This Bhutan trip opened our eyes to many things about our neighboring country. From the past few years, Bhutan has become quite popular among travelers, especially Indians. From big families to budget travelers, Bhutan has lots to offer to everybody.
We had been planning this trip for a while and when it happened, we realized that there were so many things that no one had mentioned about Bhutan. It was a good thing for us as we got a chance to experience it and be really surprised.
Here’s a list of things that we thought was pretty amazing and we are sure many of these might come to you as a surprise as well!
1. A well balanced combination of monarchy and democracy
One thing that you can’t ignore in Bhutan is the strong presence of the royal family in every household. Be it a photo or some merchandise like curtains or wall clocks, the King is present everywhere. But at the same time, Bhutan just had their elections as well. When we asked about this, our driver mentioned that our present king has given a gift of democracy to Bhutanese people. That’s the reason, the present king is called as people’s king. It’s one of the very few places where democracy and monarchy go hand in hand and people are OK with it. Surprising, isn’t it?
2. Respecting the rules and rulers
Things that we take for granted in India, are followed very religiously in Bhutan. People love following rules. It can be as small as crossing the road only from zebra crossing or as big as not taking bribes. At the same time they have tremendous respect for their king and the family. At least they make sure to paint such a picture in front of travelers. It gives a positive impression about monarchy.
3. The country isn’t cheap
Before visiting Bhutan, we came across many articles that said Bhutan was a cheap country for Indians. But in reality, it’s almost the same. In fact commodities like food and clothes are sometimes even more expensive than India. (Except for alcohol, of course)
4. Bhutanese love their booze
Speaking of alcohol, Bhutan gave us a pleasant surprise by showing us how much Bhutanese love their booze. Every small general store has a collection of alcohol. Starting from expensive whiskeys to inexpensive rum. Their peach wine Zumzin is to die for. The country is pretty cold so a few pegs of alcohol comes in handy when they have to survive in cold temperatures. Do check out their local brands of whiskey, vodka and wine. They are heavenly and don’t burn a hole to your pocket.
5. What about those food habits?
Food in Bhutan didn’t impress us much. Their food options are pretty limited and not necessarily have any taste. The only taste is spicy and they eat raw chilies with their rice. We were shocked to see the daughter of our driver eating 5-6 chilies at one go with rice. Also sadly, they don’t indulge much in sweets. You won’t find any local desserts in Bhutan.
6. Relationship dynamics
In terms of relationships, we found Bhutan to be very progressive. Their 4th king had 4 wives and they had a happy family. The country used to practice polygamy until a few years ago. So getting married at an early age and getting divorced is pretty common there. They don’t have dating apps and many Bhutanese believe that internet and these various apps are the reason relationships aren’t working out anymore in Bhutan.
7. Phallus temple
We are sure some nasty friends of yours might have told you about the phallus temple in Bhutan. Well, even we went there with a few presumptions. So the story goes like a rebellious Buddhist (Lam Drukpa Kuenley) in the 15th century wanted to change the ways of people practicing Buddhism. People fondly called him ‘Divine Madman’ as his ways of preaching were different and outrageous than rest of monks.He was a social critic who taunted the hipocracy of the established orders. Thus the use of his phallus as a weapon that symbolizes the discomfort that the society experiences when facing the truth.
Bhutan has a national uniform or dress and you will see people going to work wearing the same. It’s either a cotton or a silk rob with socks till knee length for men. It’s called ‘GO’ and a wrap around skirt and top for women which is called ‘KEERA’. Even the King and Queen of Bhutan wear them.
9. Cleanliness and discipline –
The people of Bhutan are obsessed with cleanliness. Most of them refrain from littering on the roads or any public places. Even our driver instructed us that please put all the wrappers and garbage inside the car, he would throw it later. Also, you will not see people breaking the traffic lines or arguing with other people. It’s a friendly country that thrives on discipline. We can learn a lot from them.
10. Arrangements for drivers.
When we fixed our driver from India, we asked him about where does he stay and how would he pick us and drop us everyday from various places. We got the answer when we reached Bhutan. Almost 85-90% hotels and resorts take care of the driver in terms of their stay and food. The drivers are given separate rooms and their food is in the hotels. In India, we don’t even think about such arrangements for the driver and mostly drivers end up sleeping in the car itself. We found it very thoughtful and nice.
11. Sad but true –
One disturbing thing we found out is that they really don’t have a very good opinion about Indians. According to them, we are chaotic and rule breakers. For e.g.. On our last day, we went to the post office. In Bhutan, we can print out personalized stamp and actually use it to send postcards anywhere around the world. But when we tried giving them Indian money they politely refused it as Indians have been given our old notes ( after demonetization) to them. They took a long time to sort out that mess. Hence they stopped accepting Indian currencies at government offices all together. Incidences like these leave a very bad impression that stays for a long time.
Bhutan tourism is implementing many tourist policies which will make sure people get a fair idea about Bhutan, its culture and people. We met with the tourism council where the head of communications spoke to us in length and explained a lot about Bhutanese culture.
Bhutan was a real treat when it came to natural beauty and happy people. They are not necessarily outwardly happy like the Canadians or Irish, but they are happy within themselves and their humble background. But this country tells you how to be happy and satisfied with whatever you have without greed. Bhutan is and will always be special for us.