Inside One of the World’s Most Isolated Countries
There is a part of me that didn't want to make this video. A part that didn't want to share out of fear that it might, you know, change this place. This country has only been open to foreigners since the late 20th century and only lets a certain number of visitors in each year. This is the Kingdom of Bhutan.
During our time here we got to travel deep into the Himalayas to some of the least visited people in one of the most isolated countries on Earth. Bodhi's turning the prayer wheel. Of course there's a prayer wheel in the middle of nowhere. It's gonna be a bumpy ride. Getting to Bhutan starts with landing at what has been dubbed the world's most dangerous airport.
[Pilot] Please do not be concerned about our proximity to the mountains. This is normal. Tara, that's the runway right there in the distance. So we need to tuck around this one and then make a hard ride. What could possibly go wrong? Yeah, we're definitely getting close here.
[Pilot] We've just touched at Paro International Airport. Welcome to Bhutan. So we're here at Dochula Pass right now. We are at about 3,000 meters above sea level. What I have in my hand right now is a ceremonial scarf and we usually present it during all sorts of occasions. I'll give it to your hands and welcome you all to Bhutan.
Welcome to Bhutan. That's one happy Tara right there. That's for you, Liv. Thank you.
That's for you, Bodhi. Welcome to Bhutan, Georg. Thank you.
This is where it dawned on us that we had stepped into another world. I love it here. These were our amazing guides from Breathe Bhutan, Pasa, Nima, and our driver Wangdi.
Without these guys this trip would have simply not been the same. [Nima] These white prayer flags, those are put down for dead people. So when they die, we have to put down around like 108 number of prayer flags.
These strange and beautiful clumps of white prayer flags were scattered across the landscape everywhere we went. After a couple hours drive and the kids fast asleep, Tara and I got to set foot into a Dzong. Dzongs are these massive fortified monasteries like ancient Buddhist castles. The scale of everything is just...
Incredible. Even the tree. The Bodhi tree. The Bodhi tree. Where are we going? I don't know.
We made some last minute changes to our travel plans and decided to drive, hike and ride deep into the snow covered Himalayas. I'll call one of my friends who is a teacher and we'll just see how many children are there in the class. 30 to 40 number of small kids. Okay, so if we bring 200 pencils and 40 toothbrushes.
Yeah, that would be perfect. We didn't know it then but what we were about to hear was the very essence of Bhutan. Told to us by the owner of our guest house. I will tell you a story of four animals.
The elephant, the monkey, the rabbit and the bird. The bird said to the rabbit, we will grow this seed into a big tree and the elephant said I will guard this tree. Give shade.
Then we all work together to grow this fruit tree. Monkey is different, elephant is different but as a group and as friends they can get the wonderful fruit. I want marshmallows. Do you? You're having some chai for breakfast? Yeah. Where did you learn to sit like the locals? Okay, so we're almost there, right? Yeah. Just a few minutes away.
For this next leg of our trip we had to switch cars. I think we have eight people. And we all need to fit in this vehicle. Yeah...
So Nima, how many times have you been up to the Layap people? This is my first time. Yeah. You excited? Yes, I'm so excited.
It's just a new road now. It has been around like two to three years. But like before, It took another two days to reach Laya from Gasa. Wow. It's going to be a bumpy ride. Let's go.
Is this one for good luck? Yeah. Do we need good luck? Yeah. To get up? I don't know if that's good or bad. The car is bringing us to... Jupiter! [Georg] Laya, not Jupiter. Yeah.
Laya. Jupiter and also Laya. Because it's so beautiful! This two hour car ride was just the very beginning of our trek deep into the Himalayas to one of the least visited tribes in the world, the Layaps. There's snow... everywhere.
Liv, are you ready for this? Are you really? No. How many times have you driven this road? Countless. Oh my gosh, I have no idea. Hi.
Hi. He licked me. Getting ready for our four-hour trek into the Himalayas. Let's hope the weather doesn't turn.
Yeah, it's looking a little dicey. Always an adventure. You have a fire inside? Is this your house? No.
So warm in this. Nomadic people during winter time, they migrate to warmer places. Okay. And by this time now they come back, go back to their home. They will bring up all their rations and then from here the house will carry to there.
How do you say thank you again? Kadinchey. Kadinchey. We have been to a tribe before. On a muddy trail? No way. It was a lot warmer there though. We will meet after two days.
And right on queue it's starting to rain. So I guess we just have to out hike the rain. What do you think about that, Liv? Not good. Not good? Just a few recommendations. It rained the past couple of days, so the trail is going to be very muddy.
Careful with your steps. So when a pack of horses is coming down, don't hang out on the cliff side because you never know animals, right? So just stick towards the mountain. Horses get startled easily so we should not be moving when the horses are coming.
[Tara] You're down to a fleece. That's it. Hot. How is that? It works. Good. My ankle is acting up a bit.
Oh good. Which is not good. It's good to have your ankles hurting when we are...
Hey, I just got to take it easy. One quarter of the way. Maybe one eighth of the way? One tenth? Yeah, one eighth, one tenth of the way. Oh that's good.
One eighth, one tenth of the way. Good start. Bodhi is being carried. They're passing him off back and forth. I can't really deal with my rolled ankle right now either. He is carrying me! [Georg] Did you say thank you? Thank you.
You're welcome. You're going to get to Laya without us! I'm not tired. You're not even tired? What's your secret? Nothing. Papa, look at my shoe! This seems like a deja vu.
Hailing. Is that ours? And there's our horse. Liv was asking, "Can I take a break?" And I said, "No you're going to get run over by the rest of the herd of horses." It's like a stampede.
Alright, your turn. I said, "Are we halfway at this point?" and they all look and go, "No..." Watch the horse behind you.
Quickly. Seriously, I'm going to fall. There's traffic in the Himalayas. So I hope this camera is still working.
I just ate it really hard. Flat on my back. Super slippery. So I'm glad that Bodhi is being carried by the locals that know how to walk on this. Why are we doing this? It's an adventure.
Yeah, and we like adventures. Let's just keep telling ourselves that. Bodhi is getting the best nap of his life.
That's the half-way point. The army outpost over here just told us that you are the first tourists coming up this season. No way.
Bodhi is turning the prayer wheel. Of course there's a prayer wheel in the middle of nowhere. This is where things started to get seriously hard and the big heavy camera got packed away and the phone came out instead. I feel amazing but it's probably the hardest thing I've ever done. Besides have two babies.
It's an incredibly beautiful hike though. Flowers booming. It's snowing.
Just trying to keep up with oxygen right now. Even though we live at a very high altitude in Colorado, hiking, for what has now been almost a sustained five hours in the Himalayas. It's really not the same thing. I just hope we're not still out here when it's dark. Keep moving. Just slowly.
We've got this. The kids have run ahead. They've been carried ahead. They've been carried. It almost felt comical. We had to stop and catch our breath every five or so steps.
We're almost there. It's right there. I'm dizzy.
I know. I need a second. Kids are already inside. Hi baby.
We've made it. You have to take your shoes off. Yeah. Meet our local elected, the village head.
Thank you for having us. Thank you. So what's this? Try it. It's really yum. It's roasted rice. Try it. It's really yum. Hey Liv, we're late for school.
Have you ever been late for school? Yeah. Come through here Bodhi. Uh oh. No, it's an adventure. You could see the playgrounds from up there.
It's basically behind those big stone houses. It turns out today is the weekend and the students only have a half a day. We'll be handing out some pencils and some toothbrushes but I don't know if we're going to make it. So it's 10:20 now and they'll be done at 10:30. So we've got to get a move on.
What is going on Bodhi? I almost got poked in the eye like eight times just now. Every time Bodhi leans over, I'm like... They just ask Liv, "Are you happy?" And she said yeah. And they said, "Why?" She said probably because I'm in this country. Mama, I need to go potty.
There's a cow in the way. What are we gonna do Bodhi? Gonna "shoo" it. Good! let's go! This is the prettiest dress I've ever seen. Thank you. Papa, what just happened to you? I became Bhutanese, I'm staying. Staying right here.
I'm never coming back. I think my family is coming with me looking at you guys. Is it complete? Yeah. I love this. So everyone can sharpen their pencils.
Right. Living in such a remote area you can imagine some items are hard to get up here. Here. Thank you. I don't have any more brushes.
Go give them to people. What's your next? Here. You wanted the toothbrush? You know what? You made so many people so happy. And now they're all really sad. They're looking at you and they're like, why is he crying? Our favorite little visitor is crying. Bodhi, look.
No. Bodhi. What? Bodhi, he's giving away his toothbrush because he saw you were so sad. That was really nice. But I don't think you need that.
I think you should give it back. Do you want to go and say thank you and give him a hug. Go find him.
Thank you. Bye! Why did the kids say my eyes look like the ocean? They said that? Do you know why I think all the kids are so excited to see you? Two of them are the first child guest to Laya. Before, I think I haven't seen. The stick is coming, coming, coming, and then it rings the bell. You don't want to walk anymore. It's not always easy.
And sometimes you just need to take a break. And that's okay too. And to remind yourself that you can do hard things. How do you feel when you finished doing something that was really, really hard? I feel proud. You feel proud, yeah.
So this is the yak cheese that is on this chain. So how old is that right now? Right now. Like four to five months. Do you want to try it? Take a bite with your side teeth. A little bite. It still doesn't work.
It doesn't work. So what do you do? Oh. You just chew it a little bit. After you suck on it for a while and it gets softer, then you can start to taste it more.
Now I taste it. What does it taste like? A rock. All right, Pasa, are you ready? Yeah.
Are you ready? I'm not sure. I'm not sure. Let's do this, Georg. Tara is staying home with the kids for now. It's been snowing all night and Pasa and I decided to go up and visit the yak herders.
Which is a little bit high up in the mountains. They call it ten minutes. All these guys say ten minutes to pretty much anything out here. Yeah, ten minutes. The name of the game is really keeping up with these guys. But the low oxygen has me taking a break every couple of minutes.
It's not that I'm not fit. It's just that I'm low on oxygen. Right, Pasa? And you adapt to where you are. Pasa's words kept ringing in the back of my mind as we arrived at the yak herders camp on top of the unforgiving mountain. The mother is 43 years old and the daughter is 16 years old...
And they're out here in these tough conditions doing all this. These yak's in the winter time, they're just being fed this mixture of rain because all the grasslands that are up and down these mountainsides are covered in snow. But these two ladies are tough as nails. You know, making their way through these 40-some yaks and making sure that each and every one is being fed the right amount and not the dominant one is just eating all of it. It's pretty impressive how much work it is to wrangle them.
Where are we going? Inside their home. You're staying warm in here? But you can see there's some of the dung that's being burned to keep the space warm. But the chimney is just a hole in the roof. So there's nothing actually guiding the smoke out of this space, which is why it's very, very smokey in here. The mother told us that her husband had died the previous year, leaving the two of them to tend to the animals by themselves.
Their story left me sad, but I also felt inspired by their kindness, strength and joy out of all things. Not sure where these guys went. Down here or past the mule? Oh, there they are. I'm going with past the mule.
Excuse me. Why are you laughing? Does it look like I'm struggling? I've got this. It's a bit tricky. Pasa, where are we going? To the temple. Next stop on our little exploration, visiting a village elder who is responsible for building the temple some 50 years ago. Tea just never stops flowing.
And our hostess gets mad if we have an empty cup. During his daily activities, he wears these casual clothes. Because it's more convenient, and it gives you warmth better than the traditional attire.
But during festivals and when there's something happening in the village, he wears his "gho". I think they want to show me something. But it's always jarring stepping out of these warm confines, and be back into the snowstorm. That seems to be going on perpetually. The village elder was proud to show me that he was in charge of decorating the king's yak during his visit.) Hi.
Hi, Papa. [German] What did you do all day? We were trying to make a fire. Trying? That doesn't sound good. And [she] blowed on it and then it turned into fire. I did it.
Nice. I made my first fire of the Himalayas. Nice job. What stands out about Layap for women in their traditional clothing are their cone-shaped hats.
We got to visit one of only two remaining hat makers in all of Bhutan. She says that [if] the two persons died it may be disappear, there won't be anyone who can make this now. And she even made one for Liv That's really amazing. Nice job navigating the mud.
Yeah, he's got it. I did it. You did it. There's more. That's more. Yeah, there's always more.
Bodhi, I hear kids in here. Nice and slow. Liv, are you ready for some festivities? Yeah.
Earlier that day, we had heard music coming from this house and were randomly invited to come back and take part in the yearly spring celebrations. You're never walking in this country. You're just being carried the whole time. Case in point. Is that tasty? I think I'm dancing with them. I don't know what just happened.
They say that we're going to be in a circle and I'm just going to follow what they do. The dancing went on well into the night before making our track back early the next morning. Upon arriving at base camp, our driver told us that he almost didn't make it to pick us up. We didn't really understand what he meant until we hit the road. Only this pickup can go.
No big backhoe can pass through this. See, there is no space. That just happened today? Yeah. Great. Gotta look up then.
Watch the sky. These guys don't even have snow on them. They must have just come down. You moved that with 13 other guys? Yeah. Wow.
The original plan for the next day was to bring food and help cook at a monastery a few hours away. But that road had also been compromised by the landslides. Lucky for us, there was another one, literally right outside our guest house. Down yet another slippery trail. I'm glad I don't have the eggs.
And for the tomatoes? Tomatoes, you just dice it. Okay. That's the Bodhi tree. I still can't believe that we were invited into the temple to share a meal with the monks. Look, it's the four friends from the story. Check this out.
There is a prayer wheel inside this little hut that's fueled by a waterfall. It's turning around and then the water comes out. Think hydropower, but instead it's hydro prayers. What's on that money you have there? Tiger's nest.
We're going to that right now. These guys just offered us horses? What did you tell them? I said we are very strong and we are coming from the all the way from Laya. We are coming from Laya.
They are like, oh they want to need horses for this. Little boy, he want a horse. No, he can walk.
What did you just find? I think there is a fairy land. Can you show me? I was just hiking along this secret path, and look what I came upon here. You found a secret path? No way. You really found a secret? It's a fairy land. This is actually really beautiful.
A lot of these mini stupas contain the ashes of the deceased and can be found pretty much anywhere across Bhutan. Bodhi, I'm so proud of you. You're still hiking. I'm just glad Bodhi is finally tired after hiking for two hours up to Tiger's Nest viewpoint here. Yeah, he's pooped. Totally exhausted.
He can't take another step actually. We have to tie it onto something nice and high so that the breeze blows all the prayers down into the valley. And the red one. Good job.
We left Tara, and the kids behind and Nima and I are progressing to the upper viewpoint. Hopefully we're going to make it to the monastery itself as well. If I don't wipe out on the way. Nima, how are you feeling? Ah, pretty good. What about you, Georg? Struggling a little. It's not as bad as Laya though.
This is it. Holy crap. You know how many times Screensavers. Yeah. This is...
Such an unreal experience to be walking down these steps towards the Tiger's Nest. It's hard to describe the sheer scale of everything here. What's that house and the rocks there? That's like a meditation cave inside. A meditation cave? Turns out there's no filming allowed inside this incredible temple.
But I guess that just means there's some mystery left for you to hopefully check it out someday. We're going to do something really special this morning. What? You're going to learn.
How to shoot a bow and arrow? What do you want for breakfast? Ice cream? Do you know how to shoot a bow and arrow? No? Is that a good idea for you to do that? No way Jose. Turns out archery is the national sport of Bhutan. So we're better than here for the kids to learn how to handle the bow and arrow. Thank you. Pull, pull.
Release! I didn't do it on there. Release. But I need to do it on there! I did it! Tara and I haven't felt this way in a long time. Bhutan truly left its mark on us.
This is one country we did not want to leave. I do not know why the waterfalls here are so cute. And I do not know why the dogs here are so cute.