Bhutan is a tiny country, about the size of Switzerland, nestled in the Himalayas beneath China (Tibet), surrounded by India on three sides.
All international flights arrive in Paro, which is located in the western part of the country. Two planes fly there once a day. I felt quite comfortable with the pilots as they maneuvered their way through the Himalayas to a small landing strip. As the pilots weaved through, it felt like the scene from Independence Day, where the plane is weaving through the Grand Canyon, just barely making the clearing. Despite all of that, I still felt safe, since the pilots have to be very well trained, which in fact makes them highly sought after.
I am extremely happy to be here. This country has a motto, “low volume, high value tourism,” so its largely unexplored. As a consequence it is not an inexpensive trip; however, it is a more enjoyable and authentic experience compared to countries with no such restrictions, where you are inevitably surrounded by opium smoking backpackers.
Bhutan was made somewhat famous recently when the 4th King pushed for “gross national happiness,” as opposed to gross national product. He was not as interested in how much money the country makes, but instead that its people are happy. In fact, though Bhutan is a poor country, people do not go hungry here because of all the natural resources, as well as their profit from hydroelectric power (which is mainly sold to India) and because of their strong sense of family values.
Travel to Bhutan can be a little complicated, but I was able to organize this trip in three weeks. Tourism is highly regulated by the government and the government sets a rate of $200 per day, $65 goes back to the state and provides the Bhutanese with free education and health care.
The cost is paid to a local tour company, which provides visas, a guide, driver, all meals, hotels and transportation. This is the only way to get to Bhutan, unless you are here on official business–then the cost is simply lowered by 65 dollars. Either way, you must wire the cash to Bhutan and the government holds the cash until you leave the country and then distributes the money to the local tour company. The transfer process seemed a bit suspect until I read about it on several travel forums and my guide book.
Whether you are in a big group or little group, the cost is pretty similar, so I prefer going privately to have more control over my trip. I love not having to rush when I want to take some photographs, or ask to go to places off of my itinerary or fill up my day when I want it fuller. In this country, going privately proved to be worthwhile.
So far, it’s been a great country that has already provided unique experiences, even though it is a long journey to get here.
As you can see, I’m ready to photograph my way through this gorgeous country!