For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to travel. Well, first, I wanted to become a scuba diver. Then I wanted to travel. When I was much younger, I subscribed to Skin Diver magazine. I used to read those magazines cover to cover, learning about all kinds of exotic islands the world over. I wanted to visit them, and pretty much everywhere else and at the ripe young age of 15, I began traveling, starting with Europe. I can recall specific memories that piqued my interest in certain places. I was obsessed with visiting Yap, for example, a small island in Micronesia in the western pacific. Divers know it well for the large manta rays that are often seen there. Its far, far away, but it was amazing- fulfilling that dream to see mantas, my favorite animal, 80 feet below the surface of the plankton rich pacific waters. And Phuket, Thailand? I learned about that place when studying in Tahiti for a semester. I watched the movie, “The Beach,” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, with my Tahitian host. It took 16 years, but I made it there. Machu Picchu, on the other hand, no idea where or when I learned about that magical place, but it felt like forever that I had wanted to make that trek when I finally did. Of all places, stepping into that sanctuary took my breath away. I loved it. And then there was Bhutan. I remember very specifically learning about this tiny Himalayan Kingdom. In 2010, I went to San Diego for what would be the first of two trips to California that year. My then boyfriend and I visited a farmer’s market that had a variety of vendors, one was a photographer. He had some beautiful prints, adorned in golden frames, I looked in awe and asked where he had taken those photos. “Bhutan,” he said. Where is that?! We chatted a bit, he told me it was a difficult place to visit as taxes for foreigners were high and I think he said something like it costs thousands of dollars to visit.
Later that year, I read a book, a travel memoir (pretty much the only kinds of books I read), by Jamie Zeppa. “Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan.” I learned more about this magical Himalayan Kingdom, the last Shangri-La, and filed it away into my memory. “Someday, maybe someday I’ll make it there.”
When I was in China, I was targeted by a Bhutanese tour guide via Facebook. I accepted his request and knowing I wanted to visit Bhutan from Nepal, began devising an affordable way to get there. In an effort to preserve it’s culture and make money for the country, the Bhutanese government charges foreigners a $65/day tax. Additionally, you must have a tour guide and stay in 3 or 4 star hotels. There are some other ways to visit, but nothing panned out and this was the best option for me given my geographic location.
The flight alone from Kathmandu to Paro was amazing. Clear skies afforded perfect views of Mt. Everest and some of the world’s other tallest peaks and when I arrived, I was not disappointed. Bhutan is beautiful. It’s a kingdom, but they have a prime minister as well. I don’t fully understand how things work (government and politics really aren’t my forte), but some of the foundations of how they operate are based on Buddhist principles and are honestly pretty decent ideas. They are concerned about the happiness of the people and even have a rating for their level of Gross National Happiness. They promote well being in areas of spirituality, culture, family, education, and tradition among others and note that these components of life are more important than material things. They also focus on a clean and safe environment and overall, I think people are very friendly.
It was an interesting change of pace, especially after the chaos of Kathmandu. While the four days I spent there were not enough, I’m glad I went. It was definitely an enriching experience. Maybe someday I’ll be able to go back but for now, I’m glad I got what I did! Have a look at these pictures, let them pique your interest and file them away in your mind- maybe someday you’ll be compelled to visit as well.