Up above in the sky, we embarked parallel to Mt Everest and Kanchenjunga, towards Bhutan. The humbling view of the highest peaks was an incredible sight to hold and an unforgettable memory etched forever in our minds. Excitement, wonder, and peace gripped me before even setting a foot into the world’s happiest country. The plane descends into the narrow valley, termed as the world’s most dangerous landing, towered by the mountains, which leaves no room for manoeuvrability.
The moment you step your foot, beauty of the mountains around and deafening silence, comes gushing your way, a sigh of relief from the hustle bustle of Mumbai. A peek out of the window makes you tag Bhutan, with clean roads, cleaner air, and happier people.
Our first stop was the capital city of Thimpu
An hour and a half ride from the Paro Airport. The unwinding empty roads, which are built and managed by Indian Border Road Organization, are well kept and cleaner than your imagination. This city, which stands tall on the banks of Thimpu River, leaves you with a feeling of a small quaint town in Europe. The unending love for their Royal family and Hindi Operas leaves you amazed. After spending some time with the locals, who are always dressed in the national dress – Kira for women and Gho for Men, one seems to conclude that these people are very content with whatever they have, and don’t wish for more materialism, but sheer happiness.
We retired ourselves into the only mall in Thimpu
We indulged ourselves into bowl of traditional Bhutanese Dish, Ema Datse with red rice. Ema Datse is a basically a bowl of cheesy gravy cooked with green chilies and comes in many variations, the spice content will make you teary emotional by the last bite. Another peculiar specialty is, Suja – the local butter tea, which is served with salt on the side. My taste buds did resonate with it , but would still suggest try and relish the same.
The Tashichoo Dzong, Buddha Dordenma Statue
The world’s largest sitting Buddha, Heritage Folk Museum, Takin Zoo, National Library, were some of the sights we visited. One can gaze the world’s tallest Buddha (169 ft) for hours, and the mesmerized city view and mountainous terrain will make you denounce the world and move to this beautiful country. The Dzong is magnificent with intricately painted walls, depicting various forms of Buddha, Wheel of Life and history of Buddhism. We strolled along, shivering in minus five degrees, the handloom market, where every shop is filled with colorful local souvenirs, and artists selling self-made musical ornaments, shoes to name few.
We made our way to the summer capital of King
Punakha, a picturesque town in West Bhutan. An hour into the ride, we stopped at Dochula Pass (3100 m) to inhale the panoramic views of the icy peaks of Himalayas and the snow-covered 108 chortens built by the eldest Queen Mother. The chortens, backed by the beautiful mountains, serve as a perfect background for your pictures.
In the warm city of Punkaha, magnificent Punkaha Dzong and the fertility temple are must visit.
Few kilometres short of Punakha, we trekked our way to the fertility temple in Lobesa. This walk is an unusual one, with large phallus paintings on the houses and shops, nothing like you would have ever seen. After a little bit of amusement and giggling, we gathered the courage to ask our guide about the same, wherein he narrated that one incarnation of Buddha was infamous for his notorious nature of drinking and playboying across the country, but nevertheless was believed to have killed the demons, thus this painting all over the town.
Built on the confluence of two rivers –Mo Chu (female) and Pho Chu (male) rivers, stand the magnificent Punakha Dzong that is the second largest and second oldest Dzong of Bhutan, built in the 17th century by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche. The first king was crowned in 1907 at this Dzong, and till date, all important religious/monarchical events are celebrated here. The Dzong stand tall with pride as a symbol of Unified Bhutan and welcomes you with a giant wooden door with steep stairs, which are pulled up at night. Rafting in the Mo Chu or Po Chu River is the best way to soak in the tranquility of Punakha and admire the fortress. The adrenaline rush of the rafting is accompanied with a ride down Bhutan’s wilderness, characterized with rich flora and fauna and endangered species of wildlife. The impeccably clean rivers of Bhutan are the best-kept open secret of this country.
Upon reaching the city of Paro the following day, we made our way to the oldest Buddhist temple, built in the 8th century, and home to the statue of Buddha Padmasambhva, founder of Tiger Nest. Sheer excitement to conquer the Trek to Taktshang Monastery (or Tiger’s Nest), kept me unsettling. Tiger’s Nest is at height of 3,120 meters, which is literally clinging on a cliff, perched on the Himalayan Mountain, is a 900 meters almost straight trek up from the base of Paro (2,195 meters). Completing this steep rough terrain and traversing the 700 odd stairs, leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. The atmosphere at the monastery is mystical and the panoramic sweeping view of Paro Valley breathtaking. This is surely a “Must-Do” Bucket list Item.
Subsequent to the strenuous trek, we soaked ourselves in Traditional Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath – where fresh river water is mixed with local Artemisia leaves and heated with fire-roasted river stones, with a calming view of Himalayan ranges. After spending a week here, I realized Bhutan is one destination, which will humble you down and still sweep you off your feet. Affordable yet a well-deserved break from our chaotic city life, Bhutan- “The Happy Country” is a must visit for all – worth a memory etched forever in your minds.
This article is written by Nayana Talwar who has been happily traveling since 1998 and writing about it. A long-time advocate of solo travel, she hopes that reading about her experiences will encourage other women to stop waiting for a travel partner and pursue their own travel dreams now.