So there I was stuck in Thimphu, Bhutan, so delirious with fever that I could have sworn that my friends were out bar-hopping rather than sitting by my bedside. But then these fevers make you think the darnedest things; for instance, on the way back from the Bumthang Valley we stopped in a tiny restaurant for lunch, and I’ll be buggered if I didn’t imagine that columnist Jug Suraiya was sitting at the next table. I put it down to the antibiotics and swallowed another paracetamol.
The next day, thanks to the classiness of my companions, we dined at India House with the Indian Ambassador, and not only did I notice that I was seeing Jug Suraiya again, but I also had a long and delightful chat with him. It was obviously time to ramp up the medical attention.
The next morning the doctor ordered me off the trip. I staggered off to the office of Bhutan’s national carrier Druk Air to book myself on a flight home, and, since Druk Air has a vast fleet of two aircraft, was waitlisted. We passed the time with two policemen from the Royal Bhutan Police who drove us around the sights, including a wildlife preserve that features the national animal, the takin—a cuddly cross between a goat and a cow—and fed us chow mein and beer at a restaurant called Musk. (They have a very low crime rate in Bhutan).
That’s where Yeshey Dorji came to meet us. I don’t know what I would have done without him after my friends were gone —probably wander around Thimphu’s bazaars buying the many-splendored wooden penises that the Bhutanese love to string up all over the country. Yeshey had written in response to this column a week beforehand, inviting me to get in touch when I was in Thimphu.
Over the next few days, as I waited for my flight, he took me firmly under his wing. He mysteriously ‘had’ my air ticket confirmed, took me to lunches and dinners, archery contests, and on scenic drives. He even drove me to the airport at five o’clock in the morning. It appeared that he genuinely liked nothing better than to bounce out of bed before dawn and drive around for hours, being nice to itinerant travellers.
NB: Archery. The Bhutanese take this very seriously, and can be found contesting in thick drizzling fog at 6am, each team taunting the other across the field by hopping on one leg and emitting stylised screeches of contempt. The occasional spectator hit doesn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm one bit.
Through Yeshey I met Kuenzang, a young newspaper reporter, who stood us some drinks at the cosy Bhutan Times café and introduced me to a bunch of other reporters and editors whose daily struggle to find stories in Bhutan amounts to epic heroism.
And then there was the friend of one of my friends—a strikingly beautiful Bhutanese princess with a razor-sharp mind and a wicked sense of humour, who took me to a great Japanese meal and told unflaggingly entertaining stories. I tried very hard to keep track of how she’s related to whom, but genealogies defeat me entirely (though I do recognise the present monarch and his father, seeing as the incidence of their picture leaves the phalluses in the dust).
When the skies finally cleared and Druk Air was able to take off from the airport in the Paro valley, I feasted simultaneously on the fantastic lunch of spiced sausage and rice and the eyeball-to-eyeball view of the highest Himalaya that drifts by the window.
I asked everyone I met what a resident of Thimphu is called: a Thimphuite? A Thimphian? Nobody knew. But that’s what I was for a week, and I loved it.