Alpenglow Expeditions has just returned from an amazing trip to Bhutan, exploring options for future Alpenglow trekking and mountaineering expeditions in this little-touristed country.
Bhutan is the size of Switzerland, but the whole population is 600,000. The capital, Thimphu, boasts only 75,000 people, and it is the country’s largest city by far! The small population dominates every impression one has of Bhutan.
Highlights of the trip were: seeing an archery tournament (Bhutan’s national sport) in Paro, eating momos and drinking arra (local rice wine) with our guides after watching ritual naked dancing (ahem) in Bumthang, exploring the Divine Madman’s monastery near Punakha, seeing the firey red chillis drying on the rooftops of the homes, and hiking up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Our most enduring impressions of Bhutan are the groves of flapping vertical prayer flags erected as memorials to the dead, the ‘dorjes’ painted on homes (literally huge penises painted to show strength and ward of evil & gossip), the endless winding roads, the elegant langor monkeys, the dancing monks at the Jakkar teschu, lukewarm nescafe, and most importantly the people–dressed in Ghos and Kiras, so open and unjaded by tourism.
The monarchy’s isolationist approach to tourism is another reason to visit Bhutan; it is a completely new approach to tourism, and for such a small country it is incredibly thoughtful and progressive. Fewer than 16,000 people will visit Bhutan this year (for some perspective, 1 million visit Hong Kong every day). The government has made major efforts to ‘protect’ this last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom. There is so much wilderness to explore, and so many vast unclimbed peaks over 6000 meters. While we were in Bhutan we were able to meet with some government officials who assured us that the government will be opening up permits for select peaks over 6000 meters this year to climbers. Alpenglow hopes to be one of the first commerical companies to run expeditions and treks to these isolated peaks. Please write soon if you are interested in joining an expedition or trek in Bhutan for 2009.
Laghe Lo!!! (May the Gods be victorious!)