“Do you believe in dragons?”
I was quite startled by the sudden intervention of the cute local guy in front of me. I was not sure how to respond because here I was in the land of thunder dragons where dragons were seen right from the national flag to all forms of architecture and I was afraid whether my ‘No’ will hurt his cultural sentiments and I did not want to lie by saying an ‘Yes’ because we were having quite an open conversation. I went with a diplomatic “I am not sure”. He gave me a much more cute smile and my heart skipped a beat!
Yes, Bhutan it is! Among the cute and happy Bhutanese people, amidst the prayer wheels and wind horse flags…the Himalayan kingdom was treating us royally.
It was a long journey from Bangalore boarding flights till Kolkata and to the defense airport of Bagdogra. From there a good 5 long hours of taxi drive till the Bhutanese border city of Phuentsholing. We reached there by 7 in the evening. Indians can stay in Phuentsholing without visa. So we planned to carry out the visa formalities next day morning.
The moment you enter Bhutan from the Indian border city of Jaigaon, you will totally get the vibe of a new place because the architecture, people, style, shops and everything looks way different. So we decided to take a stroll around the town and try our first Bhutanese cuisine. We could see Mother India just on the other side of the iron fence. Then my friend came up with the idea of having dessert from India! How often do you get to have dinner from one country and dessert from the other? 😉
On the way back I ticked off one more thing from my bucket list, when I kept my one foot in India and other in Bhutan. Yea! The same wish the dying heroine was having in one of those famous chick flicks, to be in two places at the same time! Hehe!
Next day we cleared all the visa formalities and started our journey to the capital city of Thimphu. Climbing the hills and kissing the clouds we reached Thimphu which looked like it has been hidden from the outside world in the lap of Himalayas.
On the banks of river Wang Chu, there was something very nostalgic about Thimphu, with the mountains in the back drop and the beautiful Bhutanese wooden architecture. People were walking briskly in their traditional attire Gho (for men) and Kira (for women).One thing that was very evident from their lifestyle was that Bhutanese people uphold their traditional values and customs. Modernity has been blended without sacrificing the cultural values. They also pay huge respect to their king and queen and hoarding and photographs of the royal couple were seen everywhere. One more thing we could not help but notice was their patience while waiting in a queue or while driving. Believe it or not, we did not hear a single person honking during our entire journey! We Indians should learn a thing or two from them.
The showstopper of our entire trip was the Tiger Nest Monastery aka Taktsang Monastery in Paro and the 6 hour trek to that monastery, which somehow manages to hang down from the top of the mountain. There are three ways to reach the monastery. You can either trek all the way to the top or take a mule till halfway and walk the rest or you can fly on the magic tigress as guru Rimpoche did long long back to meditate here (sources say that was how the monastery was established). Out of the 3 options, trekking struck us as the best idea and we decided to trust our guts which took us all the way to the top. On the way back, we saw a Bhutanese family taking the pilgrimage. There was a toddler and even an 80 year old woman in the family. It is amazing the way in which faith can stir ones soul and make you test your endurance.
Cafe Druk Wangyel was on the edge of the cliff. I was having my hot coffee…I could see prayer flags moving in the breeze outside the window. Himalayan ranges were not visible that day as it was misty. I was imagining how mesmerizing the view will be on a clear day. I took another sip of my hot coffee gazing at the distant clouds. At that moment I knew one thing, Mountains are calling me and I will be coming back…