Bhutan: A Community of Travelers

Our Indagare Insider Trip to Bhutan was the fifteenth Indagare member trip that I have hosted, and as with all of these journeys, the discoveries were not limited to the country we explored. Each day seemed to hold a broader lesson about the magic of travel. For instance, on our first day, our flight was delayed because of heavy rains. Half an hour before we expected to land in Paro from Bangkok, the pilot announced we were being diverted to Calcutta (with no Indian visas.) Thankfully, after a short wait, we took off and the pilot was able to find a hole through the clouds so he could thread the Airbus 319 along the deep, winding gorges that lead to the valley where Paro airport lies.

“That would not be allowed in the States,” one of our members who is a pilot remarked after our thrilling touch down. Outside, the rain fell heavily. “The day after tomorrow is the Blessed Rainy Day,” our guide explained. “It’s the national holiday that marks the official end of the monsoon season, so this is very auspicious.” Maybe, I thought, but trekking in mud would be grim. The next morning the sun came up, and each day as the weather improved with increasing hours of sun and wider expanses of blue skies appearing from behind the clouds, I came to appreciate how the country’s splendor was slowly revealed, which somehow made it all the more beautiful. Yes, we work hard to plot out the perfect itinerary for our Insider trips, but I was reminded that much of the best part of travel is surrendering to what you cannot control.

Another unknown with each trip, of course, is how the group will come together. On Insider trips, usually seventy-five percent are alums that have traveled with us before, but often they don’t know others in the group, and there are always newcomers. Our Bhutan trip was similar, and yet quickly new bonds were formed. We had a mix of men and women, couples and people on their own, West Coasters and East Coasters, but everyone shared an eagerness to discover Bhutan.

If I can spend my days learning about the complexity of the world, seeing its varied and beautiful sights—both the works of man and the works of god—and meeting people whose different beliefs and customs inform my understanding of humanity and all the glorious forms that it takes and share this with others, well then I feel truly blessed. To a person those who chose to come to Bhutan were like-minded travelers with open minds and hearts who appreciated the bounty of every day, even the day that consisted of an endless drive over bumpy roads.

In the course of a week, we were able to connect with many locals who shared their opinions and traditions freely (something that we have not always found in Myanmar and Cuba for example). On our first night a member of parliament joined us for dinner and discussed the challenges of a democracy that is only six years old. We met with a 12th generation Tibetan healer who merges modern medicine with ancient practices. At the Temple of the Divine Madman, we witnessed a fertility ceremony for a woman who had lost a baby in childbirth. Some of us woke early one morning to attend the monks’ morning prayers in the 15th century Gangte Goembe monastery. Afterwards, a 12-year-old boy, who is the 36th reincarnation of a great spiritual leader, blessed us. One couple in the group attended a rice blessing in a private home, and all of us met with the lama of the Tiger’s Nest temple, first for dinner one night in our hotel and then in his guest rooms within Tiger’s Nest where we were able to have a meal in a room where the royal family is welcomed. While these encounters resonated differently for each of us, we all came away richer for having experienced them.

After a week of a growing understanding of Bhutan and Buddhism and gradually increasing hikes (through rice paddies and pine forests and up mountains to stupas and through picturesque farmlands), Tiger’s Nest was the finale. Two hours of uphill hiking led us to the lookout point, where we came eye level with the cliff-hanging monastery. Prayer flags fluttered above us, and some in our group were moved to tears. Whether the emotion was inspired by awe at the natural beauty or at this miraculous monument to belief or if it sprung from an awareness of how lucky we were to be where we were at that moment, to have reached the summit, to have such beautiful weather, to be in such nurturing company (much of it newly found and already deeply connected), I don’t know. It could have been the relief and wonder at having finally reached a place long dreamed of or just the overwhelming sensation of good fortune to be right here right now in the presence of such a sacred place. Some may have been moved by the culmination of a long climb. I felt all of this as well as some sorrow for not being able to share the moment with others who I know would appreciate it but are no longer here to make the trek.

At the base of the monastery, we had to leave our cameras in a cloak room. Our guides explained that travelers used to be able to bring them to shoot the exteriors and views, but too often they did not respect the request not to shoot within the holy rooms so all cameras are now forbidden. It was a reminder to me that how we travel—responsibly and respectfully or irresponsibly and selfishly—has an impact on the whole community of travelers. Of course, it also meant that for the hour or so we spent at Tiger’s Nest, we were not distracted from the act of being there by trying to capture it. Instead, we soaked it in and seared the memory in our minds. In our own community of ten that week, I was amazed by how everyone’s kindness and respect allowed each individual their own journey and yet together celebrated the privilege that we shared—another reminder of the best kind of travel.

Read Indagare's Bhutan Destination Report

See Melissa's Slide Show from Bhutan

Published onSeptember 30, 2014

More Inspiration

Plan Your Trip With Us

We only feature hotels that we can vouch for first-hand. At many of them, Indagare members receive special amenities.

Get In Touch
Indagare employees walking up stiars

Enjoy 30 Days On Us!

Start your Self Planner
membership trial today.

Unlock access to 2,000+ first-hand hotel reviews, 300+ Destination Guides and the most up-to-date travel news and inspiration.

Already a member?

Welcome back,
log in to Indagare

Not a member?

Forgot Password

Enter your email and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Type the first 3 letters to begin