Sharon Lorenzo shares her Bhutan adventure with ASE readers.
Landlocked between China and India in the Eastern Himalayan region is the world’s smallest economy with a population of approximately 798,000 people in the kingdom of Bhutan. A territory on the ancient silk road that was never occupied by a colonial power, it remains today a nation with 64% of its national territory covered with forest or agricultural areas in which 56% of the population are employed. With human remains from 2000 BC, this region ranges from 322 feet above sea level to 23,000 feet in the mountain regions.
770 species of birds and 5400 species of plants give rise to a nation rich in animal life and native crafts based on the wool and bone of their yak population – an animal similar to the cow which produces their milk, cheese, meat and wool.
75% of the people follow the tenants of the Buddhist faith, and monasteries and religious centers frequent the countryside. Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations in 1971, and television was finally permitted by its government in 1999. Communities are connected by cell phone service as they have no railroads and only one international airport.
Their constitutional monarchy is now run by a 38 year old king, the first in the line to have only one wife. King Jigme Wangchuck was educated at Wheaton College and Oxford in the United Kingdom.
Diplomatic relations exist with 52 countries, and the king and queen hosted Prince William and Kate this year in their native dress which is still required by law for all adults.
To visit this nation you must book your travel with a recognized Bhutanese travel agent, as they require an expenditure of $250 per person per day for any visitor. We were very happy with our tour agency, Bhutan Dorji Holidays, which provided an educated guide, driver, three daily meals and four star accommodations for a seven day stay. There were 130,000 visitors in Bhutan in 2017 thus the volume of guests is quite limited. We found it lovely to visit the local religious stupas and ancient fortresses known as dzongs for many special photographic panoramas.
With all the sophisticated travel that exists in the world today, a visit to Bhutan is a refreshingly simple affair. The people are warm and friendly. The food is delicious and plentiful. The hiking to monasteries such as this famous one called the Tigers Nest is a vigorous 3 hour walk up hill. Tobacco is not allowed so there are no smokers to contend with.
Their most famous national sport is archery, and the ranges are fascinating to visit and observe the teams in local competitions.
The ancient dances of the monks and shepherds were present at our hotels for a fascinating mix of musical traditions.
The largest economic export of the country of Bhutan is hydroelectric power which they channel to their southern neighbor, India. In exchange, the Indian army and air force protect Bhutan which has a volunteer army of only 16,000 soldiers. Their local currency is based on the Indian rupee as well. Property passes from one generation to the next through the female line of the family in their 20 nationwide districts.
While Bhutan is not for the faint of heart, it is a lovely, quiet destination for the willing traveler who wants to see how an ancient past is well preserved in modern life. There is access to their capital airport of Paro from neighboring points in both India and Thailand. The measure of GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS is a nice way to remember this small sacred place amidst the titans of Asia today.
Sharon Lorenzo 2018