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Dressing for a festival in Thimpu
Dressing for a festival in Thimpu
Miriam Goodman

Readers of this column will remember that I have said that travel is often the number one interest for people about to retire. Earlier, I laid out some objectives for new retirees as they plan their travel: if you are traveling with another person, make sure you agree on where you are going and how long you will be gone, think about traveling “out of season” so there are fewer crowds and often lower prices, and make sure to allow for some downtime.

These suggestions apply whether you are new at world traveling or have been roaming for years. The only things you really need for your adventure is a willingness to be open to new experience and a sense of curiosity.

I have been traveling for years and recently ventured to a part of the world I had not yet visited--- Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet. My spouse was not interested in seeing these places so I signed up with a group tour that ended up being 5 women, all of us over 50 but not all fully retired. The youngest among us was still working full time and took big trips like this one whenever she could; another woman, fully retired, had been nursing her husband who had been badly injured in an automobile accident and was taking the trip as both a reward and to see a part of the world she was most interested in. One woman was a consultant but could make her own hours and was interested in learning more about Buddhism which is central to life in that part of the world, and another was a retired woman who had been to Europe many times but was eager for an ‘adventure.’ So we were a mix of married, widowed, divorced and single women with different travel experiences and expectations.

Bhutan, our first stop, is in southern Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas. Once a remote kingdom often considered the real Shangri-La, the country has only recently opened up to foreigners. It is a constitutional monarchy, with a reining king who is well loved and often seen around the country.

Instead of a gross national product, Bhutan says it looks for its gross national happiness. Everywhere one goes there are signs that have life-affirming slogans like “Life is a Journey” or “Be Happy.” It is believed that personal well being and spiritual health should take precedence over material wealth and for some, this approach is working. However, their neighbors China and India are rushing into the 21st century so quickly it may be impossible to hold onto the old traditions for much longer.

Bhutanese men and women wear a national uniform while at work or in school. The men wear a variation of a kimono which is belted and shortened and worn with knee socks. The women wear long dresses covered by colorful jackets. After hours, the younger people are in jeans and t-shirts, just like almost everywhere.

Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage is rooted in Buddhist traditions and practices. Many of the monasteries date from the 7th century. Schools teach ancient painting and herbal medicine, while a modern hospital stands nearby.