The Kingdom of Bhutan seems to be everything the rest of Asia is not. It is not crowded, not polluted, no scams, almost no crime, more women than men, and even smoke free. The selling of cigarettes here is, for non-smokers like us, blissfully illegal, but they still have some excellent local beer. It has been ranked the happiest country in Asia. Everyone is fed and they measure country success based on Gross National Happiness rather than GDP. Bhutan was never colonized and their pride and strength lies in their traditions and culture. There is only one runway for the whole country and only two planes that use it. It is nestled in the Himalayan Mountains and the scenery is stunning. Most people still wear their traditional dress which consists of different patterned robes and sashes. While it is not a place for action and excitement, it is a traveller’s dream for being somewhere very different and being able to visit wonderfully friendly people in a safe environment. I’ve heard a lot of seasoned travellers say this is one of their favourite countries and I wholeheartedly agree. When we first arrived there was a fellow from Texas who came to celebrate his 60th birthday. He had been before and wisely told us the only thing we won’t like here is leaving. He was right.
One of the strangest curiosities of Bhutan is that many of the buildings are depicted with painted erect penises, often at the point of ejaculation. There is a large following of a Saint known as the Divine Madman who used this as his symbol and these images on people’s homes and businesses are thought to ward off evil spirits. If you’ve had a chance to see the pictures we already posted you were probably surprised to see what looked like pornographic cartoon material. It is everywhere here and no one but the tourists think anything of it.
We were met at the airport by our guide Thinley (Wangchuk) and our driver Dawa. They have been incredible throughout the week and perfect hosts for our visit. During our week in Bhutan we visited the following areas: Paro, Dochula pass, Punakha, Wangdue, Phobjikha and Thimpu. We saw numerous highlights including a number of fortresses known as Dzongs. They are a combination of a monastery and administrative building in each town. I really like them, particularly the one in Punakha. We have done some trekking through blue pine forests, muddy marshes, and climbed to a cliff side monastery. We drove through mountain passes and we visited people in their homes to share drink and food. We spent time feeding the national animal, the Takin, which is unique to Bhutan. It looks a bit like a goats head stuck on a cow’s body. We watched archery competitions and tried throwing large darts which is their other favourite pastime. We tried on local dress and I even had a $2 haircut that is as good as the best I’ve had that also included an extended head massage.
One of the most identifiable places in Bhutan is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and on our last day we spent plenty of time admiring it and wandering through it. I’ve really enjoyed my time here and have appreciated the slower pace of the country. I certainly recommend coming here and would love to recommend the agency we used if anyone plans on going.
Photos are posted on Facebook at : http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=132085&id=673382190&l=8e393130f5