I was dreading day two in Bhutan so much that I didn’t wake up for breakfast. The hotel brought food to the room nonetheless. Why was I in no mood to go out? Because the second event of the day was bike riding downhill from the giant Buddha. If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m a horrible cyclist (see “It’s Like Riding a Bike.” Those words have haunted me for years and Guns & Butter: Bagan Travel Guide).
Stop 1: Buddha Point
Just as I was starting to internalize the teachings of Buddha (see Finding Happiness: Bhutan Day 1), capitalism interfered. Our first stop in the capital city of Thimphu was a giant Buddha perched high above the city. Built in 2015, it is hardly a historically significant monument. At the top, there were so many tourists. Although the pictures are nice, my Bhutan zen was interrupted by this Disney-esque tourist attraction.
Stop and Start 2: Downhill Cycling
I was in a hurry to get away from the tourists. Too bad the only way down was by bicycle. When I Booked Bhutan, I was wary about this part of the trip but deferred to the tour guide who said it was a memorable experience. In Blenheim, momentarily conquering my fear of cycling was worth it. There’s no way I could have seen the beauty of the vineyards if I was being chauffeured around town (see Wine Tours by Bike NZ: A Must for Wine Enthusiasts). I thought this would be similar. It was not. Picture me going a few feet while holding onto the brake, releasing it, only to hold it again. If I did find any cadence, it would be interrupted by a tour bus coming behind me honking. I also didn’t find comfort in the sharp corners. The good news is that I survived. The bad news is that I’m still scared of bicycles.
Stop 3: What You Takin About?
Crocs in Darwin, lions in Kenya, penguins in Cape Town (and Scottsdale), and pandas in Chengdu: what more is there to see? How about the takin? No animal lover’s dream would be complete without seeing these goatish animals. They’re as friendly as they look.
Views from the Top
Stop 4: Thangthong Dewachen Nunnery
At the nunnery, I observed female monks doing hundreds of what I can only describe as burpees as part of their worship ritual. It is physically demanding and impressive to see. I also noticed the number of stray dogs loitering outside the temple, a regular sight throughout Bhutan.
A theme throughout this trip is my annoyance with the tour company for taking us to bland, empty restaurants. This one felt like North Korea. Ms. TPOL and I were the only two in the restaurant. How can there be cultural immersion if no one else is present? If the food was good, maybe I would complain less. It was not.
TPOL’S TIP: You’re only going to visit Bhutan once. Tell your tour guide what you want to do and where you want to eat. Being real with your tour guide makes that relationship more enjoyable and leads to better activities and meals.
Afternoon Plans Scrapped
I didn’t want to visit a paper factory. I didn’t want to visit a stupa. I wanted to have fun and meet locals. I told my tour guide and he executed an audible.
Stop 4: Archery
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. It is awesome and crazy to watch in person. Why is it awesome? Because the archers are 120 meters from each other and are using a standard bow and arrow and somehow hitting a target. Why is it crazy? Because it is dangerous, not so much for the spectators, but for the participants. Like a game of bean bag, teams line up on opposite sides and take turns shooting arrows. The team on the other side stands right next to the target and waits to see if their opponent is successful. The first question I asked was if anyone has been hit by an arrow. Not only does it happen, but also people have died from it. Another interesting point is that the competition is among rivals from different towns or ‘blocks’ as they are called. And it gets intense. The superstitions are taken to another level as is the drinking the day before and during. It’s madness.
Stop 4: Golf
I don’t always golf when I travel (see Golf Course Reviews). It has to be in a unique place (see Ripoff Alert: Golfing in the Himalayas), be a novel course (Golfing on the Moon: Club de Golf, La Paz), or it has to be an especially beautiful course (see Golf in Marrakech: BYOB; Gulf Harbour Country Club: Where to Golf in New Zealand). The reason is because there’s too much to see and do to spend half a day playing golf. Bhutan fits under the unique place exception. Good round or bad, how could I be angry in a place where I’m pursuing happiness? Also, I had to do it for the blog (see Total Consciousness: Golfing in Bhutan). It was a reverse Ty Webb Caddhshack experience as I watched my caddy chip and put better than I. Meanwhile, I was looking for my ball in the lumberyard.
Following golf, I had some drinks with other golfers. It was interesting to hear their perspective on happiness, Buddhism, and reincarnation. It was also interesting to hear that the younger generation is questioning it all. The best example was one gentleman’s son who questioned his dad why he couldn’t get an iPhone. The dad said in his time they would not think to ask this because his current place in life was a circumstance of what he had done in a previous life. That ideology is a tough sell in today’s social media world.
Happy drunk, I went to dinner with my tour guide and driver. Finally, we had local, delicious food. We ordered everything on the menu, something easy to do because each dish only costs about $1.70. I recommend the beef momo, the red rice, and the chili cheese. The best part of Bhutanese food is by far the chilis.
I took control of my vacation on day 2. Because of that, I was closer to finding happiness.