Bhutan – The happiest country on earth!
Happiness is a place, and in all honesty, I couldn’t agree more. When my husband first suggested a trip to Bhutan, I was really surprised at how little I knew about this country. I knew that people took a road trip to Bhutan generally after they visited Ladakh, but that thought never occurred to me and Bhutan was ignored for a while. The other reason, I feel, people don’t think about travelling to this country, is because there is so little information provided on the internet about it. When we started researching more, we hit a wall where it was impossible not to let the travel companies get involved. They helped us with the itinerary and we didn’t have to worry about a thing because they took care of the minutest details. Nevertheless, writing an article about the same might help someone out there plan a trip on their own, so here it goes:
There are two ways to reach Bhutan from India, via Delhi and via Kolkata. Since we stay in none of these cities, we chose to fly from Kolkata because of two reasons:
- The travel company offered us a fairly cheaper package from Kolkata as compared to Delhi.
- Rossogollas. Need I say more?!
We stuffed our tummies with some mouth-watering food from the city of Joy. Rossogollas, aloo-puri, sondesh, puchkas, you name it.
Our flight to Bhutan was early in the morning and we experienced the shortest international flight ever! Took us 35 mins to reach Paro, so before we got too comfortable in our seats, it was time to land. The best part about that flight is the stunning view of the Mount Everest, and believe me, it is spectacular! The other best part? The lush green fields and tiny villages you see, while your flight lands in this beautiful country. It is definitely a site. All flights to Bhutan land in Paro, which is their only international airport. If you are an Indian, you will be facing very few formalities to get that stamp on your passport. Yes. You WILL need a passport, even if you are from India. Most Indians have this misconception, which they need to be aware of. On the other hand, the Visa is what you don’t require to get there (only if you are an Indian). So just fill a short form asking about your basic details, get a stamp, and get out of there. If you are a non-Indian, unfortunately, you will be required to pay a heavy travel fee for each day that you plan on staying in Bhutan. So, make sure you are aware about the current travel fee rates for your country, before you make those bookings.
When we got out of the airport, our travel company representative was already waiting to receive us. He was dressed in his traditional Bhutanese coat, wearing lock socks and shoes, and he had a kind of shawl wrapped around one of his shoulder. You will see most tourist guides following the same formal dress code, even in monasteries. The most popular occupations in Bhutan is Tourism. Our guide greeted us with a warm smile and off we went to the town of Thimphu, which is over an hour’s drive from Paro.
Thimphu, is the capital city of Bhutan, in reality, it is a small picturesque town. Very serene and calm. On our first evening, we were free to take a walk in the market and explore the area. The main market is a stretch of about 2 kilometers. There are cafes and restaurants along the stretch, some of them are quite modern. We saw many families with kids in the town square, who came for a stroll or sat on the benches and watched their kids play. There are very few pubs in the city. After dinner, we went to one of them and it was almost deserted. We met a friendly old man there and he seemed to know a lot about Cricket, although Bhutan does not have their own Cricket team, we got to know that the Bhutanese are really good at Football, so we spoke about sports for a while and called it a day.
Thimphu has a zoo which you can visit and spot some wonderful animals there. One of them was the Takin, who I had never even heard of before. The School of Arts and Crafts teaches students 13 different arts used predominantly in Bhutan. Then there were some quick visits to the National library and the Simply Bhutan museum.
A visit to the Buddha point is not to be missed. Great Buddha Dordenma is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the mountains of Bhutan. The statue houses thousands of smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Great Buddha Dordenma, are made of bronze and gilded in gold.
On our way to Punakha, we crossed the Dochula pass, which was incredible. It was a foggy morning which made the view even more amazing.
Punakha Dzong is magnificent, it houses one of the most elaborate temples in the country. We learnt so much about Buddhism here. The story of Buddha is centuries old, yet Buddhism seems so alive and well-adapted in these regions.
A short hike in the rice fields of Punakha leads you to the Chimi Lhakhang monastery or the Temple of Fertility. People of Bhutan worship phalluses and place them in the four corners of their houses to ward off the evil-eye. This temple is known to bless couples who face difficulties in bearing children.
Paro has the most incredible monasteries in Bhutan, called the Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest. It is perched on the side of a cliff 900 m above the Paro valley floor. Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at the monastery, hence the name. It takes about 5 hours to complete the whole trek. When the climb began, it didn’t seem that difficult, but, after a while, it began to dawn on me that it will take quite a bit of dedication on my part to complete it. The photo above is taken from the view-point of the Tiger’s Nest. From here, everyone has to start going down the stairs and climb up again (about 800 steps) to reach the main temple. I met some amazing people on the way to the temple. We started chatting about our lives and travels. That is what actually kept me going. It was extremely tiring but when I finally reached the base, an overwhelming feeling of joy possessed me and I forgot about my aching feet.
Why should Bhutan be on your travel list?
- Nature: This place is a heaven for nature lovers. Over 70% of Bhutan is still forest. The greenery and fresh air is in abundance.
- Digital detoxification: If you are addicted to your phone or laptop and can’t survive for five minutes without checking your phone, you should seriously consider this vacation. It will help you appreciate a simple yet happy life.
- Monasteries: Absolutely stunning!
- People: The sweetest people you will ever come across. Humble, shy and so helpful.
- Bird-watching: Bhutan is considered one of the best places for bird-watching. The birds here are exotic and absolutely phenomenal.
- Photography: Some of the most beautiful landscapes that you can capture in your frame. Portrait photographers will have a ball, because, although the people are shy, they will go ahead and pose for you.
Ideally, the best time to visit Bhutan is from August to December and we were there for a week in the month of August. All we did in Bhutan was admire the lush-green landscapes and capture the moments in the camera. We didn’t have the most luxurious or lavishing holiday, but, what we experienced was simple life. You can be happy only if you start enjoying the little things in life.