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Date : 10th November, 2015
Time : GARMIN DATA CORRUPTED
Total distance run to date : 640 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/985116015 (part)
His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) of Bhutan, was celebrating his 60th birthday and the whole country was celebrating with him. And why not? He may have abdicated in favour of his son but he is credited with bringing both democracy and prosperity to the country. While prioritising Gross Domestic Happiness over Gross Domestic Product.
And, although I don’t have sufficient knowledge to pass comment on the King’s achievements, it’s certainly easy to like Bhutan. You fly into Paro airport and you’re immediately charmed. The only buildings are traditional in design, the mountains soar all around, and there are colourful flags and decorations everywhere.
There’s very little Western influence on show. Bhutan has a policy of only letting in a few high value tourists each year – everyone has to pay a fee of $250 /day which includes your guide, accommodation and land transport. And once you’re there you’re in the hands of your guide – and I got the sense that he was going to stick close to me come what may. More chaperone perhaps than guide.
Luckily my guide was as charming as his country and very accommodating of my brief visit and unusual itinerary. My original plan was to try to make it to the Eagles Nest monastery – even if it meant my ‘run’ involving a lot of scrambling up steep paths and cliff faces. But my inward flight was delayed and I ran out of time.
Instead I was driven up the Eagles Nest valley and dropped off at a spot roughly 10 km outside Paro – picture above. The start of the run was over 2500m and, at first, I was struggling for air. But you get used to the altitude and the run was a beauty with great views and the occasional inspirational road sign – please see below. It may be missing a word or two but it was typical of the pride Bhutan takes in its green credentials.
My guide and the driver stayed in the car and mostly drove along a few meters behind me. I’m not sure what they were worried about but I got the distinct impression they didn’t want me out of their sight.
Run over, they showed me round Paro which is home to more beautiful buildings and, the day we were there, a traditional dance contest. It was hard not think that here was a simpler lifestyle where people have less – but perhaps more happiness.
Or am I just being a naïve tourist? I saw enough to know that living conditions are still very basic for a lot of the population. And cultural integrity comes at a price. More than 100 000 Lhotshampans (who are of Nepali descent) were forced out of country in the 1990s and forced to live in refugee camps.
Overall, Bhutan was a beautiful enigma. One I must revisit to find out more!