Fatbee and I visited Bhutan with my cousins late last year. It’s a confounding country that I struggle to describe accurately, but hopefully these travel photo series will help give you an idea of how it’s like.
There’s only one international airport in Bhutan, and it’s located in the city of Paro, nestled deep amongst the verdant and majestic spires of the Himalayas. I hear that this is one of the world’s top 10 most dangerous airports to land in (in terms of difficulty navigating between the mountains), but the weather held well and our flight was smooth and uneventful.
We were received at a ‘leisurely pace’… with a pretty long wait before the tour bus was ready for us. This was our very first taste of ‘Bhutan Time’, and we soon learnt that the pace of things in this country is quite a lot slower than elsewhere.
And so our journey began… as the bus headed out of the airport, I found the scenery already breathtaking…
Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo Suspension Bridge
Paro is about an hour or so drive from the nation’s capital, Thimphu, where we stayed two nights. On our way there, our guide stopped by Tachog Lhakhang Dzong…
…where we braved a harrowing chain suspension bridge that squeaked in the wind and bounced unpredictably over the raging waters below as we made attempts to cross it.
For a capital city, Thimpu looks more like a slumbering mountain town with a modest population of one hundred thousand happy citizens.
It’s a very not-busy capital city.
However, when we passed by Thimpu on our way back one week later, it did feel like a bustling metropolis when compared to the far quieter districts that we’d visited for the rest of the time.
We had a bit of a giggle when we saw this traffic junction in Thimpu. It’s purportedly the ‘busiest’ junction in the entire country, necessitating a police-manned booth to control traffic.
The government tried to install traffic lights at one point, but it confused the local Bhutanese so much that more accidents happened. So it’s now back to this police booth which is manned till 4.30pm, after which drivers just have to approach this intersection with care… ha ha!
Here’s a glimpse of the local restaurant where had our buffet lunch. All of our meals in this tour were served buffet-style.
National Memorial Chorten
We next visited Thimphu’s National Memorial Chorten, which was consecrated in 1974 in honour of the third king. The Bhutanese regard this memorial with deep respect and on most days you can see locals circling the structure endlessly in prayer.
Our guide also candidly mentioned that it’s a bit of a ‘home for the elderly’ here, where youths would drop off their elderly parents and grandparents here to keep each other company, pray and walk in circumambulation all day.
We circled the memorial three times before moving on, with strict orders from our guide that we must only do it clockwise.
We next drove up a hill in Kuensel Phodrang to appreciate a rather impressive 169 feet tall bronze statue of Lord Buddha, looking across the valley towards the quiet city of Thimphu.
The final sight for our first day was Thimphu’s Tashichho Dzong (fortress). We arrived just as the sun began to set over the mountain horizon.
It was quite a magnificent sight, and I loved how there were so few fellow tourists visiting it at the same time, allowing a sense of peace.
Hotel Norbuling, Thimphu
Here’s a view of Thimphu from our hotel window the next morning, complete with morning ‘peak hour’ traffic… ha ha ha
School of Astrology (Pangri Zampa Lhakhang)
We spent the day travelling further afield from town, with our first stop visiting a School of Astrology. I admit in my morning daze I got confused and initially thought it was astronomy… with telescopes, planets and stars. But astrology is about horoscopes and sun signs… whoops!
The bus continued weaving up the mountainsides…
… we then started an uphill trek towards a monastery.
We aren’t the fittest bunch of tourists, and some of us were still acclimatising to the altitude… so the one hour trek ended up taking more like two hours. We quickly decided from then on to start taking our altitude pills every day.
All that said, the end point was spectacular… a Buddhist monastery perched high up in the mountains.
The monks at the tranquil monastery were very kind…
…they offered us a seat, a cup of tea and some snacks to enjoy whilst exploring the retreat.
We were the only visitors to the monastery when we were there, I loved how quiet it felt and really appreciated watching the monks, swathed in deep reds, chatting and smiling. Here, they’re lining up during lunch recess, a simple meal consisting of a huge amount of red rice served with local vegetables and chilli cheese.
I also liked the juxaposition between traditional values against objects signifying modern times. On the walk down from the monastery, I snapped this photo thinking it’s a monk meditating. Not long later, I saw that he was actually looking at his smartphone, using his robes to shade the LCD screen from the bright sun…!
We drove back to Thimphu, where we had a lateish lunch.
General Post Office – Thimpu
Next, a brief stop at Thimpu’s GPO, famed for the ability to create postal stamps using photos of yourself. I actually wanted to pose sideways ABBA-style but Fatbee refused to cooperate… ha ha! We spent a bit more time than expected here because the computer system had a fit and ended up failing to print our stamps.
We ended up buying normal stamps here. Funnily, the postcards that we sent out to our friends and families took about 2-3 months to arrive.
Motithang Takin Preserve – Thimpu
We next paid a visit to a reserve where Bhutan’s national animal – the Takin – is protected. They’re really gentle beasts that look like half-antelope half-moose… with fuzzy fur, trusting eyes and a docile temperament.
I think if they made stuffed toys looking like these Takin… it’d take the world by storm!
We ended our short time spent in Thimphu with dinner here. On this front, I can’t help feeling tickled by the adorably innocent way that the Bhutanese name their establishments.
For instance… this:
Ha ha ha ha ha!!
Jokes aside, I’ll end my first instalment of my Bhutan travel photos here. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve decided to follow the ‘Bhutan way of life’ and share this trip at a more relaxed pace, recalling the silly stories and mishaps that happened along the way, and just having lots of fun sharing it with you!
Other Bhutan photo-series: