Bhutan

Bhutanese rural life on the westward road to Paro

We are entering the final week of our itinerary around Bhutan. In the highest valley in the Bhumthang district we overnight in the remote, high altitude village of Ura, where we are the overnight guests of a local family. The people in this remote rural community are mainly sheep and yak herders, and believed to be the descendants of Bhutan’s earliest inhabitants.

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White-knuckle road travel in Eastern Bhutan

As the tiger flies (in Bhutanese lore, tigers do more than their fair share of flying) the distance between Jakar, capital of the Bumthang district in central Bhutan and Mongar, gateway to the eastern part of the country, is approximately 35 miles. For humans however, the only option is a 125-mile, daylong roller-coaster road trip that includes a steep ascent to Bhutan’s highest pass, Thrumshing La.

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The spiritual heart of Bhutan

It’s only 80 miles from Wangdi to Trongsa, the geographical center of Bhutan, but the drive takes a solid five hours of hairpin turns up and down a narrow and improbably steep road. Trongsa Dzong, the largest fortress in Bhutan, is built on a spur overlooking a deep gorge of the Mangde River. From here, the view goes on forever, from the sky-high mountain range to the bottom of the gorge, a striking reminder of the dzong’s original strategic purpose.

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Eastward into the Myth

Wedged high in the eastern end of the Himalayas, Bhutan is one the most isolated countries in the word, and the last remaining Buddhist kingdom. Today we leave the capital, Thimphu, to start our journey eastward deep into the country’s heartland.

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In the Land of the Thunder Dragon

The flight into Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport, has to be one of the most spectacular in the world. We get an eye-level view of the Himalayas gleaming against a robin-egg blue sky, including Mounts Everest and Kanchenjunga and the sacred mountain of the Bhutanese Buddhists, Mount Jomulhari, before floating down into a layer of puffy clouds. When we emerge below the cloud cover, the plane is wending its way along a deep tree-lined valley dotted with farmhouses clinging to its slopes. I understand why only the handful of Druk Air pilots are certified to fly into this airport.

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