9 important life lessons from Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom


Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom tells the story of the journey of an unmotivated teacher, Ugyen Dorji, hailing from the capital city of Thimphu being assigned to teach in the most remote part of the country, Lunana.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom tells the story of the journey of an unmotivated and apathetic teacher, Ugyen Dorji, hailing from the capital city of Thimphu being assigned to teach in the most remote part of the country, Lunana. It's a beautiful story directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, told in great simplicity. The story depicts the genuine warmth, sincerity, mutual respect and kindness of the villagers that bring about the transformation of a discouraged teacher.

The film takes us through the awe-inspiring beauty of Lunana, one of the most remote places in the world. A lighthearted yet mesmerising film infused with Bhutanese humour. It's little surprise that this Bhutanese film shot using solar batteries has won many awards internationally. In fact, Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom was submitted as an Oscars entry last year. The second Oscars entry from Bhutan after Khyentse Norbu's 'The Cup' in 1999. Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom has screened at several festivals all over the world including the USA, the UK, Canada, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Egypt, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, India, Japan and recently, in Singapore.

Below are some important life lessons that Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom has taught us.

1. Getting education is a privilege
The eagerness of the children to study and learn shines through from the moment they saw their newly arrived teacher. In fact, the very next day, they were all ready to begin their lesson and waited patiently for their teacher inside the classroom. However, Ugyen overslept and had to be woken up by the sweet adorable class captain, Pem Zam who played her role remarkably. In remote parts of the world where qualified teachers, facilities and resources are unavailable, it is apparent that education is a privilege that we sometimes take for granted. The theme played out strongly when a grandmother from another village in Lunana travelled all the way to Tshojong Village to request for her granddaughter to receive education.

2. Finding joy in the little things
The story revolves around the different pursuit of happiness. It portrays the inner conflict of the protagonist, Ugyen, who sometimes wears a T-shirt with the word 'Gross National Happiness'. Ugyen aspires to break free from the constraints of his homeland to pursue his ideals of becoming a singer in Australia. Upon his teaching stint in Lunana, he witnessed a different pursuit of happiness by the local villagers. One that is focused on love, family, community, simplicity and contentment that was captured countless times in the film.

3. Music is a universal unifier
The touching story of the yak herders and their yaks, as well as the folksong of the yak herders, are highly memorable. Ugyen wanted to learn how to sing the yak herder song, Yak Legbi Lhadar from a girl called Saldon after hearing her captivating singing from the top of the mountain. Although Ugyen isn't very fond of folksong initially, he can't be helped but get influenced by the enthusiasm of the villagers.

Ugyen and Saldon overlooking the village in Lunana

Like milk in a porcelain cup,
The heart is pure.
So pure that even if the cup breaks,
The milk remains milk.

Like water in a vase,
The heart is clear,
So clear that infinite beauty
Is reflected in its depth.

Ugyen also sang this song inside a pub in Sydney towards the end of the film when he was finally in Australia.

4. Important to preserve one's culture and traditions
When you live in a big city, it's inevitable that culture and traditions fade over time. Ugyen realised that he had not eaten in a traditional wooden bowl (dapa) for a long time. He shared that food eaten from a wooden bowl always taste better. That experience also reminded him of his grandmother whom he missed dearly. It's a good reminder of the importance of preserving our culture and traditions so that future generations can continue to enjoy the experience.

5. Caring for the environment
Upon reaching Lunana, his yak herder friend, Michen who lives in the highlands shared with him that all the mountains would be covered in snow and ice when he was young. However, he never sees them white anymore these days. The effects of global warming are real even though in the film, Michen mentioned that he doesn't understand the word. Michen told Ugyen that with less snow and ice every year, he's worried that the snow lion might forever disappear from our world. It's clearly a lesson on responsibility and sustainability, reminding us to take better care of our environment.

6. Respect and care for people and the environment
The relationships cultivated between the villagers are truly heartwarming. They constantly look out for and care for one another whenever one faces a problem such as the death of caretakers or having an alcoholic parent. Not only the human relationships that are touching, but the relationship between the yak herders and their yaks are equally heartening. To the villagers, the bond between a yak herder and the yak is sacred, as close as family. When their yak is being slaughtered for food, the villagers mourn. And they have the utmost respect and appreciation for the yaks for keeping them alive.

7. Innovating with scarce resources
When Ugyen first arrived in the village, there was no blackboard in the classroom. He made use of the wall to conduct his lesson. Eventually, getting help from Michen to build their own version of blackboard and chalk using the resources that they have. When the class runs out of papers, Ugyen tore the traditional papers used to cover his own window, so that the children could learn. It taught us that if there is a will, there is a way. The selflessness of Ugyen is also felt by the students who wrote in their letter that they will never forget his sacrifice. Kindness and generosity go a long way.

8. The power of an educator
When Ugyen was in Lunana village, he began to realise the value of his job. Through his genuine interactions with the students, he begins to understand how, as a teacher, he can "touch the future" of these children. He even got his friends from Thimphu to send over some study materials and a basketball to Lunana. Alongside the parcels, he also received his guitar where he used to perform while the children sang. These moments are deeply appreciated by the children. This shows that a good teacher who truly has the students’ interests at heart will be able to create lasting impressions in the lives of their students.

9. The grass is greener where you water it
A theme that is continually being explored in the film is the sense of longing and belonging. While Ugyen has finally been able to achieve his big 'dream' of becoming a singer in Australia, he doesn't show any sign of happiness. Halfway through performing an English song in a bar located in Sydney, Ugyen paused as nobody was heeding him. The film ended with him picking up the lyrics of Yak Legbi Lhadar that he scribbled on the brochure while he was in Lunana, and him singing his heart out. Does he regret his decision? Well, I guess that is a question that only Ugyen can answer. But perhaps, the biggest lesson of it all is that the grass is always greener where we water it.

How to visit Lunana?
To experience the charm of Lunana, you can attempt one of the toughest treks in the world. The 28-day gruelling Snowman Trek takes you through the villages in Lunana. Only the most adventurous souls have attempted this tough and demanding trekking route. Thus, successful completion of the trek is definitely an accomplishment to boast. Alternatively, if you are looking for an ultra-luxury experience, you can also take a 3-hour helicopter ride all the way from Paro Valley to Lunana. 

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