BHUTAN: One Off My Bucket List

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December 1st 2011
Published: December 14th 2011
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Flying Into BhutanFlying Into BhutanFlying Into Bhutan

Just one airline to fly in and out. Only 8 highly trained pilots of Druk Airlines to squeeze the plane between mountains, veer really really left, and land. Say WHAT?
The Himalayas. Shangrila. Gross National Happiness. The Mystique of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan. Young and Newly-Married Monarch... A young King at 27. Prime Minister Thinley looking more like a Dalai Lama to me, speaking of a country's collective pursuit of HAPPINESS. Monasteries which also house state offices and serving as fortresses, called Dzongs. Church and State ruling under one roof. Houses painted with phalluses, in memory of the Divine Madman, one of its revered saints. The same phallic symbols turned into hanging ornaments decorating both village houses and urban buildings. Mini-monks, bald chanting nuns and local folks --- so pious, so polite and so amazingly trusting. Where and how do I begin my story about my week in Bhutan?


At US $ 756 flying from Bangkok-Dhaka-Paro and back, it isn't
And This is Just the Airport!And This is Just the Airport!And This is Just the Airport!

Paro Airport. Right up there, in the Eastern Himalayas. A Dzong or Monastery at the end of the airstrip. Snow-capped mountains from a distance. Handpainted window frames adorning the single-storey airport building.
cheap. All that for just 3 hours flying time one-way on an Airbus A319. But flying Into Paro Airport soon made me realize why Druk Airlines --- your only option, by the way --- and its 8 highly-trained pilots can make it a truly awesome journey for you. Right from the first flight into Bhutan.

Seated on the left side of the plane, hanging by my window seat, the mountain range of the Eastern Himalayas fills the plane's window frame. Views of snow-capped mountains and a sky with different shades of blue and near-green magically bring on images of Shangrila. Then reality brings you back to your senses as the plane makes its approach. You fly into and between 2 mountains imagining pine trees brushing the soles of your feet. Whoa! And more whoa! as the plane actually veers left like a car turning left while hugging the cliff. For the life of me, I cannot explain why I thought of Star Wars as the plane squeezed itself between mountains, turned left and
No Traffic Lights in Bhutan!No Traffic Lights in Bhutan!No Traffic Lights in Bhutan!

Yet we did encounter a "minor" traffic. Must be "rush hour"? Was waiting, but never heard a honk. Not a single one.
then landed.


Dripping with excitement, and wary of the minus 1 degree Celsius weather forecast, I threw on my pullover and wool coat as I exited from the plane's back door down the stairs into the tarmac. The sun's shining on us and it's pleasantly cold! I did away with the coat and savored the view. At the end of the runway is a Dzhong, a fortress cum monastery. Two guards carry on a conversation as they patrol the end of the airstrip. Druk Airlines sure know how to land this plane in Shangrila!

It would be another 1 hour from Paro Airport to Thimpu, the capital. The guide with us pointed out the "dead mountains" as we weaved around the mountains on our way to the capital city with no traffic lights. Farther out, we see snow-capped mountains much like what I saw from my window seat on the plane.
Druk Hotel is right in the center of the city. I like that it is small and not high-rise with a
A Newfound TranquilityA Newfound TranquilityA Newfound Tranquility

It must be what they mean when they talk of Gross National Happiness. Peace and joy in one's heart. Compassion. Detachment from the material world.
"family feel" to it. There is a wide courtyard with prayer wheels out front, waiting to be spun anytime of day. As soon as we checked in and lugged our suitcases into our room, we felt transported in time. Like expecting to meet Mata Hari or at the very least, feel her spirit lurking in some corner of the room. This room is surely exotic even if the flat TV atop a handpainted chest of drawers presents an irony of sorts.


Somehow, I got a sense of how things work around here. Gross National Happiness, remember? Each day consisting of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of non-work. No stress. No worries. No pressure. Hakuna Matata!

It took 2 weeks to get my flights confirmed. Another 2 weeks for my visa. I have landed in Bhutan and I have yet to get confirmation on the tours I wanted to book. I had my own shortlist of the Bhutan sites that are must-sees in my book. Hakuna Matata! I am meeting my Tour Guide and Driver the day after
Druk Hotel CourtyardDruk Hotel CourtyardDruk Hotel Courtyard

Early mornings, you find kids biking around. At 3 degree Celsius! They do that while I, all wrapped for winter, struggle to spin the prayer wheels in front of the hotel.
arrival and plan out what to do. How good is that?

It was enough to get me and my friend to calm down and trust that we wouldn't be "wasting" our week in Bhutan. And so we had a good first night in Druk Hotel, sleeping off our unnecessary worries. As they say here, HAPPINESS IS A PLACE. And that place is Bhutan.

More blogs to follow. Meanwhile, have a look at these teaser photos of sites we visited during our stay. Each one deserving of a blog dedicated to it : The Dzongs of Thimpu and Punakha , The Tiger's Nest Monastery , The Divine Madman's Village and Shrine, Zilukha Nunnery, Dochula Pass, The Memorial Chorten, The Weekend Market, The Monks and Mini-Monks, The Beautiful People of Bhutan. Just click on each of these topics to access the link and view more photos.

And for many of you who's the email addy of my travel agent. You may email them directly for any arrangements.

ubron_11@yahoo. com

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Mata Hari Lives Here!Mata Hari Lives Here!
Mata Hari Lives Here!

A very exotic-looking room. Never mind that it's dusty in some corners. I just love the red curtains, the handwoven area rugs, the bathtub by the side of the room, the handpainted chest of drawers, and the windows!
The "Wasted" BathtubThe "Wasted" Bathtub
The "Wasted" Bathtub

It looks lovely, but we never mustered enough courage to bathe in this cold weather. In fact, we had to struggle out of the showers to hurriedly put on our PJs lest we freeze!
Prayer WheelsPrayer Wheels
Prayer Wheels

You see them everywhere. I need not venture far from the hotel to find one. You spin from the first to the last, going around, as you mumble your prayers.
Bhutanese Love The Outdoors!Bhutanese Love The Outdoors!
Bhutanese Love The Outdoors!

Yes, even at minus one degree Celsius. They take tea outside, cocktails outside (with some bonfire), chat outside. I guess they do not like the idea of being cramped into some space.
The ApproachThe Approach
The Approach

As our Airbus A319 manuevers to land, you see this from the plane's window. As it turned out, we pass the same zigzag on the hour's drive from Paro Airport to the capital city of Thimpu.
What A Flight!What A Flight!
What A Flight!

No wonder they charge so much for this 3 hour flight (2 hrs from Bangkok to Dhaka, then another hour from Dhaka to Paro). I could feel the trees brushing the soles of my feet!
Itinerary #1: The Dzhong in ThimpuItinerary #1: The Dzhong in Thimpu
Itinerary #1: The Dzhong in Thimpu

Trashichodzong is a 17th century dzong or fortress cum monastery. It looks so regal from outside, but be prepared to be blown away as soon as you enter its courtyard. In one temple, you find the thousand mini-buddhas!
Itinerary #2: Changang Kha Lhakhang TempleItinerary #2: Changang Kha Lhakhang Temple
Itinerary #2: Changang Kha Lhakhang Temple

The first temple we visited in Thimpu, where we met several gho-clad and sneaker-shod little boys. How they can stand the cold wearing gho (like robes held in by a belt around the waist) is beyond me!
Itinerary #3: Zilukha NunneryItinerary #3: Zilukha Nunnery
Itinerary #3: Zilukha Nunnery

Just a small nunnery. Old bald nuns chanting their prayers and spinning their prayer wheels. They allowed us 2 photos. No more.
Itinerary #4: Buddha PointItinerary #4: Buddha Point
Itinerary #4: Buddha Point

Still in Thimpu. Tallest Buddha statue, which one sees miles away while zigzagging around mountains. The 'park' fronting the statue is still under construction when we visited.
Itinerary #5: Weekend MarketItinerary #5: Weekend Market
Itinerary #5: Weekend Market

There was a bridge fronting the Weekend Market. A kind Bhutanese allowed us to join in hanging prayer flags. No words spoken. Just smiles. It is the universal language.
Itinerary #6: Taktshang MonasteryItinerary #6: Taktshang Monastery
Itinerary #6: Taktshang Monastery

Up there in the mountains, hugging a cliff, is Tiger's Nest Monastery where Guru Rimpoche (2nd Buddha) flew in, riding a tigress to meditate. It took me 1 hour on horse, 1 hour downhill on foot and up to the Monastery, then nearly 2 hrs uphill to get to the Halfway Stn, and the last 1 hr hike back to base.
Itinerary #7: The Darters and Archers of BhutanItinerary #7: The Darters and Archers of Bhutan
Itinerary #7: The Darters and Archers of Bhutan

I mistook a group of men playing darts as archers. Just as amazing. How refreshing to find these men enjoy themselves playing an ancient game. Who needs TV and DVDs?
Itinerary #8: Another DzhongItinerary #8: Another Dzhong
Itinerary #8: Another Dzhong

Paro has its own 17th Century Dzhong. We lacked time to explore inside, but it looks really lovely even from outside.
Itinerary #9: Punakha DzongItinerary #9: Punakha Dzong
Itinerary #9: Punakha Dzong

2.5 hours to get here, but one can make a good stopover at Chimi Lakhang's Temple on your way here. 600 monks inside. We found them chanting and spinning their prayer wheels when we arrived. Lovely sight. Makes you feel warm and fuzzy.
Itinerary #10: Dochula PassItinerary #10: Dochula Pass
Itinerary #10: Dochula Pass

High above at nearly 3,000 meters is Dochula Pass. We had tea, momos (dumplings) and mountain rice here for mid-morning snacks. All that with a good dose of chili sauce. Then we watched a cultural show. No photos allowed, as the King and Queen have not watched it yet. Those are the rules.
Tell me what you think?Tell me what you think?
Tell me what you think?

I need to dedicate a whole blog to explain this. But teaser photo that it is, tell me what you think.

14th December 2011
Tell me what you think?

Well, the saint is also revered by childless couples, so you're close ;-)
14th December 2011

Definitely on my "to Do' List. What month were you there? From your photos it looks like a nice time of year there.
14th December 2011

my bhutan trip
I actually just got back! Was there 1st week of December. Temp's minus 1 degree Celsius at night but pleasant at 6 to 9 degrees Celsius during the day. If the sun's out, you'd be fine.
14th December 2011
Tell me what you think?

Protect the family from evil spirits? Great blog Lili - a nice teaser on one of my own bucket list items :-)
14th December 2011
Tell me what you think?

Very close, Jo
Believe it or not, that phallic symbol represents the organ of a revered saint in Bhutan. Will tell more in a separate blog....... ;-)
14th December 2011

Hi, from Argentina
Nice blog. I always read your blogs. Can you tell me how much you paid for your visa? Where did you get it? Thank you. Hugs from Argentina. Graciela.
14th December 2011

Visa to Bhutan
Applied for visa online (we don't have a Bhutan Embassy here in Manila) and paid US$20 upon arrival.
14th December 2011

Great, This is really amazing page, here, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, I will definitely share this article to my friends out there. voyante Paris
16th December 2011

Thank you, Vena. Happy to know someone enjoys reading my posts.
10th January 2012

Thanks, Vena
8 days in Bhutan. 4 blogs. And that's only on this site :-) I'm on a roll. Am I done blogging about Bhutan? There's just so much to tell. So many fond memories. Hope you get to visit the place too.
14th December 2011

Very Nice
Looks like a great journey. The photos are very impressive and it makes my want to add one of these Eastern cities to my very own bucket list.
14th December 2011

hi jake
You do that, Jake. Bhutan is a must-destination. I love the sites. I love the people. I had a most amazing tour guide, Sonam Norbu. I wouldn't have made it to Tiger's Nest Monastery (hard work!) without him.
14th December 2011

We are going next year!
Wow, wow, wow, can't wait to hear more. We are going to Bhutan next year so we will be following you with added interest. I'll be asking for all the details and gain suggestions from your experience. Love to have contact information for your guide.
14th December 2011

Hi there
Yes, Bhutan is most certainly a must-see. Been to Nepal myself, but Bhutan is way different. My tour guide is Sonam Norbu and he is on Facebook. For the life of me, I cannot find his card! But I have the email addy of his boss. Let me know when it's nearer to the date so I can patch you guys up. Bring chocs for Norbu--- I did, and I think he loves them. Or maybe he loves taking them home to his fav nephew.
15th December 2011

Bhutiful Bhutan
Ah, another great place to visit! Thanks for sharing it Lilliram.
15th December 2011

Pictures are amazing!
I'm on the road, so I'll take the time to read properly your entry closer to Christmas....but the pictures are wow....we've got to make it to day...
15th December 2011

thanks for sharing such an interesting blog - great photos - what is that photo all about? Looks so weird! Take care - have a great Christmas
10th January 2012

Yes, it may seem odd. But it's something to experience to actually appreciate it. My last (is it?) blog on Bhutan details the story behind the phallic symbol. Be warned. Lol.
16th December 2011

This blog post has transported me to Bhutan already! It is definitely a photographer's eden!
10th February 2012

Bhutan - Fantastic! Advice wanted :-)
Hello Liliram Your trip to Bhutan looks fantastic. I am planning to go there in September this year. Do you have the name of the tour agency you went with? The places you went and the way you describe your experience is very inspiring. Do you have any other tips for the aspiring traveller? Thanks Emma
11th February 2012

Bhutan in September
Hello, Emma. My tour guide Sonam Norbu can be reached at I would suggest you give yourself time to adjust to the altitude before doing Tiger\'s Nest Monastery. As for the Dzongs, all 3 are good to visit: Paro, Thimpu and Punakha. September is a good month as there are festivals then. But that also means you make early arrangements.
20th July 2016

What is the best time to go to Bhutan
Hi, I'm already 70 years old and I would like to see Bhutan. Do you think I will be able to walk to the monastery? If not what are the places I should see. I heard too that the altitude is high. I have thalassimia and I get dizzy with heights. I learned that when I went to the Great wall of China. I wasn't able to walk up as I got dizzy. Are there other activities I would enjoy? I love nature very much.
20th July 2016

Halfway Point and Beyond
You can try walking up to Halfway Point and then decide from there if you think you can still climb beyond that point. The altitude may affect you though. Other things to do include museum visits and archery watching.

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