Bhutan is one of those places which lives up to its reputation as the happiest country in the world. Back in 2010, there was still a sense of voluntary isolation in Bhutan. What I meant is the Bhutanese has access to the real world and technology, but yet, they are not chasing after them. We could feel they were on the brink of greater development, but the people were sincere, friendly, and happy.
We flew in Paro via Bangkok. At that time, Druk Air did not fly all the way to Singapore, if I remember correctly. We had to fly to Bangkok and stayed overnight to catch our flights to Paro with Druk Air. I remembered the lush valleys as we approached the Paro airport, and felt a little bit worried, as it is a small airport surrounded by mountains. On bad move from the pilot and that was it! We were okay of course. Still alive and well as I write this post.
We decided to splurge and stayed at Uma Paro. At that time, the options for lodgings were not as wide as now. Meals were included in the price of the rooms. I chose the local food most of the time, and it was always delicious. I am addicted to their cheese and green chilis! Eat them with hot rice and yumm….seventh heaven! Oh, how I wish I can find them here where I live. On the first day, we arrived quite late in the afternoon. We went to a Monastery: Neyphug Thegchen Tsemo Monastery nearby, led by Rinpoche Neytrul Ngawang. I have been following him since 2007. He is amazing. He is very forward-looking and easy to talk to. Learning about Buddhism from him is an enlightening experience. I was born into a Buddhist family and after meeting him, I believe in Buddhism even more. Unfortunately, he was meditating in the mountains when we visited, but a couple senior monks took us around the Monastery. We got shown the chamber where they kept the old Buddhist books, and that was a very special experience. We also met the young monks who were in class for their daily lessons. Sadly, parts of the Monastery was destroyed in one of the earthquakes after our visit there. The Rinpoche is in the process of rebuilding. It is a slow process. If you believe in the cause and would like to donate towards the rebuilding of the Monastery, please leave me a message in response to the post.
On a separate note, I seemed to get some bed bugs on my jeans during that visit, and they bit my legs. My friend was also bitten. Fortunately for her, she did not feel a thing during and after. Unfortunately for me, it was suffering for the rest of the trip. It turned out that I am very allergic to the bites of the bed bugs. I was itching from inside and no itch cream could help. I had to get two steroid shorts from the emergency room upon landing in Singapore (because I could not take it anymore!). Do not let this deter you from going to Bhutan, though. I would definitely go back again despite this incident.
After our monastery visit, we tried archery to spend the afternoon away. That was difficult and fun! Our guide is this really tough and sporty girl. She speaks amazing English. We really had fun with her. She taught us some Bhutanese words, and gave me a prayer that she oftens recites.
We spent a day climbing up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. That was a beautiful experience. It was not a difficult hike, but best if one goes about it slowly. My friend started up too fast and got a headache as we climb further and further up. As usual, I was as slow as tortoise. Slowly and surely! Safe and sound! And the view of the Monastery up above was motivating! And the picnic basket waiting in the van made the descent much faster as well.
We also spent sometime hiking to view Paro from the mountains, and to visit Rinpung Dzong (fortress/monastery) and the National Museum of Bhutan (formerly called Ta Dzong). In the museums, we saw the typical wear of the Bhutanese and various Buddhist artifacts. I remembered seeing old photos of various parts of Bhutan – which made us regretful that we did not have more time to explore Bhutan (and in front of those photos, I pledged to myself that I would return to Bhutan!). Many of the artifacts are of course Buddhism related (Thangkas, Buddha Statues, etc). As a born and sometimes practicing Buddhist, I love it!
We went to a peak that is one of the highest around Paro, called the Chelela Pass. We actually got assigned a very uncomfortable van by the resort, and we felt sick during the ride. Perhaps, part of it was altitude also. However, upon arriving at the peak, I remembered that it was mythical. It was a little bit foggy. I felt better the moment I got off the van and breathed the fresh air.
We went to Thimphu for the day. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and it is a very tranquile and livable city. The drive from Paro to Thimphu is beautiful. We visited Buddhist temple – National Memorial Choeten which has humongous prayer wheels. We went to visit a Takin sanctuary. Takin is Bhutan’s National Animal and is supposedly an animal created by one of the saints, Lama Drukpa Kuenlay from leftover bones of a cow and a goat. One of the highlights of Thimphu is a visit to an art school, National Institute For Zorig Chusum. We saw many talented Bhutanese children and teenagers hard at work, working on their crafts. It was enjoyable to watch them.
The impression that is left with me on Bhutan is totally positive. The people is great! They are friendly and polite. You never felt like they want to take advantage of you as tourists. The food really agreed with me. The views are gorgeous. I do not remember if I ever asked how the people survive, as I did not notice much industry, but tourism. I did remember apple orchards along the way to and from Thimphu, and I was told then that someone just started ice cream production in Bhutan. I vaguely remembered a conversation that some agricultural products were exported into India. That was about it. But then, the Bhutanese are such happy bunch and the energy is very positive there, that I suppose such trivial questions do not really matter. Then, I found Bhutan to be one of the least “poisoned” places by the rubbish media, and that is a major plus. It is definitely a must to return to Bhutan, and it will interesting to see how the Bhutan King and Government balance this and the needs of progress.