Bhutan a hidden Shangri-La

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October 18th 2012
Published: October 21st 2012
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Big BuddhaBig BuddhaBig Buddha

The world's largest Buddha
Shangri-La has become synomous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia-- a permanently happy land, islolated from the outside world.

Bhutan seems to fit this definition.

Happiness is the Kingdom of Bhutan

Bhutan has a philosophy they call Gross National Happiness. They define this by creating a world of well-being and happiness. This means they live life in balance. Sort of dividing things up evenly…, sleep and play…..the modern world could learn a few things from Bhutan.

Now, we’re not trying to espouse some Buddhist-induced state of “total enlightenment,” but the Bhutanese are seriously interested in the psychological health of its citizens. Not a bad philosophy to latch onto all things considered.

Research has shown that increasing levels of income correlate to increasing levels of happiness only up to a certain point. This makes good sense. Beyond that, even exponential growth in wealth does not produce higher levels of happiness. The happiness curve flattens out.

In Bhutan the goal is to move people above the poverty line so that all may reach the “happiness plateau” of relative comfort.

Our strong recommendation is that you book a trip to Bhutan, and don’t
179 feet tall179 feet tall179 feet tall

Impressive does not begin to describe it.
wait too long. It is an amazing country. We have seen and experience many wonderful things. The Bhutan culture is unique. The people are amazingly friendly, kind and everyone wants to talk to you.

When we told people we were heading to Bhutan the most common question was where is Bhutan and for those who knew about Bhutan their first comment was, isn’t it very expensive to travel there? Bhutan located east of Nepal, surrounded by India and China and yes it is expensive to travel here.

The Bhutan government will not grant you a visa unless you purchase a tour from an approved agent. We have been told they are attempting to prevent the mistakes that Nepal made in tourism. The last thing they want is a bunch of near-broke backpackers invading their little slice of heaven. What this means is that you purchase all-inclusive packages that can be tailored to the things you want to see, but you will be required to spend $250 per person per night. You will have a personal guide with you to show you this enchanting and clean country. For those that can afford this…’s well worth it.

With that
Mt. EverestMt. EverestMt. Everest

Flying to Bhutan
introduction we want to thank our agent who had a little surprise for us that we did not know about until we got to the airport. Turns out she booked us a flight from Kathmandu in business class on Druk airlines, the airlines of Bhutan.

If you read liliram's blog BHUTAN: One Off My Bucket Listyou will have a great description of landing in Bhutan.

As you descend the plane banks left and then banks right. Cruising around some mountains. It is a lovely little adventure. It might take your breath away.

Plus we had nearly 3 hours in the Kathmandu airport before take off in the business class lounge… is grand!

The flight from Kathmandu to the Paro airport is barely an hour. We had a fine meal and we are happy to report we were on the left side of the plane so that means we got to see Mt. Everest again……and several mountains in the Himalayas! Unbelievable to see the mother mountain twice in one week. There were puffy white clouds about so it looked mysterious and grand. We took 100 photos on the flight. We’ll share a couple of the best ones with you. What a great
Druk 11000Druk 11000Druk 11000

Bhutanese Beer

If you are coming to Bhutan don't forget to ask for a seat on the left side of the plane.

In the Bhutan blogs you will see several photos of Dzong’s. This is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found in the Himalayas, specifically Bhutan and Tibet. This architecture define by wikipedia as massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monk’s accommodation.

Good news! We are back in a country where the people know how to cook. We are pleased. They actually use spices in their foods. You are likely to see food photos again.

We’ve learned that most traditional Bhutan homes are three stories tall. The 1st level is actually more of a barn from American standards in that they bring the cows in during the winter to stay warm. The family lives on the 2nd floor and the 3rd floor is used for drying meats and vegetables. In Thimphu we were able to go into the local museum which had a replica of a local home. It was interesting.

The national animal is a Takin, which we had never heard of so we had to google it. Life is so easy with google. We went to the local zoo to take a look. Evidentially, they have 14 of them in a fenced in area. It is rather large so there was some difficulty finding them. We were able to see 3 of them. Two of them engaged in a bit of a tussel…no apparent winner. They are not pretty animals by any stretch. Our guide told us they were created by a crazy monk. In many historical tales he is referred to as the divine madman. The whole thing revolves around an amalgamation of a goat and an antelope. Gotta love that! They are big…about 700 pounds. The photos are marginal but we tried. Sometimes wild life does not cooperate. Their living space is very large so we were surprised to see them at all. The smallish zoo also has the barking deer, which is rather small yet cute, the Sambar deer, which has extremely big ears.

In Thimphu, we had the most wonderful experience. When we were touring Simtokha Dzong, the oldest Dzong in Bhutan we were able to observe the monks having morning prayers. Seriously, mesmerizing! We were invited into the assembly roomed where about 75 monks were sitting on their pillows reading the mantra, chanting and beating their drums. This was a very spiritual experience. We were fascinated. We could have stayed for hours watching. It was an amazing experience.

Do you know what a B.A.B. is? Big Ass Buddha, no disrespect intended. In Thimphu, Bhutan they have built a 179 foot tall Buddha on a mountain top and it sits atop a temple that has not been completed. The work on this Buddha and temple has been going on for 8 years and they predict another 5 years until it will be completed. The building Buddha is sitting on will house a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and a Christian church. The projected cost is north of 40 million USD and apparently funded by generous philanthropy by some Chinese.

The Peaceful Resort where we stayed in Thimphu had a cultural night. Calling it a resort is a stretch but that is beside the point. They had local Bhutanese dancers and singers performing traditional dances. The band was rocking out Bhutanese style and we were able to see costumes from various areas around the country and watch the famous masked dancing. It was truly interesting to see this performance up close.

On Dave’s birthday our guide and driver came to have dinner with us at the Peaceful Resort. They brought Dave a cake and all the staff sang happy birthday to him. Many of the staff gave him birthday cards and several were hand-made which made it very special.

Our guide is fantastic. He asked us if there was anything we would like to do while in his country and of course our answer was we would like to tour the hospital. He arranged for us to meet with the Chief Medical Officer and the Nursing Superintendent of the hospital in Thimphu. Both are physicians and they were happy to talk with us about medical care and medical issues within Bhutan.

We learned that the infant mortality rate is about 40%. Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise, not because of a change in lifestyle but because more people are seeking health care. The majority of their physicians trained in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Their orthopedic surgeon and Neurosurgeon both trained in Bangkok. They have up to date medical equipment and as
Your papers don't seem to be in order....?Your papers don't seem to be in order....?Your papers don't seem to be in order....?

1 hour delay for paper work. No traffic day in Thimphu.
in our country they are suffering from a nursing shortage. This hospital gets physician and nursing volunteers from and organization called Health Volunteers Overseas.

We also toured the traditional medicine hospital where we learned how they use leaves, berries, bark and roots to cure all manner of illnesses. The older population still prefer the traditional medicine. Education and classes are being offer so everyone understands and learns to trust modern medicine a bit more.

Please stay with us as we have learned so much more about Bhutan.

Places we stayed:

The Peaceful Resort- Thimphu

Additional photos below
Photos: 44, Displayed: 27



National animal with a face only a mother could love.
Crossing the bridgeCrossing the bridge
Crossing the bridge

Mesh wire bottom so you have to look at the river while the bridge gently sways....MJ's favorite..
Artist at workArtist at work
Artist at work

school of art

21st October 2012

$250 a day !
Sounds like a lovely country but I guess I won't ever go there. With my frugal lifestyle pretty much ground into me I can't imagine spending that much money in a day (excluding airfare). Unless I won the lottery of course.
21st October 2012

We'll hope for a financial windfall.
I understand what you mean. We had to think twice about it but I really wanted to experience Bhutan. I am so glad we are here. It is lovely.
21st October 2012

The price of happiness
It seems that futile exponential growth in wealth you describe may be a financial prerequisite to attain those higher levels of happiness you are experiencing in Bhutan! Rather like the Bridge to Total Freedom in Scientology that only Tom Cruise can afford to cross. Tourism now contributes to well over 50% of national tax revenue. That worrying infant mortality rate puts them quite a ways down the list from even North Korea, another place they arrest pro-democracy demonstrators, and throw homosexuals in jail, but where the citizens are no less happy, they are told. BTW to preserve its unique cultural heritage Bhutan also has a rich history of expelling its minority populations (The US alone admitted over 30,000 between 2008 and 2010). I read the government also forces people, even the minorities; to use the traditional dresses of the ethnic majority in public spaces (Is that true?). Bhutan is an intriguing country, and I would dearly love to know if the situation on the ground matches the monarchy marketed Shangri-la. But one would need months to really research what is going on in Bhutan beyond the brochure…but then I’d probably need to have my very own Kingdom to be able to foot the bill;-)
22nd October 2012

Hopefully you can come and do some additional research
Gross National Happiness is a great marketing ploy and it seems to have taken hold because many will talk with you about it. It is a small and isolated country that seems to be doing far better than many we have visited. We have talked with many in the towns and villages and they truly "seem" content. Who can truly say. The people are clean and have smiles on their faces and we didn't see much of that in Nepal. The government provides the mountain people with cows and basic needs. Lots of work remains but the physicians were happy with the money that had been spent recently on the hospital. They have a new wing and modern equipment. They have a new MRI and CT scanner. They love the King and there is a 5 year plan to improve the roads. There is a 3 year plan to improve telecommunications and internet. They may have been sold a bill of goods but from all appearances they are content with it. The nursing superintendent is a Neo-natologists and he is working to educate women on pre-natal care and things that will decrease infant mortality. I'm not surprised by what you say about the National dress as most are wearing it. Many have seemed proud and ask us what we think of it. I'm sure many would rather be wearing jeans. Our guide would. Although the dress has some really cool pockets and allows them to carry many things. Come on over and check it out. Love to see what you learn.
21st October 2012

Interesting. I would like to go. So you need to spend $250 a night. Is that appart from the tour package??? Can you answer that for me? How much is the tour package? Approximately. Thank you. Hugs from Argentina.
21st October 2012

Hello Graciela,
The $250 a day is inclusive. It is like buying a package to an all inclusive resort. Your hotel and all your food is included. You only need to pay for drinks and souvenirs.
21st October 2012

Perfect birthday journey! (HB, Dave)
You two really are taking us all on a journey of a lifetime! I loved the photos--Buddhas, swinging bridge, twisty roads and golden fields. How great that your guide is so responsive and the resort so friendly and yummy. I hope they're using some of the tourist money to bring down that horrendous 40% infant mortality--yikes! Hope to see some villages and more BABs.
21st October 2012

Hi Tara,
We liked the BAB so much that we went back to see it on a 2nd day. No matter where you stand the eyes seem to follow you. The infant mortality rate is unbelievable indeed. You will see many villages and such in our next blog. We have the world's best guide. He is planning to spend a few months in Brazil next years studying the language...maybe you will run into him. Ha ha.
21st October 2012

What a Difference
Wow, I can feel how much you are enjoying Bhutan. Your pictures are full of light and color and feel happy. What great weather you are having as well. Hopefully the bumps and bruises have been left behind and you are on a vacation high again. Miss you lots.
21st October 2012

Bhutan is leaving us with the impressions we had in New Zealand and Greece, in that we felt like we were living in a post card. Each corner you turn offers stunning beauty and breathing views. Each one you swear is your favorite. So much to see and to do.
22nd October 2012

need bhutan info
Hi ! I am yet to readh your entire blog. Meanwhile could you please email me your travel itinerary? (+ who was the tarvel agent or local agent in bhutan?, where all did you stay? ) This will help me use some resources. Did you have any safety issues ? When did you actually travel here ? Thanks Anu (
22nd October 2012

Hello Anu,
We have been in Bhutan for 8 days and will be here for another 6. We are having a wonderful time in Bhutan. Tomorrow I will email you all of the information you have requested. It is a lovely country and well worth visiting.
22nd October 2012

What a place for a birthday party, eh?!
Bhutan sounds - and looks - wonderful. You've found happiness indeed. Maybe, one day I'll get there - but there are still so many other (less expensive!) places on my wish list. Oh, and a belated Happy Birthday, Dave!
22nd October 2012

Less expensive yes but it is amazing.
I do hope you will come as it is worth the expense. They are rich in history and tradition.
22nd October 2012

Bhutan is a place I've never really thought much about but it looks absoloutely lovely, thanks for sharing your experience. $250 a day seems like quite a lot but it sounds like it was money well spent... might be a while before we can put it on our list of places to see though! :o)
22nd October 2012

Add it to your short list
Some things are worth paying for. We are enjoying our experience in Bhutan. The people are lovely. Rich in history and tradition.
22nd October 2012

look at this fella... something else I've learnt from you guys today.. I'd never even heard of these let along seen their strange faces! He is so lovely! I'm imaginging what a baby would look like.. I'm going to google it to find out!
22nd October 2012

The face a mother could love
I thought I had heard of most animals until I arrive here. It was a surprise to see this big fellow saunter around the forest. We didn't see a baby but I'm sure they are adorable.
22nd October 2012

Liked the B.A.B. ! and other awesome views!
22nd October 2012
Heavenly Himalayas

Heavenly indeed! :)
23rd October 2012

Like the philosphy
Thanks for an interesting read and beautiful photos. We did a driver/guide trip in Sri Lanka some years ago and it was all inclusive too - I think its a good way to tackle an unknown place - and would be especially for me now on my own. Look forward to your next episode.
23rd October 2012

Another week in lovely Bhutan!
I feel jealous. Really jealous. Bhutan may be expensive but it is truly worth the experience. Wish I stayed longer and visited Bhumtang. But I stayed long enough to see how beautiful Bhutan is. And I am not talking about the sights alone. Bhutanese are such a lovely people. The ones we met were so polite, so trusting, and truly looked happy. I can't say the same for some other races. In one store, the vendor convinced us to buy some stuff even if we didn't have enough money with us, and to simply leave the payment at the hotel. In the hotel where we stayed, I grew fond of one cleaning lady and a waiter. Tipped them well, only to see them sharing the tip with the other staff. Like you, we love our guide too. Sort of "adopted" him and he calls me godmother now. These Bhutanese are genuinely kind and caring. It's that I miss most about Bhutan. Enough said. [:)]
24th October 2012

You have said it well
The people are amazing. Love it. Glad we came. The cost is well worth the experience.
24th October 2012
Dave's cake

happy birthday Dave :)
and that's getting what you paid for, sounds like a great place! looking forward for more of your stories. x
25th October 2012
Dave's cake

A great place for a birthday
You should consider it!
24th October 2012
Mt. Everest

Bhutan...Maybe...Maybe...Must. Sounds & looks like Heaven in the clouds. A Birthday to remember Dave...I'll lay a Song of the Week to celebrate.
25th October 2012
Mt. Everest

A must
Great place for a birthday. Looking forward to the song.
1st April 2019
Among the mountains & clouds

What makes you happy??
Travel around the world and know more people and their culture and traditions. I am very fortunate to be your travel Guide in Bhutan. May god bless you guys and lots of happiness
1st April 2019
Among the mountains & clouds

What makes us happy?
Traveling and meeting wonderful people like you! Thanks for the great trip we had with you.

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