Yangchen C Rinzin

When American tourist Frances H Bak, 70, left Bhutan in February 2020, she had planned to return as soon as possible. Then Bhutan had first positive Covid-19 case and tourism was shut down.

But she kept exploring ways to return to Bhutan.

Apart from her love for the country and people, it was because of the guide Gembo and the driver Tashi Tshering who guided her during her first visit.

Bak said that she always believed guides are true representatives of the country and people, which was portrayed truly through them. “Tourism sector has suffered. Somehow for their sake, I had to return to Bhutan and repay the services they rendered during my stay,” she said as she thanked them sitting beside her. “Through them, I have learnt how humble Bhutanese are and how homely Bhutan is.”

Through her visit, Bak hopes to give some hope to tourism sector.

Eyes filled with tears, she exclaimed, “I was so happy when I finally found out from a government agency that I can visit if I undergo mandatory quarantine. The first person I called was guide Gembo and only I know how emotional I was to inform I’ll be coming to Bhutan.”

Bak, who came to Bhutan on August 9, is the first tourist to officially visit Bhutan this year after tourism remained closed since March last year.

The government allows anyone to visit Bhutan as long as the person agrees to go through 21 days mandatory quarantine if not vaccinated, and 14 days if vaccinated with both doses.

She said that although she knew she would have to spend 21 days in the quarantine facility, she had to make a decision because for her to return to Bhutan meant returning home.

“Quarantine was not easy but it’s the country’s policy and protecting the people from virus is the primary object, which I should respect,” she added. “Frontline workers were very kind and they made my stay seamless.”

Calling a worthy time to spend in the quarantine facility, Bak was excited thinking how she would soon get to go around the country to meet rural communities again. She visited as far as Merak gewog in Trashigang during her first visit.

“I completely fell in love with the rural communities. They are also partly the reason I wanted to return. I am just in so love with Bhutan,” she said.

Bhutan was never on her list to visit but Bak had heard the country being referred to as the home of Gross National Happiness and the last Shangri-La. But one day she decided to visit and met someone who led her to agent MyBhutan. Rest is history.

“I still believe it was a karmic connection that brought me here because now I feel like Bhutan is my home. I belong here,” she said. “My first visit itself made me realise that I had taken the right decision.”

During her three months stay, Bak plans to visit various monasteries or institutions and play western gong that she carries around. Calling it her passion, she said gong has several benefits that help people relax their mind and soul. “I’ll be going around and playing the gong to help people. I’m a trained gong player. In a way, it fulfils my vision to help people with its benefits.”

Applauding the government’s fight against Covid-19 pandemic, Bak said this would not have been possible without a true leader that the country is blessed with. “His Majesty set an example of how communities should work together and Bhutan’s response against the pandemic is an example of how important it is to have a committed leader. This is an honest appreciation from a foreigner who has seen her own country fail the fight.”

“That’s why I know I’ll never regret my decision because I know I am safe here. After three months, let’s see what fate decides, but I’ll never stop visiting Bhutan.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk