Taktshang Monastery in Bhutan’s Paro valley: Built in 1692, allegedly on the spot where the 8th-century monk Guru Rimpoche landed, riding a flying tiger from Tibet. The name of the monastery, which burned in 1998 and has since been rebuilt, translates as “tiger’s nest” or “lair.” Photo by Stephen Shephard, 2006, via Wikimedia Commons
This time next week I’ll be drinking yak butter tea in an attempt to soothe a scorched palate. Scorched, because I will not have been able to resist generous helpings of emadatse: a hellacious dish consisting of handfuls of fiery chilies stirred into melted homemade cheese. Eating it has been described by writer Ari LeVaux as “part endorphin release and part out-of-body experience.”
But I’ll be happy, because I’ll be in Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom and as everyone knows, the one place that sets Gross National Happiness high above Gross Domestic Product and other dismal economic measures. In 2006 a Business Week survey rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the 8th happiest country in the world.
No wonder people call it Shangri-la.
It will be fall, clear and cool, I’m told, with views of the snowcapped Himalayas towering over rooftops covered with red chilies drying in the sun. We’ll lumber over high passes where the air is thin, then spiral down into lush valleys with stone houses and apple orchards. There’ll be visits to ancient monasteries, textile weavers and farms; the Jambay Lakhang festival with the lighting of a fire arch that, for Buddhists, promises longevity, luck and power; and a trip to see the takin, Bhutan’s shaggy, near-mythological national animal.
I’m looking forward to quiet moments, broken only by the sound of temple bells and monks chanting, to readjusting the spiritual calculus. To laughing with people who know how to live joyfully in the moment.
But right now I’m packing and I am not happy.
There’s a well-intentioned list of stuff to bring, much of which is now piled up on the bed in Serendipity’s room: flashlight or headlamp, in case the power goes out (and don’t forget the batteries); sink stopper; flip flops for slippery bathroom floors, travel plug adaptors (2 or 3 different ones); binoculars, lightweight water bottle and backpack for hikes; sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat; Swiss Army knife; telescopic aluminum walking stick; candied ginger, dried fruit and nuts; broad spectrum antibiotic, pain relievers, cough suppressants, Neosporin, iodine or potassium permanganate crystals, Bandaids, high altitude medication, Ace bandages (in case of a fall), Pepto Bismol, Immodium, motion sickness medication; ear plugs to shut out the sound of barking dogs.
And of course, an entirely different set of clothes, none of which I ever wish to see again. Despite the dogs, I did not get a rabies shot.
This mountain of stuff is oppressing. It makes me feel like the worst consumer, as if I’ve gorged on a gigantic meal of very bad food. And what about the 44-pound weight limit?
Well, we’ll see what happens. Yesterday I returned a few things and felt a definite uptick in my “lightness of being.” I really just want to hop on the plane with my tickets, passport and a carry-on. Because simplicity is surely one key to happiness.
But first I have to get there. You might like this view of the notoriously tricky approach to Bhutan’s airport in Paro.
Another reason to travel light….
See you in November!