Making Wishes in the Land of the Wind Horse and Thunder Dragon

Author: Krystal Kelly

A yak and her calf roaming freely in the himalayan mountains in Bhutan
Yak babies and their mothers grazing freely. You won’t find fences here!
Photo Credits: Krystal Kelly

Romantic Weather

Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. With our horses tied to the nearby trees, just as the clouds swirled above our heads, we ducked for shelter inside a small wooden gazebo, designed with picnicking in mind. We unwrap our lunches, which we had carried in our saddlebags all day and began eating as the skies opened up. The monsoon rain was expected this time of year, after all it was the season for it. What wasn’t expected was the huge crack of Thunder overhead, followed by a torrential downpour of hail. The hail pelted our horses, spooking the youngsters as the older, veteran mountain ponies turned their backs to the storm like the true professionals they were.

The eyes of my eight customers all looked to me, after all I had promised them “romantic weather” on this trip. I grinned as they huddled close together under the small shelter of the thatched roof, avoiding the patches of holes as best they could. They ate their lunches and just when they thought the ride couldn’t continue, the hailstorm passed and before we knew it, we were back in the saddle on our way down the mountain pass…

The Tiger's Nest Temple built on a steep cliff in Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest Temple. Photo Credits: Krystal Kelly

Five Years Earlier

Flashback to five years earlier. My eyes scanned the photos and images before me, the sight of the majestic Tiger’s Nest Temple enough to make my heart pound frantically inside my chest. As if the temple itself was calling to me, I felt an immediate pull. I would see this magnificent temple, I decreed, soon.

Two weeks later, I boarded the smallest plane I had ever seen in my life as I waited for my flight to Paro, Bhutan to depart. The small propellers sparked to life and soon I found myself in one of the smallest countries in the world. Bhutan borders India and China but that is where the proximity stops.

The Happiest Country

I soon learned that the culture, people, traditions, lifestyle and nearly everything else that followed suit was completely different to any country I had ever been before. Bhutan was a unique destination. In fact, it only recently opened its borders to tourists in 1974. Even with opened borders, in an attempt to control the amount and “quality” of tourists, the Royal Government placed a strict $300 / per day spending allowance which goes towards giving the local Bhutanese citizens free education and medical care. All tourists must be accompanied by a guide and is only permitted access to certain sites and locations.

A stupa in the himalayan mountains seen through a Bhutanese pony's ears
View from between the ears of my next training baby, Firefly. Photo Credits: Krystal Kelly

Starting the ONLY Riding Program in the Country

The first time I went to Bhutan was back in 2013. I was invited to help start the ONLY horse-riding program in the entire country. I spent two intense weeks training the staff everything horse, including how to saddle, bridle and care for the animals. We also tested the numerous trails, many of which they invented for the sole purpose of my visit to one day make an operational “Equestrian Holiday Destination” in Bhutan. Apart from working with the horses, I was given an extra two weeks with a guide to explore all the sights the country could offer.

Making My Wish

Finally, on my final day in Bhutan, I hiked the long trek up to the Tiger’s Nest Temple and I made a wish. Although I was thankful to experience Bhutan and see inside the temples with my own eyes, traveling alone with my guide, whom I referred to as “Acho” meaning “Big Brother” in Bhutanese, I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness. I was only 23 years old. Surely others needed to come and see this wonderful country, especially on horseback. They needed to see the same beauty I was witnessing now.

Because Bhutan is a religious, Buddhist country, the temples do not allow photographs to be taken inside. There were countless, beautiful shrines, golden Buddhas and interesting stories and legends which I was privileged to see and hear. I felt a mixture of gratitude and emptiness at being the only person in the room with my “Acho” to share these wonderful places and stories with.

So I closed my eyes and I made my wish in the Tiger’s Nest Temple. I wished to return to Bhutan one day, and I promised myself that when I returned I wouldn’t be alone. I was going to share the adventure and this amazing country with others.

A group riders on Bhutanese ponies in front of a monastry build on a cliff
The “Little Sister” Monastery to the Tiger’s Nest Temple and our campsite for the night!
Photo Credits: Krystal Kelly

Fast Forward Five Years

Now, five years later, I ride alongside eight other equestrian adventuresses eager to explore this fascinating country on horseback. I had organized the trip and was excited to share my favorite country with a group of people, including Amber, a woman whose first stamp in her passport would be BECAUSE OF ME, and my husband, whom would be traveling to Bhutan for the very first time on his first ever horseback-riding adventure. It was only a year earlier he had sat on a horse for the first time and now he was anxious and eager to meet the horses I spoke so much about.

Five years earlier when I helped to develop the riding program, I was a solo, 23 year old traveling equestrian professional with big dreams and a nomadic spirit. Although I loved horses and travel, I hadn’t quite figured out how to combine my two loves in a way that was long lasting.

“Had I known then that the younger version of me was training that horse to one day carry my future husband, I may not have worried so much.”

Cantering through meadows on a Bhutanese mountain pony
Cantering through the meadows. Photo Credits: Krystal Kelly

The Prince of All Ponies

As we rode our horses through the fairy-tale like forests a peaceful air washed over me. I watched my husband riding atop, Prince, the very horse I had fallen in love with five years ago. Had I known then that the younger version of me was training that horse to one day carry my future husband, I may not have worried so much.

Tiger’s Nest Temple

After a week of riding the spectacular mountain-ponies up and down steep mountainous trails, we began the long hike—on two legs this time—towards the Tiger’s Nest Temple, the very temple that had called to me all those years ago. The mists seemed to reveal the temple the closer we drew near and finally we reached the view that seemed to take everyone’s breath away. Sure, I visited the temple once before, but the sight of the temple hanging dangerously beside the steep cliffs didn’t fail to amaze me for the second time.

The sun sets behind some clouds over the Himalayan mountain range
The Himalayan Mountains at Sunset. Photo Credits: Christian Vogler

Again, I looked to the smiling faces of those around me. Some had tears brimming in their eyes. All had hopes and dreams and wishes to offer the Temple. My husband squeezed my hand tightly as we climbed the last few paces to the entrance. It was then I realized, the Tiger’s Nest Temple had granted me my wish after all… and it was time to make a new wish.

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