Bhutan - No or­di­nary place

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - ( Cour­tesy : Stuff Travel)

The story about the ma­raud­ing Hi­malayan Black Bears didn’t come out un­til they were well into the for­est.

Mi­randa Turner and Gavin Strang, were in Bhutan, a tiny coun­try perched high in the East­ern Hi­malayan Moun­tains be­tween its pow­er­ful neigh­bours, China and In­dia. As the Welling­ton cou­ple hiked through Phob­jikha, a re­mote high- al­ti­tude val­ley of primeval for­est, em­braced on all sides by moun­tain­ous peaks, their guide ca­su­ally men­tioned the threat of bears to peo­ple and crops. “Bears,” he ex­plained philo­soph­i­cally, “will al­ways go for your face”. He made a claw­ing mo­tion across his mouth and jaw.

“Bhutan is 75 per cent Bud­dhist – we knew he didn’t have a knife in his sock or a ri­fle on his back be­cause harm­ing an­i­mals isn’t al­lowed,” says Gavin.

“In Bhutan there’s al­ways an­other hill higher, so we kept trekking – but we be­gan to feel un­easy and won­dered about arm­ing our­selves with a stick,” says Mi­randa. “Our guide walked in si­lence for a while, then told us brightly, ‘ it’s not the bears you have to worry about, it’s the tigers’,” be­fore launch­ing into a story about tigers so fierce they can toss a cow across a pad­dock.

It be­came ob­vi­ous that Bhutan is no or­di­nary place.

Steeped in magic and mys­tery, it’s the world’s last great Hi­malayan King­dom – a pic­ture­book land­scape of snowy peaks, Juras­sic Park forests, ma­jes­tic fortress- like dzongs, and cen­turies- old monas­ter­ies. In Bhutan, the rice is red, and chilies are served as a vegetable - not a spice. The king­dom boasts high­alti­tude hik­ing trails, beau­ti­ful tex­tiles and crafts, spec­tac­u­lar tsechus ( dance fes­ti­vals) and tra­di­tional archery com­pe­ti­tions that gather an al­most me­dieval­look­ing au­di­ence.

“We have done a lot of trav­el­ling in the last 20 years, but Bhutan is not like any­where we’ve ever been be­fore,” says Gavin. “It is small and serene - and un­like other parts of Asia, there’s no bus­tle, no toot­ing horns. We saw tra­di­tional archery com­pe­ti­tions, monks pray­ing and prac­tic­ing their fes­ti­val dances – and it’s not for the tourists, it’s ac­tive and it’s real.”

Bhutan is a land lost in time; a deeply Bud­dhist na­tion that holds fast to its an­cient ways.

The coun­try coined the phrase ‘ Gross Na­tional Hap­pi­ness’ in the 1970s, and there­fore aims for col­lec­tive hap­pi­ness, harmonising with na­ture and its tra­di­tional val­ues. By law, at least 60 per cent of the coun­try must re­main forested, and not only is Bhutan car­bon- neu­tral – it ac­tu­ally ab­sorbs more car­bon than it emits.

To add to the in­trigue, the tiny na­tion is ruled by one of the youngest mon­archs in the world, Jigme Kh­e­sar Nam­gyel Wangchuck - an Ox­ford Univer­si­tye­d­u­cated king who is a reg­u­lar fix­ture in the so­ci­ety pages of Hello-mag­a­zine. He’s fifth in the line of hered­i­tary rulers who have ruled for the last 100 years – and un­like neigh­bour­ing Nepal where the King was de­posed nearly ten years ago, mon­archs are revered in Bhutan.

“Bhutan is known as the ‘ Land of Dragons’, the king is the ‘ Dragon King’ and the peo­ple are the ‘ Dragon Peo­ple’ – it’s like some­thing out of Game Of Thrones,” says Gavin.

Tourism num­bers are care­fully mon­i­tored in Bhutan, and all for­eign­ers pay an all- in­clu­sive fee of at least US$ 250 ($ 362) a day, which cov­ers food, ac­com­mo­da­tion, trans­port and an of­fi­cial guide, plus a por­tion that goes to the gov­ern­ment.

Our style of travel has al­ways been about do­ing the re­search, then get­ting off the bus and roam­ing with our back­packs un­til we find a place to stay,” says Mi­randa. “We’ve stayed in some in­ter­est­ing places from un­ex­pected lux­ury to mosquito- rid­den dives. In Bhutan the ac­com­mo­da­tion was ex­cel­lent – palaces, re­mote guest houses and four star ho­tels.”

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