I couldn’t believe my good luck or good Karma when I was given the opportunity to visit the small Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan. Very few countries left on Earth have been able to maintain their pure culture. Bordering China and India, with Tibet to the North, it is a land locked country with soaring Himalayan peaks and a culture that closely resembles Tibet.
I flew to Singapore to pick up Druk Air (national carrier of Bhutan) via Calcutta to Paro. Paro has a reputation as being one of the world’s most dangerous airports to fly into. My fear of flying was less than my desire to visit Bhutan. The flight was fine.
I can honestly say it was one of the best travel experiences that I have had since it is pure in culture and unaffected by tourism. I went for a 2 hour walk in the capital Thimpu and never saw one other traveller or internet cafe. I did see many people dressed in their local dress – the men where a type of tunic dress with long socks and shoes. The ladies wear a long silk skirt and top. I saw many happy people going about their daily lives in a country that measures their success on Gross National Happiness – not Product. They are Buddhist and there are many ancient Buddhist shrines and stunning 300-year-old fortresses in each major town. The animals live in harmony with the people, there are stray dogs everywhere but they are well fed.
We did the classic itinerary of 2 nights in Thimpu, 2 nights in Punhaka and 2 nights at the end in Paro. The reason this itinerary works well is that you acclimatise slowly over the 6 days ready for the best experience of all – the famous Tigers Nest Monastery.
Tigers Nest Monastery is rated by National Geographic as one of the world’s most sacred places. Built into the rock hanging on a cliff at 3100m, it is a place on earth that most people that visit feel something very special.
We left early morning to hike up – a walk that took us 3 hours up and 1.5 hours down. The place, once it appeared out of the mist completely took my breath away, over and over. It is not just the temple itself, it is the beauty of the area, the waterfall next to it, the prayer flags draped everywhere and the stone staircases. Once inside, I found some monks chanting and they let me sit with them and absorb the beauty of their singing. I also got blessed with some holy oil by the head monk after I sat in his chair by mistake.
Bhutan have set up their tourism to preserve their culture. It is a different system where you pay a daily rate in USD that includes a guide, visa, accommodation, taxes and all meals, travel and transfers. There is no independent travel allowed. Please come and see us to organise a trip to this very special Shangri La before it changes.