Starting a post with apologies seems to be the topic of the year, so instead of making excuses, I’d much rather share with you, what it was that’s occupied my mind and may heart for the last few months, and I hope that you will love it as much as I do! But before that – I have another beautiful part of my life I’d like to share with you – snippets from my happy trip to the country that measure progress via its GNH index – yes, you guessed it, Bhutan!
This himalayan kingdom is a lot more dependent on India than I expected, especially in relation to access to the outside world. Its raw and vast natural beauty combined with a happy bunch of people combined with rooftops full of chilli just made this short break feel like we had ventured into the unknown, exhilarating our lungs and bodies, and to top it all off, we even got to fly past the mighty Everest in all its supreme glory. Having just watched the namesake movie, I kept trying to peer and see if there were any people at the top (yeah, probably not the most successful tactic without a
pair of binoculars telescope). We started our acclimatisation in Bhutan just outside the capital city of Thimphu, alongside a picturesque river. On our first night in Bhutan we though venturing into the capital for a meal would be ideal – and knowing me, I had a list of restaurants that I had mindfully shortlisted as being on the ‘to-do’ list. The thai restaurant on my agenda for the night was not only shut that night, but was also on the 3rd floor of a dilapidated dodgy building, as were most other restaurants in the city, as I later experienced.
Nonetheless, we made it to Bhutan Kitchen for our very first taste of local fare. Now I didn’t realise (which was quite daft on my part) that the reason everyone who visits the land of the thunder dragon mentions only red rice and chillies in cheese (called ema datshi in dzongkha, which incidentally is also Bhutan’s national dish) is because their cuisine is so dam limited! Yes, its also because those dishes are quite satiating, with the local melty cheese stewed with green or red chillies and a little bit of onion, garlic and tomato, but after one or maybe two local meals, it becomes cumbersome and repetitive. Bhutanese eat rice at every meal, including dinner, and they have no affinity for deserts. So much so, when we requested for some desert to end our meal, we were greeting by a plate of sliced bananas!
Our hotel served up some immensely memorable momos by the bonfire, along with local
Bhutanese rice wine called Ara, which was somewhere in between shoju and sake. Personally I found Thimphu a bit messy, kind of like what Darjeeling and Shimla have turned into, but nonetheless, one day of sightseeing here is a must! Standing under the iconic Buddha statue which has commanding views over the entire city as well as the visiting the memorial chorten were extremely memorable for me, as were getting our pictures printed onto stamps at the post office!
Our drive to Punaka (just 71km away) took all of 3 hours, since there is a single 2 lane “highway” that connects the two cities, and with constant roadworks and natural conditions like landslides occurring, the drive is slow and bumpy. Our hotel of choice, Dhensa, commanded some exceptional views of the valley, and we even experienced some unseasonal rain, making the setting all then more dramatic. Non-hotel dining was limited and personally, not quite appetising, so we attempted to stick to most meals in the hotel itself. The most fantastic part of our punakha experience was the short 1hr trek up to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal. The top level of the monastery offered the most panoramic 360 degree view of the valley, and was supremely calming.
But it was in Paro that I ate my favourite desert and accomplished the Tiger’s Nest, a feat not for the faint hearted. I don’t know if it was the clean air or the happy people, but I had made an internal decision to scale that mountain, no matter how long it takes. We averaged about 2 1/2 hours up, and another 2 hours to get back down, with some time spent in the monastery at the top, and a picnic break on the way down (which included some lip smacking spirulina noodles in sesame, chargrilled vegetable panini as well as some honey cake).
Overall, a fantastic memorable journey, and one that isn’t easily available in today’s world, we felt almost cut off, but in the best possible meaning of the term. There was a sense of safety in the distance, and comfort in our surroundings.