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. 

DSCN1479

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.    

DSCN1450

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.  

DSCN1528

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)

img_20190530_1303495034560891853166405.jpg
img_20190604_1211197495477762772386408.jpg
img_20190605_1309465064999207036717929.jpg
img_20190802_1412593257031346956755771.jpg

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. 

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”

Camino update travel 3: Burgos to Leon

This was originally posted on travelalphabetabc.wordpress.com a year ago today. 

I love rest days! This is my 3rd one so far and I am typing this from a room in Leon. 

So Burgos to Leon has taken me 9 days of walking although some will do it in less and others more depending on the routes taken and the amount of kilometres pilgrims wish to walk each day. For me, it’s not a race, I have nothing to prove and I also have the luxury of not having to rush back to work whilst others only have a set time. I also like to stop, breathe, take photos, chat with people along the way, notice the mountains to my right or left or sometimes all around me and due to blisters and raw ankles I’ve also had to walk slow for the past 2 or 3 weeks. We all walk our own Camino so this is my story and yours can be whatever you want it to be. Isn’t that wonderful!

Continue reading “Camino update travel 3: Burgos to Leon”

Camino update 3: Trust

This was originally posted on beingthebestyoucanbeblog.wordpress.com a year ago today. 

Well this is my 3rd rest day and am typing this from a room in Leon. Ok so trust! Hmm this was an interesting insight for me maybe from day 1 on the walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Burguete but especially on days 2 and 3 into Zubiri and Pamplona. Now, people who know me will be wondering about this trust insight as I’m normally a trusting person in both situations and people which is why this also caught me off guard.

Continue reading “Camino update 3: Trust”

Camino update travel 2: Pamplona to Burgos

This was posted originally a year ago on travelalphabetabc.wordpress.com. 

When I reached Burgos yesterday around 3pm I was so pleased as it signalled my 2nd rest day which is much needed after so many days of walking. So my last post ended in Pamplona as I was finishing my 1st rest day after 3 hard days of walking from St Jean pied de port. Let’s pick up from there. Continue reading “Camino update travel 2: Pamplona to Burgos”

Camino update 2: Are you walking alone? We all walk our own Camino.

This was posted originally a year ago on beingthebestyoucanbeblog.wordpress.com.

My 2nd rest day finally found me and I’m so grateful! It feels a long time since my last one in Pamplona and I have certainly walked quite a few kilometres since then and seen many villages, towns and am now in my 3rd city so far. There are 2 titles to this post as they have kept coming up in conversation and in my thoughts during this past stretch so both warrant a mention. 

Continue reading “Camino update 2: Are you walking alone? We all walk our own Camino.”