Anyway, I'm sure you're pretty much done with my travelogue, so I shall endeavour to make this the last instalment.
Bhutan, as you probably know, is focused on Gross Domestic Happiness rather than economic development. They have a point. They value the environment over mining and logging and have constituted that a minimum 60% of their landmass needs to remain in its natural state. It's currently 80% - and most of it is spectacularly green and mountainous.
Their poverty rate is around 13%. Against a different scale I'm sure, but it's the same as Australia. Their solution is to address the cause, which is to build roads and fund powered ploughs that can also be attached to carts so impoverished farming families can get their produce to market in a more timely manner and get a better price. So simple.
|Strings of Yak milk curd|
It's like dairy rock candy
|Fresh produce market|
|Close up in case you |
can't see it in the shot below!
Travel to Bhutan is expensive. They whack tourists with a tariff, executed as a minimum daily spend that needs to be verified by the travel agent before a visa will be issued. Again, as a concept, it's hard to refute. They don't want backpackers there for the wild marijuana or people who are disrespectful in their temples. They want to leverage tourism for the benefit of all their population - a meagre 700,000. On arrival, our guide gave us a message from their king; that our money is not wasted, it's directed to education and health.
|Banks of marijuana - all through the towns. |
You can smell it as you walk past
|Our guide - in traditional dress |
which most people still wear everyday
TV and the internet weren't introduced until 1990. (In fact, I'm still not convinced they do have the internet...)
They also have stray dogs everywhere. Mostly well fed from kitchen scraps, the government has a program to vaccinate them to ensure rabies doesn't get into the country. They even vaccinate the dogs that hang around the Indian side of the Bhutan border in case they should stroll over. We noticed some dogs had had their ear clipped, which our guide explained was part of the sterilisation program aimed to reduce numbers. Again, just so sensible.
|Some of the many stray dogs|
Our guide insisted that Buddhism can be viewed solely as a philosophy - and not necessarily as a religion. The tenets of tolerance and being kind are hard to dispute. In fact, when I asked about the Bhutanese attitude towards homosexuality and homosexuals, our guide quipped that if god hadn't meant us to all live harmoniously together, he would have made a seperate world for the LGBTIQ community!
An oddity was the devotion to air fresheners. I'm not sure if it's because of damp and mould, which I didn't particularly notice, but when we arrived at our first hotel, the lobby had been given such a big spray of something vile, I was relieved when we were invited to go upstairs for coffee - so my eyes could stop watering.
|One of many air fresheners along the way|
|A mini buffet for four|
|We had pizza for lunch -twice - to |
break up the buffets
They do some great local beers as well. Red Panda is their most acclaimed - but to us, it tasted a bit like the temples smell - of incense. Much more to our taste was a new red rice beer that had just launched - now that was good!
At our request, our guide also arranged for us to sample yak butter tea. Not as salty as the Mongolian tea and no sign of a lump of fried mutton fat, this one tasted a lot like soy and the roasted rice adds a nutty aspect. It was actually pretty good!
|Yak butter tea|
We rafted and hiked up to various temples - all beautiful - but the highlight is the iconic Tiger's Nest. It's a 5 hour round hike but not difficult and well worth it.
So there you go; Bhutan in a nutshell. Pop it on your bucket list!