I’m writing this from Druk Air 128, a three hour flight to Bangkok, which gets me on the ground at 7:30 PM. That puts me at my hotel in Bangkok at around 9 PM on a Saturday night. Will I be wise or foolish tonight? Time will tell…
I’m wrapping up a solid 8 days in this small Himalayan country. As I had a late(ish) flight today, I was able to squeeze a little more juice out by going on YET ANOTHER HIKE. My guide Nidup and I embarked at 8:30 AM for what he referred to as a “short walk.” Come to think of it, Nidup refers to everything as a walk. He’d probably refer to climbing Mt. Everest as a “long walk.” Today’s walk took us through a couple of small villages before we went off-road and started up a one hour ascent through somewhat dense vegetation that was encroaching on the trails. As always, I was treated to bunches of beautiful views, which I should have been getting jaded by, but was still in awe.
We reached the top, which held an abandoned temple that was largely decimated by a fire some years ago. I continued to be amazed that with all of these temples perched so high on hills requiring so much huffing and puffing that anyone in this country ever worshiped anything. Yet they do in force. I asked my guide if he ever got sick of climbing to Tigers Nest so many times, and he responded that it is a lucky thing for a buddhist to be able to visit such a special place so often. This is clearly not an instant gratification society.
We started our descent, and I assumed that I had seen everything that could be seen over the course of a week and was thinking about my next point of destination. Then we stumbled upon an older farming couple that was busy chopping pumpkins, and it was yet another simple but touching sight. November is an important time to get things ready for winter, including harvesting crops and often drying them as many homes do not have refrigerators. This couple both works their small plot of land while also working other jobs to make ends meet. It’s the way things go for most of the people here, but it’s hardly a sad life. This particular couple were big grinners.
I had a nice little lunch looking at the mountains one last time before I had to finish packing and head to the airport.
Now that I’m jetting off, I feel that it’s time to ask myself the question of what is it that I got out of these eight days to this magical place? Throughout my trip, I kept feeling that I was supposed to have a lightening bolt epiphany. Perhaps a spiritual revolution. Yet, I don’t feel that different. I think my gains from this trip are a little more subtle than all of that…
- I got to experience a place of unparalleled beauty. I’ve seen beautiful places before, but Bhutan is pretty special. I’m not sure how lasting the impression of this beauty will be, but hey, that’s why they invented cameras.
- I got to experience and see a place that is a million miles from where I live. The pace in Bhutan is very different. How people spend their days is pretty different. It’s a farming country vs. my service & technology oriented country. Finally, I got to spend time in a place that felt like it was living in a different point of history, which was surprisingly affecting on me.
- Most importantly, the sensation I kept having as I hiked through Bhutan was the experience of seeing endless pages pulled from a National Geographic. Every little thing I saw, no matter how small or insignificant, seemed somehow important and beautiful. I suppose this is what they mean by valuing the texture of life and appreciated the everyday moments. That’s hard to do when you are rushing to your next meeting, but it’s easy to do when you are on a long hike in a foreign land. I think if there was one thing I could take back with me from this trip, it would be a greater appreciation of the value of these little moments and images. Life truly is a photo album if you let it be.
So, what advice, if any would I give to others considering going to Bhutan?
- If you can, go. It’s hard to imagine anyone spending time in this country and thinking it was awful. It’s easy to imagine people visiting Bhutan and thinking it is amazing. Therefore, I’m not going out on a limb. That said, the pace here is pretty slow. You won’t see beggars, and it does not have much of a hard edge. If you are looking for gritty, consider Nepal or India instead. Also, it’s not a gourmand center, unless you have a tremendous love of yak, chile and cheese. Bhutan would probably play well to Texans.
- If you do go, my advice is to go to more than one place. I was fortunate enough to have time to have three home bases: Punakha, Gangtey and Paro. They were all very different while being similar at the same time. Some were much more quiet/rural and others were somewhat more bustling. It’s also nice to mix up the altitudes from high to very high.
- Hike a lot. It really is the best way to see and experience this country close up. It’s safe, and the country lends itself to it. As well, I like any vacation that burns enough calories to allow me to eat three to four breakfasts each morning. Like the wannabe hobbit I am.
- Engage with the locals. The people here are extremely friendly, and are happy to answer questions and chat (through your guide, of course).
- Go in Spring (March-May) or Fall (Sep-Nov). November was really pretty perfect. Not one cloud of significance. Crispy blue air. 60’s during the day. Just. Beautiful.
Now I’m off to the exact opposite of Bhutan: Bangkok. Big. Loud. Noisy. Crowded. Bustling. Frenetic. I’m there for slightly less than 48 hours before I head back to the bucolic in New Zealand.
One last parting shot of this beautiful place...
p.s., I just saw that Duke won in football. Again. How 'bout them Devils?!