Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bhutan part 2: more than just gurus and flying tigers

After my five days in Bhutan, I was as exhausted as my bank account. Sightseeing in the mornings, traveling in the afternoons, and then whatever we wished in the evenings.

First, the sightseeing: alternately awesome and kind of boring. As usual. I always forget this about traveling, but sightseeing is great if you're already interested in what you're seeing, but if not, you may spend time trying to convince yourself that you're interested in things, which is a bit painful. Nevertheless, I'm glad we did all that sightseeing, because if I'm in Bhutan for 120 hours, I want to see as much as possible, and some sites ended up being unexpectedly cool.

For example: the National Library (shelves and shelves of Buddhist prayer scrolls, and the world's biggest book), the Takin Sanctuary (odd looking beasts), Chhimi Lakhang (fertility temple, with strange blessings, more on that later), and the 108 Chortens (cool atmosphere, especially in the fog).
The world's biggest book is just called "Bhutan".

According to legend, "Divine Madman" Drukpa Kunley ate a goat and a cow, and then stuck the goat's head on the cow's body, creating the Takin.

I guess Chorten is a synonym for Stupa. This is the Bhutanese style.

Some other sites we saw: Drukgyel Dzong, the National Memorial Chorten, a big Buddha on a hill, Kyichu Lakhang, and the huge Punakha Dzong.
Punakha: former capital of Bhutan! The Bhutanese royal wedding happened there just last month!

Second, traveling: longer than it seems. We drove only about 3 hours per day, but as Bhutan is all valleys connected by mountain passes, it's mostly winding mountain roads. And I guess driving at night is rather unsafe, so we arrived at the next day's destination every day at around 3.

Thought About Bhutan Tourism #1: their tourism industry is geared for old people and group tours. I guess if you sightsee in the morning, drive until 3:00, then you're done for the day. But it left us time for...

Third, the evenings: so, I don't know what to do in the evening in Bhutan. Hell, I don't know what to do in the evening anywhere. Especially if there's someone else trying to make sure that I'm having a good time. I mean, I like to walk around cities, and I like to read books. Luckily, RK (my guide) knows people everywhere. In Paro we played snooker; in Punakha we played snooker, had some drinks, and went dancing until the club closed at midnight; and in Phuentsholing we celebrated his cousin's birthday (including some snooker).

Which brings me to Thought About Bhutan Tourism #2: their tourism industry is geared for old people, but it's actually a great place for young people to travel (... if you can afford it). Your guide will probably be a young guy, so you'll be able to relate a bit. And if he's as cool as RK, he may welcome you into his social life for a few days. I met a few of his friends, lost a lot of snooker, had some good conversations, and (of course) will remember them much longer than I remember the chortens and dzongs.

Finally, a couple more photos of interest:


To quote RK, "Well, there's a lot of dicks there." I guess Drukpa Kunley's symbol is, well, a dick, so people paint them on their houses to invoke his protection.

We stayed one night at a hotel at Dochula pass. Awesome views. (but 10,000 ft, and I got a little altitude-sick.)
Almost forgot about the plane ride from Kathmandu to Paro. Not too often can you look out your window and see Himalayas. (and our propeller, which apparently works by hurling boomerangs at the ground. camera tricks!)

1 comment:

  1. Now about the animal, that's what I'm takin about.
    As for old Drukpa, are you sure he's not an adult movie star?
    Cool vistas. I remember Krakauer talking about flying into Nepal at 28,000 feet, lower than when they would climb Everest.
    I'd avoid those altitudes any more; can't be too good for y'all.