I have finally figured out The Bhutan Code. If you book a trip here, pay close attention to your itinerary. Chances are it’ll be filled with phrases like, “visit the monastery,” “view the Himalayan peaks,” and “see the stupa.” These all mean the same thing – climb the mountain to the monastery, climb the mountain to view the peaks, climb the mountain to see the stupa. Once in a while you’ll mix it up by climbing six or seven flights of stone stairs instead. And it’s not over when you think it’s over. You’ll take an “easy walk” up the hill to your hotel. Then four or five flights of stairs and/or ladders to your room. Want breakfast? Six sets of stone steps to that building on the hill behind you.
Going to Bhutan? Hit the stair mill at the gym. Now. Seriously.
Luckily, I was training for a trek and even managed to climb to the famous Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, 900m up a cliff, in less than two hours. Your time may vary. 😉
That climb topped off a trip that included:
Yak Day – I saw my first yak, tried yak cheese and yak butter tea, and survived Bhutan’s version of the Death Road, which almost made me yak even though I’ve never been car sick in my life.
An “easy walk” to the Chimi Lhakhang temple, only to learn that it’s a pilgrimage site where the childless come to get blessings of fertility. Um. Yeah. No thanks. I skipped that blessing. The Divine Madman, Lama Drukpa Kunley, to whom this temple is dedicated, is the reason you see penises painted on and hanging from homes all over Bhutan. He’s known for subduing the demons with his phallus. The subtle misogyny underlying his popularity is a topic for another post, for sure.
Overall, Bhutan is like a carousel. No surprises (once you’ve learned the code), just extreme homogeneity and a quiet serenity that’s more than a bit disconcerting to me, since I come from a culture that values diversity – and the chaos that can come with it – so highly. I’ll save that discussion for later though. For now I’m back on the adrenaline rush roller coaster that is Nepal, and I’ll admit to breathing a bit of a sigh of relief at the beautiful unpredictability of it all.