Nothing can fully prepare you for a trip to The Kingdom of Bhutan.
Situated deep in the Himalayan mountains, it’s unlike any place I have been on this earth. An entire country that believes in the innate right of happiness for all beings. They not only believe this, but they also practice it as a source of country pride. You feel it the moment you step off the plane in Paro.
First is the air. The air is sweet and clean in a country where more than 70% of the land is protected forests. There is no smog or the smell of exhaust from car engines. The waters that flow in its rivers are unpolluted from industrial waste and teem with aquatic life.
Then, there’s the sound, or rather the silence. There is only the wind blowing through the trees. There is no drone of helicopters, constant airplanes, police sirens, air conditioner compressors, and car horns that plague Los Angeles, New York, and other major western cities.
Everyplace you travel in Bhutan, you cannot escape the idea that showing kindness to all beings matters.
The people have such deep respect for their country and what it represents. It takes your breath away. Prayer wheels and flags remind you of the sacredness of all life.
There is no corporate sponsorship of important cultural landmarks. No billboards are encouraging you to buy this or consume that. I was so struck by the care that all citizens of Bhutan take for their country. It is a shared experience where all people look out for the experience of each other.
I couldn’t help but notice the complete lack of trash on the ground from disposable plastics and paper. There are no Western chains. No Starbucks. No McDonalds. No Walmart or Costco.
It is impossible to describe Bhutan in words or in, photographs, or even videos. How you feel being in a place like that is extraordinarily special and unique. The food is fresh and alive. It’s not grown thousands of miles away and stored in plastic bags filled with nitrogen to prevent decay but instead picked fresh that day or a day or two before.
Bhutan is a country that took a different path than the Western world did.
Almost completely closed off from Western influence for hundreds of years, they created a different society with different values and ideas of how to build a heaven on earth. Thinking about it brings me to tears.
So important is this idea of happiness that they even have an entire department in their government that is charged with tracking and improving the well-being of their citizens. This is a priority from their beloved King down to each citizen.
Think of the difference in America, where one of our most prominent government administrations is about war and militarization.
This idea about happiness for all beings isn’t just “talk,” but it’s lived in the daily life of their citizens in almost everything they do.
I can’t explain it other than to say that seeing this reverence took my breath away.
Is everyone always happy in Bhutan? No. But are they striving for that as a priority? Yes. And making it a priority to their people, their country, and their visitors, shows.
Bhutan is not an easy place to get to from the United States. Going there is at least a two-day flight, with an overnight layover, through one of a handful of cities in Asia that have direct flights to Paro. It took me close to twenty-six hours of flying. You also can’t just go to Bhutan on a whim; you need to be approved and get an entry Visa and pay a daily fee or traveler's tax that is charged to visitors. The money collected from this is used to provide healthcare and educate the population. I felt good about being able to contribute in this way to such a special place.
Your trip needs to be coordinated through one of the government-approved Bhutanese travel agencies. I used Bhutan Swallowtail, and they and our guides were excellent.
They “translated” the Bhutanese worldview for us so we Westerners could begin to understand how they see the world. I traveled with a friend, and we had a private tour of the country that is indescribable in how it changed me.
If you’ve ever had the inkling to travel to Bhutan, don’t wait. You will become a different person for the journey. I can’t recommend it highly enough!