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Bhutan

Himalayan kingdon of mountains, monasteries & buddhist art

About Destination

Set out on a magical journey through Bhutan, the secluded “Kingdom in the Clouds.” Nestled within lush Himalayan valleys, this tiny Buddhist nation has slowly opened its doors to visitors, and we’re invited to experience its timeless way of life and centuries-old traditions. Hike between mountain villages, meet nuns and red-robed monks in temples and fortress monasteries, and get acquainted with farmers, artists, local leaders, and Bhutanese youth.

With four millennia of habitation, the Himalayan kingdom offers a trove of archaeological treasures, including many ornate temples and dzong fortresses. Isolation has preserved the heavily Buddhist-influenced culture of the last Shangri-La.

Climb to Bhutan’s crowning jewel: the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Weave traditional textiles with local artisans, and participate in a masked folk dance. Aim your bow in an archery competition with local marksmen at the National Archery grounds. Go river rafting and camp under the stars in the Punakha Valley.

Delve into the sacred significance of the Himalaya on a visit to a seventh-century royal Tibetan monastery, where monks will guide you through an elaborate cake-making ceremony to cleanse bad omens. Spend an afternoon at a farm learning to plow with oxen before sitting down to a meal that uses the crop you’ve harvested.

Hike between rural villages with a local guide, and learn about the diverse flora and fauna of this region, home to threatened species like the black- necked crane and Asiatic black bear. Meet with researchers studying the resident snow leopard population, and hear about Bhutan’s approach to wildlife conservation. Trek to a remote village and spend an afternoon teaching young Bhutanese students. Explore the rice paddies and interview villagers to get a local perspective on the country’s Gross National Happiness index. Try your hand at traditional Bhutanese archery, and raft down the river valley before camping on the riverside.

You can’t help but fall in love with a country that measures its success in units of Happiness, scrawls phalluses on every available wall and prefers white-gloved cops to traffic lights. Almost completely cut off for centuries, it has tried to let in some aspects of the outside world while fiercely guarding its ancient traditions. Bhutan’s pristine environment offers ecosystem which are rich and diverse, due to its location and great geographical and climatic variations, Bhutan’s high, rugged mountains and valleys boast spectacular biodiversity, earning it a name as one of the world’s ten most important biodiversity hotspots. 

Explore the sky-scraping peaks of the Himalaya, browse through local crafts at artisan markets, and hike through emerald rice paddies that blanket the valley floor.  Learn the art of traditional dancing, or beat a Bhutanese drum during a chanting ceremony at a nunnery.


Country : Bhutan Capital : Thimphu
Capital's calling code : +975 Currency : Ngultrum (Nu.)
Time Zone : GMT+10 hours Minimum Stay : 8 to 10 Days
Languages : Dzongkha
What to see : Temples, Dzongs (fortresses), Forests, Heritage, Wildlife, River, Pilgrimage, Monasteries and traditional markets
Suited for : Leisure Seekers, Honeymoon Couple, Family Trips, Trekkers, History Lovers, Girls Gang, Solo Travellers, Boys Gang, Wellness Holidays
Best Time to Visit : April to October
Selfie Spots : Taktshang Goemba (Tiger's Nest), Phobjikha Valley, Dochula Pass, Haa Valley, Jhomolhari, Paro River, Punakha Suspension Bridge, Rinpung Dzong, Thimphu Chorten (Memorial Chorten), Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, Chele La Pass, Tashichho Dzong (Thimpu Dzong), Buddha Dordenma (Thimphu), Phobjikha Valley, Drukgyel Dzong, Kurje Lhakhang and Changangkha Lhakhang
What to Pack : Trekking/outdoor clothing, Swimsuits, sun tan lotion, insect/mosquito repellent, camisoles, umbrella/raincoat, waterproof boots or sturdy shoes


Explore

Rinpung Dzong is a beautiful dzong (fort), with towering walls, built in the 16th century. Known as the Fortress on a Heap of Jewels, Rinpung Dzong is among the best tourist places in Bhutan and a classic example of Bhutanese architecture and deep rooted traditions.

The Buddha Dordenma Statue is a 169 feet tall statue of Buddha, built at the foot of the hills in Thimphu. This iconic gold and bronze statue is visible from almost anywhere in Thimphu and is among the popular Bhutan tourist places.

Dochula Pass is a beautiful pass consisting of 108 Chortens or Stupas, built in the memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who died in a war against the insurgents from India. The beautifully built temple and stupas, with the picturesque Gangkar Puensum peak in the background, makes the Dochula Pass one of the best tourist places in Bhutan.

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery hangs on a cliff and stands above an enchanting forest of blue pines and rhododendrons. As this beautiful and very exceptional monastery is a sheer climb the hill (900 meters), a pony can be arranged for the ride up, but only until the cafeteria. From then on, it is another steep walk and some narrow stairs towards the monastery itself. The trail crosses a chapel of butter lamps and descends to a waterfall by the Snow Lion Cave. The view of the Paro valley from here on is breathtaking, and the atmosphere very holy, a place where every Bhutanese will want to come at least once in his/her life. The place where Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism into Bhutan, arriving on the back of a tigress.

Phobjikha is a small town in the central part of Bhutan. Like many other beautiful places to see in Bhutan, Phobjikha is bestowed with valleys and is surrounded by mountains and lush greenery. The place is known for its beautiful landscapes and passes and a day’s hike will take you through the town and the woods.


Experiences

Bhutan is swiftly developing its reputation as a premier destination for adventure sports. Set amongst the majestic Himalayas Bhutan is the perfect location for all manner of exciting activities including Hiking, Trekking, Kayaking, Mountain Biking and Fishing. Whether it’s rafting down crystal clear, glacier-fed rivers or trekking through lush, virgin forests Bhutan offers a one-of-a-kind experience for travelers seeking adventure in an unspoiled and unexplored environment. All the necessary arrangements for adventure activities can be made, along with well-trained and experienced guides to ensure your safety at all times.

The rugged, mountainous landscape of Bhutan lends itself well to both on-road or off-road mountain biking and the sport is seeing increasing popularity. There are a variety of biking routes available ranging from smooth journeys on paved roads to challenging off-road dirt trails that wind through rough terrain. The sport offers a certain intimacy with the environment that is seldom experienced in vehicles. With better roads replacing the old and the increasing number of off-road roads, biking is now becoming a very unique and original way of seeing and interacting with the country, people and the Bhutanese environment. Your effort is rewarded with a breath-taking view and an unforgettable experience.

The crystal clear rivers of Bhutan are one of the kingdom’s best kept open secrets; fed by the glacial-melt of the Eastern Himalayas, six major rivers (Wang Chhu, Sunkosh, Puna Tsang Chhu, Mangde Chhu, Kuri Chhu and Dangme Chhu and their tributaries), have been scouted for kayaking and rafting.They cut through high valleys and low plains to meet up with the Brahmaputra River in India. The pristine natural setting and the sheer variety of the rivers’ courses provides a unique opportunity to explore Bhutan’s beautiful wilderness.  The rivers are plentiful with strong currents varying between slow, gentle flows in some places and powerful, raging torrents can be found throughout the country. Walking and trekking expeditions along the scenic river banks are also organised. The best time for rafting and kayaking is from March to April and November to December.

Explore what truly sets Bhutan apart from anywhere else and discover one of the most remote kingdoms on earth. Whether you are looking for a day hike or a gruelling 31 day adventure, Bhutan has it all.  Trekking is generally quite tough as there are no places to stay or eat in the higher regions, and so all food and camping equipment must be carried in. But despite the difficulties of the treks, all efforts and discomforts are more than compensated for by the stunning scenery and extremely friendly, gentle and hospitable people that are met along the way. Pristine mountain lakes, imposing glaciers and some of the world’s most endangered species await you in the mountainous amphitheatre of the Himalayas.

This is the national sport of Bhutan and competitions are held throughout the country at most weekends. Visitors are very welcome to watch and also to add voice to the boisterous cheering that accompanies these events.


Get to know About

As the last surviving great Himalayan kingdom, Bhutan has an otherworldly air that seems rooted in another age. Traditional dress is the norm everywhere, old-growth forest carpets 75% of the countryside and remote Himalayan peoples like the Layaps and Brokpas live a life largely untouched by the modern age. Bhutan has a rich and unique cultural heritage that has largely remained intact because of its isolation from the rest of the world until the mid-20th century. One of the main attractions for tourists is the country's culture and traditions. Bhutanese tradition is deeply steeped in its Buddhist heritage.

While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound. Because of its largely unspoiled natural environment and cultural heritage, Bhutan has been referred to as The Last Shangri-la. Gross National Happiness: Development Philosophy of Bhutan - Economists the world over have argued that the key to happiness is obtaining and enjoying material development. Bhutan however, adheres to a very different belief and advocates that amassing material wealth does not necessarily lead to happiness. Bhutan is now trying to measure progress not by the popular idea of Gross Domestic Product but by through Gross National Happiness.

The climate in Bhutan is extremely varied. This variation in the climatic conditions and average temperature can be attributed to two main factors, the vast differences in altitude present in the country and the influence of the north Indian monsoons. Bhutan's generally dry spring starts in early March and lasts until mid-April. Summer weather commences in mid-April with occasional showers and continues to late June. The heavier summer rains last from late June through late September which are more monsoonal along the southwest border. Autumn, from late September or early October to late November, follows the rainy season. It is characterized by bright, sunny days and some early snowfalls at higher elevations. From late November until March, winter sets in, with frost throughout much of the country and snowfall common above elevations of 3,000 meters. The winter northeast monsoon brings gale-force winds at the highest altitudes through high mountain passes, giving Bhutan its name - Drukyul, which in the Dzongkha language mean Land of the Thunder Dragon.

High Season (Mar–May, Sep–Nov)
The weather is ideal in spring and autumn. Book flights well in advance; accommodation options can fill up. Himalayan views are best in October, while rhododendron blooms peak in March and April.

Shoulder Season (Dec–Feb)
Bhutan has seasonal tariffs so there'll be fewer tourists and good savings to be made by travelling outside the high season. The weather is still pleasant, though it can be cold in December and January.

Low Season (Jun–Aug)
Monsoon rains and leeches put an end to most treks, although high-altitude flowers are at their peak.

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillis are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy. Rice (red rice), buckwheat, and increasingly maize, are the staples of Bhutanese cuisine. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. The local diet also includes pork, beef, yak meat, chicken, and lamb. Soups and stews of meat and dried vegetables spiced with chilies and cheese are prepared. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Ema datshi, is called the national dish for its ubiquity and the pride that Bhutanese have for it. Dairy foods, particularly butter and cheese from yaks and cows, are also popular, and indeed almost all milk is turned into butter and cheese. The following is a list of some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes:

Ema Datshi : This is the National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.

Momos : These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.

Phaksha Paa : Pork cooked with spicy red chillis. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as Sicaam).

Hoentoe : Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients.

Jasha Maru : Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.

Red Rice : This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.

Goep (Tripe) : Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chillis and chilli powder.

Woven cloth : Bhutanese handwoven fabric is prized around the world, and is available stitched into clothing, wall hangings, table mats and rugs.

Yathra A brightly colored woven material made from wool and dyed with natural colors. It is sold in pieces or sewn into jackets, bags, rugs and wall hangings. Yathra is available in Thimphu and other cold areas, but is a specialty of the Jakar area.

Dappa : Hand made wooden bowls. The halves of the bowl fit tightly together so they can be used to carry cooked food, which is their function in Bhutan. However, they also make excellent salad or cookie bowls. Dappa are a specialty of the Trashi Yangtse region, but can be purchased throughout the country.

Bangchung : Small bamboo woven baskets with two tightly fitting halves. They are a specialty of the southern Bhutan, but available throughout the country.

By Air : At present two carriers operate to Bhutan - Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. And there are domestic airports in Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan. A second international airport is currently under construction in Gelephu along the southern border to India. There are flights to destinations that include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.

The other option is Bagdogra Airport (IATA: IXB), serving the city of Siliguri in the neighboring Indian state of West Bengal, Bagdogra is a four-hour drive from the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing. Bagdogra receives frequent flights from major cities within India, and Druk Air operates flights from Bangkok at least weekly.

Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting ones as the aircraft passes over four of the five highest mountains in the world. In fine weather, as you soar higher up, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.

 

By Train : There are no railways in Bhutan. The nearest options (both in India) are:

Hasimara on the main Kolkata/Siliguri line to Assam is the nearest railway station to Phuentsholing, 17 km away. Indian Rail operated train #13149 and #4084 stop here. As of October 2010, some sections of the road from New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri to Phuentsholing are in a very bad shape. Extending travel by train till Hasimara would save your freshness for Bhutan.

New Jalpaiguri Station (NJP) in Siliguri is a popular choice for travellers heading to Bhutan by land. There are direct shared taxis from NJP to Jaigaon or there is the option of buses from Siliguri bus station. A taxi between the station and the bus station costs around Rs 80 max. Alternatively you can also take a local train to Hasimara which costs around Rs 40 and takes around 3 hours. Trains from NJP should be booked ahead, as it is a popular stations amongst locals. There are not any trains leaving from this station with a tourist quota

 

By Bus : The Bhutan Post bus that runs between Phuenthsoling and Thimphu

From Kolkata : The Royal Bhutanese Government runs a service to Phuentsholing. These buses depart from Kolkata's Esplanade bus station at 7PM on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and from the Phuentsholing Bhutan Post office at 3PM on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The journey takes around 18 hours and costs Rs/Nu.300. The buses are comfortable, but because much of the highway to Kolkata is like the surface of the moon, don't bank on getting much sleep on the way.

From Siliguri : There is frequent service between Siliguri and Phuentsholing/Jaigaon. It is roughly a four-hour journey. Buses operated by Royal Bhutan Government depart from across the main highway from the bus station, near Heritage Hotel, at 7:30AM and 1:30PM daily. Tickets cost Rs 62 and are available on entering the bus.

From Phuentsholing : There are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimphu but a comfortable option is to book a Bhutan Post bus (Rs/Nu.170) which leaves each morning at 7AM (Bhutan time) from the post office.