5 words/phrases that describe Bhutan: Natural, fulfilling, honest, authentic and of course HAPPY!
What seems to make the people of Bhutan happy? The desire to maintain the purity of their existence, their culture and their ideals. Never before have I witnessed such a common belief from a population about a country’s direction, intent and common good. How wonderfully refreshing.
What seems to make the people of Bhutan unhappy? The extremely strong religious thread that runs through the mentality of the people includes the unnecessary killing of anything. When I talked to PT, our guide, about fishing in the wonderful rivers he told me it just isn’t done. If people ever do fish on a catch and release basis, they have to hide away from others and not be caught doing so. When I tried to swat a mosquito that was buzzing around me, PT told me to brush it away and not kill it for good karma in the next life. What makes them unhappy? The idea of bringing unnecessary suffering to anything.
Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone while in Bhutan? Only a week after the huge earthquake that hit Nepal we were still feeling the aftershocks in neighbouring India. When we arrived in Bhutan they’d also had fairly major tremors resulting in landslides on their tiny network of roads – which we of course had to drive down. These roads are seriously high up in the mountains, poorly surfaced, extremely narrow and covered in mud and water. Driving them with sheer 1000m drop-offs is a nerve-wracking experience.
What can other countries learn from Bhutan? A complete sense of national pride that’s not in any way xenophobic. Happy to open their doors to any outsider, Bhutan can teach people and countries how to respect the land, each other and what matters in life.
Best thing I saw: On our first day in the country we drove from Phuntsholing (220m ASL) towards the nations capital, Thimphu, at nearly 2000m ASL. The road was mind-blowingly picturesque with raging waterfalls cascading down cliffs, intense thundershowers, blue skies, mountain ranges and deep, sheer valleys.
Best thing I heard: The metronomic, peaceful sound of prayer wheels turned by mountain streams in each of the villages. Each time the when rotates a small bell is struck and together with the calming sound of the water is wonderfully soothing.
Best thing I smelt: The pine trees on my sunrise run into the mountains the night we stayed in Paro. The town is situated deep in a valley and all around the mountains surge into the sky, their flanks coated in pine forests. When I got back to the hotel they were burning handfuls of the needles, as a way to clear the air as part of a daily Buddhist ritual.
Best thing I did: Climbed into the clouds at Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Having seen the pictures before our trip I was excited, not only by the intensity of the climb, but also by the location of it. Perched 900m up on a cliff side it’s not for the feint-hearted but the reward is well worth it. A trekker/photographer’s dream – so my heaven!
Best thing I tasted: Chilli Cheese. Simple as that. Chillies in a cheese sauce; hot, fiery and the perfect accompaniment to any meal (bringing flavour to the somewhat same, same food we had).
Best local character I met: had to be our guide PT. Knowledgeable, warm, friendly and always beautifully turned out in his national dress.
Best surprise ‘n’ delight moment: We attended an event in Thimphu that brought together people from all over the country (some who had travelled for 3 days to get there) to showcase their local arts, crafts, foods and customs. We were stopped in our tracks by PT as a group of well-dressed people came towards us, only to be told it was the Queen Mother and Prime Minister. Both Sophee and I wished it was the Queen though – she’s ridiculously beautiful!
5 words/phrases that describe Bhutan: Pure, utopia, natural, happy, patient.
What seems to make the people of Bhutan happy? Being pure of heart and mind. Taking care of others and the environment. Dedicating much of their time to studying and practicing Buddhism.
What seems to make the people of Bhutan unhappy? Suffering.
Did you ever feel out of your comfort zone while in Bhutan? Visiting Bhutan was a shock to the system. It made me realise people could be completely pure of heart and live harmoniously with nature, their leaders, each other and within their own minds. On one hand, it was a completely heart-warming and thrilling experience. On the other hand, I became more aware of the suffering, negativity and discord which existed everywhere else in the world (even back home in Oz) – this made me sad and uncomfortable.
What can other countries learn from Bhutan? So much! Especially when it comes to pure happiness (for people, nature, communities and a nation). Read my blog “Lessons in Happiness From Bhutan” here.
Best thing I saw: The town of Paro. Encapsulated by steep mountains, it’s a perfect petrie dish of life protected from the outside world. So beautiful and simple.
Best thing I heard: Bhutanese kids speaking English. They’re amazing at it!
Best thing I smelt: Fresh air. It was the first Asian country I’d been to in 2015 which delivered regular blue skies and clean oxygen. The Bhutanese are very switched on when it comes to taking care of the environment and developing sustainable technologies. In fact, it’s the only “carbon sink” in the world which produces more energy than it uses.
Best thing I did: Tackle the steep 6-hour return trek to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Nestled amongst a lush mountain beside an impressive waterfall, the Monastery is an unforgettable sight. Once you enter it’s beautifully decorated walls, pure peace descends on you. The vibe is very different to bustling inner-city Brisbane (where I’m from).
Best thing I tasted: If I’m going to be honest, the only disappointing part of Bhutan was the food. The hotels attempted to “Westernise” a mix of Chinese, Indian and Bhutanese dishes but the result was bland sludge which was the same at each location (which we had to eat because we were part of a guided tour). At a local festival, I was lucky enough to spot some authentic street food, a tasty giant pretzel-like snack called “Shelroti”. It was delicious and my favourite dish in Bhutan.
Best local character I met: Our guide PT was a wonderful man – I’ll never forget his cheeky, slightly nervous giggle. He seemed to know absolutely everything about Bhutan, and was even willing to share insights on more taboo subjects. For instance, he taught us about the traditional dress code for women and mentioned he hadn’t glanced upon a woman’s thighs until he got together with his wife.
Best surprise ‘n’ delight moment: Meeting a Buddhist nun was a surreal experience. The lady we interviewed enjoyed a fascinating mix of old-school traditions and modern luxuries. Bhutanese nuns are notoriously more advanced than the monks, as they tend to follow a spiritual path later in life. As such, they bring aspects of their former lifestyles into the nunneries. When we finished our interview, a nun offered us chocolate bars and friendship bracelets, and promised to send us a recording of her morning prayer on What’s App. Brilliant!