Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is no normal place. This is a country where buying cigarettes is illicit, where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just a seasoning but the whole dish. It’s also a genuinely Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, where giant defensive penises are painted on the walls of most houses, and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more significant than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is also exclusive. First off there are the early Buddhist sites in the cultural heartland of Bumthang Dzongkhag and the undisturbed customary Tibetan-style culture that sets Bhutan apart as the last enduring great Himalayan kingdom. Then there are the textiles, outrageous trekking as well as the spectacular flora and fauna of Phobjika Valley. Trashigang is an interesting township and also useful for launching into a trip in Eastern Bhutan. It is also a kingdom of surprises. This is not just a nation of pious, other-worldly hermits. Bhutan is spanning the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as conventionally dressed noblemen chat on their mobile phones.
It is no surprise that the main objective in life for the Bhutanese people is happiness. Even the mandate of the modern Bhutanese realm is Gross National Happiness. In translation, this means that economic development, an objective for much of humankind, is only a means to the real goal of happiness. If you do visit Bhutan, you will become one of the few who have experienced the charisma and enchantment of one of the world’s most inscrutable countries – the ‘last Shangri La’ – and you’ll be playing your part in this medieval kingdom’s efforts to join the modern planet, while consistently maintaining its diverse and amazing cultural identity. Bhutan offers an occasion to glimpse another way of living, an alternative vision of what is actually important in life.