Imagine a land where every breath you take is untouched by the dull grey puffs of smoke that have become a part of your daily life in the city. Imagine driving down a road without being accosted by impatient drivers honking and swearing at you incessantly. Imagine a country whose prosperity is not measured by the amount of money it makes, but by how happy its people are. Here’s a small glimpse of Bhutan, the land of the Thunder dragon.
What’s the brouhaha all about?
I can’t, in all honesty, say that there is just one thing about this country that stands out. Thimphu is the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights. Instead, you will see traffic policemen at intersections and roundabouts directing the traffic from their quaint little booths. No other country has the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which determines the country’s standard of living in more than economic terms. Its only airport, in Paro, has a river running right in front of it, making it look more like a summer retreat than a spot used by massive aluminium containers for taking off and landing.
What to look out for?
The two-odd hour long trek to the Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s nest), quaint wooden houses, little children with flushed cheeks beaming at you as they scurry into the distance, the weekend market on the banks of the Wang Chhu, tourist shops at every corner (don’t gape at the shop-owner in bewilderment if he tries to sell you a keychain resembling a phallus: according to Bhutanese culture, it wards off evil and brings in good luck, which is why you’re bound to come across scores of houses with phallic paintings proudly brandished on the front door), pure, unadulterated fresh air at any given time of the day.
What about food cravings?
Several tiny inns dotted all over the country will serve you the most popular Bhutanese cuisine. These nooks serve the typical Ema dashti – chunks of bread to be dipped into a mouth-watering combination of chilly (‘ema’) and cheese (‘datshi’), a dish extremely hard to come by outside of Bhutan.
And what about the budget?
You can work around your own budget. A decent hotel could cost anywhere between Rs 1500 – 3500 per night. Be prepared to shell out a little money on transport, though. The taxis rarely go by the meter (not an entirely alien concept to those of us who’ve lived in India!). Or better still, you could hire a bicycle. The good thing is, you can use Indian Rupees (barring Rs. 500 and 1000 notes) almost anywhere in the country
Any travel tips?
Make sure you avoid the monsoon season, between June and September. Barring these few months, the weather is generally cool and pleasant. I personally found that I discovered a lot more when I wandered around the city on foot, with just a map in my hand. The country is also an extremely safe place to be in, so if you want to take off on a solo travel because everyone else around you is too busy to give you a date, don’t wait for them.