Bhutan portrays itself as the Happiest Country in the World. It well may be! It is the happiest in Asia and the 8th happiest in the world. It has a great GDP and it is able to maintain its beauty and culture; a reason to celebrate!
Bhutan sounds like some exotic place! And its right in our backyard so to speak. We suddenly decided that we needed to go to Bhutan. In a big hurry we booked our tickets and planned an itinerary. Visa is on arrival for Indians, so no big hitches there. We wanted to land as late as possible in Delhi because the flights to Bhutan are usually in the early morning hours of 4-5 am. Our Druk Airlines flight was on time and excitedly we prepared to board.
Suddenly we heard my husband’s name on the announcements. Ah! they finally realised they have a VIP on board, we thought! But no such luck, no one was waiting for us at the desk. We waited anxiously and about 30 min before boarding, Druk staff strolled to the boarding point. Another woman also was called to the desk.
I was asked quite kindly to wait while they were whisked away. Boarding was announced and one by one passengers going to Paro, Bhutan boarded the bus to get to our plane. I watched with a sinking heart as the last passenger boarded. I looked around and was relieved to see another 4-5 ladies looking worried and sitting further away. Misery loves company and I was comforted.
I asked at the desk what was happening and of course the reply was they would be back soon and: “Why don’t you board the bus?” No way was I going to leave my husband without money or ID and have a good time in Bhutan, so I told them no.
Finally, with 15 min to go for the flight to take off, the two were brought back. With no time to lose, we boarded the bus, explanations could come later. Finally settled into the best seats in the house – front row of the plane, I found out that my husband had packed his diabetic meter in his checked-in bag which looked like a power bank in the x-ray machine! The other lady had a power bank in her bag. They were hurried along to the luggage area which was some distance away, after descending and ascending two elevators and walking more than 2 km inside the terminal buildings! No electric cart, nothing! Whew! Lesson learned: keep power banks and any tiny battery objects in your hand baggage!
The flight was uneventful, with a nice breakfast courtesy Druk. What a view! The captain announced that the Himalayas were on the left and we lucky people on the left had a gorgeous view of Mt. Everest soaring over the clouds in the rising sun! I will never forget!
The flight to Paro is itself an adventure we realized! The plane flies in the valleys between the mountains to get to Paro. And sometimes there is no signal from the Control Tower! The pilot’s skills are in full use here. Druk has highly-trained pilots who safely took us to Paro International Airport through superb views of mountains and valleys.
Paro International Airport is so beautifuly quaint. It reminded me of the airport back home 10 years before! The passengers disembarked onto the tarmac and we walked to the terminal from there. No fancy buses to be packed into, only a cool early morning breeze (it was around 7:30 am) on our short walk. We looked around at the fabled Land of the Thunder Dragon. My first impression was what a beautiful and astounding place.
I felt like I had stepped back in time. It all looked so familiar from some fairy-tale book or movie. The buildings have a uniformity throughout Bhutan with pretty Bhutanese-style art and woodwork. A huge fresco of the King and Queen of Bhutan greet everyone next to the terminal building. We walked into a well-lit, crisp building. Our bags were close-by and a huge model of the Royal Palace greeted us near the baggage collection belt. Our visa was dealt with quickly and we were outside!
The guide put us into the van and our adventure began. If you are a person who must be wired to technology all the time, you will feel at a loss here! Internet is expensive, and hardly anyone is connected. Its like India 10 years ago! We enjoyed the detox! You can buy an internet package when you leave the airport with Bhutan Telecom’s Druknet or similar. Carry your photo with you for immediate connection! It costs Rs. 100 and you get enough data in the package to stay connected on mobile using B-Mobile. The great thing is that the service is available almost everywhere, even in the mountains. A lot better access than in India.
Lots of yummy Bhutanese food around. Its really well-prepared. The Bhutanese give a lot of importance to organic food and preparing food from scratch. So be prepared to wait for your food. It sure ain’t fast food!
You could survive on momos, rice and cheese-chilli curry (delicious!) here, which are cheap. They do try to make rotis and curries to please the Indian palette. Hotels will have some familiar food, though it may not taste the same as home! But then, you are not home and its always a good thing to try the local food; that’s why we travel right – to absorb the culture of a place?
Genteel, soft-spoken and kindness are the main characteristic of the Bhutanese. Expect a lot of politeness and please do reciprocate. Don’t have the mistaken idea that they are shy of confrontation, do not push them too much.
They take the environment very seriously and never pollute, litter or mess-up a place as far as possible. Do respect this and clean up after yourself while in Bhutan. The land is pristine because of this care. Wherever you travel it is lush, green and natural.
Monasteries and Buddhist temples are the focal point of tours here. You will see flags fluttering in the breeze, some colorful and others in white. It is believed that the wind spreads blessings to everyone who is touched by this breeze.
White water rafting and hiking are popular here. There are some very good adventure tourism companies here. Get close to Nature, let go and relax! It goes without saying that you need to be fit to enjoy these activities!
Tiger’s Nest is a fascinating Monastery clinging to the side of a mountainside. You will usually come to it after a week exploring around Thimphu, Punakha and Paro. Because you need to acclimatize to the high altitude in Bhutan they advise you to tour Paro last and finally the Tiger’s Nest a few days before you leave!
You can rent a walking aid (stick) at the foothills to help with walking. A grueling 4-5 hours walk on a “make your own road” pathway takes you to the monastery. Do have your own water, food and first aid with you, there is no first aid station, no doctor or even an ambulance around the hiking path. There is a cafe about half way to the Tiger’s Nest where you can stop, find some food and take pictures and turn back if you want! You will find people from all over the world hiking here, determined to make it to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery!
We were not allowed to take photos of the Buddhas in Temples as they are worshiped Gods after all. Trust me, they are each so beautiful, peaceful and full of grace. The artwork is astounding and beautifully maintained.
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk encourages his people to take pride in their culture, costume and way of life. You will not find many in t-shirts and jeans. Their favorite sport is Archery just like in the old days! Men dress in the Gho and women in the Kira. The cloth can get really expensive as it is mostly handwoven in fine silk for special occasions.
Art Inside Tashicho Dzong:
Things To Buy in Bhutan:
You can buy the intricate wooden masks, jewelry, snazzy bags made of a rough jute, lots of Buddha statutes and the beautiful handmade silk cloth. Mandalas and the painted Thangkas are a prized possession to take back memories of Bhutan. Photos of this beautiful land are probably the cheapest way to remember though!
Am Mani Padme Hum
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