Bhutan. What can I say about Bhutan besides, wow. It is a truly special place. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. It is a tiny country sandwiched between two giants.
While the world continues to get smaller and the western European and American markets continue to influence the eastern region there is a strong hold going on in Bhutan. They know they have a gem and they are happy to charge a premium price for tourism. For the seasoned traveler who has seen it all Bhutan is the next destination. Due to the high fees you won’t see many budget backpackers, if any. It is an expensive destination but worth it due to its pristine environment, big clean rooms in luxury hotels and super hospitality. Each hotel was kind enough to accommodate our yogic needs by providing space for us to practice in even though they didn’t have a “yoga shala” per se.
Bhutan has a rich history. Politically they moved from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1999. The current king is the worlds youngest and he and his beautiful wife appear to be loved by the people.
His father opened up tourism in the 70s and since then there has been strict regulations and limited access. This of course made Bhutan even more popular amongst those who can afford the high tariff. What these strict rules have created is a pristine land, clean rivers and mountains and a traditional culture still in tact. In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. In his speech, the King said that television was a critical step to the modernization of Bhutan as well as a major contributor to the country’s Gross National Happiness (Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness), but warned that the “misuse” of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.
We saw for ourselves how tradition lived on while the influence of technology came in. Every child goes to school and each student has access to the internet at school. The towns are small, the population is low. Even in the capitol city, Thimpu, the population is roughly 100,000 people. Many still wear their traditional dress around town and in many places it is mandatory that they do.
While traveling around, the Bhutanese people pretty much leave you alone. They smile and will take pictures with you but won’t harass you for money or even incessantly plea for you to visit their shop like most others places I have traveled. Their shop prices are high and their wares are well made. They know that if you really want to buy it you have the money to pay for it. They are friendly and curious about us as we are of them.
We drove though the very windy mountain roads to get from Paro, where the airport is, to Punakha where a beautiful 16th century dzong, monastery and temple, stands next to an impeccable river. The Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, means “the palace of great happiness or bliss”. It is amazing!
One of my favorite stops is the Divine Madman, Chime Lhakhang, temple on top of a rolling hill surrounded by farmers fields and a small village called Lobesa. On the path up to the temple you can see the locals harvest their grain by cutting down the long grass and piling it up neatly, beating the dry grain then sifting it. All by hand of course.
There they worship the Divine Madman as a hero who drives away evil spirits and brings prosperity and fertility to the land and the people in unconventional ways. There are big paintings of penis’s on the walls with little spurts of ejaculate coming out from the top. For the penis enthusiast you can purchase a penis key chain or even take your picture with a 3ft penis at one of the gift shops. They take fertility symbolism literally. During our visit inside the temple we were blessed by the monk with a strike to the head with a 10 inch wooden phallus. Its great!
Just outside the temple is a glorious Bodhi tree. Our group sat under it relaxing in the cool shade it provided. Soon the breeze started to flow and we were all lured into a silent meditation. Sitting in this quiet space we soon heard the sounds of the monks 5:00pm chanting and drum session. We all felt blessed and knew that we were lucky to witness and feel a very old tradition still alive right in front of us.
Of course, one must visit the 184ft sitting Buddha in the hills above capitol city Thimpu. The surroundings are not complete but the Buddha is. And what a site to see! Gold shimmering perfection in its full massiveness. We were awestruck. The Bhutanese are counting on it being one of the wonders of the world and is already the largest sitting Buddha statues anywhere. We wish them luck!
One really fun thing to do in Bhutan is go for bow and arrow practice! It quickly became addictive as each of us wanted to keep trying and perfecting our skill. We were of course terrible at it but had a blast trying. Our guide was a great shot and aim. His arrow went at least 60ft in distance and landed a little shy of the bulls eye. Wow! We were impressed.
And no tour to Bhutan is complete without a 2 hour hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, called the Taktsang, originally built in the 16th century. It is the monastery in the clouds that everyone wants to see. As you climb your way up you have many opportunities to hang prayer flags, breathe in the blessings and enjoy the vista. Each step is a prayer and the journey a meditation. Once you make it up to the steps and see its splendor you are so grateful to be lucky enough to witness such magic with your own eyes. It is beyond words.
When you are ready to visit Bhutan we have the perfect private package for you or you can come on one of our group tours which we lead usually in October. Visit www.awayinward.com for details.