Arriving in Kathmandu and the receiving culture shock was like being plunked into a glass full of squirming octopi and having no idea what’s going on while your entire body is being examined by tentacles.
(I’m being dramatic. There are no octopi in Kathmandu (that I know of).) (okay fine it was just overwhelming, all of the octopi were very friendly and welcoming, I’m a newbie world traveler, ladeedah.) Arriving in Bhutan, however, was a completely different story. We were greeted by the Himalayas peeking out of the clouds…in fact, I thought they were clouds, then my eyes slapped my brain a little and said “LOOK HOW BIG AND POINTY THOSE CLOUDS ARE !!”The view just got better and better as the plane flew east. The Himalayas were right there beneath us the whole time, and I spent the whole 90 minute plane flight salivating over the mountains. And if that doesn’t tell you I’m from Oregon, I don’t know what does. The portrait of the Bhutanese king and queen greeted us at the airport, and we got our first taste of Bhutanese architecture. There are pretty colors and ornate geometric details everywhere. Even the poor parts of town looked like they’d taken centuries to build. Bhutan is also the most pristine and unpolluted place I’ve ever been too. You could see the leaves on trees like two mountains over because there was nothing in the air blocking the view. The river looked like tropical waters because it was so clean. I think my eyes registered more natural shades of green than I’d ever thought possible in nature. In fact, according to our guide, Bhutan was called “the last Shangri-la.” Bhutan functions as a constitutional monarchy, and their founding principles are based on Buddhism. Bhutan doesn’t measure their country’s success on their GDP; they measure it in GNH, or Gross National Happiness. Instead of working to make money, they work to make sure everyone in the country is happy. You know that survey they do every few years to measure the happiest countries in the world? Bhutan is always at or near the top of that list. So basically, Bhutan rocks.
A short summary of why Bhutan was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, aka reasons why you too should go book a ticket there right meow:
-Amazing guides. Our guide was a total sweetheart, super informative, and was less concerned about the itinerary and more about making sure me and my mahma bear were having a great time. We drove by the river and casually mentioned how much fun it would be to go rafting…and not a second later, Tsering’s head poked around from the front of our car. “You want to raft?” he asked, and pulled out his cell phone and began calling somebody. That next morning, we were on a raft going down one of Bhutan’s major rivers instead of looking at a temple (oops). BAM. Guiding at its finest.-OH MY GOD THE FOOD. There were buffets and buffets of amazing vegetables, noodles, potatoes, the best tea ever, eggs, all in exotic delicious flavors. Narmsh
. -Cliche…but the culture.Bhutan was so different in the food, location, the friendliness of people, the fact that there were 11-year old monks running around everywhere and there was a monastery or dzong (temple) every two miles, and an abundance of prayer flags and smiles…it was culture shock, but a gentle one that was less of an octopi feeding ground and more of like a bunch of puppies running around you and it’s overwhelming so you just sit down and wash in the cute.
-The Tiger’s Nest Hike. This cliffside monastery was a steep hike around at a 10,000 ft elevation, but it was serene and gorgeous. My mahma and I were starved for exercise so we power hiked the whole 3 miles and arrived at the monastery sweaty and reverent, and got blown away by the kindness of the people there. More on this later : )–It’s not going to stay this way forever. Bhutan is still relatively unheard of, not to mention it has a $200 tourist fee you pay every day you’re in the country. But it must be a testament to Bhutan’s beauty that the numbers of visiting tourists have still been steadily increasing. The modernization of the country coupled with the undergoing construction and expansion to accommodate tourists means that the pristine beauty and culture of this place is on a ticking clock.
It’s probably not going to be the same place in twenty, ten, even five years; getting to see one of the least Westernized places on Earth is an opportunity that won’t last for long. So now if anyone asks you about the most obscure place you know of, you can say yes sir! (or madam! or person!), I know about this tiny little country in Southeast Asia where everyone is happy and the rivers are clear! And direct them to this blog post. : ) shameless advertising, I know.
What’s up next? Killer bees and penis temples. (…but really.)