Into my second week in Bhutan dear reader. I have to admit that the first week was something of a cultural shock. I’m surprised by this as I have travelled widely during my vast years on this planet – and to some developing nations, such as Mozambique, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe. I even visited the old Soviet Union and that was something, let me tell you.

But Bhutan. Truly a bit of a shock. For me, the issues have been:

  • The level of poverty and lack of infrastructure. The capital city, Thimphu, is where I’m based and it’s a bit of an obstacle course to navigate frankly. Open, smelly drains; very uneven pavements; holes in the pavement or streets that you could literally disappear down; and the odd large steps.
  • The Bhutanese people aren’t tall; they’re about my height or a little taller, which is a vertically-challenged 5ft 3″ or around 160cm. And yet, everyone has to climb up and down these large steps all along the main street of Thimphu (Norzim Lam). For taller people; no issue I guess.
  • The water and sanitation. You can’t drink tap water here. No way. I was given dire warnings about typhoid, cholera and dysentery by my NZ doctor, so I’ve been a bit paranoid about avoiding vegetables that might have been washed in water. So no salads for me and basically, if I can’t peel it, boil it or nuke it – I’m not eating it. That means my diet at the moment isn’t great – rice, pasta when I can get it, curried veges, coffee and tea. I’ve had a few days of stomach issues despite being extremely careful. Thank goodness for activated charcoal tablets!
  • The food. I’m not so sure about Bhutanese food. Their traditional dish is called Ema-Datsi: a chilli and cheese dish that has left me a bit cold. The Bhutanese view chillies as a vegetable and scoff a lot of them. Then there’s red rice (tastes like brown rice to me) and buckwheat pancakes that I find tasteless. I have found some good vege curries but I’m not that fussed on Bhutanese food. It’s a bit bland for my taste. Even the Indian food isn’t all that spicy or tasty. So I’ve been spending time in two coffee joints that I’ll tell you about in a future post.
  • Street dogs. My goodness, I’ve found this hard. Hundreds of stray dogs roam the pavements and city streets. Well, seems hundreds to me. Bhutan is a Buddhist nation, so they do not kill animals. I’ve seen street dogs literally lying in the main street with cars going around them. A poor little puppy was accidentally hit and chaos ensued. The driver of the vehicle got out and everyone gathered around to see if the puppy was okay. My first week was spent playing “dodge the street dogs” (because you’re told that some dogs could have rabies and that there are “good and bad dogs” – meaning that some could bite). Now into my second week, I’m more relaxed as the street dogs are actually very used to humans, can be quite affectionate and are well-looked after (shop owners rush out with bowls of water and food scraps for them).
  • In fact, I’ve found that groups of street dogs have territories and hang out in certain areas of the city. They seem to spend a lot of time sleeping and I had to take a photo of what I call Dog Central. It’s a traffic island/roundabout where a group of black street dogs sit and watch the traffic whiz by or they snooze. Sorry, it’s a dodgy iPhone night-time shot below but you get the idea.

I can say that the Bhutanese people are very gracious and friendly. They are extremely tolerant of foreigners and you can walk the streets of Thimphu without being stared at. When you engage in conversation, they are curious to know where you are from and people here speak excellent English. Things can be expensive¬† though – I’m talking about stuff that tourists might like to buy such as the beautiful woven textiles.

The thing I’m most surprised about? Bhutan imports basically everything. All it really produces is electricity and traditional weaving. Other than this, products are imported mostly from India and Thailand.

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Dog Central – black street dogs.

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