Some of you have asked me for details about Bhutan. After being so lucky to being there, I hope I can answer some of your questions. Bhutan is a country same size as Switzerland. And, alike the Swiss near the Alps, Bhutan lays down at the Southeast of the Himalayas (Tibet-China at Northern border and India beyond the other three quarters of the border). The hardly-pavemented roads squeeze through mountains, valleys and Buddhist stupas, which makes the driving really slow. 40 km/h is the speed limit all around the country (a country without traffic-lights at all, by the way). Due to all this it takes more than a day to cross the whole country. Green landscapes, lovely cities with standard style houses and shops, a wide variety of fauna and flora and fabulous trekking tracks turn this inconvenient into a wonderful and totally different scenario. Bhutan has around 700.000 inhabitants. And only 98.000 live in the capital, Thimpu. The rest of them spread out in small villages and households all over. All of them will help you if needed it.
You cannot visit Bhutan as free visitor but you must book a tourist package or, weirdly, being invited by any Bhutanese resident. This tourist sector (second income sector after the exporting energy) is ruled by the government that also set the tariffs so that you must spend around 250 US$ a day including meals, cars, tickets and hotels (2012 fees). Thus you ought to contact an authorized agency (there are like 300 but there are only a few large ones, one of them the one I booked it through) and ask for a certain itinerary depending on your likes and the time you will be there. They will then book hotels, meals and tickets for you as well as a guide and a driver. As a consequence, there are not too many tourists along the country (I was tourist number 1090 this year for this agency, the largest and eldest one in Bhutan) and you always meet them with the guide behind. Besides, all the public and tourist employees must wear the Geho, a traditional dress with a blouselike and a skirt in one piece for both ladies and gens. You can choose ordinary tourism, trekking, cycling or even rafting. The fact of travelling like this makes the trip very expensive (again there is only one airline landing in Bhutan, Drukair, despite a second one has been recently authorized) but also preserves the national culture and environment. You will not see large groups of careless visitors.
This land of mighty legends has remained closed to the exterior for many years. In the middle 90’s the state began to allow private agencies to receive clients. Visitors can contract the trip on a website (as I did) or through a local partner agency who will forward them to the Bhutanese agency. This is the way to enjoy this wonderful country. Green fields everywhere, wonderful landscapes, breathtaking trekking paths, amazing monasteries, sacred temples, huge Dzongs (formerly fortresses and nowadays hosting both monks and government administration) and very friendly people. Another asset comes from the fact that young people speak fair good English (most of the subjects at the school are touched in English nowadays) and almost all of the signposts are in both languages; Bhutanese and English. Hotels provide good quality also, however I would suggest you to try at least one farmhouses so you can enjoy the traditional way of living. Normally, families live all together (the couple, the parents and the children). On the other hand, in 2008 the actual King (fifth in his dynasty) partly resigned and ceded the political power to the elected Parliament by turning the country from a Royal Kingdom into a Constitutional Democracy Country. Nevertheless, the king still retains some power in nationwide decisions and the people respect him a lot. He just got married 10 days before I arrived to Bhutan and I could see his pictures everywhere as people congratulate him for the wedding.
You puzzle all this together and end up enjoying a totally different destination not only for the outstanding landscapes and buildings but also for the procedure of visiting the country and the peace and harmony you find while traveling. Despite the high cost, it is definitely worthy. Who knows how long it will remain as it is now.
As I guess this land wakes curiosity up, please, feel free to leave comments and ask questions.
I saw? = Paro, Paro Zdong and the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Thimpu, Punakha and Punakha Zdong
I slept? = Farmhouse in Paro and hotels in the rest of the itinerary.
I ate? = Dhil soup (Indian), Indian unknown fish, very fried pork chops, yak meat, chili and cheese, ara wine, all food really spicy.
Troubles? = A “light” visit to the hospital due a small papiloma at my foot. Great service and they all talked to me in English.
Like most? = Everything in this trip as a whole pack. I sometimes found my mind lost in space during trekkings and driving. The place really takes you to a peaceful and quiet state. Cooking with the farmhouse owner despite she did not speak any English at all. Hard stone bath afterwards not to be dismissed too. Tiger’s Nest Monastery trekking.
Disliked most? = Nothing in particular despite the fact that it is very expensive, mainly as you need like 12-14 days to see the whole country. The East side is said to represent the real traditional Bhutanese style (I did not have time to go there)
Transport means? = Car (470 km aprox) and like 30 km walking.
Side they drive? = Theoretically on the left despite the roads are so narrow that you normally stay in the middle.
Bric-a-brac? = Speed limit all over 40km/h. Cell phones became available only in 2004. Indian Maruti Suzuki cars instead of proper Suzuki cars. The actual King’s father married 4 sisters as per astrological “prescriptions”. Despite it is normal, it look strange to see Buddhist monks with cell phones, modern Samsonite suitcases or using business class air tickets. Audio and video tapes widely sold yet. Penis drawn outside the houses as a proof of fertility and to chase bad spirits.