Where in the world would a tour guide spend a week by the bed of a sick tourist, even sleeping on a sofa in her room at night rather than leave her? In Bhutan, that’s where. Half of Gert has just spent two weeks there, and this is what happened to one of the people in the group. Hospital in Bhutan is free, even for tourists, but families bring in food and linen, and provide personal care. All this was done by a gentle young man called Sonam, assisted by the receptionist from All Bhutan Connection. (And no thanks at all to the insurance company, which resisted every inch of the way). If you’re thinking of going to Bhutan, don’t bother with your local travel agent. Go straight to All Bhutan Connection, who will organise anything and everything you want. To be a tourist in Bhutan is a delight. Nobody harasses you, nobody rips you off; people just go about their business and let you go about yours.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas
and enjoying the annual Paro festival.
We got up at 2 am to see the ceremonial unfurling of the silk Thangka – so large it covers the face of an entire building, it’s considered one of the most sacred blessings in the whole of Bhutan. The Thangka, known in Bhutan as a ‘thongdroel’ is a religious picture scroll, and is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival. This holy scroll “confers liberation by the mere sight of it” (the meaning of the word ‘thongdroel’ in Bhutanese). The Thangka must be taken down again before the rays of the sun strike it.
Bhutan is a monarchy, but in 2006 the 4th king introduced a democratically-elected parliamentary system. He then stepped down in favour of his son. The five kings of the Wangchuk family seem without exception to have been enlightened and forward-thinking, their top priorities being health, education and the environment. How long can this state of affairs last? With only 700,000 people Bhutan is uneasily sandwiched between China and India. What will the next decade bring?
* Thanks, Bhutan