Sometimes I am in awe and surprised that I really went to Bhutan and experienced what I did. I think it was absolutely amazing. My heart and spirit already jumped on the flight from Kathmandu to Paro. I found the dust, pollution and traffic congestion in Kathmandu difficult to deal with. I tried to look at it as part of an experience, but not being able to breathe properly was unpleasant. It made me appreciate clean air though and reminded me that perhaps not even that can be taken for granted.
On the flight we saw the top of Mount Everest. Wow. At the Everest Base Camp in Tibet it was too cloudy to catch sight of it, so it was great to be able to see it from the top.
Arriving at Paro Airport brought a smile to my face – actually to many passengers on the plane. Paro airport looked like a village not like an airport to me, unlike any other airport. In addition, flying into Bhutan so close and in between the mountains was a spectacle, too.
I was the last to leave the airport after taking a few photos and changing some money. Then I was greeted with a Khada by Yonten and met the other members of my group. So far I have not been a group traveller.
Arriving at the hotel in Paro made me feel in awe (again). The views from the hotel and the architecture of the hotel itself were amazing. I liked the hotel’s texture of wood, stone, plants, and its colours. The rooms reminded me of the German word ‘Stube’, which is (stereotypically) a cosy room with wooden floors and rustic furniture and has the feel of age and generations having lived in it. I prefer this style to shiny surfaces of modern places. At the hotel I already felt as if I were in a special place. I also liked the fact that Yonten and others wear traditional clothes.
When we went to the festival in Thimphu and found a spot in the crowd I actually cried. I could not believe that all of a sudden I was ‘in the middle’ of this significant cultural event in Thimphu in Bhutan. The event, the crowds and the location felt like such a different world.
The trek was an absolute highlight – every day. Again when we traversed some of the passes we had tears in our eyes – not from the wind. The beauty of the landscape, being able to get there by walking, and the views of the mountain ranges around us where overwhelming – in my book anyway.
Our team almost felt like a family. The five Americans who all knew each other actually said they welcomed me into their family. But what was very indicative was the end of our trek when we had to say good-bye to each other. I mean saying good-bye to some members of our team with whom we spent the last 12 days, who looked after us, and who we climbed over the mountain with: Sushil and Lhote, the cook and his assistants and the horsemen. We all felt very emotional. I actually think that a trek like this brings people together more than a ‘cultural tour’, which has its own appeal. It is the challenges and the beauty of the landscape that bonded us together – in my view.
One book that was recommended to me by someone I met on the bus from Kathmandu to Pokara was ‘Ancient Futures; Learning from Ladakh’ by Helena Norberg –Hodge. It seems a bit of a ‘classic.’ You have probably heard of it or already read it. She wrote about a question that was on my mind when I was in the different countries in the Himalaya region, how is it and is it possible to get the balance right between ‘traditional culture’ and modernisation. On the one hand, it is simply beautiful (for a visitor) to be able to walk to a village like Gasa, no roads, no car traffic, just paths through the mountains. On the other hand, you can absolutely understand that people in the village would look forward to a road connection, which would make it easier to access and receive supplies and medical aid, and to get to another place perhaps with an even better equipped hospital. You can imagine that with the spread of mobile phones and internet new desires emerge. Difficult. It seems (to me) that Bhutan at the moment has found a balance (a bold statement to make after having been in the country for only a couple of weeks – you may know more or better) and the idea to measure the ‘success’ of a country in terms of a happiness index rather than the gross domestic product is visionary – in my view.
Regarding my personal journey, it was a celebration of health and fitness and my 50th birthday. I was looking for a change of routine from my working life and being thrown out of my comfort zone to find out how my body and mind would deal and cope with it. I was prepared to embrace every situation and be curious about the people I would meet. I am glad that I returned in good health and ‘happy.’ How quickly a situation can change is very obvious at the moment. A health pandemic, travel restrictions, airlines going into administration, lockdowns, closed borders and a trip like we did is no longer possible. It makes me appreciate it even more.
It was good to be able to spend some time in Germany with my family after the time in the Himalayas. That was the other aspect that was important to me as part of my long service leave – spending more time especially with my parents as we live on different continents now. They are getting older and although one cannot imagine that they will not live forever, nothing stays the same. It also seemed part of a balance; to spend time after an active and full itinerary by simply going with the everyday flow of sharing meals, shopping groceries, cycling (as we do) , going on some ‘cultural excursions’, such as theatre and exhibitions, and enjoying too many coffees with cake – anyway that is our way of spending days together.
I felt very rested and energised at the same time when I returned to Australia. I seemed to have managed to recharge.
Although I went back to my old job and was hoping for some changes there, too – there had been, in fact, some good news at the end of last year, but then everything changed again due to long complicated court processes and appeals. Currently, outcomes in court determine whether and when we can progress the development of a ‘new landscape’ for the Noongar people of the Southwest of Australia. I realised though that despite the setbacks that the work that needs to be done is important.
Perhaps I also have your words in my ear that one should just go with the flow, not have too many expectations and see what happens and ‘flow’ with it. Not easy though.
Travelling is also a reminder how many different ways of life there are and it makes you question your own. When I returned to my (second) home in Western Australia I did see my environment to some extent with new eyes, not taking everything for granted and appreciating certain aspects, such as clean air, the ocean, the sun…
I hope you are well.
I am glad I have met you and shared a couple of chai with you in the street.
And, of course, thank you again, for helping me crossing the border, finding accommodation, and sharing your thoughts about travelling and being a tour operator (amongst other things).