Tshering Yangzom, founder & co-owner Bhutan Lhayi Zeydhan Travels & Tours, and certified Lu Jong Yoga instructor
Tshering Yangzom is from Paro, Bhutan. She is a very social and friendly person, who is always eager to meet and make new friends. She has a degree in Finance, and is a certified Lu Jong (Tibetan healing yoga) instructor, learning from Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche. Yangzom is the niece of former Vajra master H.E. Ngawang Tenzin Rinpoche.
She is a mother of a 9-year-old daughter. Together with her sister, she runs a travel company in Bhutan.
Hello Yangzom, welcome! I’m very happy to introduce you to the MultiWoman Community. Maybe you can start with who you are and share more about your roots and background.
I’m very happy to be here with you today and thank you for giving me this opportunity. I am Tshering Yangzom from Bhutan, a country deeply rooted in Buddhism. I am born and raised in Paro valley. My mother is from a village called Haa and my father is from village Paro. My mother came to Paro, married my dad, and then she started her family here with me and my sister. I have just one sibling, who is younger than me.
How is living in Bhutan? Can you share more about your childhood?
Growing up in Bhutan, we have lived with my father, mother, my sister, and my two uncles. We are living with the whole family in one house. My sister recently moved to the capital, after starting our business. This was more convenient for her to go to the bank and other offices. She lives there with her husband and her two little sons.
I remember that you told me about going to school in Bhutan and that English is one of the main languages.
The main language in Bhutan is called Dzongkha, but English is indeed the second language. When you come to Bhutan, you will see that all notifications, or every sign, are both in Dzongkha and English. Sometimes you will see that the English version is in a bigger font than our language. Every subject we study at school is in English. We only have one subject in our language, and the rest like physics, chemistry, is in English.
Education in Bhutan is free until we are in 10th grade. When a student can score that standard percentage, then he or she can study for free for another two years until 12th grade. After this, the student can achieve the acquired map score, which makes it possible for him or her to qualify for free college. So my sister and I received free education from primary school to the university.
I can imagine that it’s a great system to receive a good education, but also a pressure for the students.
Yes, we felt this pressure especially when we were in class 10. At that time my sister could qualify fully for another two years, while I had to go to a private school for two years. But fortunately, after class 12, I scored the percentage and was able to go to the university. So yes, we felt a lot of pressure, but it’s also a way to get a job. The first option is always given to graduates from government universities. Everybody wants to qualify for government colleges and doesn’t want to end up in private colleges. If this isn’t an option most of the time students would go to India in Thailand.
Parents who cannot afford a private university send their kids to India because I guess India is cheaper. People whose parents can afford it will send their children to Thailand. Otherwise, it’s too expensive.
Another reason could be that the kind of major or subject that the student wants to study is not available in Bhutan. Therefore, they choose to go abroad.
You’ve also been traveling a lot, and have seen quite a few countries, especially in Europe. What was your first impression or experience that was very different from yours?
For example, in Bhutan, when you meet a friend, or, when you get acquainted with the person, it’s very common to call the friend or the person with a nickname related to their physical appearance. For example, if a person is big and chubby, we use names related to that. We always do this. But in the West, you’re not supposed to say this, because this is something that will hurt them. I had a few experiences where I would say, “oh, you look big” or “oh, you’ve lost weight!” I would immediately say that, but this is something you never say in the West. Here in Bhutan, as soon as I meet a friend, I’d say “what happened to your skin? It has become dark!” Or maybe if I see you have gained lots of weight I would also ask “what happened?” This is something we always say in the first place whenever we meet a friend.
Oh yes, people might take it too personally here.
Exactly. They get hurt.
How was their reaction when you expressed it the first time?
When I expressed it, I didn’t see any reaction, so I didn’t know. Later, I heard from other friends that this had hurt her or him, and I was told that I shouldn’t be saying that. Unfortunately, I forgot, so it happened a few times. Now, when I go, I am quite aware not to immediately say something about someone’s appearance. But actually, I wouldn’t do this with friends I just met, but only with friends, whom I’ve known for years.
As far as I can see, we are very open-minded in Bhutan. The first time in Europe you can feel a bit low. I think it’s because of this “close-mindedness” and having to be careful everywhere. This can cause a feeling of pressure. But on the other hand, I see that my friends show a lot of respect. Honestly, I think they’d rather show too much respect.
That’s interesting. Can you give an example?
Yes, for example, I don’t mind when a person calls me immediately for an appointment, giving me your work or also calling me for tea. We are very used to spontaneous things. But in Europe, my friends would always make sure that they called me at the right time, and not to disturb my schedule. They are always being very careful. In this way, we aren’t able to connect so well. Always trying to respect this space too much makes you feel lonely sometimes.
Here in Bhutan, we are very spontaneous. After I returned home from Europe, I found it a bit difficult to coping again with the kind of life we’re having in Bhutan.
For example, as soon as I arrived, my sister was immediately looking into my bags without asking. That used to be quite normal to me, but I adapted to the kind of lifestyle in Europe for like six months. As you can imagine, back home again and immediately encountering this with my sister, I felt frustrated. My mother would also enter the room without knocking, or when I’m on the phone, it could be anyone like my mother, sister, or father, who call from the back and ask me to do things. In some ways, I like the Western way, and in some ways, I like the Asian way. I think in between I tried to find the middle way again because otherwise, they would feel like “oh, she’s treating us this way because she thinks she’s special.”
So what in Europe means to respect your space and time, in Bhutan this means something very different. That’s very interesting and also good to know!
I will give you another very good example. As mentioned earlier, I live with my uncle, and a lot of people are coming to see him receive his blessings or for some kind of ceremony. I never realized that, until I returned from Europe. I also felt a bit stressed that people would come anytime with any information or prior announcement. Sometimes my uncle had to leave his meal aside to go and receive the people who came to see him. It happens all the time.
I was discussing this with my mom and told her that whenever guests leave, to ask them to make a phone call first when they want to come again. I tried to bring this system into our family, but it never worked. So I gave up because this is not going to work. It’s still not happening.
It’s just now due to the Corona situation, that we have a restricted number of guests. So our gate is locked, and no one can come even if they want to. If they didn’t call, we are not opening the door, and will only see them in front of the gate. In the beginning, it was difficult for my uncle, and my family, since they are so used to it that everybody can come whenever they want to. They don’t like telling people to call first. Otherwise, they feel that they’re treating themselves as special.
Can you tell more about your uncle, and why people are coming to see him?
My uncle is the former Vajra master, which is the second-highest spiritual master. He is well known in the Drukpa Kagyu tradition.
I have two uncles both 83 years old, who are great practitioners. Many people like to come to visit them to get their blessings, especially from my uncle from my father’s side, who used to be the Vajra master. Both my uncles went to the monastery together. They were friends since the age of 13. My uncle from the father’s side was also recognized as one of the reincarnations. I think this might be difficult to understand, but he was recognized by his root master as the reincarnation of one of the great masters, and therefore he is a quite well-known figure.
My uncle was serving in that post for quite a while. At some point, he resigned and decided to stay in the mountains to have more time for himself, and for meditation and prayer.
How did Buddhism shaped you into the person that you are today?
Traveling has opened my eyes and my mind. I would say that I am a more happy and content person now. This open-mindedness, being flexible or whatever has come from living with my uncle, is embedded because of living 24 hours with him. The feeling of compassion and accepting karma are things that have a major part in my life and being. Believing in karma and deeply accepting that whatever is fated for me, I know I will experience it. So whatever I encounter in life, I never ask why this is happening to me. I never feel sad, because I always accept and believe in karma. Buddhism has a lot to do with it, especially for me.
One of my masters, Tulku Lobsang, gave me the opportunity to travel to Europe and to meet with many people, and see a lot. Many people whom I’ve met are practicing Buddhism. They are already quite interested in spirituality and also in traveling to Bhutan. Therefore, I had the idea of having a travel company with my sister to give people the opportunity to come and feel our lifestyle. In Bhutan Buddhism is not just our religion; in fact, it’s our culture and our daily way of life. Our daily life is guided by the principles and philosophies of Buddhism.
You’re also a mom of a nine-year-old daughter. What are the things that you want to teach her?
My daughter was also born in Paro. When she was just 12 days old, we moved to the house where my uncle lives. I had her when I just completed my first year in university and stayed one year with her to breastfeed her. After that, I went back to complete my studies, and therefore she was mostly with my uncle and my mother. Once I graduated from university, I had the chance to go to Europe. So I took this opportunity and went.
As my family is here for her, she has the opportunity to be with my uncle more than I did. So I feel she already learns and knows a lot, which makes me feel really good about it.
That also means why I would never take her away from my family until she is 18 or going to university. I want her to learn the same traditional values as I received from my uncle. This feeling became stronger after I explored the world and saw many people.
It’s only because of this Corona situation that allows me to be longer with her. I see a lot of positive things. The way she sees and understands situations, the way she talks about karma; growing up this way is so precious. And that makes me very happy.
I love hearing this. Was it difficult for you to leave your daughter?
When I had to leave her to go back for my studies, those two years in university were tough for me. Slowly I got used to it when I felt how strong she is. We are enjoying being together, but the whole situation has made both of us very strong.
When it comes to love, I realized that I don’t feel that much attachment. What I mean is that I learned this through mainly my daughter whom I love so much. But it’s not necessarily that the person has to be with you. You can love them while being away.
Hearing you talk about your daughter is inspiring. As a mother myself I feel that your relationship is based on unconditional love and a strong foundation of trust.
I’m not afraid that one day she will complain. If I’m there in her life or not, all is good. I don’t have this fear.
She’s also very pampered by my whole family. My sister had her son a year ago, but until then, she was really like a mother to my daughter. She also calls my sister and my mom her mommy. Besides, she feels she has two dads; her dad and my sister’s husband. So in fact, she has three mothers and two fathers!
Wow, that’s very rich!
On top of that, she has two grandfathers and two grandmothers. She has so many people around her. What I like most about our society and our culture is that we have this culture of living together, and therefore we have a great support system. This is the reason that I’m able to travel. My mother would look after my daughter, so I never have to worry about it.
What happens when there are conflicts in the family?
It happens, but very rarely. Because like I said, we don’t have this “my space” kind of thing. We are very open. We also talk things out directly, which makes it easier to resolve conflicts.
When we have conflicts, it’s always my mother who will work things out. Even now my sister is married and living in another city, and me having my own family, when we have some conflicts, it’s always my mother who will help. When my daughter and I sometimes aren’t able to agree on things, it’s again my mother who will help. She is the main person. She will make sure that the family is running well.
That’s also how typical Asian mothers are like: they have the full power, and they also have the responsibility.
Who inspires you the most?
I would say, firstly, it’s my uncle who is a great inspiration to me. Secondly, I would say, Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche. He also inspired me to become a better and happier person and to live in the present moment. My uncle has already laid the foundation for me. Working for and also having this opportunity to travel with Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche helped me a lot as I grew and matured as a person to build on the ideas that my uncle has laid. I realize that I’m a happier person. He helped me a lot to explore my full potential.
While we are living, we are always learning and growing. What is the one thing that you really desire or maybe would like to do with your daughter?
I don’t have any plans for my daughter. I think she will have to face everything that is in her karma. I would just make sure that she has a good education. She also inherited all these traditional values from my family. By living in our society, especially by going to school she already learns how to be a good human, a responsible person, and a citizen.
I would also say, a very, very responsible citizen to the king. We very much respect and love working, which you already learned. I know that and that’s it. Other than that, everything depends on you.
For a long time, I have always had the desire to study abroad. I always wanted to study more languages, and especially to improve my English writing and speaking skills. When I was in class eight or nine, I already had the wish to go, but when I look at the journey that I’ve had until now, I feel very happy with not choosing to go. I would say if I would have gone abroad to study, I might have also learned the Western traditions and would have been more in my own space. I wouldn’t want to miss our values. So when it comes to my daughter, I have no plans to send her away until she completes high school.
What advice or life lessons would you like to share with us?
I’d rather prefer to share my experience with you. Traveling, especially getting the opportunity to travel to Europe, had helped me a lot. I have begun to appreciate what we have in our own country.
Elderly people are more respected in our society, so my grandfather and grandmother are a priority. I guess the sense of a very strong community vitality makes it feel that a village feels like family and that we all are very connected. This is important for our soul.
And also in our workspace; we have banks, insurance companies, many tech companies, but the sphere is not so ”cold” like how it was in Europe. I studied finance, and therefore have a lot of friends working in a bank, insurance company, or tax company, or also having their private businesses. The atmosphere is very nice and friendly, not stressed.
When I say I run a travel company, a lot of times my Western friends think it’s a stressful job. But again, in this travel company, I don’t feel stressed. I work with various parties: hostellers, guides, drivers, visa officers, immigrant officers. I feel that it’s a nice place to meet people and be friends with them, and call them home.
Buddhism has a very important role in our culture. This makes you more peaceful and calmer as a person and teaches you to find happiness not outside but within yourself, and enjoying the small things.
Do you think Buddhism, or spirituality, is the key?
I think that’s the main thing. Everybody is open-minded and willing to help each other so the tourism business has never felt stressful. Organizing trips and the paperwork, finally having the guests come to Bhutan, and then showing your own country and seeing how they get inspired, make you very happy.
When it comes to the guides and drivers, you meet many new team members. Even it’s not always that perfect, it’s always very easy to organize things here. Everybody is very spontaneous, very open-minded, and of course, respectful to each other. We are like a family and have a really good relationship, so therefore running a travel company has never felt like work for me.
I would say being open-minded, being compassionate is important, and makes your life easier.
Sometimes we do forget the things that matter. It’s very inspiring to hear how you do business. I think it would be a lot easier and more fun to see things from a different perspective. Is there something else you would like to share?
I would like to add that the intention is very important.
In terms of doing business: when I started the travel company, the main intention was not just money. I got this idea when I was traveling around Europe. And like I said, I was attending many retreats, seminars, and workshops with Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche, and met people who were interested in Buddhism. Therefore they already knew about Bhutan. Many of them wanted to travel to Bhutan but always thought that it was very difficult to get a visa. So I did some research and I discovered that it wasn’t that difficult. It’s just that they have to pay a certain amount. That motivated me to help people to achieve their dream, and find a way to give them a more local experience instead of coming as a tourist. Slowly the business grew bigger and bigger. I have already hosted about 200 guests within a short period, which is a lot in a country where you pay $250 per day.
There are two prices to stay in Bhutan. March, April, May, September, October, and November are considered the high season. In the high season, guests pay 250 dollars per day that includes everything: accommodation, a car with a driver, a guide, and food. And of course, some pocket money to do shopping. For the low season, which is in winter and summer, guests pay 200 dollars a day. I learned a lot about the whole tourism system in Bhutan, which enabled me to host a lot of guests and friends. The whole idea started actually trying to help friends of mine, but in the end, it benefited me. I believe that my intention to help make my business flourish.
So when you work, in your business or a job, don’t just do it solely for money. For me, it was that I like to meet people and travel with them. That motivates me and makes it exciting.
What would you like to share more about Bhutan?
Visiting Bhutan is not just going on vacation, but it is about experiencing the first-hand culture of Bhutan. Bhutan is a mountainous country, nestled in among the mighty Himalayas, between Tibet and India. We have a total population of about 750,000 people.
At first glance, you may find it has a familiarity, being roughly the same size as Switzerland, it also offers a similar feel with beautiful scenery for hikes or long treks across the mountain ranges, and in many ways, the Bhutanese would be right at home in the Alps. When you take the time to get a closer look at Bhutan, you’ll find the culture is unlike any other on Earth.
The largest city in Bhutan is the capital, Thimphu. It is home to about 250,000 people, nearly as many prayer flags, and one giant Buddha. The rest of the people live in towns and villages tucked in the valleys between the mountains. As you travel over the mountains from one valley to the next, you’ll find that each has its own unique flavor. While they all feature rivers flowing down from the mountains, numerous temples, and other great sights to visit in every valley, you will find something new in each place; such as the wildlife in the wetlands of Phobjikha valley, the spectacular Punakha dzong seated at the joining of two rivers, and of course, Taktshang Goemba, the breathtaking temple built on the side of a mountain in Paro.
When you come to visit Bhutan, you’ll find a country that has all of the comforts and amenities of the modern world, but only if you want them. You will not find crowded city streets, smog, or giant neon billboards. Instead, you’ll experience a country that cherishes nature, and its cultural history. While you can choose to stay in a luxury, 5-star hotel, you can also experience the open warmth of living with a Bhutanese family, staying with them in their farmhouse. They won’t have mini soaps and shampoo, or memory foam pillows for you, instead, they will welcome you into their home and offer genuine kindness and friendship. The memories you’ll take away from your stay in a farmhouse, or maybe even in a temple, are just as remarkable as those you will have of the sights and scenery.
The experience of visiting Bhutan isn’t about riding on a tour bus, going from one sight to the next, snapping pictures, and buying t-shirts. The experience of a visit to Bhutan will immerse you in what it means to be Bhutanese. Yes, you will take home many pictures and memories of beautiful scenery and places you visit. But your visit will be much more than that. Bhutan will include you in a centuries-old culture based on family, caring, respect, and an appreciation for the simple enjoyment of life itself.
You will be a part of the culture, and Bhutan will always be a part of you wherever you go.