I was on cloud nine for seven days while in Bhutan. It took me another seven days to recover and get down to reality.
I can’t remember exactly how I got drawn to Bhutan. But I can recall watching a documentary and was captivated by the scenery. I also read about the Gross National Happiness, a concept very unique to Bhutan as it was the idea of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. GNH speaks volumes of how Bhutanese value spiritual and well-being over economic progress or worldly materialism.
So why have I fallen in love with this Kingdom? Let me try hard to put it into words.
Up in the sky, Bhutan will greet you and bid adieu with exhilarating panorama of the Himalayas and snow-capped mountains. If you are flying from Bangkok, make sure you get a window seat on the left row (right from Paro).
Usually, the drive from the airport to a city is dull and tiresome. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paro to Thimphu. But nope, it was not boring at all because we drove along hills with lots of apple trees in bloom; I thought they were cherry blossoms. How about this old house above the riverbank?
I just loved to look at the fog-covered mountains. It’s the same sight I would marvel at on my journey to Punakha. But with the forest filled with blooming rhododendrons, I felt I was in Pandora. Remember Avatar?
Very few countries in the world can match the richness of Bhutan’s flora and fauna. Thanks to their serious environmental protection and conservation I enjoyed watching a monkey sitting on the side of the road; a huge colorful bird that hopped on a tree, I can only wish I knew its name. But when I saw the yaks (I had mistaken them for takins, Bhutan’s national animal and known to be an extremely rare mammal) I had to ask the driver to stop the car so I can run after them up in the hills.
I have this strong affinity with ruins. A lot of people find them uninteresting, lifeless. I find them full of wisdom, exuding aura of the ancient times. I’ve been to ruins in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia so I didn’t want to miss Drukgyel Dzong in Bhutan. I was dumbfounded. I have no words to describe and will rely on the cliche, “a picture paints a thousand words.”
Bhutan may be full of natural beauty but hey, the country is not just about that, it is full of art masterpieces too! In Punakha Dzong I have seen the world’s most magnificent temple. We were not allowed to take photos, sorry folks. I like it that way though, to keep its sanctity and solemnity. But here are some photos around Punakha Dzong showing very intricate designs.
I also had a bit of a shock when I saw penises, lots and lots of them, either painted on the walls of buildings and houses or carved on woods. My friend, understanding my amusement, explained that phallus is a religious symbol and is believed to ward off evil and brings good luck.
Above all these, what truly captured my heart are the people. The Bhutanese are very warm and hospitable people. They are calm and patient. Around them I feel so at ease, it must be because they emit positive energies. With them I was reminded to savor the moment and not rush through life.
On weekends they go out to play while most of the time I slack in front of the TV or drown on the internet. I passed by people playing different sports but when I saw an archery tournament, I let my driver have snacks so I can watch the game. I felt bad to have him wait at the car.
I’ve seen a lot of young Bhutanese hone their crafts at the 13 Traditional Arts School (Institute of Zorig Chusum). I learned that most students came from underprivileged families. The school is financed by the government including their board and lodging. I asked one boy why he got interested in tailoring. He said he wanted to be an international fashion designer. They may be poor but why do they look more content and happier than those rich kids who showcase fancy items out of mommy and daddy’s pocket?
I admire how spiritual Bhutanese are. You will see many of them turning the prayer wheels, both young and old. They have a prayer room in their house; light incense for each morning’s prayer. Prayer flags are found all over the place.
I rarely see Bhutanese who wear modern clothes. Most of them wear their traditional dress, gho for men and kira for women. This makes the cultural experience in Bhutan distinct because at this modern period, you will see how Bhutanese go about their daily lives the same way from many decades ago.
I have not seen nor experienced a wild nightlife similar to that in Bangkok during my whole stay in Bhutan. Although I did relish this stunning view of Tashichoo Dzong and Thimphu skyline.
In Bhutan I was able to reconnect on a deeper level with mother nature, with my spirituality and immerse into the quintessential of human connection that our technology-driven world has so often neglected.
And just like in temples where I was forbidden to take photos, my most memorable experiences with people very dear to me are beyond words. I will just let my heart keep it locked in until I come again.
More photos are available in my Facebook. Click here.
P.S. If you want to visit Bhutan, I recommend Almost Heaven travel agency. It’s owned by a friend so I can guarantee you are in safe hands. If you are in Bhutan, I encourage you to watch my friend’s latest film Kushuthara – Pattern of Love. And if you are a bookworm, then grab copies of Sonam Kinga’s books!