Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to Bhutan? My husband and I went in 2008, with our son who was two years old at the time. Bhutan is a small country nestled in between Nepal and China. When we went, they were completing an extended highway that connects Bhutan’s two major cities, Thimphu and Paro, making traveling between the two easier and safer.
Paro is the smaller of the two cities and where you fly into Bhutan. It has a quaint village atmosphere, with a small main street filled with shops and hotels. The flight from Kathmandu to Paro is amazing with the most incredible views of the himalayan mountain range. Even the airport is of architectural beauty, run by the commercial airline Druk Air. Paro’s airport is listed as one of the 10 most extreme airports in the world, known for it’s dramatic drop into the valley and short runway. The flight is actually really smooth, you do circle and drop down on to the airport runway rather quickly, but to tell the truth, I never felt nervous. It’s like landing in a fairytale valley – breathtaking views and ancient dwellings on the hillsides.
We were visiting family so we stayed in our family’s resort which was lovely with all of the landscaping and traditional Bhutanese architecture. For a few days we spent time in a cottage that was directly across from the hills of the famous Taktsang monastery. You can see the monastery way up in the mountains, it looks so majestic and faraway with the clouds dancing around it most of the time. There is a day trek you can take to visit it, half of the trek is on horse back, and the other half on foot. We went with our toddler, and it was well worth the effort.
We spent a lot of our time in Timphu, which is about an hour drive from Paro. Thimphu has roughly 80,000 people, not including the surrounding areas. It reminded me of Vail, Colorado, it’s like a little mountain town with high peaks protecting it. We went in May, and the weather was perfect; crisp at night, sunny during the day, with occasional showers that didn’t last for long – much like Colorado in May.
As a Mom traveling with a toddler my first worry was, where can I get the things I need for my child? Fortunately they have grocery stores comparable to ours, some of the names are different, but disposable diapers are available. The only thing I highly recommend bringing with you from home is Children’s Tylenol, and bug repellent. Those are easy to come by in adult forms in Bhutan, not so much in children’s dosages. It was not buggy where we were staying, but there are warmer areas of Bhutan and if you venture to one of those places you’ll want some bug protection. They do have boxed milk that’s safe, powdered formulas, and baby foods.
The town of Thimphu has a main street that’s filled with interesting shops and all sorts of vendors. There are restaurants, and bars, even several hotels in the downtown area. It’s a warm and friendly town where the locals are used to having tourists around and help you when they can. You immediately notice the children dressed in their school uniforms, or the formal dress code of Bhutan, as large numbers gather in the main square after school or on the weekends. There is a main Dzong (Fortress) in Thimphu called Tashichoed Dzong, built during the early 1200′s.
I was able to visit some of the historic areas of Thimphu, an ancient medical school/library, retreat caves, as well as the major Dzong in Thimphu. They were all magical places filled with so much energy it really was like going back in time. I am a nurse so I wanted to see the hospital in Thimphu and check out how they did things. The main hospital was a little crowded, but clean and relatively organized. My biggest curiosity was about the N.I.C.U. (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). The nurses were very kind and let me sneak a quick peak into their unit. It’s very small, but had brand new equipment (medical supplies, incubators) sparkling clean and wonderful care for the premature babies, I was really impressed.
We also took a 4-day tour into central Bhutan. A guide takes you in a mini bus to various towns, stopping in picturesque lodges along the way. The architecture is magnificent, the gardens are like nothing you’ve ever seen – brilliant colorful flowers and huge old trees. From the small farm houses to the large Dzongs that dot the hillsides and valleys, it was all a feast for the eyes, surrounded by hundreds of giant rhododendron trees that look like they’ve been there since before time. The wildlife that I saw was also mesmerizing – colorful birds, grey faced Langur monkeys, and yaks. The southern area of central Bhutan is balmy and hot with another kind of jungle foliage that I’d never seen, gorgeous purple flowered trees, and lush grassy hills. Punakha Dzong was spectacular, walking around you feel like you’ve stepped into some kind of a time portal.
The people we met along our travels were very friendly and engaging, we went home with wonderful stories and warm memories. People often ask if I would live there, I would, but then I’m a big fan of small towns. Bhutan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, I hope you get a chance to visit, it’s really an amazing adventure. If you would like more information on traveling to Bhutan, Nepal or Tibet, please visit our website, intrekasia.com