Next Big Ad­ven­ture: Bhutan

Lonely Planet (UK) - - Contents -

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

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