An enchanting country, one where TV was only introduced in 1999, where there are no
traffic lights anywhere, a nation which measures its own success in terms of 'Gross
National Happiness', and where the national dress is proudly worn almost everywhere.
It has a very different landscape to other parts of the Himalaya, with verdant sub-alpine
hills rising to snow-capped peaks on the Tibetan and Sikkim borders, and fortress like
dzongs and monasteries punctuating the slopes everywhere. The warmth of welcome to
foreigners, who've only been allowed to travel in the country since 1974, is genuine, and
their gentle nature stems from the Buddhist way of life that most adhere to.
It's a mystical place too. Tantric Buddhism overlaid on animist beliefs gives rise to some
startling iconography in monasteries, and houses are painted with protective deities to
ward off evil spirits, including giant phalluses. Prayer flags adorn the hillsides, and on trek
you know that, somewhere up above you, there's a snow leopard watching you pass.
Like many other Asian countries one can sense that modernisation will ultimately change
the society here, but unlike their peers this is a nation with a clear plan, an inspired
philosophy of actively encouraging natural and cultural conservation, of maintaining long
held traditions, whilst driving development in a sympathetic and orderly way.
I like Bhutan a lot. Do make the effort to get there if you can. Don't be dissuaded by the
minimum $250 per day (from 2012) that has to be committed ($65 of this goes to the
government to help fund development programmes, and the rest covers all expenses such
as guide services, transport, accommodation and food), or the fact that you have to travel
with a guide. It's a unique culture and a fine example of what an enlightened leadership
can do for a nation. Check out http://www.colinstump.com/#/bhutan-2011/4556678854 for more.