by Sharon Wong, CLICKON editor
Sandwiched between India and Nepal, Bhutan is a tiny country that has remained little-known to most beyond its borders. This would not be surprising, as tourists were banned there till the 1974. Not that tourism has been a free-for-all in recent years. Visitors are only allowed in in limited numbers and are required to pay a $200 tariff for every day that they are there. Sounds similar to the North Korean regime, except that the overriding mandate is not to revere a Great Leader but simply to be happy. But we’d encourage avid golfers to head out to this happiness dictatorship if they can afford it. Where else will you be able to hit a drive in the backyard of a king?
In order to get to the Royal Thimphu Golf Club, you’d have to fly 22 hours from New York, endure stopovers in London, Bangkok and Calcutta, then drive for two hours along a dirt road that’s almost entirely hairpin turns. At the end of it all, you’d have arrived at the highest golf course in the world, at over 7700 feet above sea level. The Royal Thimphu Golf Club is also the only golf course in Bhutan that’s open to the public. Ironic, perhaps, when you discover that just down the hill is Trashi Chhoe Dzong, which quadruples as a monastery, a capitol, a fortress and the residence of his majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk.
While the Royal Thimphu Gold Club may bepublic, its $130 yearly membership fee is too steep for most Bhutanese people, leaving its offerings to be enjoyed only by the nation’s wealthiest people. The king himself tops of its list of members. Should you be able to pay your way into these exclusive playing grounds, you’re in for quite an experience. The course itself is a 9-hole, Par 35 affair with hardpan fairways and ponds that look like sunken bathtubs. In addition to the bunkers and hazards, you’ll have to contend with the uniquely Bhutanese chortens, small shrines where people leave precious stones for the gods.
Cows and stray dogs wander around the green, somehow managing to avoid being hit by stray drivers. And you can’t beat the view of the surrounding Himalayas, including Jhomolhari and Gangkhar Puensum, the tallest unclimbed peak in the world. Now there’s a sight that’ll add to the Gross National Happiness.