When you think of Bhutan, your mind immediately wanders into the artistically designed monasteries, amazing looking dzongs, and scenic treks. As you can see here, it doesn’t disappoint, either, says Nishad Padiyarath.
The moment you land here, you breathe in fresh air, you find people curiously looking at you and happily smiling. You hear high clear notes of the ceremonial trumpet. You will also see Buddhist pilgrims gravitating toward the sound – welcome to The Forbidden Kingdom called Bhutan! Even though only a few people travel here, it’s an exotic land and a place that could hold an important key to human happiness.
The story of this ancient country goes like this: For more than a thousand years, this tiny place on earth – known by locals as Druk Yul (land of the thunder dragon) – has survived in splendid isolation, a place the size of Switzerland stuck into the mountainous fold between two powerful neighbours China and India. Until the 1960s, the country which was closed off from the outside world had no roads, no electricity, no motor vehicles, no telephones, no postal service. But it’s the mesmerising landscape that caught global attention. Ancient temples perched high on mist-shrouded cliffs; unconquered peaks rising above pristine rivers and forests make you feel heavenly. No wonder visitors can’t resist calling Bhutan the last Shangri-la.
Bhutan’s economy is still based on agriculture, and its constitution mandates that 60 per cent of the land must be forest; the actual figure is 72 per cent – no over-development here. That’s why Bhutan is one of the few remaining global biodiversity hotspots in the world, and that’s why Bhutan is a carbon neutral country. In a world that is threatened by climate change, Bhutan is a carbon neutral country. So, coming off the plane you breathe in some of the freshest air on the planet as you drift into a past that is always present.
Nearly 70 per cent of the population lives in villages like Nabji, cradled by virgin forest and vertiginous mountains, six hours on foot from the nearest road. And some things have not changed still. When British Royals William and Kate visited recently, she dressed in a Kira, a blouse and skirt combination that is Bhutan’s age-old style for women. For men, the traditional wear is called a Gho – a complicated belted robe.
But to go to Bhutan? Not that easy. It limits international tourists. There were 57,000 last year.
Education in this tiny nation is completely free and all citizens are guaranteed free school education, and those that work hard are given free college education. Healthcare is also completely free. Medical consultation, medical treatment, medicines: they are all provided by the state.
My favourite place- Paro Taktsang (also known as the Tiger’s Nest) is Bhutan’s number one tourist attraction. And when they say the journey is half the fun, that’s not the half of it for the journey to get here. It is a trek up 3,000 feet of elevation!
Highlights- Bhutan exports most of the renewable electricity it generates from its fast-flowing rivers. By 2020, Bhutan will be exporting enough electricity to offset 17 million tons of carbon dioxide. Bhutan is working to build clean, green energy that would offset something like 50 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That is more CO2 than what the entire city of New York generates in one year.
Lowlights- Climate change is affecting Bhutan. Its glaciers are melting, causing flash floods and landslides, which in turn are causing disaster and widespread destruction in the country.
Souvenirs- Shopping in Bhutan is very region centric as not every kind of item is found in equal abundance or ease everywhere. Bhutan is not a cheap shopper’s paradise, so do not expect to find throw-away deals here… you can however find some reasonably priced souvenirs, including hologram stamps and stamps you can play on a record player.
Getting there- There are no flights from Muscat to Bhutan. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines fly to Paro in Bhutan direct from Kathmandu, Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai. Fly Dubai flies direct to Delhi from Dubai.
Where to stay- Aman Resorts was the first foreign company allowed to build a hotel in Bhutan; it now has a series of lodges across the country, including one in the beautiful Paro Valley which sits against the backdrop of the snow-capped Jomolhari peak.
1. Step off the plane and breathe in the freshest air on the planet
2. Trek up 3,000 feet to experience peace at the Tiger’s Nest
3. Hike up to Jomolhari and enjoy breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains
4. Get a real feel of the virgin forests
5. Slip into the Gho or the Kira, the traditional wear