You know there's something special when a country genuinely places more emphasis on being happy over anything else.
Thimphu, Capital City of Bhutan.
So where's Bhutan?
In a nutshell, it is a kingdom situated on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, in between China, India, Nepal and Tibet.
Bhutan, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is also known to be the "happiest country" in Asia, if not the world. It is also the only country in the world that has a "GNH", which stands for Gross National Happiness.
"Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product."
From the side of a drink packet whilst I was on the plane, taken with my iphone.
Being isolated from the rest of the world, it avoided globalization and managed to preserve much of its rich culture. Bhutan has an annual limit of foreigners allowed into the country, and along with the 250USD a day that must be paid by every traveller... it's definitely not a country that's common for an overseas holiday.
Fortunately my Bhutanese classmate back when we were studying film in NAFA, offered to invite me and several other close friends over to his country. He also used to tell us about his country whilst we were studying, imagine going through two years of hype.
So with all visas settled and other fees waived, we packed our luggages and set forth to see for ourselves how amazing this country could be.
Flying aboard Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan.
Our time aboard Druk Air, Bhutan's national airline was a comfortable one. Even when it was a short one hour flight, refreshments was still provided. It was spacious and clean, with smartly dressed flight attendants checking up on the passengers.
Live video feed of the journey ahead. Mount Everest on the left!
Entering the mountain ranges was our first indication that we're finally here in Bhutan. The cool valley breeze and beautiful landscape that greeted us the moment we stepped off the plane was the next.
Paro International Airport. Can't believe we're finally here!
Clockwise from top left - Willy, Hester, Me & Juliana!
After an hour's drive from the airport, we reached the capital city of Thimphu and checked in to our hotel rooms.
For the entire week we've been in the country, traffic's usually sparse, except for the one day that the China team came over for the World Cup qualifiers. Even then, it wasn't too bad.
Our first hotel of the trip!
It's cool how every morning the garbage truck will ring out its siren and everyone will come forward to throw their trash themselves.
Having a bit of time before dinner, we headed to Buddha Dordenma statue which was just around the area. As we drove up to the top of the mountain, the temperature dropped further, making us wonder how much more colder it could get in the evenings.
Okay it was slightly bigger than I expected.
Breathtaking view of the city below us.
You'll see these colorful prayer papers everywhere in Bhutan. They are said to bring good luck and safety for travellers
The comfortable minibus we hired for the entire duration of our stay there!
Taken with a GoPro.
The next morning we trekked up a mountain to Wangdi Tse, a local monastary. It was also from this day that I was so glad to have picked a lightweight camera to bring along on this trip. The additional weight from the 18-55mm f/2.8 Nikon lens I borrowed my friend for the trip was making him groan with agony with every uphill step haha.
Our driver doubled up as a guide as we trekked into the mountains.
In bhutan, whenever you see prayer flags or buildings, you should always walk around from the left side as a form of respect.
And next to Changangkha Temple,
The locals spins the wheels inside the wall as they chant their prayers.
Local kids being fascinated with my camera, when I handed them a poloroid print of the photo afterwards, they squealed with delight and ran all over the place. So adorable haha.
I remembered smiling brightly as I looked through the viewfinder at her. Her warm smile is just so geniune and infectious!
The clocktower is situated right in the middle of the city.
Next was Tango Monastary, and man was it a trek. The steep climb had us panting and crying for breaks every few minutes.
My bhutanese friend changing into his Gho, a traditional clothing in Bhutan. It is customary for them to wear the outfit whenever they visit monastaries or works in adminstrative offices.
Before setting out for our climb, we had lunch at this cosy little place called Coffee Culture, boy do they served delicious dumpling and pizzas.
Touching up on the old and fading artwork.
Friend going crazy along the way.
But we made it to the top eventually, and here's the view we were rewarded with.
One of the many rubbish bins strung up along the trekking path, often scribbled with words like, "USE ME. FILL ME."
The climb down was much easier, and we made it in time for the World Cup Qualifier match between Bhutan and China. We were invited and seated in the VIP section, and man, the view was awesome.
Locals clamouring for the best view of the game.
The most breathtaking background for a soccer match ever.
The girls had more interest in the phallus drawings on the walls around the city.
And we finished the night with a bonfire under the starry skies.
We thought Tango Monastary was bad, until we climbed Paro Taktsang, also known as Tiger's Nest. At 3000m high above sea level, it is the cultural icon of Bhutan, you literally see it on magnets and brochures everywhere.
So the horse dungs we have been avoiding like land mines up along the path belongs to you two!!
Innumerable prayer flags brings even more color to the beautiful landscape. Some of them even spanning across from mountain to mountain.
After a 3 hour trek, we finally got to a higher point than the monastary, which makes for an amazing location for photos.
This stray dog sure knew how to pick a nice modelling location, okay I'll indulge you you pretty.
The stone steps from this point onwards was uneven and steep, with some even wobbling when you stepped on it. Recalling the warning from our local friends, we stuck close to the mountain side and away from the railing's edge. We were told to be cautious of our footing at all times, a moment's folly could have us rolling 3000m down the mountain. Not a very attractive prospect.
Taken by my friend Julz's Sony a7s.
Shortly after we finally came across a bridge at the base of a 60m drop waterfall. It was a beautiful and welcome change to the dirt path we had been walking on for the past few hours.
Oh sweet sweet water...
My memory card capacity capped at this moment and I took out my spare cards for the switch... and the filled memory card slipped out of my tired hands. I almost stopped breathing then as I frantically tried to grab it before it fell into the water streaming all around me.
Don't scare me like that, you retard.
Inches away from it being swept away by the water current.
Came across a family, like everyone else, they greeted us with warm smiles.
Unfortunately all electronic devices and bags aren't allowed into the monastary itself, so I wasn't able to photograph the interior :(
If you ever have the chance to visit here though, make sure you explore to the very topmost end of the area, which is an open balcony of shorts and a view of the entire valley laid out before your eyes. We stood there in silence for some time, just drinking in the amazing view and feeling the cooling breeze.
It's moments like these which really makes you feel like the space you lived in in most of your life, is so tiny in this world. There's so much to explore and experience out there, I find it a real pity whenever I see people grumbling on small petty arguments, or having narrow or closed mindset.
Try everything out, rather than regretting that you didn't even get to do so. Past mistakes have taught me that the agony of regretting the what ifs, is so much more painful than a failure to succeed instead.
We travelled to Punakha the next day, in the midst of the 3 hours drive we stopped for a break at Dochula Pass, which is the highest pass in Thimphu and overlooks the Himalayan mountain range. Unfortunately it was cloudy that day, but we make do with what we had.
Still kickass. My favorite group photo from the entire trip.
On route to Punakha Dzong, we stopped by for some photos of the area.
Punakha Dzong, where the 2 smaller rivers met to form the main river.
Entrance to the impressive looking Dzong is via crossing a beautiful wooden bridge.
Within the grounds.
And we climbed some rocks over killer rapids for photos...
We found a really long bridge spanning across the river further down the road from the Dzong. So photos ensued~
The people in this country exchange greetings with one another warmly on the road, and are geniunely happy when they see a stranger. The new friends we made here are fun-loving, caring and warm, always went the extra miles (literally) to make sure that we were in good hands.
Perhaps it is because of the small populace, but it is definitely heart-warming when wherever you go, you're met with warm smiles and gestures.
Some village kids playing along the side of the bridge as we headed back to the hotel.
On our very last day we travelled back to Paro and visited Drugyal Dzong, which is a stone fortress back in the past.
Inside the ruined fort.
And we climbed into the upper floors of the ruins, where everything was crumbling wherever you touch. So we roleplayed Lara Croft.
Group photo to commerate us conquering yet another landmark - Awkward poses concept.
Our friendly & warm driver, always waiting for us patiently whilst we go crazy with our antics.
I had an amazing week in a truly beautiful country, surrounded by friends who made it so much more enjoyable and fun. The trip was what I needed badly, a getaway from the urban concrete metrapolis - where everything moved so fast and unforgiving.
Now with a reenergized state, I can tackle all those with confidence again.
So are the people there truly happy?
In my week there, I've yet to see a sad person. So yes, I really believe so.
All photos are taken with a Fujifilm X100T, edited in Lightroom.