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Why visit Bhutan

“You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”-Mark Twain.

Published on: September 18, 2022, by Garab Dorji

You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

This is what Mark Twain said. But would he have said so if he had visited Bhutan? I doubt it, for heaven, if there is one, would not be a piece of land, spread over a beach with luxury displayed ostentatiously. It cannot be like a world created through human innovation by giants of Wall Street. It ought to be a place with Nature in its most original form; virgin peaks epitomizing beauty, a land right out of the books on heaven we have read. And it has to be Bhutan.

In a small country tucked away in the Himalayas, from the prism of theology, it could be said that the creators knew that man’s insatiable pursuit of the unknown and innovations for an easier life could erase everything close to heaven. Thus, a small country was carefully preserved to showcase what the ideal, as propounded by Plato would look like. Perhaps the creators wanted humans to see and experience a resemblance to heaven; one of the many reasons why travelers cannot say they have seen the world if they have not visited this incredible country.

Mongar Tsechu Image
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Bhutan does not have any skyscrapers. Neither are there any traffic lights. In the heart of Thimphu, the nation’s capital, you see vendors selling their agricultural and other products carrying baskets woven from bamboo. As you walk around town you will meet those who have taken the vows of the Dharma; youth with designer clothes discussing Korean pop, Apple showrooms, and SUVs imported from different countries. In essence, you see the past, present and future converge, like nowhere in the world. And the beauty of it all is the fact that the past is intact, not because of special programs initiated by the government, but because of people’s innate love and attachment to the country’s culture and heritage.

But Bhutanese do not live in the medieval ages. The country, which started building its first roads when Neil Armstrong took a “giant step for mankind,” and Yuri Gagarin went to space, has caught up with the world. Thus, you see the blend of the traditional and the modern, the best cocktail one can sip.

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One may argue that the culture and environment are intact as Bhutan is the fountainhead of Gross National Happiness (GNH), with the preservation of the culture and environment as two of the four pillars. However, most Bhutanese, especially the 57 percent living in rural areas may not even understand GNH. Nonetheless, they understand how important the environment is, for they depend on it for their livelihood and they are proud of their cultural heritage. Additionally, they understand impermanence, the transient phenomenon of life, and thus the need to live happily and disseminate happiness.

paintings | Why visit Bhutan

It will not be wrong to say that the Bhutanese are the most hospitable people. Visitors to villages will be openly welcomed; served tea or local alcohol. The people may be living in houses that appear as if a storm will wipe them off. The people may be underprivileged or poor. But they are poor economically. They are repositories of several aspects of life that money cannot buy.

They are the wealthiest when it comes to love, compassion, empathy, respect, discipline, astuteness, and other abstract elements, which have evaporated in most parts of the world. And as you interact with them, you will experience compassion in the purest form for perhaps the first time. You will understand what love and empathy mean to the Bhutanese people and the ways in which all these characteristics come together making people happy and smile.

We meet people who forget us. We also forget the people we meet. But sometimes you meet those that can’t be forgotten; Bhutanese belong to this group. You cannot forget the Bhutanese people you meet, for they are exceptional.

ost people visit different countries because of the specialty or uniqueness of that country. However, it is difficult to point out why Bhutan is special or unique, for there are scores of factors that make this Himalayan Kingdom a gem amongst jewels. It is a dreamland for lovers of birds, with the small country housing about 670 recorded species of birds that include those in danger of extinction, such as the White Bellied Heron and the Imperial Heron.

Similarly, those interested in animals will find the treasure they are looking for in Bhutan. The country is home to more than 200 species of mammals including endangered ones like the Royal Bengal Tiger. Golden Langur will greet you as you pass the southern parts of the country. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, the oldest protected park in Bhutan, is home to the great one-horned rhino, swamp deer, pygmy hog, and Bengal florican.

A country that has hundreds of birds and animals will be rich in its flora; Bhutan is – there are about 5400 vascular plants. In addition, in autumn, wild rhododendrons of different colors form a blanket, making the country even more exquisite.

As one is about to land at Paro International Airport, you will see Paro Dzong (fortress). Similarly, as you move from Paro to Thimphu and other parts of the country, you will see stupas (chortens), prayer flags, and monasteries. Each has a story of its own; a stupa where a young Dakini princess entombed herself on behalf of all sentient beings; a trees that emits smoke; the world’s largest Guru statue, with a height of 173 feet, and many more. Tales of the abominable Yeti are still alive. All this may sound mythical, but these are factors that add to Bhutan’s mysticism.

Stupa | Why visit Bhutan

Another picture that will remain embedded in your heart after you leave Bhutan is the country’s architecture, especially Dzongs, which means fortresses. Dating back to the 17th century, most were built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who came from Tibet, unified the country, and spread Drukpa Kagyud – a school of Buddhism. The fortresses are located at strategic points, such as hilltops, and were instrumental in driving back the Tibetans who attacked Bhutan several times during the Zhabdrung time. Today, these architectural wonders serve as district administrative offices and house the monk body. The fortresses were built without using one piece of metal, such as nails. Even today, it is difficult to comprehend how such architectural masterpieces were built in the 17th century.

For those who love adventure, there cannot be a better place than Bhutan. From rafting in the pristine but furious rivers of Bhutan to venturing on the 26-day Snowman’s Trek, Bhutan has everything. Biking is another adventure and interested visitors can engage themselves in Archery, Bhutan’s national sport. You cannot expect to experience the luxuries other countries or tourism destinations offer, in Bhutan.

However, nowhere in the world will you be taken care of as the Bhutanese do. The Host is excellent and they take the extra mile to make your stay memorable and comfortable. Services at the hotels are outstanding, and it is augmented by the way service is delivered.

Before calling it a day, you are entertained by Bhutanese musicians, dances, and mask dances.

It will not be an overstatement to say that everything in Bhutan is beautiful: the pine and cypress trees; farmland filled with rice terraces; valleys cut and divided by rivers whose sources are the hundreds of glacial lakes and all, the people who appear to have vowed that they will always remain smiling.

Visiting Bhutan is definitely like stepping into a time machine and going back a century and even more. You see the past that you would have read in history books. Additionally, you find the past and the present perfectly blended. Apart from the beaches and the ostentatious luxury that other destinations provide, Bhutan can offer you whatever you get in other countries. On the contrary, it will be difficult and almost impossible to find in other countries, what you will get in Bhutan.

prayer wheel

Bhutan is everyone’s destination; cultural enthusiasts, ornithologists, botanists, and those looking for fun. And the soul of the country is the people – personifications of humility, love, joy, and every good element we seek in life. It could justifiably be said that if you are looking for answers to questions about contentment and happiness, you will find them in Bhutan. Yes! Bermuda may make you happy. But Bhutan will show you how you can live happily and more; the very reason why you cannot say that you have seen the world before visiting Bhutan and the very reason Mark Twain would not have said, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda,” if he had visited Bhutan.