It has been almost a month since we returned from Bhutan and I have had a chance to reflect back on our experiences and what we learned about the last Shangri-la. Over the next few weeks I will try to share pictures and thoughts about “The happiest country in the world”.
Bhutan is a landlocked country sandwiched between China and India, sitting at the foot of the Himalayas and close to Nepal. Formerly a monarchy, it became the newest democracy in the world in 2008 when it established a constitutional monarchy. The population for the entire country is 700,000, with 100,000 people living in the capital city of Thimphu. 70% of the population lives in rural villages with the primary income being subsistence farming. Tourism to the country is tightly controlled and it is required that you sign on with an in-country tourist group to act as guides and book your accommodations and itinerary. In fact, your visa and flight into the country is arranged by the tourism company.
Lesson #1 The tourism plan is a very sensible program for a tiny country that could easily be over-run by outsiders.
Two of the books I read about Bhutan before we left were written by women who traveled to the country during a mid-life crisis, one of whom married a Bhutanese man. While I am not considering a mid-life crisis, I am starting to consider my own mortality now that I am on the better side of 50 and wanted to start visiting those places that I have always dreamed about. Pictures of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery had always intrigued me as an exotic and remote location. While this monastery is considered a once in a lifetime trek for Bhutanese, it is at the top of most tourist itineraries. Legend holds that the monk who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, Guru Rinpoche, rode on the back of his consort, who turned into a tiger for the long trip from Tibet to this mountainous location. The Guru performed meditation in a cave during the 8th century and the present temple was constructed in 1692. The temple is seen to appear out of the clouds during the 3 mile trek to the top, climbing almost 4000 feet. Frequent stops are necessary to catch your breath and take in the amazing views of the valley below and mountains above. Pictures are not allowed once you enter the monastery, so those are only in my memory.
Lesson #2 Dreams can be just as fabulous as you imagine.