When I informed my dear ones that I was going on a trip to Bhutan, many of them questioned my decision; some reasoned Bhutan was not an interesting place to travel , some asserted there were only monasteries to see there, some suggested I should go to Ladakh instead. While a few baffled at my choice, just asked ‘Why?’
My only reply to all of them was – ‘You will know when I get back!’
I am back and my answer lies in this post. Bhutan is definitely a lot more than its Mountains and Monasteries. Sharing a list of things to look forward to when you are in Bhutan:
Treks and Trails
From a day to month long, Bhutan has all kinds of treks for adventure lovers.
The most clichéd but certainly not overrated, is the Taktsang Monastery Trek. It is popularly known as the Tiger's Nest. It is literally perched on a cliff and is one of the most important Buddhist sites. It is believed that Yeshe Tsogval who was a follower of Guru Rinpoche, transformed herself into a tigress and carried Guru Rinpoche on her back from Tibet to Taktsang. Here is one of the nine caves where he meditated.
Another popular trek of Bhutan is the Druk Path trek, which is about 6 days long. This trek not only greets you with beautiful landscapes but also introduces you to some ancient Lhakhangs and Dzongs.
For people who find trekking arduous, you could soak in nature while walking on the breathtaking trails of Bhutan.
At an elevation of 3000 meters, Phobjika Glacial Valley is surrounded by huge mountains on all sides. This is a short (4 kms) but beautiful trail. During winters, black necked cranes migrate to Phobjika from Tibet, and the monastery in Gangtey holds a special festival to celebrate their arrival.
Bhutan is blessed with natural beauty. Owing to its forest reserves, which are about 70%, it becomes a wonderful place to camp.
We camped under the star lit sky, by the river stream, in the forests of Gasa. There was no network connectivity in the forest which was the best thing about the camp. This disconnect from the virtual world helped me establish a wonderful connect with myself.
Bhutan will surprise you by the sumptuous food it offers. Rice is their staple food and is part of all their meals. The most surprising thing about Bhutanese Cuisine was they don’t use Chilies as spices but as vegetables. Their signature dish with chilies is called Ema Datshi.
Most people get busy absorbing Bhutan’s natural beauty and forget to notice the distinctive architecture of Bhutan. Dzongs(fortresses), Lhakangs (temples), Goenpas (monasteries), Chortens (stupas), Suspension Bridges are all diverse architectural beauties of Bhutan.
Whether a Dzong or a house it has the same architectural form, same building materials and similar aesthetic compositions. Most Bhutanese buildings are square shaped built with rammed earth or stone between timber frames.
Generally, a Bhutanese house is multi storied. The ground floor is used for cattle. First floor is used for storing grains. Second floor is used as a living space. Roofs are raised with open space to allow wind to go through. A noticeable and interesting thing in Bhutanese houses is the phallus painted on the outer walls. This is done in order to chase away demons and bring fertility and prosperity to their homes.
Tshechu is the biggest festival of Bhutan, which is held on the tenth day of the lunar month in dzongs of each district. Participating in this festival is the best way to experience the culture of Bhutan. The Bhutanese men and women attend this festival dressed in their traditional attire. In this festival, mask dances and other traditional Bhutanese dances are performed. These events have deep religious and mythological significance.
The Bhutanese believe that everyone must attend a Tshechu and witness the mask dances at least once in order to receive blessings and wash away their sins.
Hot Stone Bath
You will miss out on something really awesome if you go to Bhutan and not try Datsho, the traditional Hot Stone Bath. I rate it as one of the finest experiences of Bhutan.
In this therapy river stones are heated and put in a wooden tub filled with water. Sometimes medicinal herbs are added to the water before it is ready for the soak.
It is believed that the heat of the water, the minerals released from the rock, and the local herbs all combine to produce medicinal benefits for joint pains, hypertension, stomach disorders and arthritis.
Bhutan is a delight for shoppers, with amazing artifacts and handicrafts to shop for. As souvenirs one could buy fridge magnets, postcards, prayer wheels, carved masks and prayer flags.
It’s very rare that you visit Bhutan and not return with a Thangka Painting. These paintings that originated in Nepal, are found everywhere in Bhutan today.
If you love crockery then you should purchase the handmade wooden bowls called Dappas. Although they are sold throughout the country, they are a specialty of Trashi Yangtse region in Bhutan. These bowls fit collectively and are used to store food inside them.
Another essential product to be shopped in Bhutan is the Lemongrass Oil / Spray which is the only organic product that Bhutan exports.
While all other countries of the world measure their progress by GDP, Bhutan measures its progress by Gross National Happiness.
I had my doubts when I read Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia. But it took me just a 10 days trip to realize that Bhutan is truly a country of happy, shiny people! Their clothes, their houses, their bank accounts don’t define their happiness. They don’t need reasons to be happy. Happiness comes naturally to them. It was on this trip that I truly understood that ‘Happiness is a state of mind’.
Gawa rang gi zon go zo; choem rang gi choen go choel
This popular Bhutanese proverb means, Whatever joy you seek, it can be achieved by yourself; whatever misery you seek, it can be found by yourself. (It is a state of mind)
Take a trip to Bhutan and who knows , the happiness of this country might pass onto your life.
This post was originally published on 'Life Needs A Holiday....'.