The land of ‘thunder dragon.’ The ‘happiest country on the earth’, a ‘carbon-negative’ country. If these words haven’t yet inspired you to travel to Bhutan, a tiny land-locked country up in the Himalayas, then allow me to motivate you a bit further. I will take you over beautiful wooden bridges, spanning across the Mo chuu (mother, or silent) river and Pho chuu (father or roaring) river. I will float with you over lush, deep, green valleys. I will soak with you in the mysterious legends and myths, surrounding which stunning buildings and monuments stand. I’ll enchant you with cultural traditions, unraveling against a stunning backdrop of panoramic Himalayan mountain range.
Won’t you come with me to this last remaining Shangri-la on this earth?
Cruising over Everest: This took my breath away, literally. While one can reach Bhutan from India by road, people can also fly down to Paro International airport. As I was being accompanied by a group of like-minded women travelers, I had to fly out from Delhi to Paro international airport. That apart, it is nearly impossible to ever see Everest through our own eyes, unless we decide to summit the mountain. So, when I got the opportunity, I decided to welcome it with all my heart and I plunged at it. And what an experience it was! Seeing the Everest with your own eyes, is a feeling like nothing else. My whole flight erupted in a commotion of joy, as our captain announced “That’s Everest on your right hand side.” While you can’t see the mountain in its entirety, we could see a naked peak top, standing tall and asserting it ill-famed character of being the ‘highest and most dangerous peak of the world.’
Hiking the Taktsang monastery: Agreed that the hike to Taktsang monastery or Tiger’s Nest features as ‘a must to-do’ in every tourist itinerary. However, the gorgeous, jaw dropping views of the Paro valley that it offers, is something you cannot escape. It is a perfect melting pot of anybody who wants to sample the taste of real Bhutan. You get to meet locals hiking to the temple, interact with monks, for whom it is a daily ritual. For most part of it, I hiked on the trail alone, owing to my slow pace and the steep incline. At one point, I almost fainted. But then a glimpse of the monastery on the last leg of the trail, drained away all my stress. Not to forget, the cute little Bhutanese guy, who carried me to a nearby cafe there and gave me some lemon tea! 😀 I reached the temple, just before they closed it for lunch, so I was able to participate in the afternoon prayers that echoed the walls of the Tiger’s Nest.
Bhutan’s cafe scenes: One of the best ways to experience the new-age Bhutan is to explore the cafe scenes in and around villages and cities. The food served is yummy, their range of teas, right from green teas to lemon teas are just the healthy dose you need. They are also frequented often by young Bhutanese boys and girls and sometimes the young royal princes! So it offers a great opportunity for anyone who wants to study the impact of globalization on Bhutan and how the youngsters are adapting to the global culture at a striking speed.
Zilukha Nunnery: The Zilukha nunnery is considered to be the largest nunnery in Thimpu, but I wouldn’t call it huge by any standard. It’s a quaint little place, with ample opportunities to see and understand the life of nuns. I spent almost about an hour at the nunnery and met some of the most fascinating women out there. While it is heart breaking to see nuns of such an young age, away from worldy pleasures, it is equally fascinating to see their love of life mushrooming. I even had a chance of playing badminton with the little nuns. Guess, what? I lost every game 😀
Meeting the locals: When I was in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, I had a chance to spend a large part of my time at the center of the city, near the clocktower. The area is a bustling market for the locals and tourists alike and one can spend some time observing shops, people watching, while reading a book or drinking some hot chocolate or cold coffee. Every weekend, the people are out near the clock tower and there are cultural/musical activities organized. One can easily whiff the essence of the local life then.
Immersing in a cultural festival: I feel a very intrinsic way to explore any place is through its culture- dance, art and music. So, when I decided to visit Bhutan, I planned my visit around the Druk Wangyal Festival. This festival is an annual festival that is held on every 13th of December to in commemoration of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces’ victory over Indian insurgent forces residing in southern Bhutan in 2003. The beautiful performances, coupled with enthusiastic people clad in traditional Bhutanese Kira and Gho cheering for the artists, against the eclectic mountainous backdrop, is an experience I would recommend for everyone. While it can feel monotonous in some time, as we are unable to completely fathom their language, it’s still once in a lifetime opportunity. So do grab the moment and experience it!
Punakha village: There are many ways in which Bhutan surprised me. Visiting this tiny little river valley village and the capital of Bhutan, well until 1955 was an eye-opener into how progressive the country, really is! The village’s main attraction, the Fertility temple or the Phallus temple is famous for its legendary ‘Penis Man’, a monk who tamed a demoness with his Penis and propagated for a life full of fun and frolic. The village is also home to Punakha Dzong, one of the most famous fortress. The houses in this village are strikingly different from the ones, we can see in different parts of Bhutan. These homes are made of pounded mud and stone foundations. Each home has huge drawings of penises, intended to drive away evil energies. Surrounding these houses, are the lush rice paddy fields that transport you to another world.
Studying the local architecture: You don’t have to be an architect to study or understand the building structure and designs. Most of the homes, museums, palaces and fortresses in Bhutan are carved out beautifully in wood. The doors and windows have stunning designs and one can simply marvel at the human talent abundant in this world.
Meeting the handsome: One of the pleasant sensations of traveling is to acquaint oneself with the local flora and fauna. On my travel, I had the chance to expose my self to Takin, an endangered national animal of Bhutan. Takin is a goat-antelope and one of the harmless creatures of eastern Himalayas. Plump, bovine-like, its body is covered with dense, long yellow to brown hair. Looks quite cute. What say 😉
Savoring the local cuisine: Bhutan can be tough on vegetarians as most of the vegetarian food consists of potato, chilies and rice. You can easily avail of Indian-styled Chinese cuisine with momos and noodles available. However, I did indulge in some of the Bhutanese style vegetarian food and whoa! It did burn my tongue, with too many chilies.