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Trekking in the Kingdom of Happiness - Bhutan

Caroline Williams, our former Product Manager for Bhutan, fulfilled a long-held ambition in 2018 by trekking the ancient Druk Path in Bhut... Read more
Trekking in the Kingdom of Happiness - Bhutan

Caroline Williams, our former Product Manager for Bhutan, fulfilled a long-held ambition in 2018 by trekking the ancient Druk Path in Bhutan. Read her daily diary and find out more about her visit to the incredible Tiger's Nest Monastary, the Paro festival and Bhutan's weird and wonderful traditions.  

Day One: There are only 8 pilots in the world qualified to land in Paro. We make it, with spectacular views of Everest from the left hand side of the plane. We head straight to the Paro Festival. The Bhutanese ladies look exquisite and the temples covered with golden banners are amazing.

Day Two: We’re off to The Tiger’s Nest, a quiet 3 hour walk with an ascent of 700m to get us acclimatised. The Tiger’s Nest is as amazing as all its photos. We take off our shoes and leave all our phones and cameras. No photos of the interior exist. It makes it truly special because there’s no ‘spoilers’. Then it’s time for more festival dancing – a whirling feast of vibrant hounds hunting the golden stag.

Day Three: We arrive at sunrise on the final day of the festival to witness the unfurling of the Great Thangka which is said to liberate the soul. Then a red carpet arrives – it is the King. He is the same age as Prince William, has a ‘commoner’ wife (the daughter of a pilot) and is adored by his subjects. Everyone is visibly thrilled to meet him as he wanders the crowd. We’ve met royalty, now it’s time to set off into the mountains for our 5 day trek.

Day Four: We are trekking on a trading route from Paro to Thimphu, the capital. The scenery is spectacular. Our two guides look after us really well, in addition to gathering litter to win a prize run by our team to make sure the mountains are kept clean. We stop at a tiny hill-top monastery and arrive into camp just as it starts to snow, but hot drinks and noodle soup are ready and waiting for us.

Day Five: Tonight we will be camping by the side of a lake which is said to be home to a mystical ox, and local farmers bring their cows here in the hope that they will produce strong offspring. Chillies and cheese is on the menu tonight – Bhutan’s national dish. Early to bed in our carpeted tents with hot water bottles as it starts to snow again.

Day Six: More French toast in our snow covered camp. We set off into the wilder mountains and towards the yak herds. The high plateau is home to a rare parasitic fungus used for a very precious Tibetan medicine ($20,000 per kg!). Only the yak herders are allowed to collect it. It looks like grass – we tread carefully. Later we try some in tea – it’s awful. We arrive at our highest campsite and the ponies hang out with us as we relax in camp.

Day Seven: Our final day of trekking is over the highest pass at 4100m. Time for a triumphant group photo with snowy Himalayan peaks behind us. There are so many peaks, the Bhutanese don’t name them. Mountaineering is banned as the mountains are sacred. That’s why Bhutan has the world’s highest unclimbed peak – Gangkhar Puensum (7,570m). Now we start our descent past monasteries (the young monks were reading Sherlock Holmes) and we can soon see the capital in the distance, as well as the world’s largest golden seated Buddha watching down on it. We drive the last stretch to Thimphu. There are no traffic lights in Bhutan so the dancing policeman guides us round the roundabout safely.

Day Eight: After a visit to the market, we get to the archery ground. Competitors have to fire their arrows 140m. The ribaldry is hilarious and hair-raising as competitors try to put each other off by dancing round the tiny target and jeering. A drive takes us to Punakha via Bhutan’s highest road. It’s warmer and there are rice paddies around our hotel.

Day Nine: Punakha is decorated everywhere with penises. Home to Drukpa Kunley, a revered monk who believed in drinking, womanising and naughty jokes, images of his penis (known as his ‘flaming thunderbolt of wisdom’) are said to protect against evil and promote fertility. Punakha is not a town for the faint-hearted. Next we visit Punakha Dzong, a mighty fortress built at the confluence of two rivers, The Mother (Mo) and The Father (Po). The decoration in the altar room, again which can’t be photographed, is intricate, ornate and wonderful. Our final dinner is taken at our favourite restaurant in Paro, where we can see the night lights illuminating the Dzong, towering over the town. Chillies and cheese has never, ever, tasted so good.


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