Bhutan is no ordinary country. If you want to take a break from your hectic schedule, enjoy scenic beauty in the lap of Himalayas, Bhutan is the place for you! Bhutan is not only known for its stunning landscapes but also for it’s legendary monasteries and fortresses, spicy food, colourful festivals, fluttering prayer flags, and happy faces. Let me tell you about the things that fascinated me in Bhutan.
Scenic beauty –You can see majestic mountains being crisscrossed by beautiful rivers, rolling green valleys dotted by white houses, lush and dense pine forests, oranately decorated monasteries located at breathtaking locations, mighty rivers meandering through the main towns etc. Natural beauty is at it’s best and more importantly, the environment is pure and significantly pollution-free for locals as well as tourists. Bhutan is indeed a feast for your senses and soul.
Love for environment – Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. Bhutanese take great pride in preserving their pristine environment and have even passed legislation to ensure 60% of the country remains forested. In 1999, plastic bags were made illegal, and in 2004 all tobacco products were outlawed. Each breath you take in Bhutan is fresh and pure and makes you feel rejuvenated.
Value for happiness – The society is measured in terms of Gross National Happiness rather than gross national product. Happiness is an indicator of its prosperity. Legislations are modified and thrust areas identified through GNH index and survey. Hence you get to meet a lot of happy people who lift your spirits with their smiles and touch your heart with their gestures.
Preservation of culture – Culture is valued highly in Bhutan and you can have a wonderful cultural experience. The government takes all measures to preserve its culture, history and rich tradition. Bhutan was the only country in South Asia which was not colonised. It didn’t formally open its door to tourism until 1974 and didn’t have televisions until the 1990’s. Hence the western influence is very less. People still hold on to their age old customs . Govt. takes all out effort to promote the traditional handicrafts like weaving, hand made paper etc.
Respect for tradition – It is mandatory for a Bhutanese man/woman to wear the traditional Bhutanese attire whenever he visits any official/religious/judicial premises in Bhutan. This not only keeps the tradition alive but also instills a sense of integrity and cultural pride in the people. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego along with an inner layer known as a Wonju. Students in school and college have to wear national dress.
Magic and mysticism – Bhutan is a land where magic is intertwined with history, and where mythological creatures are believed to have existed. For example, it is believed that a famous Budhist monk flew on the back of tiger to reach the Thakshang monastery and hence it is also called Tiger’s Nest. Phallic symbols adorn the walls of Bhutanese. Phallus is not considered porn but something that wards off evil spirits. There is even a temple in Punakha , Chimi Lhakhang where Phallus is worshipped. The stories you will hear here are unlike anything else you will have encountered on your travels.
Budhism and monasteries – Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a way of life! Budhism set ground for a simple lifestyle, and ensures that people are honest and hard working. People are generally content and peaceful. You can find many old people meditating at the Budhist monasteries. Monasteries over flow with spiritual energy and visits to monasteries can help soothen your restless minds. In addition, the architecture of monasteries is a visual treat on its own.
Loyality towards King – Eventhough Bhutan reformed from an absolute monarchy to constituitional monarchy ten years back, royals are still perceived as incarnations of Gods. They absolutely love their King and royal family. You can find pictures of royal family everywhere – in front of buildings, on road side, inside restuarants, in schools , in offices, in people’s home etc.
High value Tourism – Despite opening its doors to foreigners and being ranked one as one of the world’s top tourist destinations, Bhutan remains not too accessible to most. Bhutanese believe in ‘Low volume High value’ tourism. Hence Non Indians have to pay 250$ as tourist fee per day. Because of the destination’s remote location and the expenses to get there it hasn’t been flooded with tourists, leading to a well-preserved culture and landscape.
Visa free entry – Indian tourist do not require visa. They just need to get a permit at the border. Therefore it’s easy to go on an International trip without much prior planning and preparation.
Passion for cleanliness – Bhutanese take pride in keeping their country clean. People consciously work towards a clean environment. Hence the roads and towns are garbage and plastic free. Students in the village schools have to arrive 15 minutes early to clean the premises. It helps to inculcate the habit of cleanliness right from childhood.
Adherence to Traffic rules – People religiously observe traffic rules. People drive carefully and responsibly. This is an important habit for us Indians to learn. There is no mad honking nor rash driving as over-speeding and honking are punishable in Bhutan . At zebra cross, pedestrians are given priority. Cars stop at a safe distance if they find any pedestrian trying to cross. As a result, there is no (need for) traffic signal in the entire country. Even in the capital city Thimbu there is only one traffic island which is controlled by traffic police men.
Impressive Architecture – Traditional architecture remains alive in Bhutan. It is mandatory that all buildings must be constructed with multi coloured wood frontages, arched windows and sloping roofs. If it is not followed then owners have to pay double the tax. Consequently, all the buildings appear similar. Dzongs and monasteries were often built on hill tops. Given the fact that no plans were drawn up nor were nails or iron bars allowed in construction, it can only be termed as architectural marvel.
Spirit of hospitality – People of Bhutan are kind hearted and soft spoken. They open their doors as well as heart to the tourists. You get a feel of being part of the community and this makes your stay in Bhutan memorable.
Cuisines – Savour some unheard local delicacies – tea made with butter and salt, chillies boiled in cheese sauce , aromatic dumplings made of buckwheat, filled with turnips and ferns, rock hard yak cheese, noodles made of buckwheat, soup made with milk and green leaves and many more. When I visited, the climate was cloudy and had drizzles cooling the place even more. The warm tea and spicy food made the experience more delectable in the ambience
The solo journey through Bhutan was a real eye-opener for me. There, I found a nation in love with its cuture, tradition and nature. The people were overwhelmingly inviting and genuine, showing me real meaning of personal bonding. Being a foodie, I loved experimenting the cuisines and that made me feel like – Bhutan is the place, where everything good is in the right mix for you to explore and experience,