Saturday, July 05, 2014

Blessed in Bhutan Part 2 of 2

And the stories continue, as I share my personal experiences and impressions of Bhutan through more fast and fun facts below.

If you missed part 1 of my blog, here's the link:

  • Bhutan is the Land of the Thunder Dragon where the Druk, a national symbol shown in their flag, represents Thunder Dragon from Bhutanese mythology.  It holds jewels that represent wealth.

    The first thing that immediately came to my mind about the Bhutanese flag was its colors resemble the colors of Buddhism.  Apparently, the orange does represent the Drukpas monasteries and the Buddhist religion and the yellow represents the authority of the King, which reminds me of the yellow color of the Emperor in Chinese culture.

    The druk represents strength of the people to protect their country.  I think it's a very appropriate symbol for the Bhutanese as proven by their journey so far, where authenticity has never been compromised.  One can find a lot of words to describe them: loyalty, humility, strength, purity, and it all jives into the symbolism of the Druk.

    In addition, I'd like to point out that the jewels here refer to wealth of a different kind.  It refers more to the nation's prosperity, and not material wealth as most people would assume.  And I think that makes Bhutan achieve the personal happiness that they so strongly protect.

Blessed in Bhutan Part 1 of 2

Many of my friends have asked me why I chose Bhutan as a travel destination. It's not a common place to go on a vacation, and access is still quite restricted and expensive.  I guess Bhutan is the closest thing, next to Nepal or Tibet, that will bring me to the Himalayas.  Being the home to the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest is not only a goal for the mountaineers but it also represents a vision of success, of hard work, or reaching a dream, of overcoming challenges, of completing a journey, of gaining great satisfaction, and these serve as an inspiration for any regular human being, in almost every part of our lives.

So when the opportunity called to go with a photography group to Bhutan, I was ecstatic and excited. Everest is not attainable by many, at least in the physical or literal sense. This trip sort of serves as a preview, or a peek or even a short cut, depending on how one looks at it.

Well, I didn't get to see the Himalayan mountain ranges as thick clouds covered the view both times we drove through Dochula Pass, where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the Himalayas. Nor did I get to see Mt. Everest on our flight in and out of Bhutan. But 
Bhutan turned out to be a bag of surprises for me, unexpected but very welcome.

I hope to share my personal experiences and impressions of Bhutan to supplement some of the fast and fun facts below. 

Fast Facts and Fun Facts

  • Bhutan is a landlocked country in the Himalayas.  It is bordered by China in the north and by India in the east, west and south.  Nepal is to the west of the Indian border connecting Bhutan

    Bhutan has the most dangerous airport landing pads in the world. Only 8 pilots are certified to land here, in Paro International Airport, which is 2,300 meters above sea level, and lies in a valley surrounded by steep and high mountains

    Little did I know that Bhutan wasn't even beside Nepal or Tibet, despite the fact that they are all part of the Himalayas.  I never expected it to be surrounded by India nor China.  That shows you how little I know about our geography!

    Before embarking on this journey, I didn't know about the risk factor associated with the Bhutan take off and landings.  I knew that I didn't have any choice for getting there except through their national airline, DrukAir, the Royal Bhutanese Airlines.

    So there we were almost reaching Paro, I noticed as I looked out the window, that we were flying below the tips of the mountains beside us. In a few minutes, the pilot made several turns, left and right, as we flew through the valley densely compressed between the steep mountains. For a moment there, I felt like I was flying in a fighter aircraft with Tom Cruise (Top Gun) or Josh Lucas (Stealth), pressured to find a flat landing somewhere. Or maybe I was actually in a Flight Simulator game or IMAX movie after all. I'll give it to the pilots, and yes, he's one of the few eight, yes eight, pilots certified to fly to and from Bhutan.  In fact, the flight was so smooth.  As I looked out my window, there wasn't any bit of fear, instead I felt that I was in a dream adventure.

    As we landed in Paro International Airport, we disembarked through the back door.  We breath the first of the Bhutanese air and stepped on the land of utmost happiness, and so they say. We could literally see the entire length of the runway, which is surrounded by a range of steep mountains. A giant billboard of a beautiful young couple in traditional attire, probably in their early to mid 30s, welcomes us as we walked towards the airport structure that looked more like a temple than an airport.  I assume the young couple was some sort of a celebrity, and celebrity indeed they were, just of a different kind.  This young couple is actually the King and Queen of Bhutan.