Mall in DC for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2008, and was recently “re-incarnated” here on the campus in El Paso. Surrounded by dozens of examples of the Tex-Mex interpretation of Bhutan’s architecture.
This lakhang (temple) once sat on the National Mall in DC. It’s being readied for public view in UTEP’s plaza, which as you can see is under renovation.
No where else on earth, not even in Bhutan, is there a parking garage that looks like this
Nor would you ever see a stupa fronted by an animated billboard, like this one in front of the Centennial museum
And if you share my fascination with all of this and would like to know more, there’s also this short story available on Amazon.