A Jam-Packed First Few Days in Bhutan

May 18, 2013 at 1:08 am 1 comment


Greetings from Punakha, a city of about 30,000 in western Bhutan. It’s the former capital—Thimphu is now the capital—and is still the spiritual capital of the country. I’m a little fuzzy on what qualifies a city to be the spiritual capital, but I suspect I’ll have a better grip on that after we visit the dzong (kind of a combination of fortress/palace/monastery) later today.

Here’s just a sampling of what we’ve done in our first few days over here:

—visited a school where Bhutanese teenagers spend six years learning any of 13 handcrafts, such as woodcarving, painting, sculpture, and embroidery;

—visited a small factory where workers make paper by hand from the bark of the daphne plant;

—went to the post office to browse (and buy some of) the fancy stamps that Bhutan is famous for;

—eaten a lot of foods that I can’t pronounce, but that involve things like red rice, river grass soup, mustard oil, and green chiles;

—seen lots of Buddhist prayer flags and smelled so much incense I thought we were back in the ’60s; and

—hung out for an evening with the country’s chief elections commissioner, who happens to be a Penn Stater: Kunzang Wangdi ’80. 

I’ll share a few photos with you for now, and hope to update you more in a few days, when we get to a spot that has better wi-fi access. First, to give you a sense of the scenery, here’s what awaited us when we landed at Paro airport (Bhutan’s only international airport) the other day:


That’s an Airbus operated by Druk Air, the national—and only—airline of Bhutan. If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see that on the tail is the national flag, the emblem of a dragon.

Next, some of the students at the painting school. Check out the guy on the left—apparently the occasional bout of boredom in the classroom is a universal phenomenon:


Something we noticed from the moment we landed is how thoroughly Buddhist a country this is. Prayer flags are everywhere, and when we visited the Memorial Chorten (a large Buddhist shrine in Thimphu), you could see people like the guy below, walking around twirling their prayer wheels:


After a couple of days in the capital city of Thimphu, we headed off to the Punakha Valley, a three-hour ride over a bumpy, narrow, mountain road that is essentially the national highway. It’s the only road between Thimphu and parts east. Here’s a glimpse of what it looked like out the front windshield of our maxi-van:


By the way, people drive on the left side of the road over here.

After our stay here in Punakha, we head to a city called Gangtey, where we’re told the electricity will be a little hit-or-miss. I’m guessing that Internet access will be out of the question. Other than an upcoming post about the local currency, it may be a few days before I can post again. Talk to you then.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: Alumni Association. Tags: , , , , , , , .

We’re on Our Way to Bhutan Money in Bhutan

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Anonymous  |  May 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Love hearing about Tina’s travels

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