Next Big Adventure: Bhutan
The Land of the Thunder Dragon does things differently. In the last of the Himalayan kingdoms, television and the internet have been permitted since 1999, but smoking, plastic bags and high-altitude mountaineering are banned. In fact, the world’s tallest unclimbed summit lies in Bhutan. Visitors can still trek at giddy heights, however, to reach crag-perched goembas (Buddhist monasteries), where prayer-flags flutter in the wind. BUCKLE UP Getting to Bhutan is part of the adventure. Apart from entering by road from India, the usual route into the country is through Paro Airport. Only a few pilots are qualified to steer their way through these Himalayan valleys for the final approach, and cloudy weather rules it out entirely, so it’s best to leave some leeway in your travel dates. SPEND WISELY Aside from its philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is known abroad for its minimum spend policy: tourists must book with a registered guide, and travel at a cost of at least US$250 per day (or US$200 in the monsoon or winter months). Although that’s beyond a shoestring budget, it covers lodging, meals, guide fees, local transport and – on treks – camping equipment, so is less horrifying than it seems at first glance. EARN YOUR STRIPES One of the country’s more manageable ascents, at 1¾ hours, leads up to Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest Monastery; pictured). Legend holds that it was fixed to the cliff-face with the hairs of celestial beings, after Guru Rinpoche flew there on the back of a tigress. FEEL THE RHYTHM The nationwide effort to preserve traditional culture means enriching experiences at all altitudes. Tsechus (festivals) with dazzling masked dances take place most months, village homestays can be a great way to make local friends (and to see local crafts), and you’ll never be far from a contest in the national sport: archery. DON’T PEAK EARLY Most visitors fly into and out of Paro via Bangkok, Delhi or Kolkata, but another option is to go through the Nepali capital Kathmandu. It has its own fascinating heritage, and is a gateway for treks to gaze up at some of Earth’s highest summits, Everest included. You might also spot these out of the window on the flight from Bhutan.
Monks dressed as mythical heroes perform dances to bless the country at Pangri Zampa temple near the Bhutanese capital Thimphu