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So much more to Bhutan...

20th January 2016

Just before taking off from Bhutan to Delhi, to part ways with the group he has been leading, Spike Reid realised there was so much more about Bhutan that he'd missed in his first blog. He jots them down, with a stunning array of high Himalaya stretching off into the distance, outside the plane.

  1. The fourth King of Bhutan married four sisters at once. Polygamy is still legal but not commonplace. There is a saying that “If a woman marries two men she will become rich, but if a man marries two women he will become poor.”
  2. It is best to take an extra pair of thick socks with you on a trip to Bhutan as when you visit temples and monasteries you take your shoes off and the floor is nearly always icy cold.
  3. We all felt safe throughout our time in Bhutan, even in the ‘busy’ capital. Crime is remarkably low.
  4. Hot stone baths are a traditional way of bathing, which we have enjoyed a few evenings, especially rewarding after a long day out hiking. Red-hot stones the size of melons are taken from the fire and placed into the end of big wooden trough whilst you lie back in it and reminisce amongst the steam about your day on the trail.
  5. Archery is the national sport and we were lucky enough to see a tournament in the capital Thimphu. They shoot arrows 144m to a target the size of a “Caution – Wet Floor” sign. This is done with a traditional bamboo bow without sights, and whilst they certainly don’t hit every shot, they were mind-blowing accurate at times.
  6. There was virtually no hassle from locals for us to buy their products or give them money/pens/sweets. This was a wonderful relief for us all, especially after Delhi.

  • Climbing of mountains over 6,000m is prohibited by the government as these mountains are considered the sacred home of protective deities, plus there are no high altitude rescue resources in country. The highest mountain of Bhutan, Gangkhar Puensum (7570m) is also the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. And will remain that way for the foreseeable.
  • Bhutan is known as ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, but was previously known as ‘Land of Medicinal Herbs’ because of the diversity of flora, and Land of the Sandalwood which is great for incense, perfume, and a terrific moustache wax – Captain Fawcett’s Expedition Strength.
  • In 1969 the third king, Jigme Dorji, wanted to move the country on from the serfdom that was prevalent across the land and decreed that no-one in Bhutan should own more that 25 acres. Much land was given away to those families who had worked for the upper class for generations.
  • Due to the Buddhist belief in protecting life, centuries of isolationism, and the great variety of altitude, the country of Bhutan has the highest species density in the world (range of species per unit of area). There are over 700 species of bird and 5,400 species of plant. The country is less than twice the size of Wales.
  • The fourth king of Bhutan unexpectedly abdicated at the relatively young age of 51, as he believed the country could be better modernised by his son.
  • The weather has been remarkably good to us with crisp, still mornings and cloudless days. There is very little precipitation at this time of year so our waterproof jackets stayed at the bottom of our bags.

  • The national animal is the Takin. Many locals believe this creature came about by the joining together of a goat’s head and a cow’s carcass by the Drukpa Kunley, the 15th Century character popularly known as ‘The Divine Madman’.
  • All shop signs have to be just white on a blue background as the King thought there was excessive advertising appearing.
  • Although the sale of tobacco is banned, addictive betel nut is chewed a great deal and there are many marks on the ground throughout Bhutan of where this red drug have been spat out after it turns bitter; they look like blood stains.
  • Nearly all the roads we travelled down were undergoing roadworks. They are being widened so that large hydropower parts can be transported down them to new projects. One day soon journeys along the east-west road that forms the backbone of the country will be a great deal smoother.
  • Although the roads are being widened, they are still particularly windy: the most meandering roads any of us have experienced. As such it can take 6 hours to travel 52km as the crane flies.
  • The airport we’ve just departed from is the most beautiful airport I’ve visited, with small buildings in keeping with local style. Even the control tower looks like a tall farmhouse with big windows.
  • It is not possible for westerners to travel independently without a guide due to the King and Government’s desire to limit the detrimental impact of tourism, which can easily be seen in Goa and Thamel (Kathmandu). Wild Frontiers has found a terrific guide called Sonam who has so much knowledge about the country and humorous anecdotes about all the temples, the wildlife and the different valleys.
  • It is possible to fly in Bhutan on the back of a tiger, but only if you are the Guru Rinpoche. He landed at Taktsang to repress the demon and the monastery built there on the side of a cliff is the famous Tiger’s Nest. We climbed up to it on the last day. It is a long hike up from the valley floor if you are unable to fly there on a big cat but we started early to beat the crowds and it is most definitely the best way to finish the trip.

    I’m sure there is more we would learn if we had longer. However the two-week trip was far better than a week would’ve been. We all feel we have seen a good chunk of this welcoming country. We will all miss it. Bhutan is truly like no other and well worth a visit.
  • Explore unique travel to Bhutan with Wild Frontiers.

    Spike Reid

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