― Dalai Lama
Exploring an undiscovered destination is alluring to any novice or seasoned traveller. Whether you are treading new paths, capturing awe-inspiring sights or encountering local culture, one can expect to leave with a rejuvenated mind, fresh perspectives and profound new meanings to life. Bhutan is one such destination - a mystical land that remains untouched yet fascinates travellers from all corners of the earth.
Popularly known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan is renowned for its “Gross National Happiness”, which takes a holistic approach towards the country’s growth by making the well-being of the kingdom’s citizens and the sustainability of its environment its utmost importance. The pristine surroundings coupled with steadfast focus to promote sustainable tourism has made Bhutan the leading green destination on top of being one of the most carbon-neutral countries in the world. Recognised as “the last Shangri-La on earth”, Bhutan’s landscape boasts a tapestry of deep valleys with lush greenery surrounded by mountainous, snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas.
Until 1955, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan. It’s no surprise as Punakha has been the main agricultural site, fertile for rice cultivation and other agricultural activities. A sight to behold, Punakha’s terraces house abundant rice fields and blankets of flowers, lining two of the main rivers, Pho Chu and Mo Chu. As you walk along this breathtaking valley passing fruit orchards, you will weave through quaint villages before reaching the majestic fortress, Punakha Dzong. The second oldest and largest Dzong in Bhutan is currently the administrative centre of Bhutan and protects sacred relics of Tibetan Buddhism. The white-washed walls of the Dzong stand out even more in spring against the background of cascading lilac jacarandas trees, a sensuous treat for the eyes.
The valley also offers the best combination of leisure and adventure. You could go rafting along the rushing waters of the Pho river or take in the spectacular views of the Himalaya range on a leisurely stroll.
Go anywhere in Bhutan, you are sure to encounter at least one spiritual complex with incomparable grandeur. Thimphu, however, trumps the rest of Bhutan with its numerous stupas, monasteries, dzongs and shrines, making it the destination to visit for those seeking enlightenment and inner peace.
The most popular dzong - Tashichho Dzong, comprises two-storied buildings flanked by towers with golden roofs. The monastery is important to the Lho-Drukpa sect of Buddhism and boasts over 30 temples, shrines and chapels within its vast complex. Spend a day at the temple grounds and be washed over by the serenity and calmness of the ancient site.
Another important spiritual complex is the Changangkha Lhakhang, built in the 14th century. As one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, it is believed to be built by the descendants of Phajo, a Buddhist saint. The temple houses a larger-than-life bronze statue of Mahakarunika deity and a large prayer wheel. Visiting the temple and its grounds will leave you in pure reverence, not just of the glorious bronze statue but also the vantage point of Thimpu from its courtyard.
Seekers of solitude would be more at home in Zilukha Nunnery, where you can light your own butter lamps and offer alms at this charming hillside monastery. Built by the Bhutanese inventor and iron pioneer, Thangtong Gyalpo, this Buddhist monastery is now home to some 80 nuns, with whom you can interact as you walk around its serene compound.
The iconic shot of Paro Taktsang, better known as Tiger’s Nest, is possibly the most recognised landmark of Bhutan. An image straight out of a fable, the Tiger’s Nest is perched on the cliffside of the upper side of the capital, Paro. Legend has it that 8th-century Buddhist guru, Guru Rinpoche flew over the mountains from Tibet to reach the cliffside on the back of a tigress and proceeded to spend three years, three months, three days and three hours in meditation, thus establishing the holy site.
Making a pilgrimage to this sacred monastery is a fairly arduous journey. There’s an option of taking a less beaten path, known as the Bumdra route, via Bhutanese Himalaya that will make your journey more pleasant with its sweeping vistas of the mountains and lesser crowd.
Bhutanese people are generous with their warm smiles and wholesome hospitality. Travellers are welcome to immerse themselves in the Bhutanese way of life and culture that is strongly rooted in Buddhist traditions to understand why this landlocked kingdom is called “the happiest place on Earth”.
Our very own insider journey features local personalities who would readily regale you about the history, culture and nature of Bhutan. Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open to experience personal stories, local folklore and other tales of the land.
You could also enjoy a Bhutanese feast at the Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant, where you will dine in the company of esteemed guests such as a well-respected local historian and a practising lama. Bhutanese cuisine mostly consists of local and organic produce, favouring large amounts of chilli and spice in their cooking. A must-try dish would be Ema Datshi, a simple stew made with a variety of ingredients, chillies and yak cheese called Datshi, served with local red rice.
A trip to Bhutan is more than just a holiday. It’s a pilgrimage to invigorate yourself by soaking yourself in spirituality and taking a more anchored approach to life. Understanding their method to create a happier and greener nation is something all of us could take note of. Let this pristine pocket at the edge of Himalayas transport you to a calmer, more peaceful existence.
Are you looking to embark on your very own journey to Bhutan? Sign up for our insider journey - A Mystical Odyssey in Bhutan. Limited spots available for May dates.
We look forward to journeying with you.