{magic kingdom} A Journey Through Bhutan, the Last Himalayan Kingdom

When I received an email saying “Here are your documents for your visit to the Land of the Thunder Dragon” I knew that visiting Bhutan was going to be the trip of a lifetime. And I was right.

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Bhutan is one of my all-time favorite trips. This tiny Himalayan kingdom is best known for things like being great at archery, having no stoplights, and measuring the nation’s happiness alongside its GDP. It’s also the only country in the region to remain independent and untouched despite the constant wrangling of its superpower neighbors, China and India.

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They practice a particularly Bhutanese form of Buddhism, and incredible, impossible hillside monasteries are all around. The most famous of all monasteries is the Tiger’s Nest, clinging high upon a mountainside (which you can see in the first photo.) But there are many others that are almost as incredible.

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You can find Buddhist shrines, prayer flags, and offerings at every turn.

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Young boys start training as monks from early childhood. 

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Oh, and based on this sign, it’s good to be the dratshang (whatever that is.)

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While the younger population is becoming more modernized, things still operate at a slower, more old-fashioned pace. For example, men wear traditional dress to play archery (during which they sing and dance between points,) scaffolding is made from wooden poles, people dry chiles on their roofs, and traffic signals are strictly by hand.

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Tourism is incredibly limited in Bhutan, so traveling there it is a very special experience. I have countless stories I could tell about the wonderfully kind and welcoming people we met there- including the rice farmers who let us try our hand at harvesting with a large and very sharp scythe. 

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It’s also very egalitarian. In fact, there are only 4 airplanes in the entire country, and they all belong to the national airline, Druk Air. No private planes for the royals or elected officials. As it happens, the prime minister himself was on our flight. In coach class, no less. They did roll out the red carpet on the runway for him, and let him disembark before the rest of us, but that was about it.

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One more interesting thing to note about Bhutan: there are a lot of penises painted on buildings! This may strike you as odd or even pornographic, but it’s nothing of the sort. The penis is a symbol of good luck and hospitality, and some people think it wards off evil spirits. (To learn a bit more in depth about Bhutan’s phallus thing – this is a good article to read.) Here are some of my favorite penises.

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We stayed at the Taj Tashi in Thimphu and Uma Paro in Paro. They were 2 of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in, and I can’t say enough good things about the service and the people. As a particularly startling example of great service, I had left my camera battery charger in Bangkok and was in danger of running out of juice. I was frantic at the thought of not having a working camera in this picturesque country! Because Bhutan is so remote, there was no chance of getting a replacement battery or charger (without traveling to India, that is.) One of the hotel workers in Thimphu heard my plight and insisted on loaning me his fancy Nikon DSLR camera, which I then took to another town for FOUR DAYS. It made my trip! But that was just one of many kind and welcoming people. If you ever have the opportunity to make this trip, I can’t highly recommend it enough. A truly magical place!

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If you want to learn a little more about what life in Bhutan is like, I recommend the relatively light and easy book Radio Shangri-La.

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3 comments

1 Elizabeth { 10.26.14 at 6:07 pm }

Great post! Bhutan just moved up on my trip list. :)

2 Karen { 10.28.14 at 9:00 pm }

@Elizabeth I super highly recommend it!

3 Phub Dorji { 07.02.15 at 2:29 am }

Amazing facts and photos were displayed in this post. Good to know about these.

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