Himalayan Holiday: Briefs from Bhutan

Some more tidbits from our travel to Bhutan:

The sandwiching influence of the world’s two largest emerging economies, China and India, is felt in all the Himalayan countries.

In Tibet, the Chinese influence is a given. But in Nepal, its government tries to leverage the two giants, India and China, against each other to its benefit. China and India both have paid for roadways and other work there. India first built cable lines into Nepal, and now China has men and women working with pickaxes and hand shovels through the mountains laying its own cable lines to compete.

The Indian influence in the cities is readily apparent in the Nepalese dress and bobbling heads.

Bhutan rakes in their tourists. More than half the tourists it takes in each year are from India. China takes up a huge chunk as well.

But Bhutan is extremely careful to maintain its own identity.

In the late ‘80s, a strict national dress code was established. Now it is more lax and required only in government offices, schools and monasteries, but most people young and old seem to wear it all the time from what we see.

The men wear a knee-length robe tied at the waist, and women wear a sari-like long skirt and light jacket. The Bhutanese are very proud of the intricate, hand-woven textiles made by their women.

The children are absolutely adorable in their national dress, especially the little boy with “SWAG” on his ballcap.

There are snow leopards, tigers, monkeys and red pandas here, but we don’t encounter any. We do visit a sanctuary where injured animals like barking deer and huge sambar deer live. We also see the endangered national animal, the takin.

This big guy has the head of a sheep and the body of a cow. It’s a larger and stockier variety of the goat antelope. I never even knew that was a thing.

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The Bhutanese have a popular dish called chili cheese.

It’s not the stuff you get on fries at the Hot Dog Shoppe.

It is made with red chilis, sliced long, cow cheese that tastes like cheddar, onions, tomatoes, garlic, water. It looks like chilis in a creamy dressing. It is eaten with red rice.
It is delicious, and it is HOT.

“Westerners think of chilis as a spice,” we’re told. “We think of chilis as a vegetable.”

This tiny country of about 800,000 people and its happiness index have been studied worldwide.

As a result, the Delhi school system has added happiness to its curriculum, citing Bhutan. And Yale University reported its most popular course ever this year is how to live a happy life.

Bhutan’s national sport is archery. You see ranges throughout the country.

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The men (I didn’t see any women) use ultra sophisticated bows, and shoot at a tiny target nearly 500 feet away. No joke.

After each hit, they dance and sing their team’s song. They rib each other, hoot and make guttural taunts. It’s pretty funny.

Another big past-time is darts. But again, this isn’t our kind of darts. They throw large darts from about 80 feet. No joke.

There are dart ranges here and there along the roadways.

If I have one travel regret, it’s that we used our youth traveling to the easy places, such as in Europe. Little stamina is needed in those places. The people are used to us, getting around is easy, and they’ve been pretty Westernized.

I wish we had started in these places like China, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

It’s a good hike to the Great Wall depending on where you visit, and a strenuous hike along it. Even after several days acclimatizing to Tibet, Everest was a killer. Besides the shortness of breath, there was a splitting headache.

Climbing Potala Palace was a doozy, as were many of the Himalayan monasteries.

Getting to Paro Takstang monastery in Bhutan, also known as the Tiger’s Nest, was also really hard for me.

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Travel to the Tiger's Nest in Bhutan

Built in 1692, it is absolutely gorgeous clinging to the side of a mountain. You start at 7,000 feet and climb to 10,000. In all, it took us about five hours round trip with many stops to catch our breath on the steep, rocky and muddy path in the high altitude, and of course, to take pictures.

My advice for those who want to see the world is see these places first if they’re on your bucket list.

Consider the amount of time needed to get somewhere. It’s also draining.

It’s been a trip of ear-worms for Adam and me.

Popular songs — or at least the appropriate riffs from popular songs — get stuck in our heads because they just fit.

“On the way to Shambala”


“China Girl”

“My Sweet Lord”

And “One Night in Bangkok” (because we spent literally one night in Bangkok on a layover).

And of course, “I think I’m goin’ to Kathmandu”

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