In October I finally went on my long awaited trip to Bhutan.
As it is hard to get a tourist visa if you don’t have an invite or are going with an approved tour operator, I chose to do the latter and book my trip through Exodus. I travelled by myself, but also I didn’t… because I was part of a 15 people strong group.
This was the first time for me to go on an organised tour like this, so I was slightly apprehensive about it. Mainly about what the other people would be like. But I can already reveal now – they were all nice and it was very enjoyable!
We met in Kathmandu, Nepal, to start the holiday. Unfortunately, Kathmandu is a horribly crowded and polluted city. And the only reason I would go back is to pass through it for another Himalayan trekking adventure.
After spending a night in Kathmandu, coughing because of the pollution, staring firmly into drivers eyes to make them stop while crossing the street and dodging crowds of people, dogs (both dead and alive) in the streets, we woke up early to catch our flight to Paro, the only international airport in Bhutan. And what greeted us there, was this:
A small, quiet airport in pleasantly warm weather.
Surrounded by forested hills.
And look how empty the carpark was! No overeager taxi drivers to fight off, no jumping away from cars trying to run us over. Just peace and quiet.
We were picked up by our guides, Norbu and Ganga. They gave us these white scarves as a welcome gift.
Then we drove to our hotel with the most beautiful views over Paro Valley.
The hotel was really nice but not super fancy. Exactly how I like it.
My room was downstairs on the left.
After an early lunch and a brief relaxation break, we went to see the first point of interest: the museum. I have to admit that I didn’t find it overly thrilling (there are hardly any museums that live up to the standard of London’s museums…). Luckily there was a power cut about half an hour into our visit. And no one seemed to be able to fix it, so we had to abort the visit. What a shame, *cough cough*.
So instead we moved onto the next agenda point: Paro Dzong. Now that was something!
There are Dzongs all over Bhutan. They used to act as fortresses during the time when rivalling styles of Buddhism were being forcefully united. Nowadays the Dzongs are home to the monastic body and district government offices. We visited quite a few of them and they were all beautiful!
View from the Dzong into the valley.
Towards the evening we went into the shopping area to look around. It was aimed at tourists but didn’t feel uncomfortably touristy. No vendors approached us and I saw hardly any other people. The high tourist visa fees seem to keep the number of tourists low for now…
Then it was time for dinner at the hotel.
All meals in hotels and restaurants were buffet style. There was always rice, different types of stir fried vegetables and one meat dish. The Bhutanese cuisine involves a lot of chillies but out of consideration for our weak Western pallet, hotels usually serve a much blander menu to tourists. Overall the food was ok, but not very exciting.
Nothing like what the chillies drying all over town would suggest:
I was tired after getting up so early and happily retired to my room. Turns out, this was the cue for the stray dogs to become active.
Here are a couple taking a nap to get ready for their barking concert during the night. Nothing that a good pair of ear plugs can’t fix – but if you don’t have any, you might be struggling to get a good night’s sleep in Bhutan.
The amount of stray dogs in Bhutan is huge because the Bhutanese think it’s wrong to kill any living beings. Even neutering animals would be a form of killing. However in recent years an international charity has started to neuter the stray dogs, so in a few years the fruits of this labour will hopefully show and the number of strays will decline.
Now, the discerning reader might wonder why the Bhutanese allow an international charity to neuter their stray dogs if they don’t support killing living beings: it seems to be ok if they don’t do it themselves. Along those same lines is how they handle serving meat for dinner: the meat shops that I saw sold meat imported from India. Already killed and ready to eat. Very pragmatic!