You know you’re in Bhutan when…

  • Nobody minds you leaning towards the window – if you don’t have a window seat on the plane – to get up close and personal with the mountain ranges of the Himalayas lined up above the clouds.

    Druk Air, Bhutan Airline, Paro Airport, Bhutan
    Druk Air Flight preparing for a landing at Paro Airport
  • Your plane’s descent and landing at Paro airport is an experience you won’t forget. Paro airport is the fourth most difficult airport in the world to land in and take off from.
  • You are greeted at the airport by a sign that proudly states: ‘Happiness Breathes in Bhutan’.
  • You feel you are transported back in time when you join locals to a match of archery using traditional bows and arrows.
  • You spend days, sometimes weeks, without bumping into any other Westerner.
  • You learn to greet locals with Kuzuzangpola instead of a hello.
  • You encounter a strange animal that looks like a cross between a goat and an antelope and you’re told it’s the Takin – Bhutan’s National animal.

    Takin in Takin Preserve Thimphu Zoo
    Takin in Takin Preserve Thimphu Zoo
  • You realize that you’re not as fit as you think you are when little monks carrying big loads overtake you on your climb to Taktsang Monastery.
  • You meet locals who had to be convinced by the King to embrace democracy. People still prefer the monarchy even though Bhutan became a constitutional democracy in 2008.
  • You travel through a countryside that is decorated with prayer flags, fortresses, chortens and, of course, big, colorful phalluses painted on walls and doors.

    A painted wooden Phallus
    The phallus, whether carved or painted on the walls of houses, dangling from roof eaves or simply placed in a field, is said to ward off the evil eye, protect against malevolent gossip and spirits, stave off misfortune and bring in good luck.
  • You stop to photograph the traffic police – donning white gloves and directing traffic – with amused interest.

    A traffic policeman in Thimphu
    A traffic policeman in Thimphu
  • You learn that Gross National Happiness is more than just a philosophy – it is a way of life.
  • You find that more than 60% of the country is under forest cover to protect and preserve the environment.

    Lush green paddy fields at Lobeysa village
    Lush green paddy fields at Lobeysa village
  • You discover that at 24,840 ft, Gangkhar Puensum is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The Bhutanese government has banned mountaineering on any peak above 19,685 ft.

    Bhutanese Himalayas
    Bhutanese Himalayas
  • You are told over a beer that Bhutan is the world’s only carbon sink. That is, the country absorbs more CO2 than it gives out.
  • You need a permit to smoke.
  • You hear that Guru Rinpoche flew on a tigress.

    A painting of Guru Rimpoche on a rock
    A painting of Guru Rimpoche on a rock

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