Saturday, October 28, 2006


Bhutan looks like a tiny country on the map, wedged between two goliaths, India and China. It is rather small as countries go, about the size of Kansas, but there is an amazing amount of diversity in the landscape. The 80 kilometer drive from Thimphu to Punakha starts out in a arid valley, climbs up through dusty pine forests which give way to oaks and giant rhododendrons, peaks out at Dochu La pass with the high Himalayan snow peaks on the horizon, then winds down, down, down in tight switch backs through dense jungle with misty waterfalls and Assamese macacaques jumping through the trees before spilling out into another narrow river valley. The drive, which looks so short on the map, can easily take the better part of a day if one stops for lunch and takes a few walks along the way. Anyone thinking about visiting Bhutan, take note: the mountains are big, the roads have more curves than a sack full of snakes, and when you're looking out the window over a sheer 4,000 foot precipice, you want your driver to be at the very top of his game. The best itinerary is one that allows time to move slowly and stay in one spot for a while. Kansas may best be experienced in 6 hours at 80 mph on Interstate 70, but driving the same distance in Bhutan requires three long, bumpy days.

As you might guess, the diversity extends to the people here too. There weren't any roads at all in the country until the 1960s, so the people of bordering valleys rarely interacted, and developed distinct traditions, languages and beliefs. This is still very much a land where what village you come from means a whole lot. That the country is so stable today is testament to the popularity of the King (and the looming threat from populous and powerful neighbors).

I'm back in Thimphu now and will fly out from Paro in 3 days. From there it's on to Cambodia, where I'll publish a guide to Bhutan on the website. And I love it here, if that wasn't obvious. I'm already making plans to come back and stay for a longer time. Check back in around Thursday for anther update -


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home