Bhutan, the one place in the world you must visit!

Bhutan is a mountain paradise

A riddle: what is gentle, fascinating, spiritual, and full of good karma? If you answered the Dalai Lama, you are answering the question “who” – the “what” I described is the kingdom of Bhutan. And, actually, it is not the only favorite on my list, but it is tied for #1.  A few facts:
• Bhutan is rated the happiest country in Asia and 7th in the world
• The capital of Bhutan has NO stoplights! Can you imagine Washington, DC without stoplights? We’d probably witness demolition derby on steroids!
• Buddhism in Bhutan is both a religion and a culture
• Following Buddhist teachings, killing of any animal, 4 legged or 2 legged, is forbidden. Beef and chicken are imported from India. I wonder if capital offenders (are there any here?) are exported to India?
• Bhutan measures Gross National Happiness – yes, they actually measure it. Part of happiness is knowledge and health so Bhutan has worked hard to provide better healthcare than in the past and literacy is at 77%.
• Karma is important and people strive for good karma.
Bhutan is so gentle that it has even kept the name “Bhutan”, which is actually a mispronunciation of the country’s name created by a Brit who didn’t take the time or have the desire to learn the correct name (Another example is the Anglicized Bombay and the Indian’s returning to Mumbai). Citizens of Bhutan, a young democracy, call the country Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon, and themselves, Drukpas.
I had heard of Bhutan years ago and this country nestled in the Himilayas soon found its way to the top of my “Must Experience” List (I used to call it a Bucket List, but really, isn’t that kind of morbid?). Unlike many people I know, the lure of the mountains, the many trails which beckon the avid trekker are not a draw for me. My husband, Michael, mountain climber, trekker, mountain biker (and other things that require more physical exertion than I have spent in my 64 years of life) also included Bhutan in his Must Experience List, though not #1 – that was his trek to Base Camp Everest in 2011. So, Mr. Trekker and Ms. SOFT Adventure (even Glamping can be to primitive for me!) arrived 4 days ago in the magical, gentle, fascinating and spiritual kingdom of Bhutan.
We spents the first two nights in Thimpu, the capital (remember, no stoplights) at Amankora Thimpu. To digress a moment: this entire vacation is an Aman vacation (any Aman junkies out there?). Aman specializes in clean lines, environmentally friendly buildings, over-the-top pampering sans the saccharine attitude of some hotels, sumptuous food, and excellent spas. I am in Heaven!

In Thimpu we visited the farmer’s market, which separates organically grown vegetables from ordinary ones and watched an archery tournament (a big sport here and quite different from what we’re used to). The archers shoot at a very small target which is 150 meters away and play the game as a team sport. We also took a hike to a monastery built a few hundred years ago (shhh, don’t tell anyone, please, I don’t want to ruin my image!).

Day 3, a driving day, greeted us the same great weather as days 1 and 2 – cool, crisp and cloudless blue skies which lose the cool and crisp as the day progresses. Before departing Amankora Thimpu we were blessed by a monk with prayers for a safe, bountiful journey and a joyous life. We were each bestowed a yellow string draped around our neck and a blessing of holy water. We stopped for a picnic lunch by a roaring and picturesque river, enjoying Butanese cuisine (think chili used artfully).

Roadwork in Bhutan is constant and the ride from Thimpu to Gangtey included a road massage. The highway, what we would label a quaint country road, is currently being widened. In my view, they are going from one lane to two, but they see it as two lanes with shoulder areas to stop.

Our guide, Songay, and our driver, Sunom, are delightful, entertaining and very knowledgeable. As they dropped us off yesterday, Songay told us we’d go to a famous monastery today and then hike to the Crane Conservation Center. He explained that after a steep descent into the valley the road would be fairly flat and only a few rivers to cross with single logs serving as bridges.

Needless to say, I tossed and turned all night. Although I hiked for a few hours the other day, I have not graduated into “steep” or “single-log bridges.” This morning we made some adjustments to today’s itinerary. We went to the monastery and walked through a small village. Then, Michael and Songay hiked to the Crane Center while Songay and I took a road trip there – a much better plan!
Songay and S0num have worked for Aman for over 8 years. Songay, married and a father of a 1 ½ year old daughter, also supports his parents (no help offered from his 6 siblings). Sonum is somewhat of a national sports hero. This year the married father of 2 daughters, 4 and 5 months, won the Race of the Dragon, a 268 kilometer bike race through the mountains and valleys of Bhutan. His winning time was 11 hours!
Now we’re off to another yummy dinner here at Amankora Gangtey and tomorrow we head to Bhumtang.
More to come later!