Agriculture is the biggest employer in Bhutan, and we saw rice fields and herds of cattle all across the country. Chilies are considered a vegetable and you find them drying on all the farmhouse roofs, which are surrounded by rice fields. This gives you a pretty accurate idea of the national diet. Regardless of the time of the day, a meal is not complete without a mountain of rice on the plate with some chilies and cheese.
I saw this man and cat in Paro, where traditional clothing and building styles are still in use everywhere. Even age-old building techniques are still employed, including making houses from clay. The other striking thing was the total lack of any franchises and western products, which makes travel very rewarding.
Although Bhutan’s official religion is Buddhism and one sees prayer flags and wheels everywhere, the locals are still largely influenced by shamans and astrologists, and worship local protective deities. They mix traditional beliefs, Buddhism, and astrology. The current king’s coronation was delayed for two years, waiting for an auspicious date designated by the court’s astrologers.
The people are great—very welcoming and nice. They particularly enjoy getting foreigners to participate in their traditional songs and dances. Unfortunately, the passion for traditional rituals doesn’t seem quite as strong in the younger generation, but with the rise of cable TV, that’s hardly surprising. I hope the traditional arts do not become obsolete nor a tool to attract tourists—that would be a great shame. Although locals love their gos and kiras (traditional male and female outfits), when it rains, the Gore-Tex gear comes out.
The mountains are truly spectacular. Our guide, Kipchu, told us that Bhutanese do not name mountains under 20,000 feet, as there are just too many of them! We were lucky to spend a couple of days at Chomolhari base camp and hike closer to it.
The staff were great and we got along really well. We had 9 staff and 14 horses for 4 trip members, which seemed like quite a high ratio, but after a long day of trekking, it was nice to arrive in camp with all the tents already erected. Some of the campsites were busy, but for a couple of days, we didn’t see any people. It was delightful to be hiking and camping alone.
As a city boy, all the animal noises at night gave me a few qualms, particularly the yak noises around my tent. Those yaks make some very bear-like noises…
I wasn’t expecting the plants to be so beautiful. Higher up, everything seemed bare, but at lower elevations, the forests were a real treat.
Although we did get caught in rain, snow, and hail a few times, we were lucky to have sunshine most of the time.
My favorite part was looking at the stars at night. With no light pollution, and being 15,000 feet closer to them…we really don’t get stars like this where I’m from.
-Photos and text by WT adventurer Yury Krylov, Bhutan: The Chomolhari Trek