Nestled in the Eastern Himalayas, you will find one of the world’s best kept secrets….Bhutan, the ‘last Shangri La’. About 1 million inhabitants live in this remote, tiny Kingdom. In the last 30 years, the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” opened its doors to tourists. Even today, there is a limit to how many tourists can enter into Bhutan per year and you can only travel with a guide. Our Drukair Pilot of Royal Bhutan Airlines skillfully guided our plane with quick turns through the narrow path between the high Himalayas, and we held our breath as we made a rapid steep descent into the Paro Valley. Once we landed, we exhaled and were greeted by our local Bhutanese guide in his traditional dress, the “gho” (which reminded me of my father’s wrap around robe). Soon we learned that it’s compulsory for all women to wear the “kira”, an ankle length dress, and all the men wear the “gho” with knee highs socks.
In 5 days, we traveled roundtrip from Paro to Thimphu and then back from Punakha.
We were taken by the natural beauty of Bhutan’s high mountains and rice terraced valleys, and warm smiles from the local people. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with “Tashi Delek” meaning “may many good things come to you”. We visited the Dzongs in each of the towns from the Paro Dzongkhag to Wangdue Phodrang Dzongkhag. The massive fortress architecture of the Dzongs towered over us and we could see how they protected the Bhutan people from invasions of neighboring Himalayan countries. Most of our group made the trek up the pine forest trail to the top of the 2,700 ft. cliff overlooking the Paro Valley, where the famous Taktsang Monastery sits on the ledge called Tiger’s Nest. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from the Lhuntse Dzong to meditate in a cave here.
Bhutan has been ruled by Monarchs from the Wangchuk Family since 1907. Today’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is known to have 5 wives (who happen to be sisters). The Monarchy has made great efforts to preserve its medieval Kingdom, the Buddhist traditions and the Buddhist culture of the indigenous Drukpa people, and most of all the GNH, the “Gross National Happiness” which is more valued that the GNP, “Gross National Product”. Bhutan taught me that “Shangri La” doesn’t need to be a distant or remote place; by creating happiness and finding balance in life, we can find our utopia “Shangri La” anywhere we go.