'less hurry, less worry'... be happy

We sit writing this from the business lounge of Paro airport in Bhutan, at the end of a fantastic week in the land of Gross National Happiness. Why the business lounge? Because despite our very best efforts to confirm our flight time (some places said 10.30 while others 13.30) we arrived here at 8.30am to have the 10.30 time confirmed... only to find out an hour later that it was actually going to be 13.30. A bit of persuasion later and hey presto! It's quite a nice lounge at a tiny but cute airport, with a view good enough to see that they almost put my bag on the flight that's about to leave for Bangkok, and with direct access to the runway so Jo could ensure that they didn't.

Paro International Airport, Bhutan. Housing a fleet of 3 planes and a very cute business lounge.
It's kind of a shame to start this blog post this way though as it's actually been a very good slickly organised week. To come to Bhutan you have to book a government-sanctioned tour, complete with guide (Kezang) and driver (Tshering). Both very good. It's comparatively expensive for this neck of the woods, but its also likely to be the only time on this trip that we'll get to enjoy such luxuries and be treated so well. And its been easy to switch off as we didn't really need to do anything to make it all happen!

Kezang and Tshering, best guide and driver in Bhutan!
So Bhutan is pretty special. The epic Himalayas act as a dramatic backdrop to a world of Buddhist Temples, Monasteries, Dzongs (fortresses), prayer wheels, prayer flags and Stupas. In fact Buddhism is deeply ingrained into every aspect of daily life here. Add to that the traditional architecture that dots the landscape and the traditional clothing that 95% of the population wear and you have a very beautiful place.

Some highlights... Well the aforementioned Buddhist Temples etc are everywhere. Each is stunningly colourful and very impressive from the outside and similarly so inside with a very healthy helping of gold. Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and countless Gods, in countless forms, are represented to the max. And worshipped even more so.

Of particular note is the sacred Taktshang monastery, aka Tiger's Nest, which clings to the rock face 900 meters above the Paro valley. It's a hefty 2 hour climb up there, but well worth it.

Taktshang monastery, aka Tiger's Nest
Also on the Temple tip, the Punakha Dzong 'Palace of Great Happiness' is wonderfully placed at the confluence of two rivers in a low lying warm valley, and en route to this the Dochu La pass at 3,050 meters is covered in a sea of Stupas and has amazing views of the Eastern Himalayas.

Punakha Dzong
They are also in the process of building the biggest Buddha statue in the world at 51.2 meters in height. Buddha himself has been completed and given a lick of gold, as have the 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha that live inside him, while his three-storey throne will eventually contain several temples. An impressive sight, both up close and from miles away.

We also spent a day in the capital Thimphu where we were whisked around on an historical culture tour taking in traditional arts and crafts including paper making, mask making and textiles, and we checked out their unique national animal the Takin which looks like a cow crossed with a goat, yet like nothing you've ever seen before. And of course we checked out a temple or two.

Traditional paper-making factory
Oh and we also stayed one night with a local family in a traditional farmhouse and enjoyed a hot stone bath...

So then... Gross National Happiness huh? Did it live up to the hype? We'll leave that for another post...

Instead we'll end with some words from our guide Kezang - 'less hurry, less worry' - which we've adopted as a mantra for the rest of our trip.


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