It seemed that even new houses were constructed by traditional models. Bhutanese houses are tall – I heard height of buildings signify wealth. Windows have colorful wooden panels just like in Bavaria and Switzerland. Attic is used to dry and store hay and other goods.
Bhutan has usual share of larger that all countries of the world produce. Druk, “thunder dragon”, is favorite name for beers also. Druk 11000 sounds fancy.
There is also a local brand of red wine named after national animal dakin (odd-looking short-legged moose). It’s a strong red wine (alcohol content is 16%). There is no mention of grape variety. I cannot comment the taste as bottle is yet to be opened.
Interesting local speciality is “Ara” which is fermented/distilled alcohol. Often homemade from maize or rice. Distilled Ara was maybe stronger than 20% but less than vodka – it was difficult to say as taste was quite smooth. Ara can be served with a scrambled egg which makes it more like a soup – not bad after a long day working on rice paddies. Ara is traditionally kept in tall bamboo container. Below: straight Ara, and Ara à l’oeuf.
Bhutanese food seemed to be influenced by Tibetan and Indian cuisines: curries and Tibetan momos (dumplings). National dish was Ema datshi or chili cheese which was pleasantly hot. You could eat it as such or with local red rice. Potatoes with cheese was another local speciality.
Chili is an essential part of Bhutanese cuisine and people dry red chilies on their roofs.
Local home cooking was solid no-nonsense food to keep people going on high mountains. The plate below is filled with chili-cheese, goat and cow meat, cheese-potatoes, and rice.
Visiting local farmers’ market in the capital Thimpu revealed some interesting Bhutanese foods. Rock hard cheese was sold in strings and I guess people usually softened cheese in water. I started to chew one and it took almost 2h to eat it.
Another interesting thing was cow skin that is used in soups. Unfortunately didn’t taste this one.
There were also lots of usual vegetables and fruits, and exotic spices.
Bhutan has been isolated for centuries and only recently opened for tourism. Traditional ways have remained strong but there are changes in peoples lives and the young are following for example Korean pop and soap operas. Many Bhutanese wear traditional dress: Gho for men and Kira for women.
For more formal occasions people wear long scarf (Kabney for men and Rachu for women). Men’s scarf has colors which point out if the person is mere commoner or high-ranking official or royal.
A great book by UK neurosurgeon about his work and what it is like to operate on people’s brains. A subject usually shrouded in mystery and jargon becomes full of drama, comedy and tragedy.
Buddhism is very important part of Bhutanese life and there are lot of temples and prayer flags around. First stepping out from the airport and meeting my guide and driver, I saw a small plastic prayer wheel by our car’s windscreen. By rotating it was sending automatic prayers to make the trip safer.
There were also hydropower prayer wheels and of course wind-powered prayer flags.
Then there were prayer wheels that old people didn’t have energy to turn, but instead visitors would be turning wheels on their behalf.
During every visit to temples people were turning small wheels. In some places there were 108 of them which is significant number in buddhism.
There were also big prayer wheels by temples, hotels etc.
Only citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives can travel to Bhutan without buying a package tour. The rest of us need to reserve and pay a package tour from a Bhutanese travel agency after which one gets a visa and is issued air tickets. Tours are not cheap (200-250USD per day) but include hotels, full board and transportation with a guide and a driver (both expect a generous tip afterwards). Its all very well organised, but it is also worrying to pay all in front and only get copies of visa approval and plane tickets by email. Visa will be stamped when arriving and there little fuzz about it at Paro airport.
Almost all tourists enter Bhutan by air. There is possibility to travel by bus/car from/to India (Assam or Sikkim), but it takes a lot of time. Landing and taking off in Paro airport are an experience. The short runway in a deep valley requires specially trained pilots and planes have to weave through hills to land safely. Only two airlines have regular flights to Paro – national carrier Druk Air and newly established private Bhutan Airlines. Druk Air does good job and I felt quite safe and happy in their hands.
Flying to Bhutan is spectacular also as one can see Himalayas especially when flying from New Delhi or Kathmandu. Below a picture of probably Mt. Everest.
Paro airport is small but efficient. There was a quick queue to get your visa stamp and then short wait for baggage. Arriving tourists were greeted by pictures of old and new king (father and son) and also big poster of the King and Queen.