The country of Bhutan has always held a fascination for me, and after seeing the wonderful Bhutan exhibit at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum last year, it was a definite destination desire for the Wongs. Bhutan is a beautiful undiscovered part of the world, but it is a third world country where modern conveniences are not always found – but as our group of 12 agreed, we were able to overlook the discomforts, and it was wonderful to see and meet the people still unspoiled by western ways.
Where is Bhutan, you ask? Known as “Land o the Thunder Dragon,” it is located in the Himalayas, east of Nepal, west of Burma, and surrounded by the giants of China and India. About the size of Switzerland, its 700,000 people didn’t even have connecting roads or modern technology until it opened to the world in the 1960s.
Riding through through the countryside, it seems the people all live in poor circumstances and when we saw the women struggling on the roadsides to clear the rock landslides, we couldn’t help wondering – who is the weaker sex? Other than the “big cities” of Thimpu and Paro with its one runway airport, the sole airport in Bhutan — people are scattered living in the mountains, working their farms on beautiful plateau hillside farmlands, with both male and female wearing a sarong type skirt. Osla and Isabel Young enjoyed visiting their temples and Dzongs of this Buddhist country, and were impressed with the beauty of the bountiful colorful prayer flags decorating the mountainsides and the friendliness of its people who seemed content living their simple ways. Dr. Steven and Phyllis Gee agreed with us that we would recommend it definitely as a destination to visit – bearing in mind the altitude is high and energy draining, the long bus rides tiring and bumpy on winding hair – raising two lane roads between steep mountainsides, and the hotels are not up to Las Vegas standards by any imagination.
When Gee Plummer and the Roger Engs reminisced on the highlight experience of Bhutan, it had to be the scary mule/horseback ride up a steep climb to Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s cliffside monastery seemingly clinging to a mountainside. The mules took us up to the Teahouse for a close look at the monastery a hillside away — and only our “younger” Staci Wong walked the whole way up 1000 more steps to enter Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was challenging enough for the rest of us seniors to walk ourselves down the same steep Cliffside path the mules took us up on as the guide says it was too dangerous and treacherous to ride the mules with the steep descent of a slippery dirt road.
Was it a challenging, exhausting trip? Yes, especially with the higher altitudes reaching up to 12,000 feet at times.
Was there any shopping? Sylvia Eng agreed, Not much unless you like religious Buddhist relics and prayer wheels, weavings and articles made from yak hair! .
Was it worthwhile to visit? yes. We toured one remote village to see how the people lived — and visited a school in the countryside where furniture was minimal and resources slim, but the children in their Bhutan costumed uniforms played and giggled with us just like children around the world. Our guide advised me to give all the “balloon, sticker, candy gifts” I had brought for the kids to the principal for him to dole out, as he said gifts to kids aren’t welcome. Advisors don’t want the children of Bhutan to always be looking for or asking for “tourist gifts” as happens in so many other countries with children on the prowl. Remember their emphasis is not on the GNP – Gross National Productivity. Rather is GNH – Gross National Happiness!
I would definitely recommend seeing Bhutan for adventurous souls who like to walk and want to see how the another part of the world lives after being shut off from the world until the 1960s. before tourism and westerners ruin its innocent soul. Come with friends who take life as it comes in this remote place, travelers who will roll with the punches with a smile on their face just as my group of friends did in sharing this adventure with us — The Roger Engs, Osla Youngs, Doc Steven and Phyllis Gee, Ruby Fong, Staci Wong, Gee Plummer and Nancy Pickens. Sharing an experience with good sports makes travel so much more enjoyable, and our guide Jinchen Jimmy was so caring, we wouldn’t have dreamed of giving whiny complaints.
Nepal – and especially Kathmandu is another situation where overcrowding and too many people create traffic jams. Between the motor bikes, motorcycles, tut-tut three wheel busses, the busses with people riding on the roof, and endless lines of cars — this was a mind boggling sea of humanity in comparison to the solitary open land of Bhutan. Our short 3 day stay in Nepal took us to see the UNESCO World Heritage Pashupatinath Temple, the world’s largest Boudhanath Stupa, the countryside to see the hillsides farmed in organized plateaus growing potatoes and vegetables and producing bricks, of all things. . We stayed in hillside cottage villas which took us about 100 steep steps up to the main lobby and restaurant and an additional 150-200 steps up the hill to our individual villas to see magnificent views from our room windows of the valley below.
The endless plane ride to get to Bhutan and Nepal (about 20 hours total SFO via Inchon via Singapore to Kathmandu) is tedious and torturous to the behind, but for me, Singapore Airlines individual movie screens was my lifesaver with endless movies and games to watch and play, and the continuous attention by friendly hostesses. Singapore is a wonderland maze of shops, restaurants, day-stay airport hotels, and free continuous movies and internet for all.
Ricko Tindage of L.A. Starlink tours put up this private tour for me and my group – and was always there with good ground operators to make changes and take care of our spoiled Chinese American desires and demands. Am sure our Chinese ancestors would tsk tsk at our lack of tolerance for pot belly stove heating, clogged toilets, gray towels, limited hot water hours, lack of new toothbrushes and sundries, showers that splashed all over bathroom floors and steep walks on cobblestone or dirt pathways up or down to our restaurant/hotel lobbies from outlying cottages. In true friendship fashion, we were entertained at the homes of the Bhutan Rainbow Tours Owner Madame Sonam Wangmo and her husband Subana Lama and Madame also showed us the elegant new villa/hotel she is opening this summer in Paro. We also met Nepal Venture Travel President Basanta Mishra, his gracious wife Janu and son Brajesh in 100 year old home where he was born. The group was able to learn more about the history and future of tourism in these two countries opening up to American visitors through these progressive leaders in the travel industry of Bhutan and Nepal as a fitting ending to our dream trip to the other side of the world.