The Kingdom of BHUTAN

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Slim Paley photo

The Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan

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While searching for an additional image or two for my posts on Colour, I often speed scroll through my photos (over 25,000 and I wonder why I get a throbbing ache over my temple) waiting for the colour I’m seeking to catch my eye.   I was doing just this for my previous post when one of the photos that jumped out at me was that of a monk I was lucky enough to spend a little time with in Bhutan.  Seeing his face prompted me to revisit all the photos and memories of the trip we took with friends to the magical Kingdom of Bhutan in 2006.  As coincidence would have it, a couple of days ago a friend emailed me to say that she and her husband were planning a trip there next month.  Now as Bhutan is not exactly, say, Hawaii, on the list of popular travel destinations, I took this as a sign it was time do a post on this tiny but mighty country.

“Bhutan” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, the name  deriving from the violent storms in the surrounding Himalayas, and yet this isolated, landlocked kingdom, wedged between China and India is one of the safest, most crime free destinations in the entire world.  Since the early 1970’s when the ruling king coined the term “Gross National Happiness” Bhutan has made it’s gentle presence known as being a place where Happiness, Self Reliance and Prosperity are more important measures of a country’s true health and wealth than it’s Gross Domestic Product.

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Slim Paley photo

The Tiger’s Nest, seen from waaay up on the hike…

Imagine that you land at your first destination in Bhutan, the city of Paro, and the very next day you hike all the way up to the spectacular monastery above.   Now, please, also imagine that you’re offered the choice of riding a burro or walking up the entire way…and the other three people with you say “We’ll WALK”.   Hours later, at the edge of a rather alarmingly massive drop off, with nary a guard rail in site,  I asked our guide if anyone had ever fallen off the edge.  He said “Yes, a woman, but she was very old”  I’m not sure if, in that moment, I was more horrified an old woman had fallen, or that a woman much older than me had actually hiked all the way up to a spot where, seconds earlier, I’d been gazing longingly at the empty saddle of the sad little donkey accompanying us.  “How awful“I said, “Ummmm…How old was she?”  “Oh,” said the guide “She must have been in her 50’s”.   As I mentioned, bad storms…Himalayas…This is a country where the average life expectancy is only 62 years of age.  I cast about for a walking stick.

.Slim Paley photo

Our guide will at least break my fall

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The tiny dwelling in which the ‘custodian’ monk for the Tiger’s Nest resides.  I believe the monk on duty when we visited had been up there 7 years.  No electricity… just a small waterfall practically right outside his door.  Can you even begin to imagine?

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Slim Paley photo

Almost There…You have to go up to go down…

The dots of colour you see everywhere are prayer flags. The flags are hoisted for Happiness, Long Life, Prosperity, Luck and Merit.  They sprinkle the landscape of the Kingdom like spiritual confetti.

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Slim Paley photo

Our entire trip, including visas, was planned and organized by Amanresorts.

Our first stop was at the Amankora in Paro,  nestled deep within beautiful forests of pine.

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Slim Paley photo

The children of Bhutan are sooooo sweet and friendly. Historically, Bhutan has been extremely strict with regard to tourism, although this is now changing. When we visited,  only 30,000 tourist visas were issued each year but I read  the government plans to increase this number to 100,000 by 2012.  A tourist visa is mandatory for entry into Bhutan and costs a minimum of $200 per day, making it another reason why Bhutan is not the most popular exotic destination for younger tourists and backpackers.

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Sadly, as the Bhutanese do not believe in neutering, the streets are filled with mangy stray dogs and sweet little puppies,  although our guide told us their position on this is slowly changing as well.  One ‘upside’ of Bhutan becoming more globalized.

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The omnipresent prayer flags…

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“Skelator Hands” adds her flags to a bridge of Prayers

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What do you reckon? 54??

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Slim Paley photo

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you…you do see what you think you see; they are just everywhere in Bhutan!  They’re painted on houses to bring Good Fertility. As the increase rate in population for Bhutan is 27.4 (the world average is 15.7) I guess they work!  Many are festooned with ribbons, flowers and bows- very Moschino…I was hoping for an Alexander McQueen inspired one, but no such luck.

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Slim Paley photo

The Dzong of Punakha, at the confluence of two rivers.

One placid and light, the other, dark and tumultuous. They say one side is male, the other of course, female.  I’ll let you decide which is which 🙂

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.Slim Paley photo

Our  handsome and regal guide

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Coffee Talk

FYI- In 1989 the Tshogdu, or National Assembly, of Bhutan announced that all Bhutanese citizens must wear the appropriate national dress in all public areas. For men in Bhutan, the traditional dress is a robe known as the go; women’s traditional costume is a wraparound garment called the kira.   Not sure who made the call on the black knee socks.

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Slim Paley photo

The view from our hotel window in Paro

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The AMANKORA, Paro

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The three Aman hotels we visited during our stay (I believe there are five, in total) managed to strike the right chord of feeling luxurious, yet mindful of their surroundings- something I think the Aman resorts do particularly well.

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Our room at the Amankora, Paro

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The central courtyard and old Farm house of the Amankora, Punakha

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A cow casually strolls by our bathroom window in Punakha

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Amankora, Punakha

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A treatment room at the hotel spa

The little trap door opens and red hot rocks are released down the chute to keep the pungently scented water steaming hot.

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Dude, I know the feeling …

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PS. I still LOVE  not camping!

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R.B. photo

Beautiful wild iris?? growing in the woods

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The Farmer’s Market in Paro, the first afternoon we arrived

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Bhutanese Peonies

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At the entrance to the museum

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Mini Monks

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We passed through many beautiful, verdant vistas on the long and winding drive from Paro to Punakha. As we were leaving Bhutan, the very first highway was just under construction 🙁

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For  interesting information about Bhutan, please click here; TRAVELING TO THE KINGDOM OF BHUTAN.

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Slim Paley photo

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As if...

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47 Comments

  1. Is there anyone who does love a basking pig?

    Question: what is the number one reason for the short (by western standards) life span? Is it lack of access to medical care? grinding poverty? Do you know, Slim?

    another picture perfect post

  2. WOW WOW WOW! Is that not the Happiest place on earth? It made me happy just to view your amazing photojournalistic eye. I can truly say I am jealous! Would so love to experience that place.

  3. Gorgeous and inspiring. And most definately not Hawaii thankfully.
    The custodian monks dwelling between the rocks was mind boggling!
    This post was akin to a short wonderful vacation. Thanks Slim.

  4. That was fascinating and lovely. Thank you for a trip to a country I will most probably never visit in person. Your photography was wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  5. What a fortuitous post!! I was thinking of going there for my 50th birthday. My husband has just had knee surgery so can’t do a lot of strenuous hiking more walking or shall we say strolling. Would it still be a fabulous place to celebrate??? Have you been to the other Aman Resorts? If so which ones do you like? Thanks for all of the lovely images, ideas and laughs. It is always a pleasure to open your posts.

  6. Wow, wow , for me also. Such beautiful photos from a magical journey, The beauty brings tears to my eyes. That adorable pig, you just have the knack to place him too so we can laugh a little and continue the beauty. Lucky you , and us for your sharing. Thanks ox

  7. hi slim,

    sometimes when i close my eyes at night to sleep, all i see is computer images scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. i hate that.

    but this post has everything many things i love .

    vibrant colors
    exotic destination
    lounging pigs
    amanresorts
    darling children

    and you somehow make it all come together.

    ~janet

  8. Magnifico! Maravilloso! Your work is truly magnificent. This is the only blog that I will open no matter what is going on in my day. You are very appreciated!

  9. Blogging is my world so I rarely share it with my husband (it’s all mind, no sneaking around) but I passed this post over to him immediately after reading it and asked him” Have you ever heard of Bhutan’ (subtext-can we go there?)
    In fact I am going to send your link along to my traveling friends who will love this remote destination. I loved every photo and your dialogue (as usual) and thanks for sharing this incredible journey. Do you think it possible they issue tourists passports more quickly to Canadians? you know how everyone loves Canada. Just a thought. Happy weekend and keep traveling so we can read about your most interesting trips.

    • Oh yes! All the world loves a Canadian! When I traveled in Europe when I was young(er) I always had a Canadian flag on my bags or my tennis racket cover (I hardly even play- I just wanted to look Sporty)

  10. Since I will never visit there myself this was a truly magical way to see it. Your photos are wonderful and that tigers nest fascinates me. Makes me realize what a really large world this is and wonder what is out there that we havent even seen yet. Thanks for the tour.

  11. Slim these photos are your best ever!! You captured the beauty and soul of this country. You struck a cord of harmony and intensity that calls my name. You are so blessed to be able to travel as you do with the gift that was bestowed on you with your kneen sense of optical hunger. Please continue to grace us with the bounty of your camera. Peace…I spin my prayer wheel regularly. My peace comes from the belief that we can have so much with so little.

  12. OMmmm …. Spectacular, Breathtaking and humbling all at once. Such a peaceful post. Monks, monasteries, and prayer flags. Nameste

  13. I have a friend that’s been all over the world and do you think I’ve seen her pictures? Never. She just tells me how beautiful everything was! So, thank you for sharing. I felt I was there. I hope you have a wonderful “apple” martini, or your favorite, and go thru your beautiful pictures again. These were wonderful and put me in another world for awhile. Never heard of this place. So, what else can you come up with? Can’t wait. Now, back to reality………..
    Go Longhorns…………

  14. absolutely lovely! Captivating!

    I have stayed in Amans in Bali……..and what they do to introduce the culture to their guests is an immeasurable gift!

    They somehow in a very subtle way introduce you…….bring you in……and show you the beauty.

    Remarkable…..and not just hotels. Genius.

  15. Thanks Slim. My daughter is going to Bhutan next year to help vaccinate the teenage girls against cervical cancer, as part of an school trip. I was already envious but now after seeing your photos I am going to have to organize a trip of my own. It is too spectacular to not see first hand and I am sure the photos don’t do it justice (even though they are amazing). I will email you to get some itinerary tips when I get serious. Don’t you just LOVE travel!!!

  16. I love love love your travel posts! With two young children and a school schedule to adhere to (as well as work) you take me places I’ve never been … and you do it so well! Love them!

  17. That was incredible.
    I LOVE your traveling posts, so inspiring!
    Keep on traveling to delight us with your beautiful stories and photos!

  18. whoa. unreal!!! just unreal! i can’t believe you went there – you are so brave!

    my favorite is the caption – 54? hehe. my age now. she actually looks younger than me. thanks.

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  21. Fantastic pics!! I’m a repeat visitor of Bhutan & think this tiny Kingdom is one of the most fascinating destinations of the world. Treat yourself to a once in a lifetime experience & plan a visit soon. Congrats to Slim Paley the pics are awesome!!

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