If you’re a traveller like me, the kind who seeks experiences and is not very keen to just tick places off a bucket list – then, you’ll know what I am talking about.
In all the years I have spent meandering inside the Kingdom of Bhutan, the impact of modernity, or globalisation and of the internet has never been as stark as it is now.
I remember my first trip to Bhutan. It was 2012. I was a backpacker. And I went on an unplanned trip. Over the years, and even before my started my own travel company, I realised that it is not only difficult to travel unplanned to this beautiful country, it is also not encouraged by their government and people AND it is eventually, not worth it.
Nearly 7 years and 17 trips later, I can see the changes.
Most Bhutanese don’t smile at Indians, any more. There is a sense of exhaustion with our lot, with how noisy we are, how intrusive (we don’t take permission before taking photos of children/women/elderly) and how we accord very little respect to their culture. Indians are often seen talking loudly inside those quiet monasteries where, it may sound unbelievable, but you won’t hear even the local babies cry.
And we don’t follow their rules. There was once a photograph taken on the main street in Paro that became (in)famous. An Indian family was running across the street while a cow was crossing over to the other side on the zebra crossing. The caption was: Even cows in Bhutan know the rules that Indians don’t.
It was embarrassing to see it. But it was true. I’ve seen too many Indians disrespecting the law of the land and it saddens me no end.
I have, over the years, also seen how the Bhutanese themselves have changed. Thanks to the internet and global exposure, the young people are no longer in awe of the tourists. There is no implied disrespect, but there is a sense of fatigue with the visitors that shows on their faces. Again, they don’t smile as much.
I have also seen the open drains becoming sewers and the impact of the plastic scourge, which is due to uncontrolled urbanisation in some pockets of the country. I have seen how, despite their best intentions, even the Bhutanese are falling into the modernisation trap.
Also, Bhutan, despite being a carbon negative country, is facing the brunt of climate change. For the first time in many years I was told, Thimphu’s hotels needed to arrange fans for their guests in the month of August. Those areas with salubrious weather are becoming warmer and those with warm weather, hotter.
And so, my number one tip for travellers for 2019 is – Visit Bhutan.
Visit Bhutan before the dangers of modernisation, including the weariness of the millennials in Bhutan, begins to make you feel inhospitable, unwelcome and even create conflict.
Visit Bhutan while it is still an Utopian ideal, a place where an uncle or aunt will willingly look after his/her nieces or nephews just because their parents are in the village and he/she is in the city, a place where they have deep respect for their faith and they believe in the ideals of Buddhism, a place where there is even deeper respect and love for nature.
Visit Bhutan to see how the King lives an austere life and whose aim is to only serve his country. This may not change in the next few years, but one can already see that there are certain factions who don’t idolise the royal family any more.
Visit Bhutan before the handful urban centres start looking like any other Indian city.
Visit Bhutan because there is still something magical and endearing about the country, which may get lost in the next couple of years.
Visit Bhutan while it is still the Last Shangri-La on Earth.
Visit Bhutan before it’s too late.
Photos courtesy: Saurabh Sabikhi and Ease India Travel