My love affair started on the initial descent into Paro, as we made a hard left turn to cut through the surrounding mountains. The once chatty Chinese tourists that filled the cabin were now reduced to whimpering bystanders.
This was not a small plane, and yet, our Bhutanese pilot made skillful maneuvers as if he was Maverick chasing Iceman.
We were warned that the arrival into Bhutan would be an exciting one, but the incredible views that appeared as we cut through the clouds, muted any doubt or fear.
When you see the Bhutanese landscape for the first time, it feels like you’ve been transported into a parallel universe. Beautifully designed traditional homes and monasteries scatter across the open green countryside, and rivers divide mountains like Mother Nature’s cleavage.
Bhutan is a country that I knew absolutely nothing about before the trip, but from the moment we touched down in Paro, I knew that it was going to be a special experience.
The only thing cooler than it’s name were the people and places we met along the way.
Here’s a visual journey through one of the most unique and beautiful countries I’ve ever experienced…
The Paro Airport is something to be seen. The traditional architecture resinates even here, and a giant billboard of the King and Queen of Bhutan greets you on the tarmac.
Side Note: Their photo appears everywhere around the country – From living room posters to the background of clocks in restaurants. I welcomed the sight because the queen is absolutely stunning – as are many of the women in Bhutan.
From the airport we made our way into downtown Paro for our first glimpse into life in Bhutan. The streets seemed quiet and organized, the people – relaxed and friendly and the dogs – plentiful but healthy.
Below is a traditional home design in Bhutan. Even the most basic of houses consist of colorful and intricate details. Throughout our first day on tour, I would ask “oh, that building seems important, what’s that?” And our guides would respond “just a farm house.”
Buddhist prayer flags on the outskirts of Paro…
I don’t know who prayed for this, but under the prayer flags, and around the country marijuana grows like shrubs. The only problem is, if you get caught smoking weed in Bhutan, you’re looking at about eight years in prison. Not worth it bud!
We stopped into a Bhutanese trade school where students worked on Bhuddist drawings, sculptures, and paintings.
It was interesting to see the detail and commitment to tradition that was visible in all works. Below, a woman making traditional paper the old fashion way in a small factory outside of Paro (the new wet paper is behind her).
Used as a fortress during war-time, the Rinpung Dzong overlooks Paro, and now serves as part Buddhist monastery and part government offices. The views from within the walls are breathtaking…
From Paro, we traveled through mountains and crossed over bridges on our way to the Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu.
We stopped to see the construction of what will be the world’s largest Buddha statue, which will house over one hundred thousand smaller buddha statues inside. From the giant bronze and gold structure, we had a great view of Things to do in Thimphu and the King’s offices below…
In downtown Thimphu, the streets were a little more hectic than in Paro, but nowhere near what you’d expect from a capital city. The air was fresh and the atmosphere was welcoming.
I caught these little trouble makers trying to ride the parked motorcycle on their way home from school…
Meanwhile, at the public market downtown, fresh produce, dried cheeses and exotic spices had my senses running wild…
While at the market, we also had to try the Bhutanese staple known as Doma. You can’t go anywhere in Bhutan without seeing people chewing this stuff, as it looks like everybody has a big wad of red tobacco in their cheeks.
To Chew: Take a half of betel nut (areca nut), some weird lime paste, and wrap it in a betel nut leaf, and then just chew for a long, long time. The taste is unique and not particularly desirable for those not used to it (me). It’s like a peppery spearmint mixed with nutty black licorice. Like chewing tobacco, it might even make you sick of you swallow too much.
A pleasant Bhutanese staple however, was the deliciously spicy food of Bhutan. While rice is the customary staple, the peppers and sauces used to accompany each dish were out of this world.
The spice caused a lot of sweating and beer drinking… but that should always be the goal, amiright?
And what goes better with a abundance of alcohol than Bhutan’s national sport – Archery!
Bhutanese archery competitions consist of two teams of 13-players, who take turns shooting at a target almost 500 feet away. The first team to score 25 points wins, but the scoring system can be a bit complicated.
The best thing about the sport is that you can talk trash to your competitors while they’re shooting! There’s no “please sir, no talking during my back swing,” and that makes it so much better.
Another popular sport in Bhutan is cricket. A few local kids tried teaching me the rules at an open parking lot in Thimphu, but I still don’t fully understand. I need to put some time in and learn the sport because it looks like one big home run derby – which is awesome.
From Thimphu, we set out to explore ancient fortresses and epic monasteries outside the city… look at those determined faces.
The Yeoong Tours Crew in front of my future home, the Punakha Dzong AKA “The Palace of Great Happiness.” Such a beautiful structure that splits its duties, like many of the other “dzongs,” between Buddhist monastery and government building.
Inside the Punakha Dzong…
In a different monastery close by, a women spin prayer wheels as they recite scriptures and personal prayers – a common practice seen throughout the country and region.
Way up in the mountains, the Dobji Dzong, and is led by a 10-year-old boy who is said to be the reincarnation of a great monk before him. While he is the same age or younger than the other students and teachers, he is still respected as the figure-head.
People come from all over to be blessed by him, and it was interesting to witness his poise and dedication first-hand as we sat in on his service.
Outside, a goat guards the dirt path while inside the monastery, you can see the temple in the center surrounded by the student’s dorms. Unfortunately, no photos or video are allowed inside the temples, where all the magic happens.
On our last night in Bhutan, the Yeoong Tours & Travel team put on a traditional Bhutanese dance and music show, but Clint and I couldn’t just sit around and watch…
Shout out to King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck for allowing us to travel Bhutan!
And a HUGE thank you to Yeoong Tours & Travels and these two awesome guides/friends, Singye and Tashi, who made our trip absolutely epic. Stayed tuned for the Bhutan videos for so much more about our trip (including nightlife, moonshine and PG strippers).
NEXT UP ON THE BLOG: “The Trek to Tiger’s Nest,” “Sorry for all the Dick Pics,” and “Mountain Biking in Bhutan.”