Traveling to Bhutan, considered the Last Shangri La, had always been a dream for me and it was finally coming true. I had seen an announcement for the June Bhutan trip of Wonderful World on Facebook. The itinerary looked very interesting and I signed up with a friend.
We flew from Delhi to Paro and thanks to the tip by Shibani Vig sat on the left side of the plane by the window and got stunning views of the Himalayan range including Mt. Everest and Kanchenjunga. My trip had begun on a positive note. We landed at Paro airport, a quaint airport with traditional Bhutanese architecture set in a valley with a photo of the 5th king and his wife smiling down on us, welcoming us. The drive to Thimpu took one hour amidst valleys and beautiful landscapes. The seat of government, Thimpu is the largest city in Bhutan and has the historic Dzong (fort), new Buddha Point, temples, clock tower, painting school, and the bustling Farmers market. The organic Bhutanese local produce – fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cereals are sold from different parts of Bhutan.
Our six-day trip took us to beautiful locations which gave us a good sense of western and central Bhutan. The land of Gross National Happiness is maintaining its environment and aims to keep 70% under forest cover, preserving its cultural heritage, and keeping the tourism controlled. We had a packed schedule but the lovely weather and comfortable SUVs didn’t allow us to feel tired. We traveled to Thimpu, Gangtey, Punakha, and Paro. The highlights of the trip were a hike in Gangtey, a beautiful quaint valley with stunning views; a hike to the Fertility temple in Punakha through paddy fields and a village and finally the steep hike on the last day to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro.
The drive to Gangtey took us through the Dochula Pass with 108 stupas and prayer flags. The beautiful Gangtey valley, the land of the Black neck Cranes, gave us a good feel of rural Bhutan. With its farmlands, community forests, rolling green meadows and meandering yaks. The Gangtey hike from the monastery on top of a hill through a beautiful meadow, village, pine forest, and streams was soul-enhancing. Chorten (Stupas) dotted the landscape with prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.
In Punakha, we went on a hike to the Fertility temple (Chimi Lakhang), through the Fertility valley, with houses painted with the phallus symbol, a sign of fertility and protection. The Punakha Dzong was fascinating, with its architecture, history, the place where the 5th King’s wedding had been held. Built at the confluence of the MoChhu (female river) and PhoChhu (male river), it is the most spectacular Dzong in the kingdom. One sees monks in their red-colored robes and women and men in their Kira’s and Gho’s, traditional dress. Bhutan is one of the few countries where the traditional dress is worn proudly and daily by its inhabitants. The hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery was exceptional. A steep climb, sheer determination and collective encouragement helped take us to the Monastery, perched on the edge of a cliff at the height of 10,000 ft. At the end of the climb, looking down at the valley and feeling the positive energy and peace at the Monastery, the effort seemed well worth it.
Bhutanese food was a mix of red rice, Buckwheat pancakes, Datshi (with local cheese) in different forms – green chili, asparagus, mushroom and different dishes of chicken and meats.
Other fun things that we did were getting our own personalized postage stamp made in Thimpu at the local post office with a Bhutan backdrop and posted our postcards to faraway lands. Another was walking on a long suspension bridge built over the river in Punakha, feeling suspended in time.
Wonderful world specializes in keeping its groups small. We were 14 women of different ages and occupations with a Tour lead, and the itinerary allowed for flexibility and own space if you didn’t want to be in a crowd. It also helped make new friends, bonding over long road trips and evening chai reveling in the beauty of the Himalayan kingdom.
Don’t miss traveling to Bhutan. It’s a country worth visiting…..