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Seeing the world, one small country at a time

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I have been writing about “senior” travel lately and hope to encourage readers to just do it! Other cities and countries are often fascinating and offer visitors a change to expand their interests and even serve as good will ambassadors from their own country. Not to mention the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, eat new foods and become a new person.

I recently visited the small country of Bhutan. A mountain kingdom surrounded by India and Tibet (China) and the Himalayas, visitors have been welcomed only since the 1970’s so it still somewhat undiscovered by western travelers. The population is less than 700,000 people in the entire country, which is less than the city of San Francisco. There is a modern airport and several cities. The capitol is Thimpu (in case you need this fact for a crossword puzzle) which is a small town with its busy main streets, the seat of government and many Buddhist temples and monasteries. Anyone who works with tourists or the public is required to wear the national costume as are school children. The hotels are modern, there are satellite dishes everywhere and I found a karaoke bar just across the street from my hotel so you know the outside world has entered Bhutan in many ways. English is the second language of the country and is taught in the schools.

Most visitors come for some kind of trekking or hiking or to observe some of the national festivals. The country is colorful, from the buildings to the clothes and one can easily see the mix of old traditions and 21st century technology.

One of the treats of my trip was the chance to watch an archery exhibition. Not only is this a national sport, Bhutan send an archery team to the Olympics. Men (and I did not see any women participating) use bamboo bows and arrows, not modern metal ones, and shoot at targets 450 feet away. I could hardly see the target but each archer came either very close or actually hit it. When they did, their team of friends would dance and whoop in a circle dance and have a great time!

So what should the senior traveler consider when visiting Bhutan? First is the altitude. Thimpu is 7500 ft above sea level and parts of the country are as high 25,000 ft. If you live at sea level or close to it, it will take some adjusting and even medication to avoid altitude sickness.

Next is the food. While none of it is dangerous and the restaurants and hotels are clean and modern, most of the food is spicy and Indian in the uses of spices. People used to a more bland diet will be able to find what they want but should include some type of medication for upset stomachs in their luggage.

Comfortable shoes are important for travelers of any age but in Bhutan as in much of Asia, a lot of the tourist sites are monasteries and temples and one often has to take shoes off. A sturdy slip-on shoe is probably the best idea.

A last bit of advice good for travelers of any age--let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return, even if it is only a clerk in your hotel. There are many mountains and paths to discover and if you are the type who wanders off the main trail, it is comforting to know someone may be expecting you to return.

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