(This is not a travel itinerary, just my personal musings you are welcome to read)
I had always seen Bhutan as a dreamy, fairytale destination I would be unlikely to experience first hand. Whenever I hear of someone holidaying in Bhutan, I would gush with envy. After all, it is widely known to be the happiest place on earth. And that carina Lau and tony Leung chose to wed there must mean it is exclusive, sophisticated, romantic and beautiful. Right?
Seven years after that high profile wedding, Bhutan remains an uncommon choice for holiday goers. I wonder why? Could the daily tariff (USD 250) and troublesome visa procedure imposed on tourists be barriers of entry? While that certainly filters out some types of holiday goers, I don’t think it is that unreasonable.
When I chanced upon the opportunity to visit Bhutan, I jumped at it. Having spent the past week or so there, here’s what I now think:
1) As a huge country (it takes about a week to travel from one end to the other end), it is surprising that population is below 700,000. What’s even more amazing is that 90% of the country is forested. Nature is truly untouched here, and the natural beauty is evident everywhere you turn, in the most magnificent scale. There could be miles of forestry and mountains, and one lone house. How do people live like that? How did they build the house? How do they get electricity? What about food and shopping?
2) It is easy to see how this place is seen as spiritual. The natural beauty is so grand and overwhelming that you can’t help but feel serene and tranquil in its midst. I kept a slow pace throughout my holiday, stopping intermittently to admire my surroundings, and letting the calmness wash over me. Bhutanese are fiercely devoted to their religion. More than 99% of them are Buddhist and it is common for boys/girls to choose the monastic route, even a life of meditation. Almost all attractions in Bhutan are centuries-old temples, deeply entrenched in the history of Buddhism.
3) Yet, it constantly amazed me how such isolated people in seemingly basic conditions could have access to iPhones and Samsung Notes. For a place where most roads are unpaved, it’s ridiculous how I would be in the middle of a forest and hear the silly sound effects of Facebook messenger. Even monks in the temples would be typing away on their phones. I am at the same time confused and amused!
4) It isn’t easy to get around Bhutan. With population numbers so low, a transportation network wouldn’t make sense. Cars drive on unpaved roads, and when you hit a mountain, you have to climb over it. Even for tourists, we had to hike for hours everyday to see the attractions. I think this is part of the charm of Bhutan. Most tourists are game for it. Curious Caucasians and spiritual Asians brought out their best hiking gear and challenged the slippery slopes, rocky terrain, occasional rain showers, to emerge happier, accomplished and it’s all part of the experience.
5) the beauty of Bhutan is unforgettable. It still moves me when I recall it. I hope it continues to protect and sustain its environment – and may it prosper to greater heights under the new king and his beautiful bride.
I know bhutan will start fading from my memory, when I start getting caught up in work and city life. So I will post a few pictures here soon.
Chew doma and bye bys