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Exploring Bhutan, the ‘world’s happiest country’ and Lonely Planet’s ‘best place…

by Ace Damon
Sadie visits the Tiger's Nest monastery (photo). She says:

Embankment in Bhutan, the remote country that Lonely Planet says is the best place to visit in 2020 and is the 'happiest place in the world', and I admit I'm feeling a bit cheery.

At this point, it's just because I survived the landing at the country's notoriously treacherous international airport, as it is surrounded by steep peaks as high as 8,000 meters.

Getting off the plane with a sense of relief, I think the airport, in the style of a traditional Buddhist temple, is strangely quiet, which I half expect, given the tight restrictions on tourism in Bhutan.

Sadie visits the Tiger's Nest monastery (photo). She says, "I've seen countless photographs of the huge 17th century monastery and that certainly lives up to expectations."

Elevated: The Tiger's Nest monastery is at an altitude of over 10,000 feet.

Elevated: The Tiger's Nest monastery is at an altitude of over 10,000 feet.

The Buddhist kingdom, called "Switzerland of Asia" due to its comparative size and landscape, only opened its doors to tourists in 1974.

Today, to preserve the country's natural beauty (72% of the place is covered with forests) and keep out the masses that consume Starbucks, there is a $ 250 a day tourism tax.

The fee includes meals, transportation, accommodation and a local guide who must accompany visitors at all times to ensure they stay in designated areas.

There are only a handful of international flights in and out of Bhutan every day and flight prices are quite exorbitant for non-residents.

The mine costs just over $ 900 (£ 700) for a three-hour return trip from Bangkok to Paro International Airport.

I sign up for an 11 day trip with adventure tourism company G Adventures, with tour fees and a local guide classified as part of the package.

In total, we are 13, some from the UK, several from the USA, a lady from Germany, a man from the Netherlands, and some women who have made the long journey from Australia.

Our cheerful guide tells us to call him "how long," since most can't pronounce his Bhutanese name, Lhawang.

The trip revolves around our group, completing the Druk Way, an ancient trade route that runs through the rugged Paro Mountains to the surprisingly bustling capital city of Thimphu.

We ventured into the mountains through bumpy roads in a van to the start of the trail with a robust group of horses carrying crockery and camping gear.

Our walk takes us to lonely monasteries, where red-cloaked monks hover and sing as they walk.

Mist rises from the rhododendron bushes that carp the rugged slopes and mirrored pools of water here and there.

At some points, the rain-filled clouds are clear, revealing vast valleys running below.

Sadie's journey revolves around the completion of Druk Road, an ancient trade route through the rugged Paro Mountains to the surprisingly bustling capital city of Thimphu (photo).

Sadie's journey revolves around the completion of Druk Road, an ancient trade route through the rugged Paro Mountains to the surprisingly bustling capital city of Thimphu (photo).

As we pass a high pass, we see the snowy cliffs of Gangkhar Puensum, which at 7,570 meters (24,835 feet) is Bhutan's highest mountain.

The wide-open landscape makes us feel small when we stop to pose for pictures.

"I've never camped in a prettier spot!" Exclaims Max from London as we arrived at our final camp site nestled in a valley by a shimmering lake.

We have another delicious dinner around the fireplace, with pots of aubergine, cabbage, spinach, meat and red rice making the rounds.

I try to avoid pepper dishes that Bhutanese seem to love. The burning peppers, however, reduce me to tears.

Wilderness: Intrepid Sadie is surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of Druk Path

Wilderness: Intrepid Sadie is surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of Druk Path

Sadie takes a break from Tiger's Nest Walk An amazing convent near Paro

Sadie takes a break from the Tiger's Nest Walk (left). Pictured right is a convent near Paro, perched on a steep mountain

After four days of rolling terrain, we reached the end of the Druk Path and headed for Thimphu, past a plethora of tall hotels, half-finished structures clad in bamboo scaffolding, and modern car showrooms.

We celebrated our hiking adventure by hitting a nightclub that night and we are the only westerners there.

It's a surreal experience as I dance alongside young people who have changed their conservative national dress (men wear a knee-length tunic called 'gho' tied at the waist while women wear an ankle-length dress known as & # 39;) for the latest western fashions. We moved away from a mix of Bhutanese pop tracks.

More peacefully, we headed to a fertility temple a few days later, with its fifteenth-century structure amid rice fields.

However, I am a little distracted as we stroll through the nearby village of Lobesa, where there are phalluses in all directions. I saw them in Paro and Thimphu, but not to this extent.

Gift shops are full, houses are adorned with paintings, and in the temple of fertility we see a woman carrying a 20-inch penis carved out of wood. We learned that women carry an upright wooden penis around the temple, circumnavigating it three times for good luck.

"How long" tells us that in Bhutan, phallus is also used to ward off evil people and evil spirits.

Falusos are used to ward off evil people and evil spirits in Bhutan, Sadie finds

Falusos are used to ward off evil people and evil spirits in Bhutan, Sadie finds

An attractive mural Interesting shop signage in Lobesa

Sadie takes out an attractive mural (on the left). Pictured right – interesting shop signage in Lobesa

We end our adventure in Bhutan with a sweaty two-hour walk to one of the country's most iconic structures, the Tiger's Nest.

I have seen countless photographs of the huge 17th century monastery and it certainly meets expectations.

Incense plumes float through the numerous precariously perched buildings at 10,240 feet, monks pass quietly down a rundown cave stairway where the guru who inspired the monastery was said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three years. days and three hours during the eighth century.

I've been there for less than three minutes and already feel like I've had enough of the dark, damp hiding place.

I climb the stairs and leave when another tourist eagerly walks in, reciting a religious scripture as she walks.

Bhutan's Paro International Airport is notoriously challenging to land - it's surrounded by 8,000-meter peaks.

Bhutan's Paro International Airport is notoriously challenging to land – it's surrounded by 8,000-meter peaks.

Leaving Bhutan, I can't help but wonder how other countries could learn from its tourism model – low volume and high quality.

I ask how long what he values ​​most in his country and he answers: ‘Live a positive life, preserve nature and keep things simple.

"It seems so hard to have that in many other countries where money and greed get in the way."

Feeling a little exalted by How Long's sunny attitude, I say goodbye to the land of happiness, only to feel my smile fade a little as I consider navigating one of the world's scariest airports once again.

TRAVEL FACTS

Sadie Whitelocks was invited from G Adventures in the company Druk's way Tour. Prices start from £ 1,724 excluding flights.

BA operates flights from London to Bangkok, with connections to Bhutan with Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines.

O Peninsula Bangkok offers Health and Harmony hotel packages for post-trekking or to make airport transfers more comfortable. You can check the lounge areas with Priority Pass Most standard membership, which starts at £ 189 for ten free visits.

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