Bhutan is somewhere not many people I know have been, so obviously that made it a great choice for a pre-Christmas trip for me when I saw a tour advertised with direct flights from Kuala Lumpur. If you don’t know much about tourism in Bhutan, you may not be aware that you basically have to take an organised tour and there is a minimum cost of USD 250 per day to qualify you for a visa, so it’s certainly not a cheap option…however, although I have only been here two days, I can already assure you that it is worth it.
Landing at Paro airport is an adventure in itself as the runway is short, the mountains close by and houses even closer. The views coming in to land we stunning but unfortunately I didn’t have a window seat so couldn’t get any photos to share with you. Immigration was very quick as the tour company processes the visa in advance and obviously there aren’t many flights going in and out, so baggage claim was probably the most efficient I have seen anywhere in the world.
From Paro the tour moved on to Thimphu, which is the capital of Bhutan. The country only has a population of around 765,000 people, with somewhere around 115,000 of those living in the Thimphu metropolitan area so with few cars on the road and no traffic lights in the entire country, travel by road is quick and easy. Once we had checked into the DusitD2 hotel, a relatively new 5* hotel in Thimphu it was time to begin exploring Bhutan and to learn how it is the happiest country in the world.
The Memorial Stupa, Thimphu is also known as the Thimphu Chorten. It is located in Doeboom Lam in the southern-central part of the city. The stupa, built in 1974 to honour the third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–1972) and is a prominent landmark in the city characterised by its golden spires and bells. I walked around the Stupa three times making wishes – but obviously they won’t come true if I tell you what I wished for!
The next stop was at the Bhutan General Post Office where they put my face on legal postage stamps. I bought a couple of postcards (which I am yet to write because I didn’t bring a pen!) and will send them just to check my stamps work, and because I know my mum will enjoy seeing my face on a stamp! I wanted Mozart on a stamp, but they will only print humans so that was a little sad!
The excitement of my face on stamps hadn’t worn off by the time we arrived at the Living Museum. We tried locally made rice wine, which I didn’t care for at all, and then proceeded through an experience which demonstrated a traditional Bhutanese lifestyle from house construction including a song to how to make butter tea in a traditional kitchen. It is tradition for the kitchen to be on the ground floor of the house so that the heat rises and warms the other 2 floors. There was little ventilation in the kitchen and Bhutanese women frequently suffered and died from respiratory illnesses. Fortunately more modern kitchens come better equipped for longer lives to be lived.
The presentation ended with a cultural dance and butter tea tasting. I actually like the tea, though it seemed like more of a breakfast product than anything else, particularly as you put roasted rice in it too.
At the museum there was a guy carving wood and painting it. Now, when I stepped into his shop to look I was a little disappointed to see his Chelsea FC carving hanging proudly above his work space…so, of course, we had a little banter about that and he agreed that Liverpool can win the title this year so that was easily resolved. This artist was carving with his feet because he has cerebral palsy and is unable to use his hands. His work was excellent and painstakingly constructed so I couldn’t resist supporting his efforts by purchasing a Bhutanese dragon that he had made. He signed the back of it for me – with his feet, of course! A truly inspiring find.
Day one was complete and an absolute success. The people are friendly and seem genuinely happy with their lots in life and were very keen to share that happiness with tourists. I think the happiness is probably because they (apparently) have the largest population of stray dogs in the world and they are everywhere, but I guess the clean air, lack of traffic, free education and lack of crowds could certainly have something to do with it!