I came to Bhutan the first time in 1994 and, like so many visitors, fell hard for the country and its people. I came back two more times, and then in 1997 the Royal Government was kind enough to let me come and teach English. I wasn’t much of an English teacher, but I did learn quite a lot of Dzongkha, the ntional language of Bhutan, from my students. I also learned a lot about how to live the Bhutanese way. Over the years Bhutan has become so much a part of who I am.
Here, are four things I love about Bhutan. Of course there are hundreds of other things, but this is a blogpost, so I’ll give you the top four I am thinking of just now, in no particular order.
1. Flying in to Paro
In a word, it's breathtaking-- a little frightening, crazy, hilarious, awe-inspiring, and memorable. I’ve done it on and off for the last twenty-or-so years, and it never fails to thrill me. Coming in to Paro, the plane starts to dip down out of the clouds and into the not so large valley, and depending on which approach it takes, you get to see an awful lot of the landscape close up. If you come in at the other end of the valley from the airport, Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest monastery built in the 8th century, is eye level, and you can just about see the veins on the leaves of the nearby trees, as one of the Druk Air pilots used to say. Farmers working the paddy will look up and wave, and the beautiful white farm houses perched on knolls, or sitting in the middle of rice fields, make it look like you’ve crossed into some alternate, magical universe, Narnia-style. Gazing at the majestic mountains, half covered in mist, the tallest, most remote mountains in the world, make it seem like it would be perfectly normal to see a dragon or two peeking out from the clouds. Flying into Paro is magical. It really sets the tone for a visit here.
2. Trekking in Haa
I’ve done quite a few treks during my time in Bhutan, but my favorite is a trek that begins in the Haa Valley and takes you on ancient yak herder trails, through pine forests, and rhododendron forests, and up above the tree line, where you can see blue sheep, marmots, yak, and all kinds of alpine flowers. The last day of the five-day trek you walk along a ridge toward Chele La Pass, and you can see both Paro and Haa Valleys to your left and right, respectively. The views are fantastic, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It feels like you’re closer to heaven than to earth. I can’t get enough of walking in Bhutan, and this trek is fairly easy, and full of jaw dropping beauty.
There are so many places in Bhutan I love, so many breathtaking scenes, and temples, mountains, flora, and fauna. But so many times I think I’d love to be on that Haa trek again.
3. The Bhutanese people
What can I say? Before I came to Bhutan for the first time in 1994, I’d already become friends with some wonderful Bhutanese people in New York. They are the reason I visited Bhutan in the first place. I liked them so much; I wanted to see their country. There’s an innate friendliness about the Bhutanese, and they have an ease of living that I don’t find with many other people in the world. I like to say the Bhutanese are some of the few people in the world who aren’t mad at anybody. I feel this so strongly when I leave Bhutan and travel elsewhere. If you’ll allow me further generalizations, I think it’s partially the Buddhism that permeates the country as well as the DNA of the Bhutanese that make them kind and caring, and some of the most generous people I’ve ever met.
Also, Bhutanese are very funny, and they enjoy very raucous humor. In short: my kind of people.
4. The way I feel in Bhutan
I love the way I feel in Bhutan. To say I’m happy in Bhutan is true, but it doesn’t quite say all of how I feel here. Being in Bhutan is so relaxing. And by default I have to walk around quite a lot because I don’t like to drive in Thimphu as it’s getting too congested. And truthfully, you can easily walk from one end of Thimphu to the other without a vehicle; it isn’t very big. Walking in Bhutan gets my endorphins going, and I feel great. I love walking to Sangaygang, the hill above Thimphu to the northwest, and looking out over the valley toward the Big Buddha and Semtokha. I’ve done it for so many years that I can close my eyes anywhere I am in the world and I see that scene. If I want “violent exercise” I don’t take the road, but I go up the path that cuts straight up the side of the hill. It’s a real work out. Walking in Bhutan, everything seems right with the world.
The most wonderful thing about being here is that any little thing I do, any interactions I have with people, are for the most part positive and uplifting. Here, it’s easier to be kind. And being here for so many years has made it possible for my Bhutanese friends to teach me quite a lot about how to be generous. I like myself in Bhutan. And this makes me very happy.