Bhutan - the only country in the world where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small country between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and India. Feast your eyes on the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas while trekking though mountain passes and national parks lined with rich flora and fauna. In fact, by national law, at least 60% of the country must remain forested for all future generations.
Dotted with majestic dzongs and monasteries, Bhutan’s architecture evokes the profound reach of its Vajrayana Buddhist culture and traditions, which have gradually made way for global influences over the years. Experience the natural charm of the kingdom deemed “The Last Shangri-La” today.
What to see & do in Bhutan
Cultural tours to Paro, Thimphi, Punakha, Wangfue and Jakar are popular among tourists. The more adventurous could consider the mostly-untouched regions of Zhemgang and Eastern Bhutan, rife with excellent wildlife views.
A typical tour would usually involve a monastery visit. The landscape of Bhutan is dotted with hundreds of monasteries, even in the most remote areas. Taktsang Monastery in Paro is one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, graced by Guru Rinpoche, founder of Tibetan Buddhism in the 8th century. If the hike up the 1,2000-metre cliff on which the monastery is built seems like too much, horse rides or taxi rides can be arranged. Another site worth visiting on your way to Taktsang is Kurje Lhakhang. This temple is the one of the first Buddhist relics in the country and surrounds a cave with Guru Rinpoche’s body print. Dzongs are old fortresses that presently function as administrative headquarters. Each is constructed without using nails, cement or plans. Witness these beautiful feats of architecture at sites like Punakha Dzong, Jakar Dzong and Rinpung Dzong.
Bhutan boasts gorgeous natural scenery in its rugged valleys and mountains. As one of the top biodiversity hotspots in the world, the mostly-forested landscape is under national protection. Places like Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, Royal Manas National Park and Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary offer a pristine sanctuary for trekking and wilderness backpacking. Popular trekking paths include the Druk Path from Paro to the capital of Thimphu, the Jomolhati and Laya Gasa Trek. Those up for a challenge can also consider the Snowman Trek, which takes approximately 30 days and is said to be one of the most difficult in the world. Do note that food and camping equipment must be carried throughout the journey as accommodation or dining facilities are not available in higher regions.
If you’re in Bhutan, you wouldn’t want to miss its annual festivals or Tshechu on the tenth day of every lunar month, corresponding to Guru Rinpoche’s birth. The most famous tsechu is Thimphu Tshechu, attended by 30,000 people annually. Each is a large religious festival that brings people from various villages together with spectacular religious mask dances by monks, depicting the life of Guru Rinpoche. According to local tradition, each tsechu is a sanctifying and symbolic event that brings auspicious blessings to all who attend. Other festivals to note are the Black Necked Crane Festival, Lhuentse Festival and the Nomad Festival.
As the national sport of Bhutan, archery is a celebrated activity and competitions are held all over the country on most weekends. Archery matches are a wonderful way to experience Bhutanese culture and are rowdy and boisterous affairs.
Getting Around in Bhutan
Besides getting around on foot or by cab, exploring the kingdom’s meandering wilderness paths, rural farm roads and breathtaking views by bike is also an option. The roads away from major cities are generally safe and it’s common for the sociable locals to strike up a conversation with you while on a bike. However, this is a strenuous physical feat because of the high altitudes in the Himalayas, as well as the lengthy descents down narrow paths.
You will have to obtain a visa before entering Bhutan, booked through a local licensed tour operator or international partner.
Paro International Airport is the only way to access Bhutan by air. The national carrier, Druk Air, operates four planes that fly to Singapore, Bangkok in Thailand; Delhi, Kolkata, Bodhgaya/Gaya, Bagdogra and Guwahati in India; Kathmandu in Nepal, and Dhaka in Bangladesh. Air service is also available in two domestic airports – Yongphulla Airport in Trashigang and Bathpalathang Airport in the Bumthang district. Find and compare cheap flights on Skyscanner! Make your bookings with airlines and online tour agencies at no extra charge.
Some Dos and Dont's
Did you know…?
Paintings of giant phalluses are a common sight outside the homes of the typically conservative Bhutanese households. Don’t be alarmed though – these represent the Divine Madman, who is believed to be a protector against evil.
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