The Land of the Thunder Dragon

imageBhutan. The Land of the Thunder Dragon. One of the world’s youngest democracies, a hidden kingdom nestled in the Himalayas between China, India and Nepal. A small population of people who believe in the importance of Gross National Happiness, driving economical growth but preserving their culture and ecosystems and who wear traditional dress while driving to work in their new Japanese cars. Where century-old monasteries nestle on the precipices of towering cliff faces, prayer flags flutter on the slopes above the towns, and demons and saints walk through the everyday stories of the country’s history and culture.

imageIMG_8471 SMOur trip began with one of the most unexpectedly unsettling landings I have ever experienced in a plane. I hadn’t been aware that Paro airport in Bhutan is one of the most dangerous airports to land in the world and few pilots are qualified to make the landing. The sharp turn during the dissent whilst almost on the runway and the very sharp breaking was a bit of a shock to the system.

Our trip began in Paro, nestled into the Paro valley, populate by large traditional Bhutanese houses with painted wooden eaves, white walls and painted animals on their walls. We visited the Paro festival, an annual Buddhist celebration of music and dancers, and one extremely large scroll. The locals (and tourists) gathered in huge numbers in their finest traditional dress to watch the vibrant performances. We even got to briefly see the King, coming out of the Paro Dzong on the final day of the festival he stopped to talk to the waiting crowd and thanked us, eagerly hovering near the front, for visiting his country!

imageFrom Paro we spent a day visiting the beautifully if perilously situated Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was a steep but scenic climb up the hillside past woods and fluttering prayer flags to reach this Buddhist sanctuary gazing out across the valley.