Allow me first to paint a picture: I am sitting on the river Wangchu (river of blessings) watching the crisp winter breeze caress the leaves of the willow tree that I have the honor of sitting beside on this perfect Tuesday afternoon. She and I are equally hypnotized by the constant chortling of the river before us – in fact I have been in an almost trance state for the last few hours, as I contemplate the divine corner of the world that is Bhutan.
I could, and still might, write paragraphs and paragraphs of praise for Bhutan’s natural beauty. Her endless mountains, valleys and rivers are so picturesque, so exquisite, that there have been times (like now) that I want to cry at having the honor of beholding such beauty. Glimpsing the snow capped Himalayas was the manifestation of a lifetime dream of mine and my heart breaks that I cannot trek through them this time. In fact my only complaint about my time here is that a week is not nearly enough.
But besides the jaw-droppping landscapes, the other thing that stands out upon arriving in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is the overwhelming warmth and kindness of the local people. At the risk of sounding like a typical westerner I have to mention the most attractive thing about interaction with the Bhutanese people – due to the visionary leadership of their Third King, all Bhutanese speak English as a second language. I know its an extremely western-centric thing to be excited about but it makes such a difference for someone like me who has a million questions about everything and longs to connect on a deeper level with locals. And it was these connections that actually top the list of my favorite things about Bhutan – all the truly welcoming, kind, and happy people that I met along the way. The Gross National Happiness indicator that Bhutan is so famous for is no PR stunt. The happiness is palpable here.
So now let me discuss the context in which I came to Bhutan. My trusty travel companion Yvan aka Facehunter very sweetly put me in touch with My Bhutan – an innovative new company that acts as platform through which you can pay for your visa directly, choose your own guide and itinerary and also contribute to their philanthropic endeavors. And so the often difficult process of getting a visa was taken care of, an awesome itinerary was put into place, and we were off! Being the weaver and textile fiend that I am, my priorities were visiting the Royal Textile Museum, learning how to back-strap weave and shopping for Bhutanese treasures. Then there were 2 national festivals, a visit to the Royal Academy of Performing Arts and some of the most charming nightlife in the world…Thats not mentioning a trip to beautiful Punakha and a traditional hot stone bath at the beautiful Termalinca hotel. My Bhutan are immensely resourceful when it comes to planning your itinirary, and I recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone considering going.
Here I must dedicate a paragraph to my half day hike up to the famous Tigers Nest or Taktsang – a structure so beautiful and so impossibly located that it defies logic and gravity. How did those monks build this incredible triumph of engineering in such a remote and precarious location? It reminded me of Machu Picchu and it was not the last similarity I would uncover during my trip. The hike was my first introduction to Bhutan (we actually went there straight from the airport) and it was there that the little Peruvian mountain goat inside of me got to thoroughly rejoice in the high altitude, the panoramic views and the crisp air. The 3 hour hike was also the perfect way to get to know our new Bhutanese friends as they scrambled ahead to document our expressions as we beheld the monastery in the distance. You could feel their collective pride in their history and culture and shared joy as we walked those ancient, sacred stairs. And then there were the pilgrims! 200 pilgrims from Ladakh (another Himalayan region I am dying to visit) had chosen that day to make their pilgrimage up the mountain. Every time we would pass one of these beautiful Himalayan people, with their gorgeous high cheekbones and dresses made of yak wool and nettle fibre, they would smile, raise their hand to their third eye, and wish us “Tashi Delek!” (Good Luck). At one of the rest stops, they even shared their homemade lunch with us… their generosity of spirit and simplicity really left a profound mark on me. You could see the peace and contentment in their faces and in their slow steady pace down the mountain. It was so different to furrowed brows and hurried energy you find in the people of New York for example. Even though the monastery itself was the obvious highlight of the day, it was the pilgrims that I thought of as I slept that first night, and for many nights to come… “Tashi Delek! Tashi Delek!”
Lastly, and I want to describe briefly that which cannot be put into words. A very brief but most memorable encounter with Bhutanese royalty…being utterly in awe of the intelligence, charisma, and beauty of this family. Somewhere in there was a magical night-time horse ride underneath shooting stars and a midnight rafting experience that I will cherish forever.
Oh Bhutan, what have you done to me? You have utterly spoiled me for life and all I can do is dream of springtime, when I hope to return and see the rhodedendrums in bloom. Oh, to spend more time in Punakha, and trek in the north or even head east to seek out Merak and the nomadic peoples whose textiles I favor so much. Next time, next time….
A big thank you to the My Bhutan team and everyone I met on this life-changing journey: Matt, Vince, Lorne, Michael, Signe. My Bhutanese documentary crew: Bonz, Solly, Lingpen, Yeshey and my friends Nangzey and Karma. You made this trip so special for me and I can’t wait to see you again.
And a final thank you to my friend the Facehunter aka Papi – to whom ALL the photo credit for this post belongs . I have never met anyone more curious about the world, more fearless in their dancing or as hungry for experience and knowledge. You are the Indiana Jones to my Carmen Sandiego and I am so happy to have met you. You do not know what this invitation meant to me and how altered I am from this visit. I am forever in your travel debt. Until next time.
P.S – The doco we made about the whole trip will be out in March, will keep you guys posted. x