I’ve long heard Bhutan described as magical. Five days into our two-week journey here, I’m starting to believe it.
From the capital Thimphu we flew 35 minutes east to Bumthang (pronounced boom-tong, or something like that) into what seems the world’s smallest airport. We learned, in fact, that we were lucky to get in; because the airport has no radar, flights are canceled in case of bad weather which is apparently pretty common. When the planes are grounded, you drive some 11 hours through the mountains on terrible roads to get here. Instead we had a quick hop over the Himalayas that included a peak at Mt. Everest.Our primary activities here have been hiking, biking, and eating, as will likely be the case throughout our stay in Bhutan. The lodge we’re staying in has five properties in the central and western part of Bhutan, and we’re spending three days in each of the last four. They suggest lots of great hikes in varying degrees of difficulty, and each evening to work with a guide to plan the next day’s activities. Particularly appealing to me is that in many cases they suggest driving to the start of a trail – they drive you, of course – doing a great hike, and then biking back to the lodge. Can it get any better than that?
When we arrived in Bumthang we had lunch and then decided to go for a bike ride. Ever since we did a day ride in Cambodia with a guide who complained that I was riding too fast – and who then got into the truck to just follow behind us – I’ve been somewhat leery of bike guides who don’t really want to bike. Would our guide grudgingly agree to bike with us, but not really want to go? I needn’t have worried. It turns out our driver doubles as our bike guide … and is Bhutan’s top bicycle racer. Seriously. The biggest race in the country is a 160-mile ride over four Himalayan passes from Bumthang to Thimphu, and he’s won the race two of the last three years (he rode injured last year and still came in third). Instead of a guide who complained I was going too fast, we were riding with a world class athlete!
The food is worth noting, too. Given all the traveling we’ve done Mark & I are surprised to find a cuisine that is just utterly new to us, unlike anything we’ve found anywhere in the world. The mainstays of Bhutanese cuisine are hot chills and cheese. One dish we’ve had in two different places is pretty much just that: green chilies and local cheese, and it’s fantastic. They do a lot with buckwheat and make local wines out of all sorts of ingredients. The big surprise, though, is just how spicy hot the food can be. I think of spicy food as belonging in hot, tropical places like Thailand, India, or Mexico, where the heat of the food actually cools you down. Bhutan isn’t hot, but it sure has the spicy food.
Like I said, hiking, biking, and great food, surrounded by unmatched mountain beauty. Here are some of our favorite photos. Or more than a few, I guess.