Bhutan. That intriguing little country with a population of about 700,000, wedged between China and India…August 2011 and there I was, 22 years old, with the opportunity of a lifetime, to visit this mystical, hard-to-get-into country. Or so I thought.
When my father found out that my mum and I were going to Bhutan on a business trip, he passed us an old book about Bhutan. The only taste of the country I’d get before I flew there. This book fed me some extremely old facts and figures, so for all of you intending to go there, I’d suggest a more up-to-date guide.
Prominently Buddhist, they claim to be one of the happiest countries in the world, measuring it via “Gross National Happiness”, more commonly known as GNH, through a more holistic and psychological way, measuring quality of life and social progress. Thank you, Wikipedia.
Ten years ago, Bhutan only let about 2500 tourists in, so I went in half expecting a hillbilly monk town. I was surprised to find that this most definitely wasn’t the case. Just as their landscape was breathtaking and utterly impressive, so were the warm and welcoming people, (being technologically advanced with free wi-fi available in so many places, roads that didn’t need traffic lights and architectural details that would blow your mind). Their main industry is hydroelectricity used to cover their own usage during winter, whilst the summer months provide extra rainfall; they even manage to provide India with some as well.
Advancing with a traditional flavour, the Bhutanese try to keep their culture by maintaining an “exclusive” tourist industry, for yes, it is a very expensive holiday for most. The government mandated that people must wear traditional clothing to work during the week (kira for the ladies and gho for the men) and, well, let’s just say their shopping street in Thimpu (the capital) is nothing like Orchard Road. They sell mostly jewelry, fabric and Buddhist bits and bobs. Since there was no Gucci or Prada, I decided to splurge and spent 25 USD for the traditional kira. If you’re a stamp collector like myself, you might know that Bhutanese stamps are some of the most sought after in the world and therefore you might splurge a little on that too. I mean, they even have a whole floor dedicated to their stamps in their national museum, so it’s definitely worth taking a look.
With a landscape, flora and fauna like European mountains, the summer months are perfect. The weather is cool (between 22-25 during the day and 16-20 in the evenings) and it was as if the sun shone especially for me to take pictures so that I could rave and rave about the place when I left … and have proof to back the amazement up.
They use a lot of chili and cheese in their food and claim it to be spicy. I on the other hand, think the spice is fairly mild…nothing like the cili padi we get around these parts. The food isn’t especially memorable albeit a few dishes here and there, so don’t have your expectations of fine dining and unique world-renowned mouthwatering food. It is not Thailand. The only other thing I’d recommend is to bring some wetwipes around with you, because they do not have toilet paper in public toilets, and a lot of the time the sinks don’t have running water.
In Paro, where the only airport in Bhutan at the moment is situated, there is the world famous “Tiger’s Nest” and no, not because tigers lay eggs. For the lazier folk like myself, you have the choice of riding up there with a horse for about 500 Ngultrum (their currency is pinned 1:1 with the Rupee), it’s a pretty exhilarating experience being on a horse on a narrow path, trudging up a mountain mind you! Alternatively you could just take a hike up there for two and a half hours, one way. The view is unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere, plus you get a bit of a cooling down at the top when you have to pass a waterfall situated right next to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Don’t worry; it’s only a bit of a spray…kind of like spritzing yourself with face mist for 10 seconds.
What you will definitely see lots of: temples (also known as dzongs), dogs (because they do not believe in killing…but they eat meat…confusing, I know), marijuana plants (they grow like grass, pun intended), cute children and handsome old men. The people there have a certain charm that comes off nicely on camera. Plus, their national sport is archery…that is pretty badass.
So with upcoming plans to have direct flights from Singapore to Bhutan with Drukasia in 2012, I think it’s time to start saving, buy yourself a Canon S95 (that’s what I used) and plan a trip to Bhutan. It’s worth it.
Oh yes, it is often referred to as Shangri-La…need I say more?
© Bianca Li Wei Brand and biancadventures, 2009 – Present.