Bhutan, part 2: Hermit Kingdom, Magic Mountain, Betel Juice…

img_0655

continued from previous…

I didn’t know if I would make it, frankly, up to the Tiger’s Nest, then we beat them all in record time. Local Boy Scouts and fuster-clucking Indians only crowd the path and slow us down. Now I like temples and such, but I was already disappointed that the proposed first day’s itinerary of ‘looking around the city’ had been changed. Maybe there was no real city. Welcome to America…

So I finally had to pointedly hint that IT’D BE REALLY NICE TO GET A LOOK AT THE CITY—the capital, Thimpu—after we’d spent a full day of avoiding it and driving circles around it, such that I’d almost decided that it didn’t really exist. But there it is, and it’s a cute one, with no traffic lights, but at least one traffic cop doing the honors at the city’s main intersection. And there’s a market, and a bus terminal, all the things of real life. I got the distinct feeling that they don’t usually show such things, for whatever reason, likely the filth and grime of a Third World city…

img_0611Yes, Bhutan most resembles North Korea with its policy of control, i.e. no tourist goes rogue. So I did it just to prove I could: walked a half-hour into the other town, Paro, after hours after tours just to amble around on my own, of which I informed them only after, hint hint. I’m not accustomed to a personal guide and driver, much less a printed itinerary and three squares a day, so three days of that is plenty…

The tourist restaurants are always way upstairs somewhere, just like North Korea, and six people watch my every bite, for lack of anything better to do, I guess. I have no control over my own itinerary, so it would be nice to take more walks around town, but you still have to admire Bhutan’s brand of boutique tourism, if not Buddhism…

Are the Bhutanese guides chatting up the Western women? That’s what I want to know. There seem to be an inordinate number of SWF’s and SAF’s here. Only their hairdressers know for sure, I guess. They’re as cute as the girls are, with their spikey hair-do’s and Japanezy haori-like duds on all day and especially for the tourists, always fit and trim and with a quick smile. Trust me: these guys are cute. I’ve got a sixth sense for these things…

img_0637Now I don’t mean to suggest anything sleazy, just lonely hearts, puppy love, and maybe a gift or two at Christmas. And the girls are the stuff of fantasy, too, with their cute little pony tails and perky faces, shuffling across the floor in sandals and tennis shoes. The girls remind me of Vientiane c. 1995…

Remember the receptionist at the old Vientiane Hotel, where you could dance ramwong to a live band until midnight? No, the receptionist I’m talking about, not the dime-a-dance girls. She let me chat her up until I was blue in the, you know—face, not because she needed something from it, but because she knew that I did. And she was right. I wonder where she is now…

But bottom line: this is not the way I eat and sleep, or live and travel. So for us backpacker-types, this is a one-off deal, the trip of a lifetime, and still it rocks, if you’ll roll with it. But for those who like guided tours, Bhutan could and should be a regular port of call. From Kathmandu, it’s the best ‘peak flight’ ever, Everest and all the rest. And the food is good, more Chinese than Indian, fresh and delish (even though you’ll have few choices)…

img_0626About the worst I could say is that my cell phone won’t work here—no biggie, since the Wi-Fi’s good, and the power stays on. The rice is a bit short-grained, but good enough. But I don’t totally buy the argument that since Bhutan has a mid-level GDP, then it’s wildly successful, and wildly happy. A quick Google shows bottom-of-the-heap wages, which suggests vast income disparities. And is their much-celebrated GNH just another form of communism or religion? No diff, their choice…

I only wonder: could Laos once have done the same once upon a time, back before it followed the Thai model to mass confusion? And what about Guatemala, or Madagascar, or Ethiopia? Those are pretty unique countries, too. Oh well, I guess you can’t cry over spilled milk, can you? Can you? “Drinking on the Tibetan side of town” doesn’t seem like such a distinct option anymore in Nepal, what with the politics of assimilation and the intervention of reality into the bizniz of story-telling and songwriting, but in Bhutan…

At one point I told my guide about my problem with Tibetan Buddhism, and my dilemma, as a Buddhist, about how to deal with it—specifically karmic ‘debt’ over successive lives and the necessity for any retribution for something supposedly done in a past life. “Too heavy,” he responded immediately, with no further thought or explanation. He got that right. One more thing: the folks here still chew betel nut, the easiest cheapest buzz in the world. That’s all I need to know…

 

Advertisements