BE­CAUSE I’M HAPPY

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - ASK THE TOUR GUIDE | BHUTAN - CE­LESTE MITCHELL

This year is a good year for Aus­tralians to visit Bhutan,” says Son­ham Chopel. The owner of Bhutan Jour­neys, Chopel has been work­ing as a tour guide in Bhutan since 1996 and says his guests are al­ways cu­ri­ous about the small Hi­malayan coun­try, where hap­pi­ness is akin to ho­li­ness. In fact, the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness is the govern­ment’s ul­ti­mate agenda, hav­ing favoured Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness over Gross Na­tional Prod­uct for the past decade.

In 2018, Aus­tralian na­tion­als in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing Bhutan will ben­e­fit from a spe­cial Friend­ship Of­fer from the Royal Govern­ment of Bhutan, to com­mem­o­rate 15 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions between the two coun­tries. While you’d nor­mally pay an allinclu­sive manda­tory min­i­mum daily pack­age rate of $US200 (about $260) a per­son, in­stead, those vis­it­ing in June, July or August this year will pay only the govern­ment Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Fee of $US65 a per­son a night. Rooted in sus­tain­able tourism prin­ci­ples, this fee goes to­wards sus­tain­ing the pro­vi­sion of free med­i­cal care and ed­u­ca­tion in Bhutan.

“You’ll also be able to ac­cess 30 per cent dis­counts off Drukair and Bhutan Air­lines fares, and other in­cen­tives,” Chopel says. “Just make sure you spec­ify your na­tion­al­ity to a lo­cal agent to ob­tain the spe­cial pack­age.”

So, what else is there to know be­fore you visit ar­guably the “hap­pi­est place on earth” (sorry Dis­ney)? Chopel has these tips:

IF YOU ONLY DO ONE HIKE …

Paro Tak­t­sang – “Tiger’s Nest” – is one of the most fa­mous monas­ter­ies in Bhutan and the most ven­er­ated and sa­cred site. All vis­i­tors should make a con­certed ef­fort to visit the monastery. I en­cour­age my guests to at­tend a On In­sta­gram On In­sta­gram but­ter lamp cer­e­mony and of­fer wishes for the @es­capes­naps @es­capes­naps ben­e­fit of all the sen­tient be­ings.

The hike to Tiger’s Nest monastery takes about five hours and the best time to start is in the morn­ing. You’ll start from the base, walk up to the monastery and re­turn with a lunch stop at the Tak­t­sang cafe­te­ria. If you wish, you can ride a horse from the base to the cafe­te­ria for a head­start.

MONK LIFE

There are many hikes worth do­ing in Bhutan but one I re­ally rec­om­mend is the Tango and Cheri Hike. Driv­ing north of Thim­phu Val­ley to Dodeyna, you will see stun­ning views of the Cheri Monastery. From the base, you will be able to see the Tango Monastery and Univer­sity of Bud­dhist Stud­ies. While hik­ing to these monas­ter­ies, you will have the op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with the monks to un­der­stand their lives a lit­tle bet­ter, and see the pris­tine na­ture of Bhutan along the way.

TO EASE THOSE SORE MUS­CLES

In Bhutan, we have a tra­di­tional hot stone bath rit­ual and I rec­om­mend it to my guests af­ter they’ve hiked to the Tiger’s Nest. We drive to a Bhutanese fam­ily to im­merse our­selves in the way of liv­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence the hot stone bath where the stones are heated over an open fire, then put in the wooden tub filled with cold wa­ter.

It is be­lieved that the heat of the wa­ter, the min­er­als re­leased from the rock and the lo­cal herbs pro­duce medic­i­nal ben­e­fits and re­ju­ve­nate the pain from your hike to Tak­t­sang monastery. One thing to be aware of: this treat­ment is not ad­vis­able if you suf­fer from high blood pres­sure.

TAKE AIM AND FIRE

The na­tional sport of Bhutan is archery and dur­ing any tour in Bhutan, your guide will present an archery demon­stra­tion for you to par­tic­i­pate in. It can be ar­ranged dur­ing your leisure time at the ho­tel or while driv­ing on long jour­neys. The bow and ar­row, and tar­get, will be kept in the car. If your hand-eye co-or­di­na­tion serves you well, darts is an­other widely played sport in Bhutan.

PIC­TURE: ISTOCK

Colour­ful prayer flags adorn a sus­pen­sion bridge in Bhutan. This year, if Aus­tralians visit in June, July or August, the manda­tory daily fee is re­duced.

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