How many countries in this world can claim their Gross Domestic Product is “Happiness” Bhutan is the only country who can claim this feat. It’s a little country with only 750,000 inhabitants. It is in a valleys surrounded by the Might Himalayas, it is also a carbon neutral country. You almost want to go and live there.
I did a photographic tour with my good friends David Oliver and Peter Eastway. Both Grandmaster photographers who are exceptional and highly regarded in the photographic industry. They constantly banter about which is the best genre, portraiture, David Oliver’s specialty or landscape photography being Peter’s specialty. The benefit of having both of them running our tour we got to learn from both of them and at the end of the day I am a much better photographer for travelling with them.
Bhutan lives up to its name the moment you step off the plane, everyone is polite and extremely welcoming. Our guides from Illumination Tours were nothing short of exceptional. An example for their great help and support was when we trekked up to the Tigers Nest Temple which sits precariously on the side of a mountain. Trekking takes approximately 3 hours up and back with many stops to catch your breath because of both the altitude and the steepness of the climb. One of our guides insisted he carry our back pack to make our trek easier, nearing the top, one of our tour members wanted to go back down so he guided them to the bottom with our backpack in tow. He no sooner got our team member down safely then turned around and hiked back to the top just in case we needed something from our backpack. The thing was he never gave it a second thought about not returning, it is their culture to be helpful and they do it with a smile. This was just one of many times we witnessed their unbelievable generosity and hospitality.
We stayed with our tour guides family in their small village, we slept and ate as they do. There were no special requirements put in place for us. They picked the vegetables from the fields so we could eat them for lunch. While many of their meals are vegetarian they do have meat and chicken depending on their availability, I think this mainly for the tourist. The country is full of vegetable gardens, wheat and potato fields are tiered up from the valley floor as there is very little flat ground in Bhutan. The roads are fun to drive on, the speed limit if 50kmh and when they pull out to pass a slower vehicle you expect that the passing car to speed up to get passed the slower vehicle – nope – you stay on the wrong side of the road and wait for the slower driver to slow down more so you can pass not exceeding the 50kmh. It gets a little tricky as when you’re out there passing another vehicle comes the other way, then the 3 cars work it out for themselves politely and efficiently, they all pass each other and go on their way. For one second try to imagine that happening in Australia. The real problem in Bhutan is the mountains as all of the roads are cut into the side of these crumbling mountain sides. Roads that are here today are gone tomorrow with multitudes of mountain slides especially in the wet season. There are many Indian itinerant workers employed full time trying to keep roads open and as a consequence of this the roads are very poorly constructed and maintained mainly because they are constantly cutting back into the mountains for the new roads. Many times we were driving around boulders left in the middle of the new roads as when they blasted they pretty well left everything there and just pushed enough out of the way to make room for one car to pass.
We had a sad incident while we were there. One of our driver’s brother was killed in a car accident. In the heavy fog he ran into a bollard that stopped him going over the side of the mountain, he and two of his friends were thinking how lucky they were when they we hit by another car and pushed their car over the cliff killing 3 of the 4 occupants. Even at this slow speed fatal accidents still happen. It was a sad part of our tour as we felt for our driver, who left us to attend the funeral and return the next day. All of our guides work as much as they can in the tourist industry but when they have down time they all return home to their family farms to help out as often as they can.
Bhutan is a culturally unique place to visit, everyone that I know who has been there speaks highly of their visit there. Put this down as one of your “Must go to” places, you won’t be disappointed.