Bhutan is a mystical Buddhist kingdom in Asia, set high up in the Himalayas. Affectionately known as “The Dragon Kingdom,” with steep forested mountains and deep misty valleys, it’s a place of untouched mystery and magic. Filled with ancient monasteries, colourful stupas, drifting hot air balloons, and even phallic statues, Bhutan holds many surprises. Plus, with a low volume, high cost tourism ethic, you could be one of the lucky few to discover this kingdom and experience local Bhutanese life – without the crowds.
Here are a few reasons why you should travel to Bhutan now:
Times Are Changing
Bhutan’s low volume, high cost tourism model means that only a limited amount of tourists can enter at one time. Yet, the recently democratized nation is more open to international travellers than ever before. Though more tourists are discovering this place, which will undoubtedly change in the coming years, you can still feel as if you have this magical kingdom pretty much all to yourself.
Gross National Happiness
Bhutan’s isolated, harmonious society developed the philosophy of Gross National Happiness; where development is measured using a holistic approach of well-being, not just based on gross domestic product. Bhutan is considered one of the happiest places on earth, and its incredibly humbling to see how the Bhutanese, cut off from the western world, find happiness in life’s simple pleasures.
Himalayan Mountains and Pristine Scenery
Bhutan is one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse countries in the world – made more precious still by the fact that it’s yet to be affected by tourists. Small valleys are wedged in the Himalayas, filled with alpine lakes, glaciers, subtropical forests, and wildlife – from red pandas to royal Bengal tigers. Explore Jigme Dorji National Park and Royal Manas National Park, home to some of the most endangered animals on earth. On a clear day, you can admire the valley for miles, while on an overcast day, the clouds almost seem to touch the ground. Your flight into Bhutan will offer stunning views and you can even see Mount Everest if you’re flying in from the west. Landing at Paro airport is incredible, and as you descend, you’ll experience awe-inspiring valleys, rivers, and stupas from above.
Currently ruled by his majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan is a country still attached to its traditions, with a proud history steeped in mythology. While most of the history is obscure, it’s believed that Bhutan began as early as 2000 BC, and boasts hundreds of temples built by its people throughout the ages. It’s also one of a very few countries to have maintained its independence throughout history.
Only slightly touched by western civilization, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan offers an authentic cultural insight so rare in the modern world. In Bhutan, food is usually eaten with your hands, crossed legged on the floor, and the head of the household is served first. A traditional Bhutanese meal consists of red rice or Ema Datshi – a dish made up largely of chilli and cheese. Births and deaths are also steeped in tradition. Mothers have to undergo a purification ritual on the third day after birth before they can receive visitors, while the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 49th days after someone’s death are filled with a series of rituals.
The Last Shangri-La
The kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most spiritual countries you can visit, where meditation retreats and other rituals are common practice. The retreats offer a blissful antidote to the stress of everyday life and include yoga and meditation sessions. Bhutan is also known for its traditional medicine (Sowa-Rigpa), and these practices provide a natural remedy for any ailment. Hot springs abound in the kingdom and are also believed to be great sources of healing – for both emotional problems and physical ailments, such as headaches.
Bhutan includes on- and off-road cycling and mountain biking, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, fishing, and hot air ballooning to view the temples from above. Trekking is one of the most popular pastimes, and you can choose hikes of a few hours to a month-long adventure. Treks lead through dramatic scenery, including alpine lakes, glaciers, and forests. Popular routes include the 6-day Druk Path Trek and the 25-day Snowman Trek. An absolute must is the hike to Paro Paktsang (Tigers Nest) – an iconic clifftop monastery often shrouded in clouds.
The best time to visit Bhutan is during a festival when you can get an inside look into its cultural and spiritual life. There is at least one festival a month, which means you are likely to experience at least one during your visit. Bhutanese believe that everyone must attend a religious festival and witness the mask dances at least once to receive blessings. Popular festivals include Thimpu Tshechu (this three-day event is one of the biggest) and Paro Tshechu, a spring festival where everyone dresses up in bright brocade costumes.