A Buddhist in Bhutan

by Alison Laycock

This is a post I have shared on my other blogs Travel Alphabet and Being the Best You Can Be. For some reason, it hasn’t yet been shared on here and I wonder what I’ve been waiting for. This trip to India and Bhutan was taken in October/ November 2017 and was a huge part of my 40 countries in my 40s challenge and still quite close to the start. Let’s get to the post.

Bhutan has long been shrouded in mystery for me and has remained on my “must visit list” along with the likes of Tibet, Nepal and Sri Lanka for many years now. Last October and November, with much anticipation and excitement, I was finally able to make my way there and discover its many offerings. I’ve purposely not used the words “tick it off my list” as even as I was boarding my flight back to Kolkata, India, the pull back to this beautiful country was already being felt and accepted. 

Before starting this account, it is important to acknowledge that as well as being a Buddhist’s account rather than a tourist view of Bhutan, it is also my personal view as another Buddhist may indeed notice different aspects. For those wanting the tourist facts, then I can certainly recommend the “Lonely planet guide to Bhutan”. 

It is rare as a Buddhist to see my faith in practice in everyday life in fact I am often the only Buddhist amongst friends, colleagues and even in the countries I live or visit. Therefore, to travel to a Buddhist country is essential but a rare treat for me to see my faith/ religion so visibly part of everyone’s way of life throughout their interactions and day to day tasks.  

As you enter Bhutan, you notice first the cleanliness, the orderliness and the calm and relative quiet as you walk the streets and engage with other people. This is especially a stark difference if you cross from Jaigon, the larger bazaar Indian border town travelling through the Bhutan gate to Phuentsholing as I did. After leaving here, the true Bhutan comes into focus and you will no doubt be impressed by its vastness and amazing scenery.  

The philosophy of Gross National Happiness is clear within Bhutan and is evident from the way people interact. There is a set place to cross the streets, people are wearing similar outfits if on official business ( the Gho for the men and the Kira for the women) and everyone appears mindful of themselves and others. On the roads, there were no incidences of road rage, drivers simply got out of their cars or buses when there was a traffic jam and discussed how best for all of them to be on their way. There was humour in their dealings with each other and a general respect for each other’s wellbeing. Along the roads, there were reminders of going slow and driving carefully so that you and your passengers would get home safely to the people who love you. 

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What I really enjoyed was the kindness and gentleness provided by the local people and our first interaction came from our driver and tour guide who remained with us throughout our trip around Bhutan. In them, you could see their pride in their country as they showed off their country and the work they did as nothing was too much trouble.  They seemed completely interested in you as an individual wanting to know about you and your life and listening intently to the answers which is a rare find these days. They are not named here as they represent so many others we met along the way who although weren’t our guides, were always ready and willing to interact and help if required.                                                                                 

 The monasteries and national buildings all have the same facade, the white and red colours which offer a uniform outlook, however within each one there is always something different to surprise and attract you. Within a monastery, this can be the monks themselves as well as the paintings and statues as in some they are chanting, walking around or simply meditating. All of this provides a sense of peacefulness and an opportunity for reflection ensured by the ruling that all photography is prohibited as you are encouraged to actually stop, look and take in all that is around you which will help you remember the atmosphere and all that you have seen.    

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The most well-known monastery in Bhutan is Taktsang monastery (the Tiger’s Nest Monastery) perched at 900m above the Paro valley on the side of a sheer cliff. The photo below shows my view from the cafe where I stopped my walk and decided to take my photos from helped by my zoom. I happily didn’t feel the need to continue on to go into this most popular monastery as the walk up chatting with other people and noticing the beautiful views felt more appropriate than simply reaching an end goal everyone else was rushing to. At the cafe, I got to meet and chat to people from different countries hearing their stories of how they made it to Bhutan, where they had been and where they were heading off to.  

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Life is after all about the journey, the people you meet along the way and the impact we all have on each other’s lives hopefully making it that bit better through kindness when we can.

Travel update on my 47th birthday

My year of travel goes from 23rd April to 22nd April each year in line with the travel challenge I set myself for my 40s of 40 countries in my 40s. As you can imagine, this year hasn’t helped at all towards the challenge and my total still stands at 36 with 4 more to go just as it was this time last year.

Below is my post from last year which makes me feel so much better knowing that there has been travel before and there can be again. There have been other years in the challenge where due to where I have been based, I haven’t been able to travel off to other places so easily and I know that other years have certainly made up for it.

It has been hard this year not to even make it further than where my feet could take me as I haven’t been on trains, buses or even out in a car for the past year. A bit different to how I have lived and travelled before however, also aware that I’ve had it better than others as I have made it to the local park and shops so have had it better than others too. The memories I have from travelling have completely sustained me this past year and I’m aware I never have retreat about the travel I’ve taken, just those I haven’t been able to do over the years.

Ok, so on to last year’s post!

Last year I updated my travel challenge in August although my year ends 22nd April just ahead of my birthday on the 23rd. That post stayed with me and as I approached my birthday this year, I almost believed I hadn’t been to any new countries during this year which of course isn’t true as the count was still high. I’ve included the 45-46 part below.  

45 – 46: So, I started my birthday in Dubrovnik (Croatia) and was fortunate enough to continue my travels after the end of April. Firstly, to Kotor (Montenegro) then Podgorica     (Montenegro), on to Tirana (Albania), Skopje (Macedonia), Pristina (Kosovo), Sofia (Bulgaria), Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina), Ljubljana (Slovenia) and back to Paris (France). Then the journey back to England where I visited 6 cities before heading for Scotland to see Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, John O’Groats, Orkney, Perth and Glasgow. Then I reminisced in the North East of England in Berwick Upon Tweed, Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham before returning to Chester which is where I am writing this post.  Total so far = 12 (original = 9)

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This means that Scotland became my 36th original country visited in my 40s so far.

When I wrote and posted the above update, I was certain that many more countries would soon be added to my list before my 46th birthday in April 2020. As it turned out for various reasons, this wasn’t the case and although I visited Wales in August and the start of September, Scotland was to remain my last original country visited during this travel year. Wales has featured many times in my 40s due to having a family caravan there which I often manage to get to when I can hire a car. 

From September onwards, I have remained in England which is where I also celebrated my 46th birthday this past week. Despite staying in England and not adding to my total of 36, I have travelled around to many different areas some of which were new and others were places to revisit after many years. So if cities added to my 40 countries in my 40s challenge then I would definitely be there by now many times over. 

So, I am going to list those cities and places as I don’t often do that for England although I do for other countries when I visit more than one place. As I’ve started with some English cities above then I may as well continue. Some places I have returned to many times for different reasons but I will only mention them once here.

Taunton, Penzance, Land’s End, Truro, Falmouth, St Austell, Plymouth, Exeter, Newquay, Padstow, Bude, Barnstaple, Windsor, Canterbury, London, Guildford, Oxford and then back to Chester. 

There will be others I’ve also visited for a day or so on the bus like nipping to Port Issac from Bude via 2 buses and also from Canterbury being able to explore Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Whitstable and Herne Bay.

I imagine that my travel bug has been maintained by the fact that I’ve travelled round the UK and basically kept moving since returning to England after my European tours. 

As I started my 46th birthday last week on the 23rd April, I did wonder what this new year would hold for me. I have 4 countries left to achieve my goal and also 4 more years to achieve this so I’m in no doubt that it will be reached. Where will I be when I reach that 40th country and when will I travel again as I’m writing this whilst staying safe at home during the global pandemic of Covid-19. The fact that I want to reach the target through travelling to original countries in my 40s makes it last longer as otherwise I would have reached it long before now. 

What travel has given me

This morning I went for a walk in my local park, a park where I have been walking for over 30 years when I have been home. This past year, I have been walking there as often as I could & it has been my saving grace during a year of no travel. 

This morning whilst out walking, creativity and inspiration came to me and I started thinking about what travel has given me. In short, lots! All of my travel experience has given me lots and I still believe it has given me much more than it has ever taken away.

So, in no particular order and accompanied with photos from this morning’s walk. I’m also going to type it out on my mobile rather than on my laptop as that’s how I would do my blog posts whilst travelling. 

Sense of adventure: I will try new things, new places & meet new people without any concern. I search out different ways of travelling, different ways of doing things & will try to find the fun in it all. 

Open-minded & open-hearted: Throughout all the countries I have travelled & lived in, there have been many people I have met and am proud to call my family & friends. There have been ways of living that I’ve experienced & more often that not I have found compassion in the way people live & interact with others. 

Ability to let go and move on: As a Buddhist, I always thought this came from the teachings on Impermanence. However, this year I’ve realised there are many skills I’ve learnt from travel and this is a big one. Being able to move in from the point of comfort into challenge, move on from loved ones when the time comes, move on from the person I was in that country and at that time with those people. 

Acceptance: Of all situations & people. I’ve learnt and understood the value of walking in the mud when you need to. Often it leads to the best parts to see. Standing strong in the mud and taking time to look ahead can help us find the right path to follow. 

True joy exists in every experience: There is always something good and wondrous to find in every experience. Sometimes, it’s not always easy to see but it is always there. 

Less is more: Rather than filling every minute with something to see or do, it’s also beneficial to take time to appreciate the moment. 

Memories: This year especially with no travel, my travel memories have really helped me through some of the hardest times. 

Freedom: This may be an obvious one but in many ways travel has given me freedom. The freedom of thought, choice, restrictions, obligations and more. 

These are just a few of the many things travel has given me and I can’t wait to get back to it as soon as possible. 

Travel update on my 46th birthday

Last year I updated my travel challenge in August although my year ends 22nd April just ahead of my birthday on the 23rd. That post stayed with me and as I approached my birthday this year, I almost believed I hadn’t been to any new countries during this year which of course isn’t true as the count was still high. I’ve included the 45-46 part below.   Continue reading “Travel update on my 46th birthday”

How my travel experience is helping me during lockdown

When lockdown was finally announced in the UK, I felt very lucky as my travel plans were already bringing me home that day and it therefore felt a bit more like choice than push. Yes, my travel was being cut short, however I was already due home for a dentist appointment (which was subsequently cancelled) and how amazing that when I booked those dates, I didn’t know how it would help me in many more ways than simply having some dental work done.  Continue reading “How my travel experience is helping me during lockdown”

We all walk our own Camino

So, I wrote a travel book which covers my Camino, lessons learnt and how I have incorporated it into my daily life after completing it. As I did it within my 40 years in my 40s challenge, I wanted to also share it on this blog especially as I’m sure it impacted my travel and interactions afterwards. Yes, this is my travel book and no, this is not the one I may have already mentioned. The book I’ve recently written and uploaded to Kindle as an e-book is called ‘We all walk our own Camino’ and is about my Camino journey and how it has affected me and my life.

Continue reading “We all walk our own Camino”

My writing process for my travel book

I’m currently writing my 2nd book which is my 1st travel book! Yes, I’m taking time to let that sink in and have paid particular attention to those numbers as they mean something now and in the future. I published my 1st book as an e-book on Kindle in October 2019 using a lot of the posts from this blog and some from my travel blog and it is called ‘Being the best you can be’ just like my other blog and my business.  Continue reading “My writing process for my travel book”

A recommendation for Split, Croatia: Interview with Geoff of Fig restaurant

Recently, I spent some time in Split, Croatia which is a must visit destination in itself which I’m sure I’ll cover in a different post. For now, I want to recommend a place to eat which yes, for those who know me well will be a shock. It is rare for me to even remember what I’ve eaten never mind where, however when you find somewhere which offers great food (even vegetarian and vegan) and even better service, then it is certainly worth a recommendation. When I decided to interview Geoff, I was already preparing to move on to Dubrovnik so this interview took place over emails back and forth. I hope you enjoy it and also if you are fortunate to ever be in Split then please check out the Fig restaurant as I know you won’t be disappointed. Continue reading “A recommendation for Split, Croatia: Interview with Geoff of Fig restaurant”

1st August 2012

Alison Laycock

Although this was an experience outside of my 40 countries in my 40s challenge , it is one which has influenced all my travels since without me really realising the full extent to how it has impacted me if I’m honest. Recently, I have noticed subtle changes in me and I have started to wonder if my natural responses to this incident made my body respond to situations in a particular way which I’m now seeing is no longer happening. Maybe 7 years on, I’m finally leaving it behind. I hope so! 

The 1st August is one of those dates I remember every year but unlike birthdays or anniversaries of great experiences it doesn’t have happy memories. Instead, I remember it as a day I could have been killed by bandits in Cameroon. 

I won’t add photos to this post and I won’t name the area we were in as really this could have happened anywhere. You can read it simply as a travel story or take it as advice for your travels, it is entirely up to you. 

Continue reading “1st August 2012”