Bhutan, a tiny, isolated, absolutely unspoiled Buddhist wonderland in the heights of the Himalayas. The outside world has hardly touched this place. You will never see another place like it, because there is no place like it left on earth.
Highlights of Bhutan
1. The Tiger Nest
Taktsang Monastery also recognized as Tiger’s Nest in Paro is one of the holiest places in Bhutan. The monastery is perched on a rocky ledge with a sheer drop of nearly 800m, and overlooks the Paro valley and the river. It is said that in the second half of the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche known as the second Buddha in Bhutan, meditated at the spot where the monastery is situated having alighted there on the back of a flying tigress. The steep climb to reach it is absolutely beautiful and well worth the effort.
2. The Punakha Valley
The warm Punakha valley is the rice bowl of the country with terraced rice fields grown in an organic way employing traditional methods. The main icon, the Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautifully crafted dzongs in Bhutan.
There is an interesting temple called Chimi Lhakhang (the temple of fertility), built in 1499 at a site blessed by saint Drukpa Kunley, also known as the divine madman. Twelve km from Punakha town one comes across the suspension bridge in Mitesgang and could trek through green fields and climb uphill to Guru Rimpoche caves.
3. The Festivals
Festivals or ‘Tsechus’ are religious festivals honoring Guru Rinpoche and are a major part of Bhutanese life. They are colorful affairs with lots of masked dancing and bright costumes offering wonderful photo opportunities and a unique cultural insight into the Himalayan Kingdom. Families gather to receive blessings, masked dancers as well as other performers that entertain the crowd. Festivals do occur throughout the year and can be worked into an itinerary. Click here to see a list of dates and places.
4. The monasteries
Ambiance in a monastery is a peaceful as you can picture it. Joining the morning ceremony is a unique and extraordinary experience. Imagine yourself listening to hundred monks chanting together, and feeling the vibration of the Dungchen (religious trumpet). You will get transported !
1. The Bumthang Valley
Bumthang Valley is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan, full of the most ancient and precious Buddhist sites. It actually comprises four valleys: Chokhor, Tang, Chhume and Ura. Located at an altitude of 2,600 m, the religious hub of Bhutan houses some of the oldest Buddhist temples. Jakar is the main town in Bumthang Valley, and home to Bhutan’s only brewery, brewing the famous Red Panda wheat beer. These fertile valleys are filled with apple orchards, dairy farms, potato patches, and rice and buckwheat fields.
6. The Spicy Cuisine
There is a lot to say about Bhutanese cuisine. First its most distinctive characteristic is its spiciness. Chilies 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. For the same reason, most foreigners won’t probably like it unless they love Chili.
We do recommend to tickle your taste buds with the national dish, Ema Datshi. This red hot mix of chilies and yak cheese is Bhutan’s favorite dish.
7. The Druk Path Trek
The Druk Path trek is the most popular trek in the country as it passes through a gorgeous natural landscape of blue pine forests, high ridges and pristine lakes while at the same time offering the opportunity to visit some ancient lhakhangs, dzongs and villages. The trail begins near Paro and finishes close to Thimphu. It is one of the easiest trek of Bhutan but still goes to high altitude, making it moderately strenuous. This path was well worn long before any tourist came here. Historically, the most important figure to pass this way was the Buddhist saint Ngawang Namgyal, known as popularly as Guru Rimpoche.
8. The Dochu La Pass
High on top of a mountain pass on the road from Thimphu to Punakas, is a concentration of 108 chortens (stupas) built in memory of Bhutanese soldiers killed in the 2003 war against insurgents from India. The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, commissioned the monument after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was victorious in the struggle to dislodge the rebels who were using Bhutan as a base to raid India. The view from here is breathtaking, it opens all the way to the Mt. Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan (7,158 m).
9. The Centernary Farmers Market
The Centenary Farmer’s Market in Thimphu is an explosion of colours and scents. Thimphu residents throng the market on the weekends, to buy the freshest local produce from across the country.Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. With its wide assortment of fresh, organic produce, the Farmer’s Market has become a favourite spot for tourists and a recreational place for people from all walks of life. Nearby, across a cantilever footbridge, Kuendeyling Bazaam, to the west bank is a collection of stalls selling clothing, textiles and handicrafts including colorful prayer wheels, cymbals, horns, yaks, cloth and remarkable hats from various minority groups.
Top 3 Festivals of Bhutan
1. The Punakha Drubchen & Tshechu
This celebration lasts for five days with two days, devoted to Drubchen followed by three days for the Tshechu. The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country.
2. The Thimphu Drubchen & Tshechu
The annual Thimpu Druchen is famous for the masked dance performed here to appease and protect one of the key deities of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo. Thimphu celebrates tsechu with great aplomb over the course of three days and thousands of people across Bhutan flocking to the capital to partake in the festivities. Taking place in the courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong, the tsechu involves religious activities, symbolic dances and the finest local cuisine. It is the most important festival in the Bhutanese calendar.
3. The Jambay Lhakhang Drup
This festival is held over four days in one of the most ancient temples of Bhutan, built in the 7th century. The festival honors Guru Rimpoche (the man held responsible for spreading tantric or Tibetan Buddhism) as well as the founding of the temple itself. This festival is well known for the sacred naked dance performed in the courtyard of the temple at midnight – although it is not permitted for tourists to attend. A fire dance is also held in the evening to bless infertile women, hoping that this will help them to bear children.
Top 3 Treks
1. The Druk Path Trek
This six days trek is fairly short and offers a good introduction to Trekking in Bhutan. The trek starts near Paro and takes you over the mountains to Thimphu which lies in the adjacent valley. The trek ascends nearly 2000m with a high point of 4200m. The trek goes through alpine forests which are a mix of pine and dwarf rhododendrons and crosses passes several alpine lakes. On the way back down towards Thimphu Valley you can have excellent views of Mount Gangkar Puensum 7570m which is Bhutan tallest peak and is likely the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. A number of attempts on the peak were made by professional teams but none ever reached the summit. In 1994, the government of Bhutan stopped allowing climbing of peaks higher than 6000m so unless policy changes Gangkar Puensum is likely to retain its title into the future.
2. The Jomolhari trek
This 8 day trek is one of the most popular in Bhutan. It’s a moderately challenging trek that crosses over both Bhonte La pass 4,890m and Takhung La pass 4,520m and attracts visitors for its spectacular views of Mt. Jomolhari 7,326m . Mount Jomolhari, straddles the border between Bhutan and Tibet, is sometimes known as the “Bride of Kangchenjunga” and is famous for its northern face which juts abruptly from the highlands with a vertical relief of 2700m. If you are going you might want to time your trek with the Jomolhari Mountain Festival, an annual event whose time varies from year to year that celebrates the local culture of the small villages near the base of Jomolhari.
3. The Dagala Trek - thousand lake
A Challenging 6 day trek that takes you to some fabulous alpine lakes famous for local trout fishing and has great views of the high peaks of the Himalayas, including Everest and Kanchenjunga, in the distance. If you want try your hand at local trout fishing let us know beforehand and a license can be obtained at minimal cost. The high point on the trek is about 4500m but part of the difficulty lies in several ascents and descents of intervening ridges which are over 1000m in relief. The trek passes several traditional villages as well as camps of yak herders and imparts you with a feel of traditional life in the Himalayas.