The Kingdom of Bhutan


Bhutan is one of those gems, previously referred to as a hidden secret, due to its century’s old policy of self-isolation. But since it opened its borders to tourists just a few decades ago, the world is invited to view and experience its

• awe-inspiring natural beauty, ranging from pristine snow-capped Himalayan mountains to subtropical valleys and meadows, rivers and lakes,
• well preserved architecture of temples, fortresses and monasteries,
• unique and age-old cultural heritage visibly maintained, as well as the charms of a
• lifestyle deeply rooted in the Buddhist religion.

Kingdom of Bhutan


This small country of just about 38 400 square km, with less than 1 million inhabitants, lies with its head in the high snow-capped Himalayas (up to 7 500 m), bordering the Tibet Autonomous Region, and China to the north, and its feet to the south just 100 m above sea level in India. To the east and the west it also borders India. Close neighbours are Nepal (to the west), Bangladesh (to the south-west) and Myanmar (to the south-east).

Bhutan, officially known as Druk-Yul – Land of the Thunder Dragon - is one of the most peaceful countries in the world, where a traveller feels totaly at ease. This is partly ascribed to its deeply ingrained Bhudist lifestyle and mentality. Furthermore, a unique philosophycal concept, which measures its success and prosperity not by the growth in its Gross Domestic P:roduct (GDP), but by the levels of the mental and spiritual wellbeing and happiness of its citizens, called the Gross National Happiness (GNH), assists in ensuring that government as well as its inhabitants strive towards creating an essential balance between development, the protection of the environment, as well as the conservation of its cultural heritage.

No wonder that The Kingdom of Bhutan is sometimes fondly called The Last Shangri-La, a piece of paradise, and undoubtedly a dream destination.


There are only two ways for foreigners to enter Bhutan:

• By air: The only airline that has access to Bhutan’s one international airport (at Paro), is the Royal Bhutan Airlines, called Druk Air. This airline departs from airports in India (New Delhi, Guwahati, Kolkata, Gaya and Bagdogra), Thailand (Bangkok), Nepal (Katmandu) and Singapore. Therefore, visitors will firstly have to reach one of these airports before departing to Paro. Furthermore, luggage can’t be booked through to Paro from the original departing airport, since Druk Air has no international agreements with other carriers.

• By land: Two border crossings from India, namely from Puentsholing via the state called West Bengal, or sometimes also from Samdrup Jongkar via Assam.

Visitors needing a tourist visa may only apply for it through a licensed tour operator, either locally, or a knowledgeable foreign travel agent. Druk Air is not allowed to issue tickets before visas are authorized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Because of Bhutan’s varied geography and altitude - from the high Himalayas with its glaciers and lakes, where the world’s claimed highest unclimbed mountain, Gangkhar Puensum (7570 m) is to be found, the highlands with Alpine forests at lower altitudes, sheltered valleys through which fast rivers flow, to subtropical broadleaf forests gradually turning into tropical grasslands - it has a varied climate: severe cold in the north with permanent snow on the mountain peaks, temperate at lower altitudes, to hot and humid in the lower valleys and lowlands, with monsoon rains from June to September.
The climate varies accordingly, but four main touristic seasons can generally be discerned:
• Spring, from March to May is generally dry, with fine weather
• Autumn, from September to late October/November, when the weather is best overall.
• Summer from June to August is warm and wet, and regarded as low season
• Winter from late November/December to February, with fine temperatures at lower altitudes.

• By road: Tourists travel around mainly by road. No trains are available. But since Bhutan is so small, the longest trip should take no longer than 6 to 7 hours. Those between the main cities, towns or sights are mostly between 1 to 2 hours. The views along most sections are spectacular, especially through the forests, valleys and over the high passes.

• Trekking and biking: The more adventurous might opt for some trekking (hiking) or biking for a few days through the valleys and forests, camping besides pristine blue alpine lakes.


• Fortresses (Dzongs): The majestic Punakha Dzong in the Punakha–Wangdue valley is the second oldest dzong and generally regarded as the most beautiful in the country. The 16 th century Trongsa Dzong in central Bhutan is at 2 200 m spectacularly situated on a cliff high above a roaring river.
• Monastries (Gompas or Goenpas): The Taktshang Goempa (The “Tiger’s Nest”) from 1692 perches on the edge of a 900 m high cliff above the Paro valley. The Tsonga Monastry (1648) is the country’s largest, sometimes called “the door to heaven”, due to its splendid view.

• Passes: The Dochula Pass is one of the most spectacular and offers panoramic views of the Himalayas. At the top of the pass more than a hundred monuments (stupas) commemorate Bhutanese soldiers who died in battle.

• Statue: The gigantic gilded Buddha Dordenma statue of almost 52 m high at the southern entrance to the Thimphu valley is one of the largest in the world. Within the statue itself more than 100 000 small Buddha statues are to be seen.

• Museums: The National Museum of Bhutan at Paro in an unusual round building houses exhibits and interprets the culture and history of Bhutan from about 4 000 BC to the present.


When visiting Bhutan on a preset guided tour by way of a travel agency, the agency will arrange its preferred accommodation, but should travellers visit independently, or with a choice of accommodation, the following can be kept in mind:

• The resort Uma by Como in the Paro valley boasts a small and intimate hotel and some villas spread out into a natural environment. The Bukhari restaurant serves special dishes.

• The Taj Tashi in the charming Thimpu valley not only offers breathtaking views, but also luxurious accommodation and traditionally themed restaurants.

• Less expensive is the privately run Meri Puensum Resort above the Punakha valley, ranked nr. 1 by Tripadvisor, offering 24 rooms in a cosy atmosphere.


Many exotic and lively festivals (Tsechus) throughout the year in the most dzongs and goenpas offer the visitor the opportunity of gaining an insight into the traditions and culture of the Bhutanese people. A few of the most popular are:
• The four day Thimpu Tsechu, dating from 1670, is a religious festival annually held in October, attended by Bhutanese from all over the country, wearing traditional attire. Participants socialize and participate in historical folk and mask dances.
• The Jambay Lhakhang Drub, with traditional mask and fire dances by monks and laymen, as well as clowns amusing the spectators is held during October/November for 10 days in Bhumtang in the cultural heartland of Bhutan.
• The Trongsa Festival: From late November to December the people in Trongsa celebrate their winter harvest. This five day festival is held in the winter when the sun shines on the snow-clad mountains, and the pristine beauty of nature can be appreciated.
Manie Wolvaardt

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