“Travelogue” is a new series that details National Geographic staff member’s most recent travels throughout the world. Learn from their experiences to help you decide on your next awe-inspiring adventure.
Haley Douglass, a staff member at National Geographic Expeditions, just returned from our Wonders of Bhutan trip. From chili cheese to waterfall-powered prayer wheels to a spontaneous karaoke night with a twist, find out what she loved best about her experience.
What was your favorite activity on this trip? Each day of the trip felt like a new highlight, but the ultimate was Tiger’s Nest. We left our hotel at 6:00 AM in order to be the first group on the trails. The sun crested the mountain and the early morning mist dissipated just as we got our first view of Tiger’s Nest. It felt magical. After about three hours of uphill hiking (with a tea and coffee break halfway), we were the first guests to arrive at the monastery. While we were in the first temple, we heard the sound of horns. We followed the sound into a second temple as a group of monks began prayers. Our group sat in silence for about 20 minutes listening to the drums, horns, and voices brought together in prayer. That rhythm and cadence followed us as we descended the mountain and will remain an everlasting memory of Bhutan.
Describe your most memorable moment. While staying in Punakha, one of our guests noticed a sign for karaoke near our hotel. After dinner one night, a group of us prepared our singing voices and headed over. We were a diverse group from multiple countries, ranging in age from mid-20s to 70s, and we were the only non-locals at karaoke. The music books offered Bhutanese, Indian, and “Western” songs. No artists were listed with the titles, and we had fun trying to guess which songs would actually play. “Macarena” ended up being a slow ballad from the 1940s! It was such a great evening with new friends.
What dish should everyone try when visiting and where is a good place to find it? Chili cheese! And you don’t have to look hard to find it. You’ll be served chili cheese at every traditional Bhutanese meal. Bhutan grows a lot of chilies, and you’ll see locals drying fresh chilies on the roofs of their homes. I enjoyed eating chili cheese with potatoes, another traditional dish served at most meals. You can even try chili cheese-flavored Happy Chips, a Bhutanese potato chip brand.
What is special about Bhutan? Our guide told us that the locals believe the mountains have spirits. In fact, that’s the reason no one is allowed to climb the summit of the tallest mountain in Bhutan. I felt a special mystique as we drove along narrow roads through the Himalaya. While going around a curve in the mountains we would suddenly come across a prayer wheel turning with help from a nearby waterfall. Around a different curve, we would find tiny painted stupas placed in the crevasses of large rocks. At various elevations, we were either above the clouds or inside of them. Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon and the kingdom in the clouds, left me with a great sense of wonder and awe.
What’s a hidden gem you stumbled upon while traveling? Every single prayer wheel felt like a hidden gem, even though they were ubiquitous throughout our journey. Each one was beautiful and unique. We saw prayer wheels while driving through the countryside, while hiking through rice paddy fields, and while exploring new cities. My favorite ones were found alongside streams or waterfalls, with the flowing water turning the wheel and a bell clanging with each rotation.