Five nights in Bhutan

Bhutan is a magical, beautiful land. Yahoo! reader PRIYA PARUL writes about her visit to this enchanting mountain kingdom of stunning natural beauty and spiritual awakening.

Bhutan has been on our minds. Ever since the kingdom opened itself to the world, there has been a certain aura around it. So finally the time for my annual international holiday came, Bhutan it was for my parents and me. Proximity to India and the much-acclaimed natural beauty were added incentives. Our trip was for five nights and six days, and we touched Paro, Thimphu and Wangdue.

Day 1 – Looking for Hogwarts

PHOTO: PRIYA PARUL

The day of departure from New Delhi saw us scrambling to get ready and rushing to the airport to grab the port-side window seats. Why? Because you cross Mount Everest and get to see it in all its majestic glory. So ensure you get seats on the left side of the craft. As destiny would have it, the day was cloudy. Though we saw a number of snow-capped peaks, the mighty Everest eluded us. The snow-capped peaks provided some solace and will remind you of chocolate brownies with vanilla ice-cream!

Druk Air proved to be a small but decent airline. Druk air is the only service provider to Bhutan. There is service from New Delhi and Kolkata in India, Kathmandu in Nepal and Bangkok in Thailand. The landing in Paro is quite interesting. The small craft swerves between the mountains and just about manages to navigate the hilly terrain. Paro happens to be the only airport in the small mountain kingdom.

The mountains were lush green. August is supposedly the summer monsoon month and the maximum temperature was 25 degrees Celsius. The best times to visit, however, are spring and autumn.

We were received by Yeshey, our driver/ guide for the trip. Though he told us he was not formally educated, we would never have guessed. He spoke fluent English and Hindi and was extremely courteous and warm. He greeted us with the customary white scarf and whisked us away to our first stop: Paro Dzong.

A Dzong houses a monastery and a few government offices. The combination of the religion and the state is commendable in Bhutan. The steps leading to the prayer room were the steepest I have ever seen, but they did not prove to be so dangerous.

It is a good idea to start a bit of physical activity if you intend to visit Bhutan. There is a considerable amount of walking required, and even within structures, you can be sure to encounter a lot of stairs and inclines.

Our next stop was the Kinchu monastery with lots of prayer wheels. This trip was also a spiritual retreat for me, and if inner peace is what you are looking for, then Bhutan is just the right place. An old monk guided me to completion along with the circumambulation of a couple of stupas. The monk did not know English/ Hindi. I did not know Dzongkha. But when did spiritualism ever need a language?

We then left for Thimphu. The drive from Paro to Thimphu is a treat for the senses with roads that wind between lush green mountains surrounded by peaks above, and the Paro River thundering down below. We stopped at a spot called 'Paro Airport Bird's View'. We saw the Kolkata flight landing. We marveled at the dexterity needed by pilots to maneuver such terrain. Us, the river, the landing strip, and the hills beyond -- it was the stuff dreams are made of!

But the true dream was to be revealed a little later. Once we restarted for Thimphu, and the mountains rose again, I was struck by the similarity between Bhutan and Scotland. And Scotland happens to be my favorite place to date. So you can imagine what that statement means.

On a number of curves, I felt like I was on my way to Hogwarts. It seemed I would just turn the corner and there would be the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft. Sigh! Every bend brought that image to mind. I could not stop clicking but the pictures do not do justice to the beauty I encountered.

On my way, I wanted to stop next to the river and take in its roar. Nothing seems mightier than a river in its fury thundering down the mountain. My wish came true when I realized my resort was on the banks of the Thimphu River. We stayed at the Terma Linca Resort. My ecstasy knew no bounds. The Resort turned out to be as warm as it was beautiful. Thanks to the off-season, we received personal attention and a lot of peace.

Towards the night, we sat outside the bar, in front of the river. While I nursed a Coca-Cola, my father had a Bhutanese whiskey called Special Courier. Bhutan has a number of local brands of whiskey and wine. Be sure to try them out. The feedback I received from my father was a thumbs-up.

The day ended with a Bhutanese dinner at the resort comprising Sewo Marp (steamed Punakha red rice), Josha Maaroo (minced chicken and peas) and Ema Datsi (cheese chili). These dishes made us realize that Bhutanese like their food spicy.

If you are seeking tranquility, you should come here. There is a lot of silence; so much that the only sound you hear is the roar of the river. As early as the first day, I found myself unaffected by a lot of previously negative thoughts.

Something that is a must-do in Bhutan, and something that I unfortunately could not do, is to get the hot stone bath. It is a traditional Bhutanese therapy that has a number of medical benefits.

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