Aside from its Himalayan magnificence and rich Buddhist heritage, for such a tiny nation to come up with such a big idea as Gross National Happiness (GNH), indicates what a unique gem of a kingdom Bhutan is. The term ‘Gross National Happiness’ was inadvertently coined in 1979 during an interview when Bhutan’s ruler said, “We do not believe in Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is more important.”
I visited this sacred place that God has left for us here on earth to give us a taste of his heaven, for my birthday. Everything about it is magical – the scenery, the mountains, monasteries, the people – it is indeed the ‘land of the happy people’. When landing at Bhutan’s only international airport, Paros, immense peace takes over. The air filling your lungs is so refined and scented by the fragrant aroma of pine trees, that your senses are captivated by the novelty of being in a pure environment.
When To Go
Spring (March-April) and Autumn (Sep-Oct). I went in springtime and it was perfect. Next time, I will go in the autumn to experience the breathtaking reds and russet colours of nature.
Where To Stay
We stayed at Uma by Como, an amazing five-star hotel, 10 minutes away from Paro International Airport. Fortunately, the hotel handles all procedures for issuing its guests visit visas to Bhutan, which is convenient since the number of tourists allowed inside the kingdom is limited, so getting a visa is not guaranteed or swift. Uma also allocates its guests a car and driver with a tourist guide throughout their stay. A masterpiece by itself, the Uma Paro staff are welcoming, the food is exquisite; organic and freshly cooked. The spa is a precious contributor to the all-round bliss, especially after long days of hiking in the mountains.
What To Do And Where To Go
With a personal guide to plan your stay, we could do all the things we wanted.
- We climbed the mountain behind the hotel and ended up on the side of the town, visited Paro’s Museum, the Paro Dzong, walked in the streets, and found some amazing antique pieces in the little shops.
- We climbed the incredible Tiger’s Nest Monastery, one of the most important sites in Bhutan, built on a cliff, at almost 4200m above sea level. It is here where Guru Rinpoche sat in meditation. You should start the walk early, before the sun hits strong. The trip to the monastery – walking up and then coming back down again – can take up to four hours on average, although the walk is through the heart of a beautiful forest. The last stretch of the trail is the toughest part, walking up steps carved in stone to reach the Eagle’s nest. The walk is great for the soul, like a pilgrimage, meditative to the core. When you reach the monastery, you can visit the three temples and the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated, revelling in the heart-catching view from such a lofty spot.
- Thimphu is Buthan’s capital, about one hour drive from Paro, where the royal family resides. On the day we went, celebrations for the birth of the crown prince were taking place. At the feet of the gilded Buddha Dordenma statue – one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world – Buthanese came from all over the country to pay their respects to the new prince. Dancers wearing colourful outfits and impressive masks performed in the presence of the royal family. The young royal couple walked among the crowd sharing precious moments with their people. The king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was a true reflection of his people – humble and friendly.
A rare phenomenon took place while we were sitting watching the festivities. Just above our heads, in the middle of the sky, a full circle rainbow had formed around the sun. This unique vision blew me away. For the Buthanese, it has a spiritual interpretation, and is known as the eye of the divine – a sign of God’s presence.
- On our last day, we drove up to the highest point in Paro, Chelela pass, located at 3988m above sea level. The drive on the narrow mountain road was challenging, and the air became thinner the higher we went. It took time to reach the top but it was worth the effort; the feeling to be at the top of the world was just incredible. On the way back, when you reach half way down, you can enjoy a bike ride to the village with the cycles provided by the hotel.
One thing is sure, a trip to Bhutan is like nothing you’ve ever experienced and no other place on earth. Still untouched by the veil of globalisation, it is God’s last paradise on earth.