Simon Ur win’ s Bhutan
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen images of the Tiger’s Nest monastery (above), the view, the atmosphere, the sounds you experience there are magic.
MOST INTERESTING THING I LEARNT
The claim that Bhutan is the ‘happiest nation on Earth’ is a myth. It seemed no more or less happy than any of the other of the countries in the region I’ve visited.
Playing football in the afternoon sunshine with a group of young monks in their monastery grounds outside the capital Thimphu.
MOST ENJOYABLE MEAL
The Bhutanese love chillies and you’ll find them on the menu at almost every meal. I enjoyed the ema datshi – hot chillies cooked in a cheese sauce.
THING I WISH I’D KNOWN BEFORE I WENT
Bhutan has almost zero nightlife. I should’ve downloaded more boxsets onto my laptop.
WILDEST ANIMAL ENCOUNTER
Packs of street dogs. Take good silicon ear plugs as they can keep you awake all night with their incessant barking.
How good the local beer (Red Panda) tastes.
MOST CURIOUS CUSTOM
Bhutan’s phallocentricity. Elaborate paintings of penises on Bhutanese homes are said to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip. Farmers also bury wooden phalluses in their fields to encourage a good crop.
BEST WAY TO MAKE FRIENDS
Bhutan has a culture of gift-giving. Bring small tins of British-branded sweets from home as ice-breakers or thank yous.
ADVICE FOR BUDDING PHOTOGRAPHERS
Bhutan’s monasteries might be ridiculously photogenic but show respect to these sacred places and the people who reside and worship there. Not causing offence is far more important than any photograph you might want to take. Visitors who want photos of the Tiger’s Nest with clear blue skies head there early in the morning. The afternoons often cloud over so you might not get the perfect photo, but this is the time to have Bhutan’s most famous monastery almost to yourself.
If you’re flying into Bhutan from Kathmandu, be sure to get a window seat on the left of the plane. On a clear day you’ll be spoilt with staggering views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, for almost the entire journey. It’s quite possibly the most beautiful flight in the world.
Lonely Planet Traveller 103