BECAUSE I’M HAPPY
This year is a good year for Australians to visit Bhutan,” says Sonham Chopel. The owner of Bhutan Journeys, Chopel has been working as a tour guide in Bhutan since 1996 and says his guests are always curious about the small Himalayan country, where happiness is akin to holiness. In fact, the pursuit of happiness is the government’s ultimate agenda, having favoured Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product for the past decade.
In 2018, Australian nationals interested in visiting Bhutan will benefit from a special Friendship Offer from the Royal Government of Bhutan, to commemorate 15 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries. While you’d normally pay an allinclusive mandatory minimum daily package rate of $US200 (about $260) a person, instead, those visiting in June, July or August this year will pay only the government Sustainable Development Fee of $US65 a person a night. Rooted in sustainable tourism principles, this fee goes towards sustaining the provision of free medical care and education in Bhutan.
“You’ll also be able to access 30 per cent discounts off Drukair and Bhutan Airlines fares, and other incentives,” Chopel says. “Just make sure you specify your nationality to a local agent to obtain the special package.”
So, what else is there to know before you visit arguably the “happiest place on earth” (sorry Disney)? Chopel has these tips:
IF YOU ONLY DO ONE HIKE …
Paro Taktsang – “Tiger’s Nest” – is one of the most famous monasteries in Bhutan and the most venerated and sacred site. All visitors should make a concerted effort to visit the monastery. I encourage my guests to attend a On Instagram On Instagram butter lamp ceremony and offer wishes for the @escapesnaps @escapesnaps benefit of all the sentient beings.
The hike to Tiger’s Nest monastery takes about five hours and the best time to start is in the morning. You’ll start from the base, walk up to the monastery and return with a lunch stop at the Taktsang cafeteria. If you wish, you can ride a horse from the base to the cafeteria for a headstart.
There are many hikes worth doing in Bhutan but one I really recommend is the Tango and Cheri Hike. Driving north of Thimphu Valley to Dodeyna, you will see stunning views of the Cheri Monastery. From the base, you will be able to see the Tango Monastery and University of Buddhist Studies. While hiking to these monasteries, you will have the opportunity to interact with the monks to understand their lives a little better, and see the pristine nature of Bhutan along the way.
TO EASE THOSE SORE MUSCLES
In Bhutan, we have a traditional hot stone bath ritual and I recommend it to my guests after they’ve hiked to the Tiger’s Nest. We drive to a Bhutanese family to immerse ourselves in the way of living and experience the hot stone bath where the stones are heated over an open fire, then put in the wooden tub filled with cold water.
It is believed that the heat of the water, the minerals released from the rock and the local herbs produce medicinal benefits and rejuvenate the pain from your hike to Taktsang monastery. One thing to be aware of: this treatment is not advisable if you suffer from high blood pressure.
TAKE AIM AND FIRE
The national sport of Bhutan is archery and during any tour in Bhutan, your guide will present an archery demonstration for you to participate in. It can be arranged during your leisure time at the hotel or while driving on long journeys. The bow and arrow, and target, will be kept in the car. If your hand-eye co-ordination serves you well, darts is another widely played sport in Bhutan.
Colourful prayer flags adorn a suspension bridge in Bhutan. This year, if Australians visit in June, July or August, the mandatory daily fee is reduced.