The Tiger Nest Monastery
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by mountains. When immersed in the majestic beauty of the mountains, I feel a powerful connection to life, to a higher power who entrusted this extraordinary beautiful planet to us, humble humans.
Ever since my experience in Tibet (here), I have wanted to return to the Himalayas which to me reflect the magnificence and power of this beautiful creation we call Earth.
Its hard to articulate. When I'm in the mountains, I feel as if I'm merged with nature and I completely leave my self behind. I am able to shed all of the trivialities and mindless materialism of my daily life.
Magnificent conifer forests of the Black Mountains separating west and central Bhutan
I have travelled through Kashmir, India, Tibet, Nepal and experienced Buddhist culture in its many forms. Bhutan is the only country in the world where Mahayana Buddhism in its tantric form is the official religion. Bhutan is a secluded country in the eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet, sparsely inhabited by 700,000 people in a land the size of Switzerland. Bhutan's policy of restricting tourism is to preserve its natural environment and the lifestyle of its people, but it also has much to do with Bhutan's lack of infrastructure.
The first thing you notice as you disembark at Paro, the only airport in Bhutan, is the purity of the air and the nearly complete absence of noise. Immediately, you feel that Bhutan is unlike any other place. With very few cars, just two planes a day and no trains, the bucolic Paro valley is the perfect welcome to Bhutan.
The first paved road was built in 1962 and by 1992 plans to build by hand 1000 kms to link the valleys was put in place... well... driving is a harrowing experience, mostly dirt, muddy frightening steep roads with hair-raising turns cut into the mountains, wide enough for one and a half car, no guardrails, with passes at 16,000 feet and sheer drops... did I mention that supply trucks from India travel though these roads at full speed with little regard for any one coming across their path... I will mention that I had to resort to prescribed calming drugs after my first complete panic attack which went from screaming to shaking to sobbing.... after 2 days of pure terror (but incredible beauty) we finally reached our final destination where our trek started. Mules and sherpas were waiting for us, the poor mules were loaded with our bags and camping gear. The most rewarding adventure started, just us in the midst of Bhutan's immense mystical mountains, crossing rivers and streams, climbing up the steep terrain, our wonderful guide always watching out for bears and tigers. At sunset, we would arrive at a perfectly set up camping spot, wash out the day with utmost efficiency in freezing temperature, a hot meal prepared on the campfire, listening to tantric stories recited by our highly educated and entertaining guide and off to our tent to sleep.
Mules ready for the trek
Trekking is the ultimate way to experience the landscape,
the nature, the efforts so rewarded
Farming landscape. Prayer flags are everywhere in Bhutan,
on mountain tops, near clearings, temples, rivers...
The Black Mountains trees are several hundred years old.
Forests cover 72% of Bhutan and it is strictly illegal to cut down trees.
The enchanted forests of Bhutan
Part two of this post on Bhutan will be about tantric Buddhism, its rituals, and the magnificent Dzongs and monasteries. The last post on Bhuthan will highlight the people and their children.