Bhutan is a small Himalayan country one associates with Shangri-la. Physically it is beautiful, and its people and culture are enlightened by Buddhist values and practices. All around, in cities and villages, even the lowliest home or store is decorated with painted patterns found also in temples and dzongs (fortresses).

Bhutan has been a hereditary kingdom for the past 100 years, previously having been ruled by landowning governors. The current king, 32 years old, is the Fifth King; he succeeded his father, the still living Fourth King, who decided to retire a few years ago and abdicated. Prince Charles should be so lucky. The current king and queen were married last year, and their photo is everywhere. The William and Kate of Asia.

Government road checkpoint with ubiquitous photo of the King and Queen, married last year, the William and Kate of Bhutan.

The Fourth King, by the way, has four wives, one of whom is the true Queen Mother of the current king. The others are not only his stepmothers, but also his aunts. Fourth King’s queens are all sisters. My mother-in-law was one of four sisters, and Eli can’t imagine his dad having married them all!  

Bhutan is very progressive in many ways, including a 100 percent tax on cigarettes brought into the country. One of its primary sources of revenue is selling hydro-electric power to India. India is Bhutan’s chief trading partner in general. But the last couple of years, as the Indian rupee has fluctuated not favorably to Bhutan, the Bhutanese government has banned the import of new Indian cars. Similarly, the government has temporarily halted mortgage lending to control economic problems from them. Bhutan exports apples and oranges to India.

Bhutan’s small airport nestled between mountains is considered challenging for pilots of the only airline serving it, the Druk Royal Bhutan Airline.

Bhutan’s major airport–considered one of the scariest in the world, but the Druk Royal Bhutan pilots get in and out skillfully.

There are only a few flights a day—to and from Kolkata, Delhi, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok.

 The Shangri-la setting and mystique conflict with the cell phones, cable television, incredibly good Wi-Fi in some places, as well as disappointing litter in the towns–despite USE ME signs on garbage cans and other environmentally positive postings.

We didn’t do a traditional trek venture here but trekked plenty

Trying my skill at Caramboard. It’s similar to pool but there are no cues and disks shaped like giant checkers replace balls. Players flick them across the table toward pockets.

  

Tiger’s Nest temple from the trail.

Tiger’s Nest temple in early morning fog as we started up the trail toward it.

as we visited several areas primarily in the western part of Bhutan, staying two nights each in Thimphu (the capital), Punakha and Paro. Although it’s December and we’ve been at elevations ranging from 7,000 to 11,000 feet, the days have been sunny and warm, we’ve seen no snow-capped peaks, and the wind has been negligible. The food, much of it vegetarian, is delicious.

 

Eli studying Buddhist scripture in the Bhutan National Library. When we go back, he’ll learn the trope!

 

A giant Buddha on a mountain constructed via donations from Singaporean business people. An interior visitors center with meeting and prayer rooms is yet to open.

 

 

A new nunnery. As with monks, some of the nuns enter as young as 6-10 years old.
 

Our guide, Dorji, playing soccer with young monks on their day off. If these kids leave the monastery before adulthood, they become “retired” monks. Some are now being taught trades such as plumbing, in addition to their religious studies.

 

Rice thrashing the old-fashioned way.

 

Just because this thrasher thrashes manually doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a mobile phone!

One of the young nuns.

Archery, the national sport of Bhutan, played in traditional garb, except for some practices in which we saw archers in jeans.

A victory dance for targets hit is one of the traditions that go with Bhutanese archery. Apparently, these matches are enhanced by progressive drinking as a day’s tournament progresses. With one bow-type style archers stand very close to the target, thereby in the path of flying arrows.

Dzong (fortress) built on jewel heap

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