Perched high in the Himalayas, Bhutan is a small dreamy paradise. A country where rice is red and chilies are considered to be a vegetable, where development is measured not by Gross National Product, but by Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom. A visit here will bring you face to face with ancient monasteries, fortresses (called Dzongs), ancient temples with prayer flags fluttering high and the warmth of its people.
Don’t leave Bhutan before you:
- Paro: The verdant Paro Valley is regarded as one of the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. Take in the history-laden grandiose and breath taking scenery, sprinkled with traditional houses, monasteries, and ripening rice fields. If you are a nature lover looking for some peace and quiet, this is the place to be.
- Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest): Nestled on the edge of a precariously high cliff, the iconic Taktsang Goemba (monastery) is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan and one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites. A pony ride is available till the ‘cafeteria’, a wooden teahouse-restaurant located on the ridge, offering great views of the monastery. Whether you are spiritual or the adventurous kind, this is an exhilarating journey offering breathtaking views along the way. To enter the monastery, visitors require a special permit, which needs to be procured in advance.
- Trashi Chhoe Dzong: A must-see on every visitor’s list, the impressive structure with large golden Bhutanese-style spires on top is the seat of the national government, the national library, throne room of His Majesty the King of Bhutan and the nation’s largest monastery. It is also the venue of the famous Buddhist religious celebration, Thimpu Tshechu.
- Trekking on the Snowman Trek: The Snowman Trek is one of the most challenging and adventurous treks in the world. It starts at Paro and leads you through Lingshi and Laya to the remote corner of the Lunana Valley. Walk over 5,400 metres crossing four different passes and camp at high altitudes. The best time to enjoy treks here is between September and October.
- Mountain Biking in Paro and Punakha: Mountain biking trails are aplenty and an excellent choice if you want to explore further ruins and monasteries that are inaccessible by foot. Biking down the route from Paro to Bumthang, passing rice fields, rugged terrains and spiraling descents are popular among bikers. Punakha also has a number of trails for bikers; popular ones include one that starts from Pho Chhu and the other leading up to Tschochagsa.
- Rafting and Kayaking: The lower Paro Chhu River stretches for about seven kilometres and has many small boulder rapids. Mo Chhu on the other hand is more suitable for beginners and as the river flows through the valley, you get to see sights such as one of the queen’s winter residences, the king’s winter retreat and beautiful farmland.
When to Go:
September to November: The month of September marks the beginning of autumn in Bhutan and is considered great for visiting. Visitors are greeted with clear skies and pleasant weather. The maximum temperature rarely crosses 20 degrees Celsius and the minimum is around 4 degrees Celsius. This is also a great time to enjoy adventure activities such as trekking. Rain showers are common during this time of the year, so it is advised to carry an umbrella along.
December to February: Winters in Bhutan are beautiful and less crowded. It is also easier to secure a great deal on hotels during this time of the year. Days are sunny, though evenings and nights can be very cold. These months are ideal for white-water rafting and bird watching. The maximum temperature during this time is 9 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperature drops down to -10 degrees Celsius.
March to May: This time of the year is perfect to enjoy nature. Bird watchers will also be able to spot the abundant bird life in the region. Enjoy an unobstructed view of the peaks and also the famous Paro Tsechu, a popular festival. Don’t forget to carry woollens along, as it can be pretty cold.
June to August: The beginning of summer in Bhutan brings with it heavy rains. The mountains are cloaked in clouds and look absolutely surreal! The maximum temperature is about 21 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperature drops to 7 degrees Celsius. Since this is the wettest time of the year in Bhutan, make sure you carry an umbrella along.
By Air: Bhutan’s only international airport is in Paro, which is 6 kilometres away from the city. It is about an hour and a half away from Thimpu.
Road/Self Drive: Bhutan is well connected by roads. Thimpu has a city bus station from where inter-district buses depart and arrive. From Paro airport, Thimphu-bound taxis are available and can cost up to Nu 800. Self-driving from Phuentsholing is a scenic and enjoyable journey that takes about five hours (172 kilometres).
Taxi: To travel around, you can hire a taxi, which may be a little expensive. These tourist taxis charge about NU 15 per kilometre, with a minimum charge of about Nu 1,400 per day (which includes driver’s food, accommodation and fees). Keep in mind that taxis don’t run on meter and you may have to negotiate the fares beforehand.
On foot: Walking is a great way to explore the cities of Bhutan. Also, some villages are not connected by road, so travel by foot or on a pony is recommended.
What to Pack:
- Heavy warm clothes when travelling in winter and autumn and a light jacket for the rest of the year
- Walking shoes and trekking gear will come handy as the terrain is mountainous
- Beginning of summer brings heavy rain and it is a good idea to carry a sturdy umbrella
Bhutan is a pastoral delight with cascading rice fields, beautiful valleys, humbling mountain ranges and something to offer for every traveller. So come and experience the charm of one of the most inexplicable countries, the ‘last Shangri La’, and be mystified as you explore travel world’s best kept secret, Bhutan.