~ K is for knees ~
As a result of the men wearing the Gho, you will probably see more male knees in Bhutan than almost anywhere else and will almost certainly never see a lady's knees. I'm told that - like a true Scotsman - a Bhutanese should wear nothing under his gho but thankfully I can't confirm that. What I did notice though is that wearing a skirt is not considered by most men as a good reason to keep their knees together. In winter you may be spared the sight of so many knees when they adopt the use of thermal long-johns.
K is also for my knees which are dodgy at the best of times (ligament and knee problems caused by too much hockey and ice hockey in my misspent youth). Bhutan is not a country for those who are unsteady on their feet. The biggest tourist attraction in the country - see T is for Tiger's Nest - requires an ascent of 915 m to visit. There are plenty of hills - well it is a Himalayan country after all - and wheelchair access to just about anywhere is poor.
~ L is for Land of the Thunder Dragon ~
This is the literal translation of the name Bhutan. Lovely isn't it?
L is also for language - despite the small population there are dozens of local dialects. A bit like Darwin's finches in the Galapagos, the mountains keep communities isolated and preserve local languages. In the interests of reducing the isolation from the outside world - and to take advantage of foreign volunteer teachers - the third king introduced the rule that all schools should teach in English. So despite the unpronounceable local language of Dzongkha, almost everyone you meet will speak some English. Until recently the exception to this was found in monasteries but now even young monks get English language training. This makes travel easy for English-speaking tourists but rather more challenging for everyone else.
~ M is for Mountains ~
The further north you go in Bhutan, the higher the mountains. In the areas around the two main cities of Paro and Thimphu, you'll find you are at an altitude around the 2500-3000 m mark where you could feel the affects of mild altitude sickness. Heading north to the border with China (Tibet) you get the really big monster mountains. In those areas there is little or no road access and if anything goes wrong, you are probably stuffed. In an emergency, they can call for helicopter assistance from the army in Delhi but it takes two days to arrive and costs more than many insurance policies will deal with. Our guide also leads parties on the four week Snowman Trek which is considered one of the toughest in the world - he actually did some trekking in the north with TV's Bruce Parry and proudly presented us with a DVD of Parry's programme which he appeared in. He told us that seven days into the snowman there's an option to drop out and be rescued but after that, from day 8 onwards you've no option but to just keep going. Scary stuff.
Surely the point of mountains is to climb them - or am I missing something? As George Mallory so famously said when asked about his repeated (and eventually fatal) attempts to conquer Everest, you do it 'because it's there'. However in Bhutan you aren't allowed to go to the summits for fear or angering the mountain gods. Maybe they have the right idea - perhaps we should show more respect to the mountains.
~ N is for National this, National that ~
With all the control-freakery of Bhutan, there are plenty of examples of National-ism by which I mean, National flower, National dress, National music, National arts, National handicrafts, National dances and most bizarrely, there's even a ladies National Haircut. All the women over a certain age in Bhutan look like my mum. The national haircut is short - which is unusual - and rather 'pudding bowl' in aspect. It's the haircut I went through my early teens with thanks to my mum's determination to 'get her money's worth' out of the hairdresser. It's the sort of haircut that used to get playground taunts of 'Who cut your hair? The council?'
~ O is for Old Aged Pensioners ~
The life expectancy in Bhutan isn't very high - somewhere around the mid 60s. Life for many people is hard and hospitals are few and far between. So why did I make O for OAPs? It's not for the locals this time, it's for the visitors. Your average foreign tourist is of retirement age. We felt like positive youngsters and were easily 25-30 years younger than most of the tourists we met. We came across one pair of young girls in their 20s but other than that, the tourist scene is grey. In part this is due to the cost of visiting Bhutan - it's not cheap (see X is for Expensive) but it's also seen by a lot of people as the clean, safe, dependable face of Asia. It's a sort of Switzerland of the Indian sub-continent. For those who don't want to be confronted by beggars, touts, poverty and decay, Bhutan is a bit like the OAP's trip to Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds - dependably pretty and safe and you'll never struggle to get a 'nice cup of tea'. As a result of this, don't expect wild nightlife and nights of getting rip-roaringly bladdered in lively bars. You won't find that. If it existed, you probably still wouldn't find it because your trip will be so controlled.
There is no independent travel in Bhutan and this keeps out a lot of younger travellers. Backpacking over the border and slobbing around in $5 a night dives, living off rice and sleeping in railway stations like you could in Nepal or India just isn't an option. The rules say the only way you can travel around Bhutan is as part of a group on a controlled and pre-arranged tour. Admittedly the group can be as small as one person - you, your guide and your driver - but you won't get left to your own devices.