Bhutan may be as close as it gets on this planet to the fictional Shangri-La. Ruled by a benevolent monarchy since 1907, goverance since 2006 is shared with an elected parliament. Fortuitously located on the southern (monsoon) side of the Himalayn Range, Bhutan's economy is based primarily on supplying hydroelectric power to its southern neighbor India. A largely middle class and devout populace of 700,000 is scattered over terrain half the area of Indiana.
Admittance of visitors is regulated to match available hotel capacity so visas are essential. A typical tour begins soon after landing in Paro with a meeting driver and guide, who might well position you in Paro to avail youself of a trek or horse back ride to view the magnificence of Tiger Nest Monastery. Continue on to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital city, and thereafter, ascend across the Dochula Pass into the spectacular Punakha Valley. Travel eastward and beyond depends upon desired tour length. Hotels are uniformly comfortable, meals nutritious, local beer satisfying, etc.
English, which is taught to every child from first grade has become Bhutan's second language, making perosnal engagement with the Bhutanese one of the delights of visiting this Buddhist nation, with Dzongs (fortresses) and temples, also famous for its handcrafted homes, and its national sport, archery.
One memorable phrase that clearly says it all was found on the blackboard of a local Bhutanese classroom. "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours." I have read somewhere that even with a remarkably low per capita income of about $1,150 per year, the Bhutanese rate 8th on the scale of happiness within the world while the United States finds their place at 23rd.
Access to this paradise is by air, using Bhutan's national airline, Drukair. No need to worry; well-trained pilots fly modern Airbus 320's. Connect in cities like New Delhi or Bangkok, although I prefer Singapore because it affords me an opportunity to revisit a uniquely successful city-state that since achieving independence in 1965 has become one of the world's major financial centers and one of the world's most strategic and busiest ports. A fascinating multi-racial nation.
I close by reassuring older readers that the health systems at both destinations are excellent. Meanwhile, I never venture forth without a visit to my doctor(s), an update of all prescriptions, plus securing the note sometimes required for an octogenarian purchasing emergency medical evacuation insurance. Who wants to have their children chasing afer them in the event of a faraway medical emergency?
By: John Courtney