From the sublime to the divine…
Visiting Bhutan feels almost like walking into the pages of a storybook. In this pristine Himalayan Kingdom, happiness rules supreme and equilibrium with nature is carefully maintained. There are strict policies on how many tourists can visit and it is enshrined in law that at least 60% of the country must remain forested. Bhutan really does do things differently and the atmosphere of tolerance and respect is all pervasive. If you are one of the lucky few, you’ll find yourself roundly welcomed by the country’s well educated Buddhist people, and swept up in the majesty of the surroundings. Bhutan is a nation of cultural quirks and Himalayan landscapes that is just waiting to be discovered by intrepid travellers.
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Top five things to do in Bhutan
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this unique and wonderful country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top five things to do in Bhutan.
Climb to the Tiger’s Nest
Clinging to a sheer cliff some 900m above the Paro Valley floor, the sacred Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a magical sight to behold. Built on the site of a cave where a prominent guru is said to have meditated for three months, legend has it that he flew there on the back of a tigress. However, we mere mortals must approach on foot! The steep, two-hour climb looks daunting, but the path is well made and the rewards are great. From the top, you will have commanding views over the surrounding valley.
Find a true Himalayan wilderness
The country may be small, but the mountains are not. As you wander the forested paths you’ll catch glimpses of awesome snowy peaks. The elusive snow leopard stalks the mountains, along with red pandas, black bears and tigers. This treasured land provides a safe haven for many of the world’s most endangered wildlife, as well as some endemic species of bird. Trek among the majesty of these wilderness peaks to experience the essence of Bhutan.
Celebrate the colours
From fluttering prayer flags and brightly painted balconies to Bhutan’s traditional dress, vivid colours are all around. When it comes to celebrations, Bhutan knows how to throw a party with spectacular dance festivals punctuating the calendar. During these celebrations, performers dress in colourful costumes and masks. If you want to take a bit of the festival spirit home with you, look no further than the local markets where sumptuous fabrics and handicrafts are waiting to be browsed.
The capital of Bhutan is an eye-opening combination of unique culture and historic sights, including some very important religious monuments featuring exquisitely carved prayer wheels. For Bhutan, it’s bustling and hectic, but to many visitors it is a calm and pleasant place to explore. A good place to get a feel for the Bhutanese way of life is the weekly market, which is always busy with traders and customers, and has some amazingly fresh produce and authentic crafts on sale.
Experience the Paro Spring Festival
Enjoying a serene location on the banks of the river Paro Chhu and home to one of Bhutan’s most impressive dzongs, Paro is a lovely town anyway, but it really comes into its own during the renowned Spring Festival. Bhutan’s festivals are a whirlwind of drama, colour and tradition, giving visitors a crash course on Bhutanese culture, religion and history through spectacular dance, storytelling and community involvement.
Lesser-known highlights in Bhutan
While there are many well-known things to do in Bhutan, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative adventure.
Bhutan for birders
675 species of birds have been recorded in Bhutan, a nation where respect for nature is of paramount importance allowing birders to enjoy pristine wildernesses while in search of rare and beautiful avian fauna. One of the most sought after spectacles for birdwatchers in Bhutan is the sight of large flocks of black-necked cranes migrating to the Gangtey valley from Tibet, but there are plenty of good locations for birdwatching throughout the country.
Trekking the four valleys
The magical region known as Bumthang incorporates four scenic and pastoral valleys dotted with some of Bhutan’s oldest temples (known locally as dzongs) and monasteries. Trekkers will love the myriad different routes that weave through these idyllic scenes of rural peace, where farms and orchards make a patchwork on the valley floor. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy pure local honeys, cheeses and fruit.
Soak in the hot springs
According to the Bhutanese, hot springs are best enjoyed when the air has the chill of autumn or winter, and they visit hot springs for curative reasons as well as just for relaxation. Each separate spring is said to be beneficial for a different set of ailments, but for many overseas visitors it is the pristine surroundings and the relaxing heat which holds the main appeal. Many of Bhutan’s hot springs must be approached on foot as they are far away from roads and buildings.
When is the best time to go to Bhutan?
March to May and September to November are considered the best times to visit Bhutan, and many of the most popular cultural festivals take place during these months. Visitors in the months of April to July will be able to experience the swathes of wild rhododendrons blooming along mountain trails, whereas October and November tend to yield the clearest views of the Himalaya. June, July and August bring more heat but also more rain, and cloudier skies obscure the dramatic scenery. Whenever you visit, your itinerary is likely to be varied and include some time at higher altitudes, so pack for every eventuality.
Interesting facts about Bhutan
Bhutan is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
The Bhutanese call their homeland ‘Druk Yul’ - The land of the Thunder Dragon.
Plastic bags have been banned in Bhutan since 1999.
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan.
Television and internet only arrived in Bhutan in 1999.
National success is measured in Gross National Happiness rather than GDP.
Cigarettes are not available anywhere in Bhutan and smoking in public is not permitted.
What to read before you go to Bhutan
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Bhutan, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'A Splendid Isolation' by Madeleine Drexler
A deep exploration of the Buddhist principles which guide the people of Bhutan and have resulted in one of the most traditional and unmodernised societies on the planet, and one of the happiest-
'Lost Horizon' by James Hilton
A classic work of fiction which tells the story of a British diplomat who is involved in a plane crash which maroons him in the deepest Himalaya, in the hidden paradise of Shangri-La.
'Married to Bhutan' by Linda Leaming
An entertaining memoir which describes an American’s adventures in South Asia, ending with her permanent move to Bhutan and her newfound understanding of Buddhism, enlightenment and how to be happy.
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