Yearning for Bhutan

For the past six months, memories of a small kingdom, high on the roof of the world, keeps slipping into my mind. Oh, Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, how my imagination is painting you in colors of the sun! One of the wonders of a selective memory is the rose colored tint on everything. This is not completely the case with Bhutan. There were things I loved about Bhutan and things that I found less delightful (my apologies to my Bhutanese friends although they are too polite to object). I imagine that Bhutan is a bit like Tibet of yore (or Hollywood’s Tibet). Despite it being the land of Gross National Happiness (the king tells you that you are happy so you will be), it’s not all happiness and light (okay, there is is a lot of light).

Stones at the entrance to the museum.
Stones at the entrance to the museum.

With April just around the corner,  when I think back to the gho-clad men, strong women, crisp air, and quiet spiritualism, my thoughts turn to the spring festival, or “tsechu,” in Paro. The tsechu is a multi-day religious festival and a dream for a photographer (and for those of us who like to take photos). More about the tsechu in a later blog post.

My framed Bhutanese boy's gho.
My framed Bhutanese boy’s gho.

I had so many things from Bhutan framed that my framer asked me if I was Bhutanese. No, but thanks for the compliment.

The Kingdom of Bhutan, Land of Gross National Happiness

The Paro valley and red chiles drying on a rooftop.
The Paro valley and red chiles drying on a rooftop.

Bhutan. Land of Happiness. Land of Gross National Happiness. Land of the Thunder Dragon. The Hermit kingdom. Whatever the name, it is unlike any other place in the world.

As a non-Indian, Nepalese, or Bangladeshi, getting to Bhutan must be done through a tour company. The company takes care of your ticket, visa, hotel, and itinerary. We used a fledgling company called Bhutan HappyLand Tours. While some of the kinks need to be ironed out, overall, I’m glad that we went. Indeed, I feel myself yearning to go back. Our guide was unflagging in energy and answered every single one of my vast array of questions, from early in the morning till late at night.

When working, the men must wear the national costume.
When working, the men must wear the national costume.

They filmed Seven Years in Tibet — in Bhutan —  and you might want to stay that long. If you can afford it. It is not cheap to visit at $250 per night, $450 for the ticket from Dhaka, and $40 visa. But beyond that, the only other money you will need is for souvenirs and to tip your guide. Everything is best paid in U.S. dollars (100 bills are best). Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines, is the national carrier of Bhutan and there are only two flights per week from Dhaka to Paro.

Prayer wheels spinning in this Buddhist country.
Prayer wheels spinning in this Buddhist country.

There are many itineraries to choose from but we chose the three night tour of Bhutan. We saw archery, graphic wall art, butter churning, monks praying, and much happiness.

Since the country is shrouded in mystery, there are many things that set Bhutan apart from other countries. More in a future blog posting…

Widening Roads in Kathmandu

The road to progress is a half house?
Houses sliced in half line one of the streets of Kathmandu.

Nepal is the crossroads to Shangri-la — Tibet. Kathmandu apparently comes from the word for crossroads. They are widening the roads to Shangri-la. This has resulted in the buildings being cut down the middle. These buildings remind me of the Hans Christian Andersen story about a half-chick who could not find his place in the world until he became (spoiler alert) a weather vane perched atop a house. Perhaps these half houses are indicators of the same thing on the roof of the world.

Half houses huddled together along the road.
Half houses huddled together along the road.