Lot many stories have been shared and told about the unspoiled beauty of Bhutan in the recent days, especially after our esteemed prime minister’s visit. But hundreds of stories cannot explain the magic that resides in Bhutan, it can only be experienced.
Yes, not many of us, the so called urban travelers will have Bhutan as their bucket list destination and I must admit, neither me. My travel plan started in some stupid whim to get away and Bhutan plan came from nowhere. Somehow I was pulled towards it (they say its destiny!?).
“You will not regret this choice, Ma’am, don’t worry ” , answered my travel agent to my continuous nagging and anxious questions – will it rain heavy ? is it not monsoon? Only museums? No beach, no hangouts, will I be bored? All this doubts and shilly shallying existed until I saw the Himalayas from my flight bathed in soft white clouds nestling the beautiful Valley. Oh! you need a special knack to land the flight in the Paro airport. You would not realize this until you see the videos in youtube. Finally, we landed in Paro international airport to begin the journey.
As they say, your travel to Bhutan begins and ends in Paro. From here, we drove to Thimphu enjoying a spectacular 2 hour journey. Majestic Himalayas, dancing river, innocent villagers, playful school kids – slowly I realized I travelled to a different world. Reaching Thimphu, I could not wait to explore this capital city of the country of gross national happiness. Thimphu creates an impression that it is very different from the other cities, with the busy streets on one side and misty mountains on the other side. All the buildings, government offices, houses are designed in the traditional architecture and there are very few with modern architecture. The city and the people are a mixture of both traditional and modernity. And it is truly impressive to see how they still make it a point to maintain this traditional culture. People wear their traditional Kira (for women) and Gho (for men) to their schools, colleges and workplace always. Walking down the streets of Thimphu was fun- helpful and friendly locals, no bugging shop owners- it was safe and perfect for a solo traveler. The highlight of Thimphu which cannot be missed is the “Buddha point”. Once you go up there, you would be mesmerized by the magnificent statue of Buddha. The calmness surrounds you immediately. This place also provides a great view point of the Thimphu valley. It was very soothing to just stand there, looking at the valley, surrounded by serenity, the chanting of Monks filling your ears. I stood there for a minute to take it all in and proceeded for lunch. What is exploring without tasting the traditional food ! J You must try the various ‘datse’ and ‘momos’ which is the specialty of the country. Simple people, simple life. The traffic is very disciplined, they drive behind one another and don’t yell at each other. There are no traffic lights. The traffic police co-ordinates with his special moves which looked like some kind of dance! Almost everywhere, all shops, offices, restaurants etc. you could see the posters and pictures of King and queen holding hand in hand. The people love and respect their king so much. We even got a glimpse of the king while on our way to Paro. He was very humble and even let us to drive ahead when his whole crew has to make a stop due to a road block to ensure there is no disturbance to the public and tourists. Hmm, its little different from what we see here. Absorbing the many aspects of this unique capital city, I proceeded to Punakha. All these cities can be reached through road transport only.
On my way to Punakha, we stopped by Dochula pass. It was 10 am in the morning and it looked mystical with the fog. Again, it provides a wonderful view point of eastern Himalayas. If you visit in winter, you can also see the Himalayan peaks covered in snow. An hour drive from there, we reached punakha. Temperature soared high, on the contrary to my morning in Dochula. Punakha is more like a small town/village unlike Thimphu. We did a small trek to the Fertility temple watching the farmers working in the paddy fields and their huts. Punakha has the beautiful Dzong that cannot be missed and one of the beautiful landmark printed in the post cards. After these cultural visits, it’s time for some adventure! Punakha is an exciting place for river rafting. Once the safety instructions, I readily jumped into the raft all the more excited and anxious. Oh man! Prepare yourselves for some entertainment! Crew members show off their skills, sing the latest Bollywood songs, narrate the romeo-juliet story of their land, story of Pho chu and Ma Chu and numerous other stories. The 2 hour rafting came to end with an wholesome entertainment.
After the much needed rest in the night, we left to Paro from Punakha, our final destination in Bhutan. Paro is again a combination of both traditional and modernity and yet different from Thimphu. The cultural museum is worth paying a short visit to know the history of Bhutan. How can I miss souvenir shopping! Apart from the regular key chains, you can also buy stamps, woven shawls, the traditional dress etc. In every shop they play indian channels and movies. They really love and respect us. They see Indians as their own friends. We decided to spend the evening at leisure as the rain asked for its attention J It was very beautiful to watch the valley from your hill top hotel sipping a coffee and to watch the hill all lit up in the night. It takes you to a new world and makes you realise Life is simple! And , I couldn’t wait to start my morning for the most awaited trip – to Tiger’s nest. And this would top most of your bucket list! You must be familiar with this as it features in many of the travel magazines and sites and makes you dream to go there.
Now, Tiger’s nest - one of the difficult trek but worth EVERYTHING. We started the trek in the foggy morning determined to reach the monastery no matter what and not just watch it from some view point. We didn’t take the ponies and decided to trek with our legs as the best companion. It was a beautiful trek, you can see some rare trees and a beautiful waterfall. Soon, our lazy urban lifestyle started to show its effect and tiredness overwhelmed. That very moment, it happened - a Buddhist monk appeared from nowhere and offered us peach fruits from his bag. The first bite with its fresh cold sweet juice tasted like heaven. It gave us a new feel and new energy. We started again and needless to say, we reached the monastery! This is where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. More than the sense of achievement and pride, it was the strange happiness and fulfillment that filled our hearts. We were given a warm welcome with a hot tea and snacks. Soon you enter the monastery, you might get quizzical about the big rock that is placed near the front with a small curvature on the surface. It is said, if you touch that small curvature with your thumb (like bull’s eye) with your EYES CLOSED , your wishes would come true. Try it J Contented with what we have seen and what we have done, we descended down on the slippery trails due to rain (I still wonder howcome we never fell!) and headed for lunch. It was totally different experience spending the evening in a small café in the city enjoying hot momos, with traditional Po cha (butter tea), cheering and watching with a whole bunch of strangers speaking one language- FIFA WORLD CUP
The tiresome trek calls for a hot water jacuzzi and a good night sleep, with that, our visit to Paro comes to an end, so is our visit to Bhutan. We were woken up by the traditional wake up call, our hotel staff knocking at our doors and not leaving until we answer him (reminded me of my mom on Sunday mornings :P). Packed our bags , all set to leave. I went to the balcony to take in one last view of the hills watching the clouds drifting away and also my questions and doubts. Bhutan is for all seasons and it has got to offer something for everyone. It is a pleasant surprise.I carried not only memories but also the good wishes from my best buddies who were total strangers a week ago and became friends for lifetime.
I couldn’t stop wondering how much a travel can offer. It is not about going to a place and staying in an expensive resort. It is much more than that. It can be life changing and enriching. More often than not, what makes a travel special is not about which place you go and what landmarks you see, its about what you would feel and experience there. Bhutan was one such travel experience for me. Word of caution : Bhutan might not be your choice if you are looking for busy activities, night life, urban comforts etc. You may not even have the same experience like mine. All I can say is, take a break and experience such small things in life in a beautiful country. It is worth everything!
This trip was first published on https://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/theladybirdwanders/.