A vehement melancholy consumes me as I think of my upcoming holiday. Call it an anticipation of doom. However, it was soon to be replaced by fleeting moments of intense emotions. And I live for moments like these. I look forward to the scent of unpolluted air, alien to my urban snouts, and dream of the plush, cascading mountains, each a lighter shade of blue than the last and imagine myself feeling content and free.
I am pulled back into my sweltering bedroom as I sweat with the million others who live in the oven that Mumbai is in the months of April and May (and pretty much the rest of the year). I pull at my hairband, pore over my books and think in despair of the day my finals will end (Finals, end, you know? Moving on). Not until then, I tell myself, asking my brain to abstain from thinking of Avengers Endgame (which was to release a day before my ‘finals ended’) and Bhutan and focus on the biological perspectives of Schizophrenia.
But the day did come. I walked out of the exam hall with my favourite Black Sabbath riff in mind and rushed home and waited for the show timing to near. Don’t we all know what happens next? (You wouldn’t have been reading this if it weren’t for Iron Man).
I spend the next 10 days reading and watching things (not ones I’ve always wanted to, but ones I ended up wanting to because I’d rather do anything other than prepare for my Finals). On the evening of May 7, however, I was packed and ready to explore the Land of the Thunder Dragon. We landed in Bagdogra, West Bengal and then drove to Phuentsholing, which is the gateway to Bhutan from Jaigaon in India, marking the beginning of my spectacular time in what is supposedly one of the happiest countries on the planet.
Phuenthsoling is the ideal city to form your initial impressions of Bhutan. The spirit of this city promised me a very hospitable week in the country and all my days here lived up to that promise. The streets here have character and the people smile at and greet strangers with amiable candour, much like the rest of Bhutan. We spent the night here and the next day after completing the immigration formalities, we drove to Thimphu.
Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan and reminded me a lot of my days in Gangtok, Sikkim (also a capital city). Our first stop was Memorial Chorten which is a prominent landmark in the city built to pay tribute to the third Druk Gyalpo (which translates to Dragon King, the title of the King of Bhutan).
This old lady was not very happy with the alms she was given and was telling me about it as she agreed to let me take a picture.
Next, we drove to Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu to see the Buddha Dordenma Statue which is a gigantic 54m tall statue of Buddha built to commemorate the 60th anniversary of their fourth King. It is supposed to be a symbol of peace and prosperity.
The Sangaygang viewpoint offers a picturesque spread of the Thimphu valley.
We also visited the Bhutan Textile Museum and the Handicraft market adjacent to it. A tip for those who want to visit Bhutan? This market in Thimphu is pretty expensive. You might want to look for gift shops outside of the market for shopping (even the gift shops at hotels work).
Next, we visited the Changangkha Monastery.
Next stop? The Department of Culture, Thimphu. This place houses hundreds of books of Bhutanese literature in one building and foreign literature in the next building.
On our way to Punakha, we stopped to see the Dochu La Pass which is a Mountain Pass that comprises of 108 memorial chortens (or stupas) known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens”. There was also a monastery uphill from this pass.
In Punakha, our first stop was the majestic Punakha Dzong, adorned on all sides by beautiful Jacaranda trees. This was the administrative centre of Bhutan until the capital was moved from Punakha to Thimphu. The coronation and weddings of the Kings of Bhutan still take place in this Dzong. It was named Druk Phungtang Dechen Phodrang (meaning the palace of great happiness).
Next, we visited the Punakha suspension bridge, which is the longest of its kind in Bhutan.
On our way to Paro, we visited the Royal Botanical Park which is popular for its diversity in flora and fauna. It proudly houses various classes of Orchids- which are indicators of a healthy ecosystem (White Orchids also happen to be my favourite flowers, in case you want to send me some on my birthday. Oh, the subtlety).
Paro is also the only city in Bhutan with an international airport.
Later, we spent hours in the local market shopping for souvenirs and gifts. This market is again, pretty expensive but more open to bargains than the market in Thimphu.
On our second day in Paro, we drove to Chele La Pass, which is the highest motorable road in Bhutan. I experienced a lack of oxygen at this location but it offered some of the most beautiful views of the greater Himalayas I’ve ever come across.
The highlight of my trip, a hike to Taktsang/ The Tiger’s Nest Monastery:
My last day in Bhutan also happens to be one of the most tiring and exciting days of my life. We were to visit the Taktsang Monastery, which was only a distant dream I saw from the balcony of my hotel room in Paro until then. We woke up early in the morning, drove to the starting point of the trek, purchased our tickets and walking sticks, excited to reach our destination: perched on the side of a Himalayan mountain at 3,120 metres (10,240 ft), about 900 metres (3,000 ft) almost straight up (yes, seriously). What followed was one of the most trying trekking excursions of our lives.
The journey up was demanding. I experienced bouts of breathlessness and I had never heard my heart thumping that hard before. But what made this trek tolerable was my walking stick, without which my legs would’ve kept me up all night and the smiles and encouragement of all those who were accompanying us (on ponies and on foot) to our dreamy address. On my way up, I learnt patience and courage. Just like I wasn’t alone on this seemingly impossible path to a seemingly impossible goal, I wasn’t alone in my quest of accomplishing any dream. Everybody belonged on the same side and there was a place for everybody at the top. Strangers on ponies gave me (I was on foot) thumbs-ups with encouraging smiles, recognition sparkling in their eyes.
Strangers with stories as dynamic as mine coming from homelands that were in stark contradiction to the city I hailed from stopped together for rest, shared sips of water and screamed words of reassurances in loud tones. On that day, our differences did not matter. We were all in pursuit of one goal, and together, we lifted each other higher (some literally, some verbally). We crossed fellow hikers and acknowledged how far they had come by tipping our hats or flashing smiles, trusting each individual we pass to rush to our aid had the daunting discouragement of the miles left dampened our spirits.
As we got closer and closer, the view replenished our psyches. The climb was hard, the view? Worth it. So very worth it. In the monastery, we were all winners, and we looked at each other with acknowledgement of the very fact. Our guide around the temple told us that we were there because it was written in our destinies. And for a few minutes, I wanted to believe in it. I was happy and I couldn’t believe that all of us there had actually done it.
On my way back down, I experienced gratitude for my 21-year-old body. The walk down was as serene as the climb up was electric. My vitality amazed me and I went to sleep that night with a newfound confidence in myself. If I could tackle that trek with grace, I was equipped with everything I needed to achieve everything I’ve ever wanted to. The fear of being pushed out into the open world after finals had vanished, and I was consumed with the melancholy of the fast-approaching end of my time in Bhutan. But Tony Stark said it best. Part of the journey is the end.
And that, folks, is the end of my Bhutan Travel Blog. I hope you guys loved reading it as much as I loved creating it. I learnt patience and in turn, experienced clarity of thought during my time in this beautiful country. Here’s to many more life-changing experiences in many more spectacular places around the globe (because the earth is round. Trust me, I experienced the mighty force of gravity during my trek to the Tiger’s Nest). Here’s to meeting many more lovely people and discovering new things about ourselves.