There are many reasons to go to Bhutan: the beautiful scenery, the rich culture, and the amazing architecture to name a few. But above all, there is hope. Hope that a people can respect each other and cooperate for the betterment of society. Hope that a government with limited resources can still prioritize gross national happiness over gross domestic product. Hope that preservation of the environment can be achieved through policy and education.
Bhutan is about the size of Switzerland but has a total population less than that of San Francisco (~800k). They have a constitutional monarchy (although several people we spoke with wished that they could go back to an absolute monarchy). Cultural preservation is not only valued but codified in law. Until recently it was mandatory for all citizens to wear the traditional dress of Bhutan, and it is still worn by all students and government employees. The temples and monasteries are not just static reminders of the past but are in active use – many still function as both temple and government office.
We visited Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, and Bumthang. All were spectacular, each in their own way. The sole international airport is in Paro, and the flight from Delhi was very memorable. As we started to descend the captain got on the loudspeaker and announced that there would be some gentle turns before touchdown but that it was absolutely normal and there was no reason to be alarmed. Soothing Bhutanese music began to play. Suddenly the clouds parted and were replaced by mountains reaching high above the plane on either side. We banked right, the left, the right again following the contours of the valley. The plane leveled out two seconds before the wheels touched the ground. We all breathed a collective sigh and smiled to each other. Welcome to Bhutan!