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Bhutan - Extraordinarily Different and Emphatically Un-Spoilt

Too often you can find yourself fighting off tourist traps. Be it dodging protruding selfie sticks, or a strategically placed llama, which the moment he materializes in your picture you’ll owe a small sum to its keen owner. Bhutan, however, is a fresh slice of authenticity, perched in the foothills of the Himalayas and sandwiched between the populous nations of China and India. Bhutan is a needle in a haystack: extraordinarily different and emphatically un-spoilt.


The Bhutanese government has approached modernization with cautious attention to the Gross National Happiness, which though it emanates a vision of a grinning population, is actually geared towards providing for the people, while considering the four pillars– good governance, sustainable development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation. Unsurprisingly, Bhutanese tourism therefore, lies in a controlled box of prudent policies designed at, predominantly, ensuring tourism does not negatively affect any of these four pillars.


Bucket List Destination – Why Add-on Bhutan?

Limited Tourism


While tourism in Bhutan is not luxury, by many American standards, the government imposes a minimum daily expenditure of US$200 – 250, depending on the month. Thus, curbing its access to herds of penny-pinching tourists. Furthermore, those nationals not from India, Bangladesh or the Maldives must travel via an agency and are limited to staying in 3*+ hotels, meaning hostels and backpacking are actively discouraged. In November 2018, WorldDenver sent a travel group of World Citizens on an opportunity to explore Bhutan. Working with talented Bhutanese tour agencies, the group took an unforgettable 12-day tour, covering renown destinations like Tigers Nest, a monastery clinging to a cliff in the Paro Valley, as well as detours to a local Mask Festival and the Valley of Cranes.

We spoke to two of the group, Laurie Zeller and Greg Dobbs, who enlightened us on the awaiting treasures packed into Bhutan. 


Authentic Experiences


There was an unanimous agreement between the two travelers, that Bhutan was surprisingly unlike any other place in the region, even its neighboring Nepal. Whether it’s the high daily taxes, such as the US$60 Sustainable Development Fee or simply the relatively new opening of the border to foreigners in 1974, you will likely avoid many other tourists for the majority of the trip. And while Greg Dobbs explained, “though the people were welcoming and happy for us to be there, we weren’t the center of attention. Meaning life went on around us and it would despite of us.”

Similarly, Laurie Zeller mentioned that one (of many), highlights was a local Mask Festival in Bumthang. She explained the magic was that they were the only perceivable tourists. Only accompanied by the Western faces of British monks following a local order. “The festival was for locals and attended by the local community” – so it was a genuine cultural experience from that corner of the world.


Once in a lifetime Opportunities


Laurie also let me in on a secret: every year the rare Black Necked Crane migrates from Tibet to the Phobjikha valley or simply Valley of Cranes in Bhutan. Hence, only seen in these two isolated regions. Surely, a once in a lifetime opportunity bestowed on the group. 

However, with climate change the migratory patterns of these birds has become unpredictable. By coincidence the WorldDenver group harbored a Crane enthusiast, aspiring to see cranes all over the world. So, the group in solitary spirit, gladly took a detour to the valley, not knowing whether the magnificent birds would even make an appearance.

The team were in luck, as the morning of their arrival their guide received the much hoped for confirmation call – the first three black necked cranes had just landed in the Valley. Just one of the spectacular treats that await those willing to deviate in search of adventure.  


A Refreshing Pace of Life


Greg Dobbs is a retired correspondent for ABC News and perfectly summed up what you can expect in Bhutan by simply observing. 

“One day I went with my wife and a couple of other women who wanted to shop for some traditional outfits. I would avoid shopping for the rest of my life, if I could. So, I sat outside on a stump of a tree and watched the world go by. It was almost very Parisian, except rather than a café veranda, I sat on a log.

And there was something different.

Not one person was in a rush. There was not a car driving hurriedly or a person rushing past. And that says something about the pace of life in Bhutan. It was truly refreshing.”  

With the highest Gross National Happiness in the world, it seems that the people are content knowing that their government is striving for the best for nation’s people. Nevertheless, the country is not without its struggles.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Bhutan’s Pasakha is the fourth most polluted city in the world.  Apparently, since the constitution declares 60% of the country must remain forested, often this restricts certain lucrative international trade routes and options. Therefore, Pasakha with key border access to India, has become an industrial hub. As Bhutan strives for a balanced development with hydroelectric plant constructions, industrial towns, agriculture and forestry based income – sustainable tourism offers a stream of reliable foreign income.

You can read Greg Dobbs full article: Bhutan a sure bet for any Baby Boomer's Bucket List


WorldDenver Travel Groups

WorldDenver aims to develop citizen diplomacy in everything that it does, including therefore, our unique travel groups that go to unforgettable destinations, such as Bhutan. Both our interviewees extended their joy at the privilege of spending the trip with a group with similar world interests.

Greg Dobbs said, “that traveling in a group from World Denver is the way to go. Sometimes there were moments when the electricity went out, and when the toilet was just a hole in the ground, which for some Americans would be horrifying. But this group are worldly world travelers, and no one was put off by questionable toilets. It actually added to the experience. No-one was afraid to try the food and in the whole time only one person got ill for a couple of days, which is impressive.”  

Laurie Zeller told us, “I would like to add that traveling with a group from WorldDenver – who are a smart, engaged, fun group who are interested in the outside world and other people - was excellent. They are an exceptional group who are interested, open and game for everything and I couldn't think of a better group to travel with.”


If you would like to know more about the WorldDenver Bhutan trip 2019, or any of our other travel programs there is more information on our website here: https://worlddenver.org/Travel_Programs

Or get in contact with the program manager Naomi at naomi@worlddenver.org

All pictures were courtesy of Laurie Zeller, we are so greatful to both Laurie Zeller and Greg Dobbs for talking to WorldDenver about their experience. 

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