Having dreamt of travelling to Bhutan for years, I was keen to tell everyone about my upcoming trip-of-a-lifetime. ‘Where is Bhutan?’ is the first question people asked after hearing about my planned trip. I almost want to sweep all these unaware individuals on a flying carpet and take them with me to this dazzling place everyone should have on their travel list.
But I digress. Bhutan is a Himalayan Kingdom and a tiny one at that. It’s unassumingly placed between two of the world’s highest populated countries – China and India. Since I’ve returned the obvious question I’ve been asked about this mysterious destination is ‘what was it like visiting Bhutan?’ And as my new favourite destination I’m more than happy to tell them.
Kingdom of Happiness
Bhutan really is a whole different world. The country’s progress is measured on gross national happiness rather than money. The people of Bhutan are humble and friendly, always with a smile on their face. The kids, with a twinkle in their eye, are curious of you, yet respectful, without a care in the world. It’s very easy to be both in awe and jealous of their carefree outlook on life.
The Bhutanese adore and have the utmost respect for their King and it’s easy to see why. The stories of what he has achieved and how far he will go for his people are incredible. We heard tales of how he helps villagers after floods and sleeps alongside them without commanding any special treatment.
Bhutan may not have any official UNESCO sites or boast a World Wonder. However the sights they do have are unbelievably beautiful. As with all these places, it’s always better to explore these places with licensed Bhutanese guide and have them share their knowledge and passion.
Our guide took us to Sopsokha Village and explained to us the reason for the interesting and slightly eyebrow-raising artwork. He also took us to the top of Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten for stunning views from the top of the hill across the Punakha Valley. This was in addition to the wonderful views on the leisurely trek up to the chorten. That is one thing Bhutan has plenty of – beautifully scenic treks and hikes to enjoy.
The masterpiece of Bhutan
The most anticipated sight of my visit was the Paro Taktsang, more commonly known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, one of the most sacred buildings in Himalayan Buddhism. It’s said to be where the ‘Second Buddha’ of Bhutan meditated in a cave for four months before converting Bhutan to Buddhism. It certainly is one of Himalaya’s most spectacular monuments, built into the side of a cliff overlooking a 3,000 foot drop into the gorge below. While Guru Rinpoche landed here on a flying tiger, a bit more effort is required to arrive here today.
Anticipation for the hike set in before I arrived in Bhutan with many questions running through my head. These ranged from the small, will it be raining and too misty to see the monastery, to the slightly more dramatic of will I get altitude sickness and not be able to make it or slip on the way up and break a leg? Just climbing a set of steps to my hotel room made me feel short of breath thanks to the altitude. The sound of light rain that night didn’t help my anxiety. But thankfully it cleared with the sunrise and made for a nice cool start to the day.
The climb takes about two hours and starts at an altitude of 7,000 feet, reaching 10,000 at the monastery. The walk is along a well-maintained path however it’s very steep in parts. As you walk, the monastery appears and disappears from view through the trees, only helping to build the excitement during the hike. Despite the slow climb, like mountain goats we made it up there. And it was absolutely worth the effort when we were greeted with crystal clear views of Paro Taktsang.
So what is it really like?
While the Tiger’s Nest Monastery was the showstopper of my time in Bhutan, there were many highlights and incredible moments. They ranged from feeling calm when spinning the wooden prayer wheels to feeling invigorated breathing in the fresh mountain air whilst walking through the rice fields.
So when people say ‘what is it like visiting Bhutan?’ I can say wholeheartedly that it’s extraordinary. I took a leaf out of the Bhutanese book and returned home with a newfound happiness for the simple things in life.
Do you feel inspired by Cherylyn’s experience of visiting Bhutan? Browse of our Bhutan group tours.