Imagine a place where happiness is paramount, where Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product. Bhutan, nestled high amongst the mighty Himalayas, is as close as this earthly realm can come to Shangri-La.
Bhutan is no ordinary place, and any visit here is bound to leave its indelible mark on travellers. It is a land of monasteries, fortresses and dramatic topography with an abundance of rare wildlife. The people, with their colourful dress and obeisance to tradition, are gentle and unfailingly polite.
Things to do
Bhutan’s main attraction is trekking to remote monasteries, temples and fortresses known as dzongs. The best known of these dzongs are at Paro, Punakha, and Trongsa. All serve also as administrative and monastic centres and have fascinatingly intricate architecture.
Other popular activities include rafting, mountain biking, bird watching and fishing. Particular attractions are the black-necked cranes at Gangtey and the endangered white-bellied heron at Punakha.
The capital, Thimphu, is a thriving centre for arts and crafts and with a population of just 100,000, it is one of the most relaxed and least crowded capital cities in the world. The impressive Tashichho Dzong, seat of the national government, is located within the city.
Bhutanese textiles are internationally famous and Thimphu is a good place to pick up hand-woven textiles and thangka paintings.
Festivals in Bhutan are colourful occasions, usually accompanied by traditional music, dance and costume. The best known is the Paro Tsechu, held annually in March or April, which features masked dances and colourfully costumed dancers.
What to pack
Lightweight clothing is recommended throughout the year, with layering possible as temperatures vary between the day and night.
Warm clothes are needed for winter, especially from November to February.
Food & Drink
Bhutanese food is excellent. The national dish, ema datshi, is a fiery mix of chillies and cheese (or occasionally yak meat). Ema datshi or ‘chilli and cheese’ is ubiquitous in Bhutanese homes, the latter ingredient often replaced by yak cheese. Other local specialities include yak steak, buckwheat pancakes and momos (dumplings).
The chang – the ubiquitous Tibetan beer – is surprisingly good. The locally brewed Red Panda is even better, and available in most bars and cafes.
Places to stay in Bhutan range from simple hotels with basic facilities for trekkers to exclusive luxury hotels for discerning travellers. Generally, the higher up, the better the location, and the views.
Here are some of the more luxurious resorts in Bhutan:
Amankora Lodges: there are 5 Amankora lodges in Bhutan, all are remote, all are intimate and all are luxurious.
Six Senses Bhutan: Six Senses is renowned worldwide for their luxury lodges, and their new lodge in Bhutan is no exception.
Dhensa Boutique Resort: Dhensa oers luxury accommodation within easy reach of the capital.
Taj Tashi: Set in the heart of the capital, Taj Tashi oers the most luxurious accommodation available in Thimphu.
Temple Tree Resort: Temple Tree Resort is located close to the Paro airport and oers luxury accommodation close to the many attractions of Paro.
COMO Uma Paro: The Uma Paro is centrally located in the heart of the Paro Valley, close to many of Paro’s attractions and oering luxurious accommodation.
The Zhiwa Ling Heritage: The Zhiwa Ling Heritage is located deep in the lush riverside jungle, and is one of the finest luxury lodges in Bhutan.
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