Bhutan is no ordinary place. It is a Himalayan kingdom with a reputation for mystery and magic. The Bhutanese pride themselves on a sustainable approach to tourism in line with the philosophy of Gross National Happiness !
Firstly to bust the myth - there is no limit to tourist visas. Tourists famously pay the US250 per day tariff, making it as one of the world's most expensive and exotic travel destinations! However, this fee is actually all-inclusive - accomodation, food, vehicle and even an official guide are all provided.
Our travel itiniary is all customised to what we want to see and do but only a guideline as we can change as we go along. We actually started our homework and planning process almost 10 months before. After considering a few alternatives we narrowed down to the registered Bhutan agent, " DrukAsia " based in Singapore more for easy communication and convenience, and lucky we did because in June 2014 (5 months before departure) all flights and accomodation are fully booked out!
and so our adventure begins ! ...... Oct 2 to Oct 8th 2014........
DrukAir 501Y depart Singapore 0630, arrive Paro 1025 Oct 02 2014.
The flight into Paro is one of the most spectacular in the world. Whether flying along the Himalayan range from Katmandu or over the foothills from Kolkatta each flight is mesmerising aeronautical feat and offers an exciting descent into the kingdom.
The dramatic landing of the DrukAir (Airbus 108 seater) coming in and down thru the narrow S-shaped valley of Paro was amazing. The approach onto the runway is fast and zigzag, both sides we can see only the sides of the mountains . No wonder only their own pilots are allowed to navigate and fly into Bhutan. All it needs is just a gust of crosswinds and thats it !
They all say to book the left side of the plane, which we did but i guess we still missed the breathtaking view of the snow-capped Himalayas! probably we didnt know what to look for..
|view from plane window|
|landed in PARO International Airport|
Our 6 nights itiniary covers from Paro, Thimphu and Punakha on land in a amazingly strong 12 seater minivan and it is this vehicle that miraculously drove thru the winding hillside terrain across the country. Of course it must be the driver's skill, name is Joker. Most of the itiniary covers the interesting sights ie temples, Dzhongs, towns, Thimphu Festival and monasteries, with our excellent young guide, Lhawang Dorji. However, we have specially arranged with the Bhutan agent for some of us to trek up to the Bumdra Monastery, 4000masl and camp for a night.
And so we had to form 2 groups ie GroupA for those who wants to venture 4000masl to trek up by foot thru the beautiful Rhododendron forest to the Bumdra Monastery and camp a night in 2C in tents ... approx 7hrs of labour , sweat and tears (almost) to reach the green meadows at Bumdra..
...and to say " We made it ! "
and the other Group B who will be driven to the scenic Chele la Pass (also about 4000masl ) and to the Haa Valley for a picnic by the river... and can even squeeze in a half day shopping in Paro town.
and to say " we are the smart ones ! "
Both groups reunited at the iconic spectacular Takshang Monastery - one group that went thru "hardship" (no regrets, I hope) and the other a very relaxed group.
I guess there are many reasons for people/tourists to want to visit this country. Some for its mystical attractions as curious tourists, some just being "fashionable" to have visited this far-away "shangri la" and some to really appreciate its "holiness" and its way of life and culture and of course some to meditate there .
But whatever reasons we have, I sincerely wish that this beautiful culture and place will not be spoilt by the outside world in the future. I wish Bhutan can stay this way and not open up too much or too fast to the outside world. Our trip, we can see already people on the streets and even the monks with handphones ! As a means of convenient communications is good but not to totally being "unsocialble" like what the rest of the world is today. Even our guide, Lhawang Dorji told us that they appreciate the time or bonding they have with their family or loved ones more before the mobile phones came in. Soon, just like us, we sometimes dont even have a decent chitchat over the dining table but everyone heads down on their mobiles, ipad, iphone etctec
They are very positive-thinking people, very happy people... and recycling and environmentally friendly are natural to them.
As like everyone knows, this is the only country in the world that measures GNP with "happiness" - GNH (gross national happiness) and they actually do a survey regularly to get feedback from their population (700,000 whole of BHUTAN) . Bhutan operates four main hydro-electric facilities and this hydro power is the backbone of Bhutan's economy. The rugged terrain, compounded by the fact that the country is landlocked does not provide much economic advantage to Bhutan. Bhutan's ability to harness the hydro resources has been made possible because of its close and friendly ties with its neighbor, India.
I am very honoured to be a guest of Bhutan and to witness its happiness and its way of life.