Guess where this was?
Yeah, I was on the plane flying to Bhutan!
The first surprise came – the pilot announced we could see the Himalayas on our left hand side but I was sitting on the right and in an aisle seat so I didn’t get to see that. In fact, I didn’t even realise that we could take pictures on the plane. I saw some tourists go to the back of the plane and take some pictures so I followed them. When I went there, a flight attendant was working so I headed back to my seat. Just was I did so, the flight attendant said, ‘No, no, no. You can take pictures here but you need to wait until I finish and then you can stay here forever.’ I laughed heartily.
He asked me, ‘where are you from?’
I told him.
‘ok, I have been there.’ he then finished his job and freed some space for me to take pictures through the little window of the plane.
I took a few and then suddenly, I felt someone tapping me on my back and so I turned around. It was the flight attendant again, ‘here’s my email address and my phone number. I live close to Paro. If you need any help, you can call me.’ I was puzzled cos I had my tour guide (it’s their government policy).
He saw my strange expression so he added, ‘When I visited your city, people were very friendly to me so I am “paying it back”.’
‘Oh, ok, thanks,’ I gladly took that piece of paper from him.
Before our flight landed, he asked me, ‘When are you going to Paro?’
I showed him my itinerary.
‘OK, I will take you out for dinner.’
‘But my tour operator has arranged that for me already.’
‘Yes, the money that you paid has covered that but I will take you out for dinner.’
I don’t think we did in the end.
However, when his friend came over years later, he contacted me. I took his friend around who in return gave me so many gifts – Bhutan apples (how did he transport them on the plane?), Bhutan whisky (yes, they have), etc. I was so surprised.
The tour guides all dressed in this traditional Bhutanese clothes. At first, I thought it was because they wanted to impress the tourists. Later, I found out that it was actually the rule of the country. Everyone, male and female, must wear traditional Bhutanese clothes when they are working. Other casual or western style clothes can be worn but only after office hours, i.e. when they are off duty. Apart from clothes, the houses in Bhutan have to be built in the Bhutanese style too. This is how the Bhutanese culture and style can be preserved.
When I was at the immigration getting ready for my passport to be stamped, the officer examined my passport for a long time. Then he said, ‘your visa printed the wrong passport number.’ I was shocked. How could that be? I checked it a few times. He said, ‘one digit is missing.’ Really?! He looked at me and said, ‘do you want to fly back to Kathmandu?’ Huh?! My tour guide had been waiting for me for a longer than usual time. The immigration officer continued, ‘Did you give this wrong information to the tour operator?’ ‘Of course not!’ I said. The immigration called my tour guide and discussed something which I didn’t understand anyway. After a long while, they finally let me in to the country.
A few days later, when I met the owner of the tour company, he said, ‘I checked it a few times and there was no problem.’ I said, ‘I did the same too. I couldn’t see any missing number too.’ But when the immigration officer pointed it out to me at the airport, I was dumbfounded. One digit was really missing.
Anyway, I got in and was able to start my journey the next day as according to the itinerary.
I was glad that my tour guide in Nepal was very knowledgeable. He gave me a good foundation of Buddhist ideas and architecture even though he was a Hindu.
After that, we went to Folk Heritage Museum where I learnt about how the Bhutanese lived in the past. I was especially ‘impressed’ by their toilets. They built the toilets at the balcony on the second floor (or so). There was no flush of course. So, whatever came out from the human body would go through the hole and then to the ground. There was no pipe or anything that connected the toilets to the ground. That means, the waste would be exposed to the air, the wind which would change the direction of where the waste would land… the purpose of this whole idea was to use the human waste to feed the pigs. However, if someone walked under the toilets while someone was using it…, er… LOL! I joked with the tour guide but he didn’t think it’d happen. People in the past knew there was a toilet up there. I hope. He said this kind of toilets still existed (in 2010) in some remote villages in Bhutan but they were rare.
There was a showroom at the School where I bought the whole set of Kira, the traditional Bhutanese clothes for women, and a pair of their traditional Bhutanese boots. I didn’t know how to wear the dress actually so a few days later when I checked in to another hotel and when I was less busy, I asked a lady at the hotel to help me. I recorded the whole process. I hope if someone finds those videos and sees me dressing and undressing myself, s/he will know they are not meant to be porn videos. They are supposed to teach myself how to wear the dress. It turned out the videos were very useful a year later or so when I had to wear some traditional clothes for a company dinner. All of my colleagues were impressed when they saw the outfit but they thought it was traditional Chinese clothes…
I was then taken to a paper mill which was owned by a private company. The process of making paper was similar to the one I went to years later in Cambodia.
One can find many holy Buddhist scriptures in the library but no one is allowed to read them. The library also keeps the largest book in the world (recorded in the Guinness Record).
Before I went to Bhutan, my colleague told me he knew someone working there. He passed me her contact and I of course connected with her before I went there and scheduled to meet up with her the day after I arrived.
Since she was working for a newspaper in Thimphu (she drew maps of Thimphu City), she could travel around the country freely. She even said in her email that she didn’t mind meeting me somewhere else other than Thimphu. That’d give her an excuse to leave the city for a while. LOL!
When I saw her at the hotel lobby, I went ‘wow!’ Like any other Bhutanese, even though she’s a foreigner, she needed to wear the traditional Bhutanese outfit to work. In fact, the outfit suited her a lot. She told me where she bought it, etc. while we walked around in the streets at night. (the tour guide wasn’t there. Yes, you are allowed to do so as long as you tell your tour guide where you are going etc.) She took me to a bar which was also mentioned in Lonely Planet.
We then had dinner with the brother of the owner of the tour operator at Bhutan Kitchen (I know, it sounds complicated). The place offered authentic Bhutanese food but for the locals, it’s never authentic enough. It’s kind of ‘fusion’ for them. After dinner, we went to a Bhutanese pub where she paid a dancer to do a dance for me. 😱 That was so kind of her. She only paid one dancer to do the dance but in the end, the staff of the pub also came on stage to dance.
When no one requested a song, or when nobody sang karaoke on stage, a comedian would come on stage and do a dance. It was quite funny just to watch.
The brother then took us to a very local bar (Organic Bar) where I met his friends and chatted with them. If I remember correctly, the bar wasn’t like Tashi Tagay Drayang. It didn’t feel like a bar at all. It was more like a restaurant with fluorescent lamps. I may be wrong. We chatted until quite late. One of his friends drove me back to my hotel and I almost immediately hit the sack.
When I woke up the next day, it was 5:30am. My stomach was still a bit upset.
4 – 5 November 2010
P.S. I got these questions a lot especially from the people at Organic Bar, ‘how long have you planned to come to Bhutan?’ (They know it’s very expensive to travel to their country), ‘how did you hear about our country?’ I told them, ‘I heard of Bhutan when I was a little girl.’ ‘How come?’ ‘I was watching a TV programme and then the name of this country popped up. The TV programme only mentioned the name. It didn’t give much details but it stuck on my mind. Even as a little girl, I decided to explore this country.’ It’s true. The travelling DNA existed when I was very young, apparently. ‘I then learnt about the tariff. It took me four years to save up that money.’ The locals nodded, ‘yes, we know. It’s expensive.’ This time, I wasn’t faking (like what I said in my other blog). I did and still do think it’s expensive. The tour guide of course said, ‘well, the tariff includes so many things – accommodation, driver, tour guide, 3 meals a day. It’s not really that expensive after all.’
‘I wonder what the local hotels / hostels look like.’ I said.
Andrea chuckled, ‘I stayed in a local hotel when I first got here. A cockroach came into my room out of nowhere. For the whole night, I was watching it. I couldn’t sleep. After that, I stayed in a tourist hotel.’
I was extremely happy with my arrangement even though it was expensive.
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