I was very lucky to travel to Bhutan for nine days. It has always been on my bucket list so this was a very special experience. As this destination is not so well trodden I thought it would be a great idea to share with you my time in this wonderful country.
Firstly I would have to say that the flight in to Bhutan is the most spectacular flight I have ever taken. I felt like I was in a fighter jet cruising and weaving in between the huge mountains until we finally reached the airport runway in Paro. Bhutanese pilots are exceptional and the airport is like no other you have seen. Your first impression of the terminal is one of graceful grandeur. It is Bhutanese architecture that greets you unlike other non descript terminals in the world. Walking across the tarmac allows you time to digest the whole experience and what strikes you is the anticipation of experiencing a beautiful frontier town nestled amongst a ring of surrounding mountains. What also strikes you is the gentleness and friendliness of the Bhutanese people who wear their national dress as a matter of pride.
Our itinerary did not disappoint and our first day in Paro gave us a taste of rural life, magnificent mountains, terraced fields, wispy leafless willow trees, abundant prayer flags and a very rich cultural heritage linked in every way to Buddhism, which permeates every aspect of Bhutanese life. The food throughout was also delicious (not the hot chilli infused dishes that you read about, though they were available to try) and the accommodation was a delightful surprise every time. I was in fact wowed by the standard and the rooms often had million dollar views as well.
Paro Chhu (river) meanders through the valley and Paro town borders the riverbank. The main street is lined with traditional colourful three storey buildings housing many shops. The intricacy of the wooden architecture is beautiful and painted windows and beams, which can only be seen to be believed, create a unique character indicative of all Bhutanese towns. In fact it is decreed that even new houses must be built in the traditional form. The imposing Paro Dzong or monastery overlooking the town is a huge Tibetan like structure emanating peace and tranquillity and further out is one of Bhutan’s oldest and most revered temples dating back to the seventh century, the Kyichu temple. The most famous monastery in Bhutan though requires some effort and ideally suits those with a penchant for walking. This is the Taktshang Goemba or Tiger’s Nest, which literally clings to the side of a steep rocky cliff face 900 meters above Paro valley. It is hard to pinpoint highlights as there were so many, but this was indeed one of them. It was a breathtaking and exhilarating walk up affording fine views of the surrounding valley and snow capped mountains. Many monks were also walking up with very heavy loads on their backs from timber to tiles for the renovations that were taking place. As soon we entered the monastery, a feeling of peace and holiness enveloped us. This monastery is deeply venerated and to meditate here as we did, is a very powerful experience.
The other also stunning places we visited were Thimphu, the capital and lower Punakha valley on the other side of Dochu La Pass (3140 metres), where we visited the Punakha Dzong for the Domchoe. This is a major festival recreating the victory of the seventeenth century battle scene between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans over a holy relic, which the Bhutanese won. This was spectacular to say the least as all the locals from far and wide came dressed in their finery to experience the event. Royal dancers and locals from the town were recruited to participate in the dancing and regalia and every day prior to the official opening there were rehearsals. The costumes and masks were bright and elaborate and the whole scene simply mesmerising.
I could go on forever about the beauty of this country, not only the scenery, but the people and philosophy and rich cultural heritage. It was all so impacting that I want to go back, maybe next time to experience a trek in Bumthang valley and the culture and villages of Eastern Bhutan. What struck me most was that the Gross National Product really is Happiness. It may be expensive to visit but a significant percentage of money paid by tourists is invested back into preserving its heritage and improving the lives of its inhabitants. Indeed the people and all within Bhutan are considered national treasures and it definitely shows.