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Travel to Bhutan
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 between Nepal and China. When we went, they were completing an extended highway that will connect Bhutan’s two major cities, Thimphu and Paro, making travel between the two easier and safer.
Paro is the smaller of the two cities and you can fly to Bhutan from there. It has a quaint village atmosphere with a small main street lined 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 architecturally beautiful, operated by the commercial airline Druk Air. Paro Airport is listed among the top 10 most extreme airports in the world, known for its dramatic valley drop and short runway. The flight is actually very smooth, you circle and fall onto the airport runway quite quickly, but to be honest, 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 at our family resort which was beautiful with all the landscaping and traditional Bhutanese architecture. We spent a few days in a cottage that was right across the hills from the famous Taktsang Monastery. You can see the monastery in the mountains, it looks so majestic and distant that most of the time the clouds dance around it. You can take a one-day trek to visit it, half of the trek is on horseback and the other half is on foot. We went with our toddler and it was well worth the effort.
We spent much of our time in Timphus, which is about an hour’s drive from Paros. Thimphu has a population of approximately 80,000 people, excluding the surrounding areas. It reminded me of Vail in Colorado, it’s like a small 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 long – kind of like Colorado in May.
As a mother traveling with a toddler, my first concern was where do I get the things my baby needs? 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 from home is children’s tylenol and bug repellant. They are easily available in Bhutan in adult form, not so much in children’s doses. We didn’t have a bug where we stayed, but there are warmer areas in Bhutan and you need bug protection if you end up in one of those places. They have packaged milk that is safe, powdered formula and baby food.
Thimphu town has a main street full of interesting shops and vendors of all kinds. There are restaurants and bars in the city center, even several hotels. It’s a warm and friendly city where the locals are used to having tourists around and will help you when they can. You will immediately notice the children dressed in school uniforms or the Bhutanese festive style of dress as the main square gathers in large numbers after school or on weekends. Thimphu is home to the main Dzong (fortress) called Tashichoed Dzong, which was built in the early 1200s.
I was able to visit some of the historical areas of Thimphu, the ancient medical school/library, the retreat caves and also the main Dzong in Thimphu. They were all magical places filled with so much energy that it really was like going back in time. I am a nurse so I wanted to see the hospital in Thimphu and find out how they did things. The main hospital was a bit crowded, but clean and relatively organized. My biggest curiosity was about the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). The nurses were very kind and allowed me to sneak into their ward quickly. It’s very small but had brand new equipment (medical supplies, incubators) sparkling clean and wonderful care for premature babies, I was really impressed.
We also did a 4-day tour of central Bhutan. Your guide will take you by minibus to different towns, stopping at picturesque lodges along the way. The architecture is magnificent, the gardens are like nothing you’ve ever seen – bright colorful flowers and huge old trees. From the small farmhouses 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 have been there for ages. The wildlife I saw was also mesmerizing – colorful birds, grey-faced Langur monkeys and yaks. South central Bhutan is mild and hot with a different type of jungle foliage that I have never seen, gorgeous purple flowered trees and lush grassy hills. Punakha Dzong was spectacular, walking around it feels like you’ve stepped into a time portal.
The people we met on our travels were very friendly and engaging, we went home with wonderful stories and warm memories. People often ask me if I would live there, but then I’m a big fan of small towns. Bhutan is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, I hope you get a chance to visit it, it is truly an amazing adventure. For more information on traveling to Bhutan, Nepal or Tibet, visit our website at intrekasia.com
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