It's been on my To Do list for almost a decade and now it's done. Bhutan, the last Buddhist Kingdom full of amazing mythology, dramatic landscapes, and their well known Gross National Happiness. The plan to actually check this off my list has been in the making for almost a year and when the moment actually arrived I became nervous. Would it live up to my expectations?
After 12 days of exploring Bhutan I can say with certainty that it is diverse, genuine, and simply breathtaking. Before you even exit the aircraft you know you are in a special destination because to reach the airport your aircraft gently starts floating between to mountains along the rushing river's path with unique buildings scattered up the mountains. As you exit the aircraft your lungs fill up with fresh Himalayan air and you realize - this is going to be special. It is a quickly modernizing destination. There were families bringing in giant flat screen televisions, monks on mobile phones, and satellite dishes on a few buildings. But for as much as it has "developed" it still retains its traditions and charm.
The best way to truly experience Bhutan is to get out and explore. The countryside is beautiful and the people are beyond kind. Of course getting out there isn't easy given you are in the Himalayas and that there is only one highway that runs across the country (one lane each way with possible mud slides). However, the vistas are unbelievable and each valley is slightly different offering up unique flora and fauna. It was out in the countryside that I had my most memorable experiences. Perhaps the most dramatic being centered around archery - their national pastime. As you drive around the country you will no doubt see people playing it throughout the country particularly on weekends. So I decided to organize a small archery competition for the kids at a school in Gangtey. It was an incredible day full of excitement, laughter, and the exchange of cultures. We brought over prizes for the kids including backpacks, school supplies, and NY Yankee baseball caps. I was the first time anything like this had been done in the area so several members of the community came out to watch. In the end I learned two valuable things, 1) I'm terrible at archery and 2) these kids are genuinely happy and showed great sportsmanship. Even those kids who just came to watch were happy to be involved in anyway. It was definitely one of those humbling moments when one feels so fortunate to be able to see so many kids just having a fun time playing a very low tech game surrounded by the most gorgeous mountains.
Much like life itself, each person's journey in Bhutan will be different and hopefully these photos will inspire you to get to this breathtaking destination that certainly exceeded my expectations.