By Tiffany Fan
Tell us about your Bhutan journey. How did you feel and what were you hoping to get out of it?
As city dwellers who have outlived our halcyon days of sun-kissed youth, we were after something off the beaten track with a tinge of adventure, for our honeymoon. Our regular yoga practice had also exposed us to retreats, spirituality and places with a distinctly slower pace. A combination of all of these elements naturally led us to Bhutan.
Bhutan is an isolated Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of mystics, culture and pristine beauty that leave travellers a sense of peace and fresh perspective. Do you feel the same?
Absolutely. Bhutan’s rich cultural history and dramatic landscapes were what initially drew us there. However, the warm hospitality of the Bhutanese and the overwhelmingly positive experience spent in the kingdom left us with an even greater respect for their lifestyle, and a hope that they maintain it in this rapidly modernising world.
You spent some time with a few Bhutanese locals – a Bhutanese family, a Bhutanese historian and a spiritual master. What was each experience like and what was most memorable?
We had only spent time with renowned historian Tshering Tashi, who is a repository of fascinating knowledge, and a personality to match. TT had accompanied us on our first hike in Thimphu, and kept our jet-lagged spirits up with his easy sense of humour. Unbeknownst to us then, TT is also a prolific author with extensive information about the Yeti, and an unexpected encounter with another group of hikers led to an engaging chat about the Yeti’s history. The spontaneity of it all, along with another surprise visitor (more details below) made it unforgettable.
Tell us about your 2D1N Bumdra trek to Tiger’s Nest. How was the experience and what did you feel when you reached your destination?
While physically challenging at times, the trek to Bumdra was enjoyable, as our guide navigated us through the incredible flora and fauna. The designated meal breaks along the way were also well planned and eased the journey. However, an overly ambitious pace of ascent (of my own doing) resulted in momentary altitude sickness. This was eventually remedied upon reaching our campsite, which was luxuriously kitted out with bedding, sanitation facilities and heated meal tents. However, as our sleeping tents could not be heated for safety reasons, this meant having to contend with sub-zero temperatures, robbing you of sleep if you come unprepared.
Nevertheless, this inconvenience will be soon overlooked once dawn breaks and you begin your descent to Tiger’s Nest. While Tiger’s Nest remains one of Bhutan’s most prominent landmarks, it’s worth bearing in mind that Bhutan’s beauty is encapsulated by the sum of its parts, and should not be defined by this landmark alone.
Describe your peak and pit parts of the journey.
As incredible as it may sound, there were no lowlights as we enjoyed every part of our trip. There were far too many indelible moments, such as mountain biking down the Dochula Pass to Punakha Valley, hiking to the sky burial site from Chele La Pass, and visiting the cliffside nunnery at Kila Goemba, just to name a few.
But the one particularly memorable incident happened during our first Thimphu trek, when our guide had graciously hastened his pace to leave us honeymooners trailing behind with some privacy. We eventually met another couple who were headed in the opposite direction. Although we exchanged some pleasantries and declined their offers of bottled water, what struck us was how impeccably dressed they were in their traditional gho and kira, resplendent with energy and grace. When we eventually caught up with our guide, he was beaming and shared the couple’s identity with us, as we were none the wiser. And that is the story of how we bumped into the former King of Bhutan (4th Druk Gyalpo), accompanied by one of his four wives.
How has your journey to Bhutan changed you?
There haven’t been any distinct changes per se, but it’s worth noting that mindfulness and consideration for others are such distinct character traits of the Bhutanese, that they have easily become a subconscious part of our daily lives.
What is one thing you learned about yourself after you returned home?
As urban dwellers who are too accustomed to technology and modern conveniences, there still remains a primal instinct to venture into the unexplored outdoors. To disconnect, discover and to rejuvenate; such is the motivation for continued growth in one’s life.
What would you say to travellers who haven’t been to Bhutan yet?
As curious individuals, we thoroughly enjoyed learning not just about Bhutanese culture, but also the various Buddhist ideologies, and witnessing their practices. That said, some religious zealots may be put off by this. Ultimately, be open to everything the country and people have to offer, and you’ll be surprised at what an enriching experience it can be.
How has this adventure change your approach to travel, and where are you off to next?
The bespoke travel experience with BSE was remarkable, and has reinforced our belief that there is significant value to be gained from crafting a journey with localised expertise, especially in cases of less traditionally accessible destinations. As we approach the 2020 snow season, we’re headed to the Nagano region for some snowboarding. Perhaps in future, we may attempt backcountry snowboarding alongside winter treks!
Complete this sentence: Immersive travel is…