Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Bhutan
By Michael Smith
THIMPHU (Reuters Life!) - The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is becoming increasingly popular for well-heeled travelers keen to explore this remote and unspoiled Buddhist Shangri La.
Surrounded by mountains and flanked by India and Tibet, this tiny country has only been opened to tourism for a few decades and its traditional way of life remains miraculously preserved despite the growing prevalence of mobile phones and cable television.
While tourists are lured to Bhutan for a break from the 21st century, the country is also uniquely progressive. Tobacco is illegal, plastic bags are banned, and traditional economic indicators are shunned in favor of Gross National Happiness.
The expensive price tag ($200 per person per day) has kept budget travelers at bay, but the cost includes all meals, accommodation, guide, driver and car. Contrary to popular belief, there is no quota on the number of tourists allowed per year although hotels and airline seats fill up fast.
5 p.m. - Marvel at the view from your Druk Air window seat at one of the most spectacular commercial airline descents in the world as you make the hair-raising landing in Bhutan's steep Paro valley. Meet your guide after clearing customs.
The 1-hour journey to Thimphu follows a river through idyllic countryside, taking in paddy fields and villages featuring Bhutanese-style architecture.
6 p.m. - Arrive in Thimphu, a charming city which boasts of being the world's only capital without traffic lights, and where white-gloved police direct traffic by hand. Walk into town to soak up the village-like atmosphere at dusk where monks with mobile phones mingle with government officials wearing traditional 'ghos', a knee-length robe worn by Bhutanese men, and young modern Bhutanese playing carom, finger snooker, in bars. Wander into shops selling handicrafts, prayer flags and textiles. Continued...