Holiday Postmortem | The surviving Shangri-La

Holiday Postmortem | The surviving Shangri-La
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First Published: Sat, Aug 18 2007. 01 00 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Aug 18 2007. 01 00 AM IST
Businessman Viplov Rao, 29, travelled with his wife Aparna to Bhutan over the summer and came back with a renewed interest in spirituality.
With faraway countries increasingly accessible, why did you choose to go to a closed-up kingdom surrounded on three sides by India?
We were looking for a non-commercialized destination minus the usual shopping malls, nightclubs, fast cars and buzzing tourist activity. We wanted to get close to nature, rather than luxury. A Bhutanese friend living in India first steered us in the direction of his homeland. Later, while researching the country on the Net, we discovered that it was a very traditional, spiritual land and that aroused our curiosity as well.
Where’s the airport in Bhutan?
It is in Paro, about 55km away from Thimphu. We caught a Druk Air flight from Kolkata to Paro—they also fly from New Delhi—and spent two-and-a-half hours on the road to Thimphu. We stayed at Hotel Jumolhari, which our friend had recommended.
Was there a lot of sightseeing in and around Thimphu?
Though we saw the sights— including the Folk Heritage Museum, the Institute for Zoriq Chusum, a school for traditional arts and craft—what took our breath away were the views from the Dochula stupas, built to commemorate great warriors. On a clear day, such as the one we got, one can see an enormous expanse of the Himalayas.
Another touching experience was the visit to the Takin Reserve. Takin is Bhutan’s national animal, a strange animal with the head of a goat and the body of a cow. Local myths say the divine madman of Bhutan created the animal from the bones of a goat and a cow he devoured. Only seven or eight of these animals survive.
Were you based in Thimphu throughout your holiday?
No, we spent only two days there. Thimphu was rather more urbanized than we had imagined. So, we were quite happy to go back to Paro and spend the rest of our holiday there. Paro is a more traditional place, more village-like, with low population density and paddy fields all around.
We stayed at a beautiful hotel called Paro Gangtey, originally a heritage palace with a traditional structure and exquisite antique furniture. The property has an infinity lawn dropping into the valley, and offers an incredible view of the mountains and the valley of Paro. Frankly, we enjoyed Paro much more than Thimphu.
From Paro, we visited Haa, the base camp for the Indian Army, through one of the highest motorable roads in the country at about, 4000m. The jawans insisted we have lunch with them.
We hear so much about how Bhutan protects its traditional lifestyle. Did you encounter any of that?
Bhutan is truly remarkable: It forces us to think about our whole approach to life. While most of us focus on amassing worldly wealth for our children, they believe in passing on their traditional assets. So, the façade of every building—whether it’s a residential or commercial property or a government office—has to be built as per traditional Bhutanese architecture. We heard of one village, Gangtey, in Central Bhutan which refused access to electricity as it could endanger the migratory black-necked cranes which fly there in winter.
What’s your strongest memory of Bhutan?
As a Buddhist country, there are monasteries everywhere in Bhutan. We’d heard of one called Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest, one of the holiest places in the country and supposedly capable of fulfilling every pilgrim’s wish. Local legend has it that a monk flew his tiger to this point and built the monastery in the 16th century. The only catch is that it is located high up on a cliff.
But my wife and I decided to give it a shot. It was a really gruelling hike—a steep climb of about 1,000m vertical height. The thin air didn’t help. What kept us going were the fellow-climbers, all in their 60s and 70s, shod in nothing sturdier than slippers. For thoroughbred city-dwellers like us, this was a real feat.
And the monastery itself is worth every minute of that arduous hike. It was calm, serene and rich in architectural beauty. We were in time to sit through a Buddhist prayer, it was as if the whole mountain resonated with the sound of their chanting and drums.
GETTING THERE
Druk Air flies New Delhi-Paro (Monday, Saturday through the year, and also Thursday, Friday between 1 September and 28 October) and Kolkata-Paro (Monday, Saturday, Sunday through the year, also Thursday, Friday between 1 September and 28 October). Single round-trip fares amount for $660 (Rs26,531) and $410 respectively.
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Aug 18 2007. 01 00 AM IST