Magic mountains, mind-blowing monasteries, captivating valleys, serene landscapes, and silent streams: Mother Nature has been so expansive to this tiny kingdom.
Tucked away in the Himalayas between India and China and untouched by ‘romantic consumerism’ (to borrow eminent Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s words), Bhutan is home to quaint Buddhist temples and numerous endangered flora and fauna; the tiny kingdom beckons travelers with its pristine natural beauties and daunting topography.
Having never been colonized or ruled by any foreign power, the tiny kingdom opened doors to the outside world quite late in the 1960’s and received the first tourist in the early 1970s.
Bhutan has always been promoting ‘Low volume High Value’ tourism where the number of tourists visiting Bhutan is limited and regulated. This is to showcase to the world the natural beauty and spectacular landscape, well-preserved age-old culture and traditions, family values of internal happiness as being more important than making money and generating income and the proverbial ‘rat race’. It’s not just the amount of money spent but the value and the destination that matters.
My eight-day sojourn in Bhutan bears testimony to this.
Destination: Royal Thimphu College
As our Bolero crossed Jaigaon, the border town of Bengal, and entered Phuentsholing, and touched the Bhutanese soil I bade adieu to the chaos, cacophony and bedlam of Bengal and drove up far from the madding crowd!
What struck me particularly was Bhutanese citizens’ aspiration to do better. I visited Thimphu in 2013 and was stunned by their abiding passion for discipline, and keenness to preserve the environment. This time I found mountain roads even better (driving time from Phuentsholing to Thimphu has been reduced to four and half hours). The government’s strict directives — no blowing of horn, no littering and no smoking in public places – are being followed in letter and spirit by law-abiding citizens.
Can we think of such a scenario in India? It’s time we learned from our ‘poorest’ neighbor.
Bitten by wanderlust and stung by the majestic beauty of Bhutan, I took the trip to this ‘tiny wonderland’ again.
After obtaining entry permits from the Phuentsholing immigration office, when we began our journey up the mountains, darkness was descending slowly.
As our car wounded its way up the mountains in the stillness of dark, we could hardly see anything through the car window. We’re a tad edgy. All of a sudden, a reassuring voice was heard. “Our roads have become much better now. No worries, just relax,” our driver Gyembu, a Bhutanese in his late twenties, said.
The mountains unfolded their nocturnal grandeur as we drove higher and higher. With temperature plummeting, we first stopped at a place not far from Phuentsholing. We got off the car and scampered to a wayside restaurant (Gurung restaurant) to beat the cold. The owner, a middle-aged Bhutanese, welcomed us with his native language: “Jem po leso…” (meaning welcome). His warmth and cordiality touched us all. We ordered hot, delectable momos and steaming coffee. In no time, the food was served and we gulped them down hurriedly and left the restaurant as we had a long way to go. The car had to negotiate a series of sharp turns (Blow Horn sign was there) on the way up the mountains. We kept savoring the beauty of the majestic mountains and countless ridgelines defining gorgeous valleys in the dark.
We finally reached the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) campus around 10pm. The security guard at the huge tastefully and aesthetically-made gate greeted us, his politeness and refinement unmistakable. My sister-in-law, who is an associate professor, department of business studies, made everything ready for us. We’re taken to an amazing two-storied wooden, tastefully designed building overlooking the Himalayas.
Chilled to the bone, we got off the car, shivering (temperature dipped to 1 degree Celsius). The picturesque college campus (7546ft and about 700ft above Thimphu) and the surrounding visual marvel will be our home for the next eight days.
(To be continued)