Monday, October 7, 2013

The kingdom of the Thunder Dragon: [Day1]

Before starting our 2-weeks trekking we had two days in Paro where we visited the central street and a couple of shrines higher in the mountains. In the morning we arrived there by the "Royal airlines of Bhutan" (not to mention, they're the ONLY airlines that are allowed to fly to Bhutan).

the airport was small but looked very authentic

when landing, pilot have to navigate the plane
really low between the cliffs which I found
both scary and breathtaking

The first thing we noticed waiting in the queue for the passport control was a poster that talked about the gross national product but using the word "happiness" instead of "product" (later I read that Bhutan was rated the happiest country in Asia).

We tried to ask our guide Karma about it.

"What does it mean "Gross national happiness"?"
"Yeah, there are 4 pillars: good governance, economics development, cultural heritage and national environment. We have questionnaires which ask people "Are you happy?", "Are you satisfied?".."
"So, are you that happy?"
"Yes, in general. There is no torture, everybody is equal. Peace, no external disturbance, no corruption. Everybody gets safety and clear water.."
"But no electricity"
"And not everyone have to pay taxes."
"Yeah, if you earn less than 100 000 ngultrums in a year and you don't need to pay any taxes."

tea momo egg roll juma fried rice boiled egg koka

Actually, people with income over 100K are usually government workers. The government worker pays taxes and at the same time collect them. That doesn't make much sense, so the main income is still tourism, I guess. But that is not the only reason why it's so difficult and so expensive to get to Bhutan. According to our guide, people there just scared. The King is afraid of the situation in which there will be more foreigners than the natives in the country. And especially Chinese communists who will apparently destroy all the national culture like they did in Tibet.

"We have three open boarders with India but none with China. Regardless their constant requests, we say "no" because we don't want to lose our friendship with India."
"Are you afraid of a possibility of war with China?"
"Not really. We have India, it'll make them angry."

Actually, there is an official agreement between India and Bhutan against close relationships with China.

The second thing we noticed, was another poster that prohibited to export the antiques from the country. The excuse was that they were preserving the national heritage. However, I started to notice things which didn't come along with that statement. 

the superb lobby of our hotel in Paro. wood carving, paint.

Wiki says that most of the historic records were destroyed by fire in 1827 (but even if there was no a fire, the centralized country started to exist only in 17 century anyway). Moreover, wherever we went, we were told that there were several big earthquakes recently which destroyed like everything. Again. So, almost all the buildings we've been to were just restored copies in one way or another.

a view to the valley from the window of the hotel room

Also, we didn't find any antiques and it was difficult to find any traditional crafts in Paro. No goods even from the wool of Yak (we didn't even bring any sweaters with us)! The variety of local food was pretty poor, and I noticed that the imported junk food was in higher demand. We then saw how locals in the mountains were eating cup ramen, biscuits and other foreign sweets. However, there are two things produced by Bhutanese which are really valued among the natives and they are chili and koka. We saw many chilies drying under the sun on top the roofs and a lot of men with their mouths red from koka (the guide said, that Buddhism doesn't forbid drinking alcohol or eating koka).

you can see chilies in their natural habitat drying
in the sun on top of the roofs of the local shops

A chili from a chili farm blocked my way to the fortress!

That was surprising for me to know, that Indians teach them English and provide with several educational programs. The pilots are Indians too. So are the chefs. The Bhutanese don't even build the roads themselves because "they don't have the necessary skill level" in Bhutan! It's Indians who construct the roads for them. And his majesty doesn't really want to analyze the situation since it's easier for him just to hire the good foreign workers from India.

We're entering the Rinpung Dzong(=fortress) area

"We don't want democracy, we want the king. The king is not really a god for us but we worship him, and he trusts on his citizens in return. There is no opposition also as people there don't want any."

The funny fact is that in 2008 the democrats lost the elections in 2005 taking 2 out of 47 seats in the parliament.

then, we wandered around the main street (actually, it was the only street in town)and returned to our hotel where   we   spent  the  rest  of  the   day   online.

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