Fall 2018 is rich in Forbidden Kingdom-states. We are flying to Bhutan. For 6 days. We stand in line for registration – all around thirty years older. Hmm, Bhutan is not the first country you go to. Especially when the whole of Asia is still ahead.
A small kingdom in the Himalayas, sandwiched between two giants – India and China.
Long isolated from the outside world, it only opened borders to foreigners in 1977. And even then, with one condition. You can’t just wander around the country – only fully prepaid programs, with a guide, hotels, meals, visas, purchased from certified local agencies. No downshifters and backpackers.
Day of stay in Bhutan per person – $ 250 per season. If there are only two of you, then pay extra $ 30 per day.
Going on a journey completely organized by someone other than you is always a challenge. Especially if organizing travel is your job. But, on the other hand, for six days not to worry about anything – neither how to get there, nor what to see, nor where to live or eat, and most importantly, how much it costs – it’s such a thrill.
In general, I decided to share with you my emotions and impressions – what kind of country is this and is it worth it?!?
First impressions of Bhutan?
First, I’ll tell you how we got here.
Monopoly on flights to Bhutan from the national airline Druk Air, ie dragon
Dragon country, that’s why airlines are like that. In addition to her, the Nepalese airline Buddha Air has a license to operate flights to Paro (the town where the only international airport is located).
New airbuses, beautiful stewardesses, 45 minutes from Kathmandu. It costs $ 420 round trip.
Everything is decorous, comfortable, fed until we start to decline.
I, of course, read that this is one of the most difficult airports in the world and only 8 pilots have certificates for landing in the Bhutanese city of Paro, but this is written about every airport in the Himalayas – and about Luklu, and about Kathmandu, so I didn’t bother too much. But when, during the landing approach, a rather large airbus began to make soooo maneuvers and descend in a spiral, entering the gorge, the entire plane tensed. I immediately remembered the lines of Natsuk in Peru, who flew, immediately understood what I was talking about. And when we finally sat down, everyone clapped furiously. As if they arrived in Egypt.
First look at Bhutan. For me, so far everything starts with the word “too”. It’s too clean here !!, the rivers are too transparent, the houses are like painted towers, everything is in patterns and drawings, the people are too cute and everything is too according to the rules.
Oh yes, the road is too perfect. Even if this is the only road in the country, but still, an hour to drive along the Himalayan serpentines at an altitude of 2200 m along an ideal road in an ideal car – is it like in general?!?
And to have conversations with the driver and guide, who vyingly talk about the fate of Sikhim, Tibet, the power of Chinese and Indian influence on them … In perfect English.
This is Himalayan Switzerland, some sort of, but definitely not familiar Asia.
I can’t believe in a perfect picture.
The second day in Bhutan we spent in the capital Thimphu. Not that there is much to see here, so we seem to have been everywhere.
For example, in the post office, where you can issue a stamp of your name. And even send a postcard with this stamp, though only within the country.
At the zoo – we got acquainted with the national animal – the takin. Such a strange mixture of goat and cow.
In the museum – we saw the life and dwellings of ordinary Bhutanese.
On the observation deck.
Several more temples.
Even during a meditation session that took place at the home of a manager from our Bhutanese agency. That was interesting, by the way. Not meditation, but visit a real Bhutanese home. They gave us gifts, treated us to traditional tea – with butter and salt (it’s terrible) and every three minutes asked if we liked Bhutan.
In general, everyone here is so cute, shy and very courteous. I wonder if this is just a first impression?
We managed to see all this before lunch.
Our guide did not expect such a speed of execution of the prescribed program – “you give a five-year plan in two years.” Therefore, in the afternoon he was released. And we only dreamed about it.
Tomorrow we are going to the glorious city of Punakha. The former capital of Bhutan.
It is in the vicinity of this town that there is a temple, all the walls of which are painted with phalluses, and houses in the city too, and women from all over Bhutan come there with prayers for a child. They say it comes true very quickly.
A hot topic – phalluses in Bhutan.
Why are they being painted on houses, selling souvenirs and postcards with them?!?
What kind of sacred meaning is this?
The most important belief of the Bhutanese is that the phallus symbol brings good luck and drives away evil spirits. Therefore, they are not only painted on the walls of houses, but images of penises can even be found on license plates of trucks. Carved wooden phalluses are suspended from the outside on the roofs of new houses, and during housewarming, a basket filled with wooden phalluses is raised to the roof. It must be admitted, however, that the residents of the capital no longer support these traditions, but somewhere in the outback – very much even.
It all started with a man named Drukpa Kunley. “Crazy Yogi – Drukpa”, “divine madman”, “saint of five thousand women” – as soon as he is not called. He was a monk, but at the age of 25 he left the Ralung monastery to fight taboos and complexes, enlightened his charges through sex, shocking practices and direct instructions.
Demons that met on the way, Drukpa beat on the head with his cock, after which they turned into good spirits.
He was also very fond of women, as you know.
It was through the openness of relations that he changed the conservative views of Bhutanese, and in his honor was built the Chimi Lakhang Monastery, the temple of fertility, which I already told you about. By the way, childless couples from all over the world come here in the hope of conceiving a child. The blessing is received from the phallus, which is installed on the head of the woman by the abbot of the monastery. Parents-to-be must also select the child’s name from the list on the altar.
Here’s a weird story about penis images appearing in the most unexpected places in Bhutan.
Do you know what has impressed me the most about Bhutan so far? No, not the houses painted with phalluses, although they are also nothing.
Dzongi. These are such fortress-monasteries, monumental, majestic, with many secret passages, powerful walls and massive towers hanging over the plains.
Dzongs are found only in the Himalayas. And they were brought to Bhutan from Tibet. Almost all modern cities grew out of Dzongs.
In the past, in case of danger, the entire surrounding population took refuge in the nearest dzong, up to several thousand people.
But the most unique thing about them is the internal thread – balconies, tiny windows, doorways. All this is wooden, with the smallest details and painted in gray-orange-yellow tones. Dzong construction boom in Bhutan – circa 16th century.
Yesterday we were at the dzong in Punakha. One of the best preserved. And loved by the royal family. It was there that the wedding of the current king of Bhutan took place, by the way.
Even if you have never heard of Bhutan, most likely you have seen this monastery in the rock in the photographs. Taktsang-lakhang (“tigress’s nest”) is a visiting card of Bhutan. It hangs directly on a cliff 3,120 meters high and 700 meters above the level of the Paro Valley.
What does that mean? Climb 700 meters in an hour and a half. To be honest, the ascent is not the easiest one, I thought we would overcome it faster, but no, the standard 1.5 hours, as in the program. It is very similar to the ascent to Namche Bazar on the way to the Everest base camp. The same pine forest and trail, endlessly creeping vertically upward. But today we again felt ourselves in the Himalayas and enjoyed it.
Our guide said that with us he set an absolute record for ascending and descending to the monastery.
But you know, the most surprising thing is that we are okay, but here are the people around who crawled upward, and at a very decent pace. As you remember, the average age of tourists in Bhutan is at least 60-70 years old. There is an option to ride a horse to the monastery, but mind you, almost none of them used it. Respect and respect to all of them.
I also want to cheerfully cut across the Himalayas at seventy.
And the monastery is cool. I liked. Especially the place where it was built and the views from it.
So, is it worth going to Bhutan?
Brief facts again.
You cannot travel to Bhutan on your own, only through a certified local agency
There are different programs – for 3, 5, 7 or more days, almost all agencies have absolutely identical programs.
250 $ per day per person during the season (autumn-spring) – this is how much you pay for the opportunity to get into the country. Plus $ 30 per person per day – if there are only two of you. This amount includes food, guide, driver, good car, accommodation in 3-star hotels, all excursions. Higher tier hotels cost significantly more.
The hotels surprised us – very clean, huge rooms, brand new, after Nepal we did not expect this.
By the way, in Bhutan there are a lot of five-star hotels like the Como chain, you can immediately see that luxury tourism is in demand. True, the price tag per day just goes off scale – from 1000-1500 per person.
Flight from Kathmandu in both directions – 400 $ per person. Only one company is authorized to operate flights to Bhutan. And there are only about 10 pilots in the world who have permission to land at Paro Airport – the only international airport in the country.
In total, 5 days in Bhutan cost about $ 3700 for two.
Bhutan is surprising. Especially people who have spent half their lives in Nepal. This is a kind of Himalayan Europe – with good roads (and there are mountains and serpentine roads everywhere, by the way), good cars, perfect cleanliness on the streets, decorated small houses (by order of the king, all houses must be decorated), smiling people who go to national costumes. What is not the kingdom of happiness. But in fact, it all seems somehow artificial. I don’t know how to describe it. This is how I imagine North Korea, for example. All for show, all by order of the king, and what really is there, no one knows.
The country is very comfortable for travel. Now it is clear why everyone we met was slightly over 60. They literally carry you in their arms, apologize a hundred times if you need to walk the extra 20 meters, knock down to open the car door. You feel like a colonizer.
Well, and most importantly, the programs are so stretched out that with our pace, by lunchtime we had already finished everything planned, and sometimes we watched something from the next day, and then it’s not clear what we were doing. I would put this whole five-day program in two or three days. But no one is interested in this, of course.
And the second minus, since the programs are absolutely identical, all tourists who are in the country end up at the same point at the same time. Which in the end was already a little annoying.
In general, my personal conclusions: a country that is definitely worth visiting. It is, of course, similar to its neighbors, but still unique and Bhutan has something to surprise you with. But for me to change completely, this is the programs, made them more intense and interesting, with some kind of activities, otherwise the constant feeling that you are simply wasting time.
Would you go to Bhutan? Do you have such a dream?