One thing that stands out about Bhutan is its pristine beauty. The mist, the forest around, traditional wooden homes with colorful carvings or paintings, monasteries, scintillating landscapes beautifully painted by colorful trees makes you feel like you have entered a fantasy World. The Land of the Thunder Dragon as it is popularly known, is truly a biking country. Riding our bike on these wide roads with greenery all around, the clouds blessing us with little raindrops and the river stream swaying through made us hope that this road would never end.
Our Bhutan ride was simply the best and most enjoyed stretch in our whole ride across Nepal, Sikkim & Bhutan. The BRO have done a fabulous job in maintaining the roads to compliment the beauty of Nature that Bhutan has to offer. It really is a 'Paradise on earth.' The sun constantly plays hide and seek with you and the clouds join in. They make you doubt your own watch as 1:30 in the afternoon may seem like 6 in the evening. On the way, 'Dantak Canteen' 75 km from Phuentsholing (the entry point) is a perfect place to stop for lunch. It serves hot and spicy food and Indian food seems to be their specialty. Their special tea easily replaces one peg of whiskey in the cold weather.
Riding on Bhutan roads leaves you amazed by their traffic sense, their patience, and their respect for pedestrians. With so many junctions on a single lane you may expect traffic jams and grid locks but forget traffic jams this country does not need red, yellow or green lights to keep them in check. Yes, they do not have traffic signals yet they believe in following traffic rules and need not be manned by cops all the time. They follow the law whether someone is looking or not and this is what speaks volumes about their culture, values and the kind of people they are.
Our interaction with locals here confirmed the fact that Bhutan truly is a happy country. People here are content with their lives, give importance to cleanliness, they know that money can fetch you materialistic things but they do know that money cannot truly buy you happiness, which is a choice and they choose to be happy. Everyone you meet has a smile and they are very grounded and welcome you to their homes with open arms. They can be seen flaunting around their traditional attire, gho and kira, being at ease wearing them on a daily basis and do not feel the need to imitate other countries as they are very proud of their deep rooted traditional and cultural values and why not- the basic act of being kind and respectful to another human being reflects among each one of them.
Thimphu, the capital, is a wonderful place to begin your travel for the first time in a Kingdom. It is the lifeline of Bhutan with a lot of activities around. Apart from being tourist friendly with abundant hotels and restaurants, there are a lot of exhibitions organised to promote handicrafts from different parts of Bhutan. The weekend markets are definitely worth a visit and if you are a sports enthusiast, you might want to give a shot at Archery in Thimphu. They are also huge fans of Football and while we there, there was a Football Championship going on and the crowd was going berserk.
A 20 minute ride from Thimphu on a road between huge pine trees, strewn with the brown needle drops and of course the cold wind running the chills across your face lingering with the fragrance of Earth leads you to a brick establishment on a rock, sheltered by massive trees with the blue sky and white clouds in the background glorifying the monastery even more making you wonder if this is the the stairway to heaven.
This monastery is the Dechenphu Lhakhang popularly known as 'Denchen Pho' and is of great religious importance to the Bhutanese people. Non Bhutanese visitors are not allowed inside the Dzong but are free to visit the Monastery.
Apart from a handful of locals you will not spot anyone else here making it the ideal place for solitude and to get lost in your thoughts. Just sit on the grass, close your eyes and this place soothes you automatically leaving you in a trance mode.
On the foot hills is the Pangrizampa Lakhang. Today, this temple is used as an Astrologers Center of the state clergy and is home to close to 100 monks studying Astrology.
Tashichhoe Dzong, also called the "Fortress of the Glorious Religion," is the powerhouse and administrative building of Bhutan. It houses the throne room and offices of the king, the cabinet secretariat and the ministries of the home affairs and finance. It is open for public viewing from 4 to 5 pm. However, be there a little early to see the Royal Police Guards unfurl the Bhutan National Flag. While entering the Dzong, we were captivated by the paintings on the wall, each even more impressive than the other. The Dzong is massive and beautiful and there is a huge monastery within the Dzong.
Bhutan National Library is a treasure trove of Bhutanese and Tibetan literature, be it ancient manuscripts carved on wood or written on handmade paper, they are all preserved at their pristine best. This three storeyed wooden building serves as a home for Monks and scholars. Most of the ancient manuscripts are wrapped in silk cloth. On the ground floor of the library is another great piece of history, the "Largest Published Book" in the World.
Only a few kilometers away from the National library is the Zilukha Nunnery which is the biggest nunnery in Bhutan. The nuns here are actively involved in helping the less privileged and the local communities. The panoramic view of the Tashichhoe Dzong from here is breathtaking.
The entire Kingdom seems to idolize the King and the Queen and is apparent from the Portraits and hearty message from the public to the royal family. Our sincere respect to the country as it values Gross Domestic Happiness over GDP.
We checked into Hotel New Grand, we stayed there for two nights and on the second day we were told fresh towels would not be provided and guest have to reuse the same towel as it's their policy which was not mentioned during check-in. This defied all logic, when the guests are expected to pay for each nights stay such gimmicks should be avoided. Also, their restaurant is very mediocre, majority of items on the menu are not available and their WiFi barely works. Overall, this hotel can be avoided as there are plenty of other options.
The rice bowl restaurant was our favorite for Bhutanese food and just around the corner is the Bhutan Kitchen Restaurant, the perfect place to try authentic Bhutanese food.
Next stop Paro valley.