Rethinking Bhutan


I have been traveling independently to Bhutan as well as taking groups there since 1999. Having returned from my 26th visit, I feel the need to try to advise those people intending to visit this tiny kingdom in the next few years that they need to go to see Bhutan for the right reasons. A lot has been written about this magnificent Buddhist enclave, and I will admit to the fact that it is still one of the most delightful places on Earth to visit. However, after my last trip, in October ’05, I vowed to never return during the high, festival (tourist) seasons.

Most visitors go to Bhutan during these months to, hopefully, attend the festivals where the traditional masked dances are performed. Due to the many articles recently published in major newspapers and travel magazines, the number of tourists in Bhutan has increased to the point that the country is not able to adequately handle everyone’s needs.

In past years, the tourists were polite enough to remain in the background, observing the masked dances and learning about the meaning of the events. But not in this last year. The local Bhutanese were being pushed out by foreigners who seemed to have the idea that because they paid to be there, they should be able to do whatever pleased them.

I especially noticed that most visitors didn’t have a clue that the festival was an important event for the Bhutanese and their families. And, unfortunately, the Bhutanese were too nice to tell them to move or at least sit down.

I also overheard so many people complaining about their accommodations, as if that were the most important thing about the whole trip. Bhutan is still not a 5-star country, and even with the addition of some new 5-star properties (along with 5-star prices), the average visitor will not pay to stay in them.

If the size of your room is the most important thing to you, then please reconsider visiting Bhutan. If you cannot handle long drives on winding roads, then you may want to travel elsewhere. If you find rice and vegetables to not be fine dining, then perhaps you should try another destination.

However, if you are interested in Buddhism and discovering a country where the people “live” their religion, please plan to visit. If you are interested in a country where the government listens to its people and their concerns for a healthy environment, yes, visit Bhutan. If you want to see some of the most spectacular scenery and learn about the flora and fauna found only in Bhutan, plan a trip.

Most of all, if you want to meet some of the kindest people on Earth whose main objective is to make you happy while visiting their homeland, definitely travel to Bhutan.

The high season in Bhutan is March-May and September-November. Other months are considered low season mostly because of the weather; there is monsoon in the summer, while the winter is cold.

The festivals that make the high season even higher are the Paro Tshechu (in 2006 taking place April 9-13), the Thimphu Drupchen & Tshechu (Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 2006) and the Jambay Lhakhang Drup (Nov. 5-9, 2006).

I love Bhutan and will continue to visit there. I am just wanting people to go there for the right reasons AND to enjoy the experience without the crowds. Technically, the festivals are the same; the dances are traditional and are done at all of them. Even the small monasteries will hold one, though it may not be on the “official list.”

CAMILLE CARROLL
San Diego, CA