I just returned back to Vancouver from 4 weeks of traveling through Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma). I also made some short stops in to India and Thailand where I lucked out a bit with timing, as I had a 42 hour layover in India during Diwali, and a 42 hour layover in Thailand during the Loi Krathong Sky Lantern Festival.
Western Bhutan is a difficult country to get in to, but at least they have a functioning airport… even if it is rated as one of the world most dangerous. To get into Eastern Bhutan you need to drive to the border through Assam India, particularly through an area that is known for separatist rebel violence. It’s legal to drive through this part of India with Bhutanese license plates, but it’s not exactly practical. The Bhutanese army has been fighting to flush these rebels out of it’s southern forests for years, and for a few years rebels have been targeting and burning Bhutanese vehicles along the highway. The Indian government sponsors a “complimentary” military convoy to protect vehicles in this region, but it’s slow and only runs certain days if the week.
Despite the issues along the border, Bhutan is a remarkably peaceful country. Driving North into the foothills of the Himalaya, Bhutanese prayer flags begin to raise u
p and litter the sky with colors as they flutter in the wind. Roofs run bright red as hot chilies (a staple ingredient in every meal) are laid out to dry all day in the sun. Monks sip butter tea in immaculate monasteries that were built into rocky cloud level cliff-sides centuries ago. It’s a sort of fairy-tale like place that you’d think couldn’t possibly exist.
Bhutan is interesting in another respect. Democracy is a new concept in the “kingdom” and it did not by the will of the people, but rather by the will of the king. In a very backwards way of thinking, many of Bhutan’s people would rather continue to be ruled by the Monarchy than elect their own officials.
While most countries across the world gauge their success on their annual GDP, the 4th king of Bhutan coined the term “Gross National Happiness” to be the kingdoms measure of success.