2016 is quite an uneventful year for me- I travel less, I blog less, I work more, I sleep more, I worry more. I was stuck in a daily grind of living or not living at all, that I basically forgot somehow the things that I used to enjoy and find myself often in moments where I began to question what it really means to be happy.
I am not complaining, I am blessed and contented with what I have but I will be lying if I say that there are no days when I woke up and stare outside my room window and feel this discontentment to where I was, at this point of my life, at this point of my career.
At moments where a hint of loneliness crept into my soul, I always knew that the best remedy is to beg and beg my boss for a week off and just go backpacking somewhere, I need to go and think.
But where should I go? Definitely, not another city trip. Beach maybe? Nah, not really my thing. So I search and search for a place to disconnect for a week, a place to seek the simple pleasure of life, to wander along a trail, to feel small against the sky above my head, to touch the air with my fingertips and to celebrate life, another year of my life.
So I went up to the Himalayas and choose the Kingdom of Bhutan, a country where the collective happiness of the people is the nation’s wealth.
As the country continues to promote the concept of “high value, low impact” tourism, a USD$250 daily fee is imposed on almost all tourists except citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives. The daily fee includes visa, tours, food and hotel accommodation, while few international flights to the country are paid separately and they are not cheap too. In short, it was the most expensive 7 day trip I have taken so far, but I was just too tired to plan an independent trip somewhere else.
From Singapore, after an hour layover in Calcutta, India, when the Druk Air flight finally began its ascent up to the Himalayas, when the highly skilled pilot began to navigate the plane in-between the mountains, my perception and feeling somehow changes, maybe this will be more than just another trip, strange but it feels like I’m going home.
Arriving at Paro Airport, I was greeted by my assigned guide, Namgay and driver, Ishey. My first time to travel on a pre-arrange trips and my first time to travel with a guide and a driver as well, but this is how tourism in Bhutan goes and for an introvert person like me, trust me, it’s not uncomfortable at all.
The first two days of my one-week long journey to the Land of Thunder Dragon was spent in the capital city of Thimphu , an hour drive away from the airport. Along the way from the airport to Thimphu, in between small talks getting to know Namgay and Ishey, I spent most of the time staring outside the window, familiarizing my eyes to the change in landscape while reading road signs with such positive message such as “Life is a Journey, Complete it”.
Along the way, we stopped by the Tachog Lhakhang Iron Chain Bridge, and I cannot simply describe that magical feeling, of touching prayer flags and spinning prayer wheels once again, I knew right there and then while crossing the iron bridge that I am in for a once in a lifetime trip.
Instead of heading straight to Namgay Heritage Hotel in Thimphu where I will be staying, we did visit a few places in the capital city for the rest of the day.
The National Memorial Chorten, the best place to meet the elderly generation where they usually spent their afternoons circumambulation the Chorten or the “Seat of Faith”, hanging out with their friends and passing time while their sons are at work or grandkids at school.
Simply Bhutan, a museum that showcases the Bhutanese tradition and culture, from wine making, to the national sports of Archery, and where you can wear the national dress of Kira for women and Gho for men.
The seat of the government since 1952 and currently houses the throne room, the offices of the king including other government bodies and the central monk, the Thimphu Dzong with its towering white walls and manicured garden, is a sight to behold.
To be honest, my expectation for this trip was so little and some write-ups on the internet I read prior to my flight are not helping either. Those who have visited Bhutan has a dividing opinion, with some saying that the imposed daily tourist quota is not really worth it and money is best spent in neighboring Nepal.
I have been to Nepal years ago and loved my month long stay there, but I can sense, even on my first day that Bhutan is going to be different, that perhaps my stay will be more than just another trip, that along the way there will be lessons to be learned and wisdom to gain, as if the land itself has the power to transform me or anyone who enter the Kingdom.