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Day 103: Gantey

Michael Palin - HimalayaHaving been lulled into lowland warmth and balminess in the Brahmaputra valley, I find myself tonight dressed in several layers of winter clothes, in a candle-lit room, hugging close to a wood-burning stove and gratefully accepting the offer of a hot-water bottle to relieve the icy chill of my bed. I'm a mere 140 miles (225 km) from steamy Guwahati but have forsaken the lazy horizontals of the Brahmaputra for a return to the rugged verticals of the Himalaya, and the bustle of the streets and markets for the silence of one of the most tranquil countries in the world.

Bhutan is the only independent Buddhist kingdom and one of only two remaining Himalayan kingdoms (Sikkim having gone to India and Tibet to China). It's a little larger than Switzerland, with a population less than the city of Birmingham, so there is room to swing cats. Add to this a deliberate government-imposed surcharge of $65 a day and you can begin to understand why we flew in to an airport that looked like a mediaeval palace on one of the only two planes that comprise the national fleet.

Bhutan (the name means the end of 'Bhot', the old name for Tibet) is a country of very strong character. The cultural confusion of East and West, of temples and shopping malls, robes and baseball hats, which marks so much of Southeast Asia, doesn't seem to have done much damage to a country where the official language is Dzongkha, the official currency is the ngultrum and the official policy is Gross National Happiness before Gross National Product.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 103: Gantey
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Gantey
  • Book page no: 238

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