If there’s one thing the A-list values in a vacation, it’s anonymity. Bhutan, a deeply spiritual kingdom in the heart of the Himalayans, didn’t even have TV until 11 years ago. So needless to say, the average Bhutan resident wouldn’t know Brad Pitt or Keanu Reeves from George Smith from Muskogee, Oklahoma. Unless you’re a reincarnated Buddhist monk, nobody in Bhutan would even think to ask for your autograph.
Called the Land of the Thunder Dragon, this extraordinary country that’s geographically cut off from the rest of the world also appeals to people mending from heartbreak. It’s where Demi Moore came after she and Bruce Willis broke up, where Richard Gere came after his divorce from supermodel Cindy Crawford and where John McCain traveled after going down in defeat to Barack Obama.
It’s also not a cheap place to visit. You have to really want to go there. Although you won’t be trailed by groupies or cameras, you do have to consent to being “hosted” by a Bhutan tour guide and pay the minimum $200 per day. Those who experience this unspoiled Shangri-La say it’s worth every penny.
For one thing, Bhutan knows what’s important. Instead of measuring GNP (gross national production that every other country uses to gauge its success), Bhutan keeps taps on its GNH (Gross National Happiness). Until 1962, there wasn’t even a national currency, let alone telephones or roads. The entire country is non-smoking, fashion is irrelevant (everyone wears a tunic) and people here still believe in spirits, demons, ghosts, yetis, angels and reincarnated saints riding flying tigers.
Its raw, natural beauty alone makes it worth the trip. Let’s just say an aisle seat would never do on a flight into Paro, Bhutan’s only airport.
As for the very–important GNH, it was introduced by the country’s fourth king who was inaugurated in 1974. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck knew that mere economic success doesn’t necessarily translate into a content and happy society. His innovative success measure was also an effective way to ensure that the country’s gradual modernization doesn’t disturb its Buddhist spirituality or its deep magical beauty. Evidently, it works. On a 2008 census, 95 percent of residents reported they were deeply content.
To find out more about this thin-aired land that’s straddled between ancient and modern worlds, contact www.tourism.gov.bt.