I had the amazing privilege of going on a five day trip to the mountain kingdom of Bhutan with my family. I went there mystified to enter Druk yul, the Land of the Dragon People, and I returned home even more in awe and wonder at the sheer beauty of the country and its people.
The first thing I did when we landed when we landed was exclaim just how beautiful the scenery was. And everything I witnessed thenceforth just continued to surpass my expectations.We had two guides, Taschi and Tandin, who showed us the beauty, history, culture and hospitality that Bhutan has to offer. Our itinerary consisted mainly of visiting a number of monasteries and Dzongs (a unique combination of temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation, enclosed within high walls).
I won’t go in to the day to day breakdown of our itinerary but just share some of the most interesting things I learnt whilst in Bhutan. When people want to start any kind of venture, they take cloths in different colours with Buddhist chants on them and tie these in holy spots, which include places of natural beauty like mountains and rivers, along with Dzongs and temples. Upon someone’s death, the family members perform rituals (very expensive ones, our guide Taschi informed us, shaking his head in dismay) and place white flags on the high points of mountains so that their spirits reach their heavenly abode in peace. Paan (betel nut leaves) has made its way to Bhutan from India, and almost every Bhutanese person I saw was perennially engaged in the exercise of procuring, exchanging and eating betel leaves.
Talking about eating, I obviously have to talk about the food there! Their traditional rice is red rice, which they eat with a number of curries. Today, Indian items like Dal, Roti and Sabji are also quite popular (as are Indian movies- Salman Khan is a popular favourite amongst the Bhutanese.) Ema Datshi is a curry made with chillies and cheese. It is delicious but as you can imagine, it is a chilly curry after all- and incredibly spicy. Kewa Datschi is a similar curry, but includes potatoes and mushrooms. Masha Maru and Paa are meat curries eaten there- made of Chicken, Pork or Beef. We also found Yak cheese hanging in one of the shops, available both as fresh and smoked versions. It is as hard as a rock and slowly melts to give the taste of milk. Apart from that, I ate the ever popular momo, which, contrasting with the cold outside weather, tasted absolutely heavenly.
We had to do two things in Bhutan which tested my physical endurance- a three hour trek to Tiger Monastery and a two and a half hour long rafting session. During the trek, I was determined to prove that I was young and fitter than my parents- but that became harder and harder to accomplish as we went higher and higher up. The physical exertions were all worth it in the end, when you caught a glimpse of the Tiger Monastery, located on a rocky hill in between coniferous forests below and clouds above. The rafting left me with very unevenly tanned skin and aching arms due to continuous rowing, but getting to view Punaka Dzong monastery with its purple flowered trees from the river-side, jumping into the ice cold river and singing Bollywood songs along with Bhutanese boatmen were all experiences I wouldn’t trade anything for.
I might have been shivering in the cold through most of my Bhutan trip, but the kind nature of the Bhutanese, along with numerous helpings of Kewa Datshi, momos and Masha Maru of course, made me leave the country with slightly sore limbs, but a very warm heart.