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Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth    by Lisa Napoli order for
Radio Shangri-La
by Lisa Napoli
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Travel literature raving about Bhutan (an isolated Buddhist monarchy in the eastern Himalayas, sandwiched between Tibet and India) is not uncommon lately - from its mention in Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World to Linda Leaming's account in Married to Bhutan of 'How One Woman Got Lost, Said "I Do," and Found Bliss'.

Having trekked in the Land of the Thunder Dragon in the 1980s and been delighted by its unspoiled atmosphere and people, I was intrigued to read Lisa Napoli's update in Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth. While she describes her own spiritual renewal from her time in the kingdom, she also offers a balanced perspective of how the country has changed in the decades since I was there, in particular after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and his father catapulted 'Bhutan into the modern world after years of seclusion' and permitted Internet and TV 'into the happy kingdom' in 1999. And she mentions the Nepalese-Bhutanese refugees who were forced out of the kingdom twenty years ago.

Lisa Napoli tells us that her book 'is the story of my midlife crisis - and how I wrestled with and then transcended it, thanks to a chance encounter that led me to a mysterious kingdom in Asia few have visited.' She fell in love with 'an ancient, once-secluded kingdom transitioning now at warp speed.' After her time in Bhutan, she says: 'No longer did I feel stuck on a treadmill of emptiness; now my life story read as full, exciting, wondrous - with limitless possibilities for the future.' And this was all an internal change.

She worked in public radio in Los Angeles when serendipity led to a friend of a friend encouraging her to visit Bhutan. Thanks to his recommendation she was offered a volunteer role as advisor to a start-up radio station, Kuzoo FM. She arranged an unpaid leave of absence from her job and set off for the capital city of Thimphu. This new radio had an 'eager audience' in Bhutan and 'listeners were allowed, even encouraged, to participate on-air.' And the author appreciated being in a place where 'Thumbs weren't maniacally text-messaging so the humans they were attached to could "keep in touch" while averting their gaze from others in their paths.'

Lisa Napoli covers the country's first democratic election, and the effect of Internet access and TV on the younger generation - 'It's human nature to want an easier way of life. And more stuff.' She gives us a riveting and frank account, not only of her time in Bhutan, but also of her transition back to life in California, and growing realization that 'All I really needed was here inside me.' She reminds us that 'the ingredients for happiness are simple: giving, loving, and contentment with who you are.' If you enjoy travel literature or are at all intrigued by Bhutan, Radio Shangri-La is a must read.

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