Bhutan Travel Guide
A Bhutan holiday typically starts in Paro, where the spectacular Tiger’s Nest (a must-see highlight for all first-time visitors) monastery clings implausibly to a rugged mountainside, and relatively nearby Thimphu, the country's gentle capital.
Where to travel in Bhutan
From Thimphu, a short drive over the majestic Dochula Pass takes you to Punakha, with its famously impressive dzong. Around this former capital, rice paddies and bountiful orchards make for blissful wandering, while the marshy terrain of the Phobjikha Valley draws hundreds of rare Black-Necked Crane every winter, prompting country-wide celebrations.
Central Bhutan, thick with tropical forest, is the cultural heartland; the Bumthang region is considered the cradle of Bhutanese Buddhism, and some of the country’s most ancient religious sites can be found here, along with a slightly incongruous Swiss cheese factory.
Over in West Bhutan, the isolated community of Haa Valley hosts a well-attended summer festival, where you can watch expert marksmen displaying their archery skills. Other popular Bhutanese sports include khuru (dart) throwing, and pungdo, which is similar to shotput.
Eastern Bhutan is almost completely undeveloped, and rarely visited, offering an authentic experience for adventurous travellers who make it that far. But the domestic airport has recently reopened in Trashigang, and plans are afoot to improve the main road, so the east may not be so remote for long.
Generally speaking, spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit Bhutan, as monsoons blur the mountain scenery during summer, and can make travelling problematic, while the winds and snows of winter can be bitterly cold.
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'My first visit to Bhutan had a profound impact on me, despite being only ten days long. You can't help but soak up the serene spirituality and positivity of the people, and I returned home a less-stressed and overall calmer person. Long may it last!'
Reasons to love Bhutan
- This is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the world. The underlying spirituality of Bhutan is your key to understanding its people, history, culture and traditions. Beyond the impressively fortified dzongs, and breathtaking temple complexes such as the Tiger’s Nest in Paro, the country is dotted with ancient monasteries which lend themselves to peaceful contemplation and meditation. Bhutan has wisely rejected the path of mass tourism, and you’ll find the people across the country are wonderfully warm and welcoming to travellers.
- Lively religious and cultural festivals take place throughout the year in Bhutan, and can often be incorporated into your itinerary. Among the highlights of the annual events calendar is the Jambay Lhakhang Fire Festival, which normally takes place in late October. The five-day celebrations at this Bumthang temple culminate with a spectacular ritual, as daring revellers run through a burning structure - naked.
- It should come as no surprise that Bhutan is a highly sought-after destination for trekking holidays. Routes tend to be less-developed than other Himalayan countries, but the reward of that extra challenge is a sense of splendid isolation. The best-known trail is the eight-day Jhomolhari Trek, but for experienced hikers, the 25-day Snowman Trek from Paro to Lunana, traversing the border between Bhutan and Tibet, is packed with adventure. It’s advisable to aim for a spring or autumn departure if you want to make the most of the epic scenery, as the skies are a lot clearer.
Perfect straight ‘off the peg’ or as a source of inspiration allowing us to start with blank canvas. You decide
Gross National Happiness
Even when a periodic traffic jam brings movement to a halt on the main road, there is an intriguing sense of contentment among the locals. And, while it might seem a little stereotypical, most people you encounter in Bhutan come across as very satisfied with their lot in life. This may well be linked to Bhutan’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which prioritises the wellbeing of citizens. GNH is an official government policy, devised by the king, and incorporates conservation of the environment, sustainable socio-economic development, and the promotion and preservation of Bhutanese culture. As you travel around this Himalayan idyll, you may be surprised how easy it is to slip into a Bhutanese state of mind.