Imagine giving someone a once-rare ticket to the “Kingdom of Happiness,” the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. Nestled near Tibet and Nepal, Bhutan was isolated from most of the world until four decades ago. Now, tourists can stay in family bed and breakfasts or high-end resorts and still witness authentic local Buddhist ceremonies and trek into pristine nature reserves.
You can also see unusual mammals called Takin or have real Bhutanese postage stamps made with your picture on them. Fluttering prayer flags and smiling school children are still a more common site that tourists.
The National Museum of Bhutan offers secular and spiritual artifacts as you circle chronologically up what was once an old watchtower. It also offers sweeping vistas of Paro and the lush valley as well as a sweeping introduction to the unique nature of Bhutan.
The small country is experimenting with measuring and monitoring GNH (Gross National Happiness) as a better gauge of success than GNP (Gross National Product). Intrigued by the concept, Dr. Doris Lee McCoy, a Southern Californian, stayed with a family in Bhutan for three weeks and wrote about her investigations in her latest book, THE MAGIC OF GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS. She hopes it can add to people’s own happiness during the holidays.
Another stocking stuffer for happiness lovers would be a gift card for an advance purchase of one of the first copies of RADIO SHANGRI-LA, WHAT I LEARNED IN BHUTAN, THE HAPPIEST KINGDOM ON EARTH by Lisa Napoli, coming out on February 8, 2011. The advance reviews tout a hot title and fulfilling read.
An audio version is on the way too. Will there be a movie?
Currently, only one airline flies in and out of Bhutan, and you need to arrange for a visa in advance. Finding an experienced tour company to arrange things can save you lots of angst. Bridge To Bhutan offered great flexibility by tailoring tours and matching interests with accommodations – from the Pamthso Bed and Breakfast over a river in Thiumphu to the country’s new spas and five-star hotels.
Whether actually traveling or just reading about it, Bhutan is hard to beat for a happy holiday gift.
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©Lisa Sonne, WorldTouristBureau.com