On a recent journey, 20 very adventurous travellers spent a magical week in Bhutan as part of a trip to Bhutan and Sikkim. Bhutan is a totally unique country. It has only a million people and is in the eastern Himalayas wedged between the 2 giants of China and India. The people are gentle and friendly and Gross National Happiness is presented to the world as more important than GNP. Most people wear their National dress which is a Gho or Kira and their culture is preserved at all costs as shown in their dress, architecture and festivals. The people are very proud of their country. They are also environmentally conscious and they have a mandate to keep 70% of the country covered in forest. Most of the mountains are pristine because mountain climbing by international groups is banned. Plastic bags and smoking are also prohibited. As a result, we woke up in Paro to clear blue skies and a spectacular vista of mighty, jagged mountains.
During our time in Bhutan, we visited several colourful Dzongs and Monasteries where Buddhism is practiced. There were many highlights but a very special day was spent hiking to see the Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Hanging Monastery. After zigzagging up the mountain, we sat at the Taktsang Tea house enjoying tea and basking in the spectacular view.
Another incredible experience was taking part in the Paro Tsechu Festival, one of Bhutan’s biggest religious festivals featuring magical costumes, colourful masks and traditional dances and music. Over several days, we mingled with the local people who were dressed in their best silk finery as this is a highlight of the year for them too. They gather with their whole family, have picnics and spend the day watching the dancers. We got up extra early to see the closing ceremony and see the enormous silk banner that was unfurled at dawn and displayed for only a few hours. As we headed back to our hotel we even met the King and Queen and introduced ourselves as proud Canadians. What a special moment!
If you enjoy seeing a country with spectacular scenery and a unique culture, this is the trip for you. The government is trying to be responsible about its controlled growth and economic choices. With India and China bursting at the seams and in such close proximity, it will be interesting to see how Bhutan manages to keep its charm and remain independent.
Plan to visit Bhutan to experience this beautiful country and unique lifestyle before the rest of the world discovers this hidden gem.