It’s never too late to create and live a more fulfilled and happy life. Finding the true essence of life is always a challenge. Taking time to clear unwanted clutter and embrace positive life force may hold the secret to lifelong happiness. Because, Bhutan.
Surrounded by euphoric views of mountains, Bhutan may be the most ideal place to recharge and refocus on the meaning of life or just experience happiness in its purest form. It is the first and only country in the world to have a government edict that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product. It is also the only carbon negative country in the world.
Bhutan has been on my bucket list for several years now. Top photographer Patrick Uy annually invites me to form a travelling group to trek this remarkable little kingdom in the eastern Himalayas. Fortunately this year, a group was serendipitously formed with last minute confirmations that ultimately made a perfect mix of adventure seekers, shoppers, healers, yogis, foodies and costume bugs.
Starting the day with self-care through yoga, my cousin Karla Delgado and Kundalini Yoga teacher Rosan Cruz gladly shared their energies with outdoor sessions. Karla led a meditation for compassion in a circle of gratitude. We cleared negative energy from our auric bodies and welcomed energies of Mother Earth, illumination, physical strength, abundance and creativity.
Whenever the opportunity for shopping arises, the shoppers in the group bought Bhutanese arts and crafts, Thangka paintings, and national costumes called kira for women and gho for men. Somehow, my shopping partner Vina Francisco and I found the most opportunities to shop.
Each day was packed with activities visiting small towns and impressive temples. We flew to Paro, Bhutan, on Druk Air, the national airline. My seat on the left side of the plane gave me spectacular views of the eastern Himalayas, including the Bhutanese peaks, Chomolhari, Jichu Drakye, and Tsering Kang.
At Paro, we met our guide, Namgay Dorji. He took us to view a local archery tournament. Apparently archery is no ordinary sport for the Bhutanese. It is a true skill and the feats we witnessed were remarkable for their accuracy.
From Paro, we drove to Thimpu where we stayed for the evening at the Druk Hotel, the first boutique hotel in Bhutan. Here our tour included a visit to the Bhutan General Post Office, where we were able to order stamps with our pictures on it. I made sure to send a postcard to my daughter Athena, using one of my stamps. That might just be the most unique postcard she’s ever received.
From there we drove to Dochu La, where I found out that “La” means a pass, in this case at an elevation of 10,000 feet, higher than any mountain in our country. Naturally, this had me thinking of the Shangri-La and what that means. The Dochu La is marked by hundreds of colorful fluttering prayer flags and is an awesome sight.
From Dochu we passed to Punakha, the winter seat of the highest lama in Bhutan until the 1950s. We stayed at the Paro Zhiwaling Hotel, the first five-star, Bhutanese-owned hotel in the country. Our first tour stop was the Punakha Dzong, a 17th century monastery that looked like a fortress. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Whichever it was, the Dzong was spectacularly situated at the confluence of the Mo and Pho Rivers, and we witnessed a classic Bhutanese festival there.
The Punakha Festival was spectacular. The finale was a Black Hat Dance with monks and townsfolk performing rituals and colorful ceremonial dances, replete with swirling costumes and elaborate headpieces. Everyone was wearing traditional Bhutanese costumes, which was truly a fashion spectacle!
Nearby was a 15th century temple called Chimi Lhakhang built by Lama Drukpa Kunley. Legend has it that Lama Kunley subdued the demoness of the Dochu La with his “Magic Thunderbolt of Wisdom.” A wood effigy of the lama’s thunderbolt is preserved in the Lhakhang, and childless women go to the temple to receive a wang or blessing from the saint.
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Taktsang Monastery, which means “tiger’s nest.” This monastery is arguably one of the most iconic images of Bhutan, as it is perched on a cliff 2,700 feet above the Paro Valley.
It was also here that our guide Nam proved his worth, acting as money changer, shopping haggler, food guide and most importantly for me, personal Sherpa. During the climb up Tiger’s Nest, Nam carried all our costumes and extra outfits!
The trek is quite a hike. We started with a mule ride through the narrow trails, and then a steep, 1.5-hour hike to a teahouse, where we enjoyed our first view of Taktsang while having tea and cookies. From there, we were given the option to continue on for another 30 minutes to an even closer viewpoint, or to head back. I’ll leave you guys to guess which option I chose.
There are five monasteries in the Paro Valley area, and one of the prettiest is Dzongdrakha, a small retreat center dating back to the 16th century, when it was built by the first local king, Chogay Dragpa. There is also a large stupa or shrine nearby, similar to that of Bodhnath in Kathmandu, Nepal. There we made sure to make a lot of wishes while spinning the prayer wheels. We will always have a happy channel in our heart from Bhutan.
If you are interested in ticking off Bhutan from your own bucket list, contact the Snow Leopard Travel Agency through photographer Patrick Uy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Festivals in Bhutan are almost year-round and they are the highlights of any planned visit. Best times are in February and March, with the festivals around the capital, Thimpu, and Paro. There are also good festivals in September and October. Check out the festival schedules at http://tcb.img.ebizity.bt/attachments/tcb_032318_pdf-to-word.pdf.
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