I sat cross-legged and stiff whilst the monk chanted meditative prayers at 3,800 metres above sea level, breathing hard to catch my breath and calm my racing heart. I had just hiked up five hundred vertical metres from our grassy campsite on the plateau below to the monastery carved into the cliff. We left at the crack of dawn to be here for these morning prayers, an experience that our guide Tshering organised for us the night before. I drifted into a trancelike state, soothed by the chanting.

Mystical, magical and majestic. If you are looking for those kind of experiences, look no further than Bhutan. This tiny landlocked Buddhist nation of 700,000 people is sandwiched between the twin giants of India and China. It is a destination completely off the beaten track and has so far been protected from the overdevelopment and destruction that mass tourism causes too often.

On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net

Bhutan is the last of the Himalayan kingdoms, the only one to retain its sovereignty. For a small undeveloped country however, it is remarkably evolved. Gross National Happiness counts more than the Gross Domestic Product. Roads are excellent and drivers are courteous. There are no traffic lights because frankly, there is no need for them. Smoking and selling tobacco is illegal. Universal healthcare and education is free for everyone. The country is carbon neutral and generates much of its energy from hydroelectricity. With all this happiness it comes as no surprise that the locals are gentle, friendly and generous.

Arriving in Bhutan is dramatic in itself. From Delhi our two-hour Druk Air flight took us past the magnificent Everest. Unashamedly, we gawked and snapped a gazillion photos out of the plane before landing in the nicest airport I have ever seen, a single traditional Bhutanese building, where we were greeted by our guide Tshering and our driver Rinchen.

On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net

 

Tshering accompanied us most of the time which is the norm for all foreign travellers. Though young, he was enthusiastic and engaging. We talked about the realities of living in Bhutan. Social and political reforms brought about by the previous king have endeared the monarchy to the people. The government has worked to preserve Bhutan’s culture and heritage but the increasing number of foreign influences and a porous border pose a threat if not managed well. He bemoaned the lack of prospects for the young, educated generation, revealing dashed dreams of becoming a schoolteacher due to fierce competition for places at the state-funded teachers’ colleges. Tshering loved kids; he stopped to chat with every group of children we encountered. I guess, becoming a tour guide was the next best alternative.

After a week in Thimphu, Punakha and Gangtey, shorter day treks through lichen-covered pine forests for acclimatisation, we were ready for our main trek. Most travellers will trek up to the magnificently engineered Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) and back down but we were there to do the Bumdra trek, an easy circuit near Paro that takes you gently up behind the goemba then downhill through the steepest parts, taking in the goemba on the last day. Except we chose to do it the hard way, ascending to the goemba in the morning, then continuing on up the steepest part of the trek to the top at 3,800 metres, a strain on our lungs and knees but blissfully solitary as we encountered no other party during our 4 days on the mountain.

On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.netOn a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net

Bhutan has several excellent multi-day treks on offer and I believe walking is the best way to see the country. As there is no infrastructure for independent travellers, so you have to travel with a support team. Ours consisted of a horseman, a cook and his assistant. Our tents, food, luggage and cooking gas were shared between four ponies. We camped on monastery grounds, on grassy plateaus and in clearings. On some treks, there may be basic accommodation along your path but nothing beats the feeling of sleeping in a tent in the great outdoors. Sturdy shoes, cold weather gear and your own sleeping bag are necessary for comfort and safety. Everything else is provided.

To cope with the freezing nights several layers of thermals and down jackets were donned as soon as we stopped in camp, settling in to watch the sunsets with magnificent views of the snow-capped Jomolhari, beanies and gloves on.  We were sent to bed with hot water bottles and woken each morning with steaming cups of tea. Most mornings, frost crunched under our feet.

On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net

As the morning meditation drew to a close, I thanked the monk for letting me share his morning ritual and took my leave, ready to hike back down to camp for the hot breakfast our cook had prepared. A few steps after we left the monastery I spotted a yak horn in the bush. I picked it up, turned around to walk back and handed it to the monk. Turning it in his hand, he looked at me and said through Tshering, “this friend of Bhutan will forever be welcome here at the altar where this yak horn lies blessed”.

I was on a spiritual high.

On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net

Good to know: The Bhutanese government charges a daily fee of US$250 per foreign tourist per day. This includes the cost of your guide, driver, entrance fees, meals and 3-star accommodation. For an additional fee, you can upgrade to a higher class of hotel. Trekking must be organised by a licence tour operator.

While this is a lot of money, the raw experience you get from an almost untouched culture and mind-blowing landscape is definitely worth it!

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On a Trek in Bhutan | Travelettes.net


 

This is a guest post by Tania Han.

THTania is a global citizen who left her adopted Melbourne home in 2009 to follow her severe addiction to travel. She breaks the habit only to go back to her corporate job and plan her next jaunt. Her adventures have taken her from the depths of the ocean to the majestic Himalayas and everywhere in between. At present she lives in India with her favourite travel and photography buddy (i.e. husband). You can follow her at Perennial Journey or on Instagram.