This little known enigmatic Himalayan Kingdom is easily overlooked at your own detriment. A veritable Shangri-La if ever there was one, sleepy Bhutan is steeped in a Tibetan Buddhist past and guards its culture ferociously. Tourism is carefully managed and the only way to visit is with an officially sanctioned tour agency, which will set you back at least 200 dollars a day, but check for any changes.
So what does 200 dollars a day get you? First of all, it gives you the privilege to see this stunning nation. Forget the price tag and see it as the entrance fee into a world where people still walk around in traditional clothing, live in intricately carved houses, and the nature is sublime with a monastery or stupa found on every corner. But if you insist on wanting to know what your money is worth, than here it is: a private guide, a car with a driver, full accommodation and food in top-end to mid-range hotels, though if you go further off the beaten track the accommodation will necessarily be simpler.
This is the country that coined the term Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross National Product to designate a nation’s wealth. It is also the country that has passed a law decreeing that 60 percent of the land must remain covered with forests. How’s that for environmental sustainability!
So take the plunge, plunder your bank account and go! See the Tiger’s Nest Monastery outside Paro, visit the impressive Punakha Dzong (fortress monastery), or feast your eyes on Wangdue Phodrang Dzong (aka the Wangdi Monastery, which began restoration in January 2014), watch locals stroll by in traditional clothing, hike a part of the Himalayas that isn’t trampled by tourists, and just relax and enjoy the unforgettable scenery and tranquility of this hidden paradise.
Highlights from Bhutan
- Taktsang Monastery, more famously known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery sits glued to the cliffs high above Paro
- Punakha Dzong is a beautiful example of the dzong concept, fortresses turned into monasteries and administrative centres
- Watch a festival or tshechu as the Bhutanese call it, with spectacular masked dances in the beautiful environment of a monastery or dzong
- Hike one of the many trails that Bhutan has -- you will be have it all to yourself!
- Count the stones holding down the traditional wooden roofs of Wangdi Monastery
- Walk around Thimpu (aka Thimbu), Bhutan’s capital, and visit the important Tashichho Dzong, or alternatively nearby Simtokha Dzong, the oldest in the country
- Go to Jakar, located in one of Bhutan’s most beautiful valleys and home to countless of monasteries, including sacred Kurje Lhakhang
- Visit Bhutan’s rarely travelled wild east
- Cheer on the locals at an archery contest, held on most weekends almost anywhere in the country
Hints and Tips for Bhutan
- To get a visa for Bhutan you need to book a tour, they cost between 200 and 250 dollars a day, (at the time of this writing) depending on season, group size and other factors. For this you will get all accommodation, food, trekking equipment and haulage for camping tours, as well as a guide, driver and car.
- If you want a guide for yourself and don’t want to join a group, you pay 40 dollars per day extra, for two people it is 30 dollars extra. The advantage of course is you can customize your tour.
- Shop around on the internet to find a tour agency with whom you feel comfortable. Prices vary so you might be able to save a bit if you choose one over another.
- Don’t complain if you think the accommodation is not worth 200 dollars a day, you are paying for the privilege to enter, not for the style of accommodation!