Monday, September 11, 2017

five things I learnt about Bhutan, without actually visiting it

Five things I learnt about Bhutan without ever visiting it
If the title has you mystified, let me explain; in the summer of 2017 my mother, father and brother decided to fulfil a long standing wish to visit Bhutan, the happiest country in the world. I could not. Being a doctor with a newly opened clinic and a mother to a less than 2 year old, it was not possible for me to juggle my role as a traveller, at that point.
But I thoroughly enjoyed their anecdotes and the pictures they shared with me on whatsapp , social media and I even received an old school picture postcard from them.

picture credit to Ekalavya Bhattacharya

All of this made me wonder at all those who wish to travel but cannot.

Today’s instagram travel influencers and even travel bloggers would have you believe that we should throw caution (and our responsibilities towards family and our profession) to the wind, and pack our bags for the next exotic locale.

And as a Travel blogger I feel my need to travel like a physical ache sometimes, as if I could sprout wings between my scapula, and take flight. Yes, sometimes the urge to Travel is, as one of my fellow travel bloggers put it, like a heady addiction. But unlike various ‘digital nomads’ , I as a surgeon , cannot be sitting on an island sipping pinacoladas and operate, and I do envy the digital nomads who turn up their assignments and even code entire gaming programs while sipping said pinacolada. And even if I managed a ‘travelling doctor’ post, what of my son who needs to go to school, or my husband, who even though loves to travel in small doses, is not keen on a nomadic life?

So we tune into travel shows, we watch youtube vlogs of our favourite travellers, and many of you have previously even read of my own travel escapades. We couch travel from our living rooms, and that is what I did with Bhutan.
Read on to find out all that I experienced and learnt about Bhutan.

1.       You cannot back pack to Bhutan alone: Bhutan government and the King wish to keep the travellers safe as well as provide jobs for every citizen in Bhutan. You need to book even your flight tickets to Bhutan through a travel agency. Backpackers and even biking gangs are also expected to have one tour guide travelling with them everywhere. There is also an existential fee of 250 USD for every day you stay in the country if you belong from the non SAARC countries. When asked why so, one of the travel agencies said that they wished to keep the country free of the hippy, marijuana smoking crowd’. Bhutan is an expensive country to visit and travel to. They even book your hotels, which is a three star accommodation, and if you wish to upgrade the fees is higher and exclusive from the package that you have already purchased from the travel agency. All the itinerary is also discussed with your guide, and plans of just walking off alone in the woods is not encouraged.
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2.       You can get your picture on a postage stamp and actually mail a letter anywhere in the world: I have always loved to collect picture postcards from around the world, and my brother used to collect postage stamps. Imagine then to receive a picture postcard, as well as a stamp from Buutan, and the stamp has your families portrait on it! While in Thimpu, head over to the general post office and get your photograph on a postage stamp. You can even send out letters to family , or just keep the stamps as collectibles. I found this a very unique way of reviving the waning art of sending letters. The postal system in India is also trying to survive in todays world of emails. How cool then to convert it into a place of souvenir collection and tourism. Imagine the revenue a country like India can generate from this idea.
receiving a letter from family, with their portrait as the postage stamp, priceless

3.       There is a village with phalluses drawn on the wall: Yes, the town of Punakha has phallus drawings on homes, and even a phallus restaurant, and souvenir shops. The paintings are everywhere, on doors, walls, and even number plates of trucks. The story goes that the divine Madman Lama Drukpa Kunley advocated phallus iconography as a protector against evil eye and slander.Newly weds and childless couples hike all the way to Chime Lhakhang the temple of fertility.  Well just goes to show how far people will go for their devotion towards Godmen.
seeing is believing

4.       There is a many handed and multiple headed Buddha in Bhutan: Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha with 11 heads and a thousand arms. My mother is an avid avid collector of Buddha statues and souvenirs from around the world, and I say avid twice, because once just doesn’t explain her collection. Yes, she has lovingly bought back a statue of the Bodhisattva of compassion, or the Buddha avatar of compassion. According to their guide, that when Budha saw the suffering around him, he was filledwith despair and aneed to help, so he banged his head in anguish, and in turn got 11 heads and 1000arms so that he could help more.
A must see is the Great Buddha Dordenma statue, Bhutanese architecture loves symmetry in its designs. Also worth visiting is the National institute of Zorig Chusum (handicrafts, sculpting,painting) 

the famous avalokiteshwara Buddha now resides in our home too

5.       Everyone wears their national dress in Bhutan: it is a matter of national pride that the people of Bhutan wear their national dress the men the Gho and the women their kiras. It is also highly encouraged by the government , infact they may be fined if they do not wear the national dress especially while visiting a government building or a temple premise. Making sure that people wear the national dress, promotes local artisans, and also helps maintain the identity of the small country. It also looks extremely picturesque. Infact my family got back a half kira for me, and I absolutely love wearing it, and have snce been following Bhutan street fashion avidly on instagram, the women are so stylish.
school girls in their Kiras

An old Bhutanese lady in a Kira

The guides who accompanied my family, all dressed in the traditional attire

So you see, there are more than one way to see the world. Yes, physical travel is the best, but not everyone can travel and not all the time. Some places, we must see through the eyes of others, and even for that you must have an open mind and an eager heart.If you read about your friends travels on facebook or see their pictures of their holidays, and all you can feel is envy and 'why not me?' then you will fail to share in the joy and wonder of travel. when I blog about my experiences , it is never to make tthe other person feel sad, but to feel inclusive in my experience, and feel some of the exhilaration. Happy travels .

PS. If you are thinking , wow a travel blogger who wrote about a travel she hadn’t actually been too, that is some dedication to travel blogging. Then like and share the post.

the customary food pics on foodietrails, apparently people of Bhutan love their chillies and cheese

(Pictures and inputs from Barnali Bhattacharya and Ekalavya Bhattacharya)

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