The Last Shangri La

The landlocked Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, locally called the Land of the Thunder Dragon is one of the most isolated and pristine countries in the world. It is the one of the few places preserving the Himalayan Buddhist culture, with longstanding traditions remaining unchanged since the 7th century when Buddhism became the dominant religion in the country. This peaceful way of life in the lap of nature with free education and healthcare for all, is probably why Bhutan often ranks among the happiest nations on earth. The unpolluted, virgin scenery, undulating landscapes and warm and hospitable people are reason enough to visit Bhutan.

The national Royal Bhutan Airlines Drukair, the only carrier that operates international flights to Bhutan, flies into Paro from Bangkok, Singapore, India (Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, and Gaya), Dhaka and Kathmandu every week. The flight from Kathmandu offers spectacular views of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. You require a visa to enter, unless you are a citizen of India, Bangladesh or Maldives. Also, if you’re not Indian, you have to travel with a government-authorized agency. Indian nationals can enter by road through Phuentsholing on the border, starting from Jaigaon. March to May and October to November are the best months to visit.

Apart from the sheer beauty of the Himalayas, there is much to see and enjoy on your Bhutan holiday. To get around in Bhutan, you can take inter-town buses. Within the town, you can walk around or take a cab. There are 3 main towns you can visit – Thimphu, Paro and Punakha.

The capital Thimphu has an old world feel to it, with historical monasteries and fortresses (dzongs). Trashichhoe dzong, the “fortress of the glorious religion” is the seat of the King of Bhutan and an important attraction. It also hosts the festive tsechu celebrations. The Changanga Lhakhang and Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang monasteries are worth a visit. The Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha at Buddha Point atop Kuensel Phodrang is the largest statue in Bhutan. It also offers spectacular views of the valley during sunset and at nights. Try to plan your Bhutan visit such that you spend a weekend in Thimphu – the Weekend Market on the banks of the Wang Chhu is a great place to interact with locals, buy foodstuff, clothes and handicrafts. The National Memorial Chorten is the daily prayer place of the locals, with art depicting the Buddha’s teachings. The National Library houses several ancient texts and a copy of the world’s largest printed book. Simtokha, about 5 km to the south of Thimphu, has pretty carvings and houses the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies.

Paro is a must-visit on your trip to Bhutan. If there was only one place you could go to, it would have to be the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang temple) in Paro. It is an awe-inspiring trek to an equally magnificent monastery sitting alongside a steep vertical cliff thousands of feet above the valley. It’s built into a series of caves that give the impression of a face when viewed from some distance. This site is believed to be where Guru Rimpoche landed, riding a flying tiger and defeated the demon that lived on the mountain. It is a revered religious site to this day. Paro has several other dzongs and monasteries that you could visit, such as the 7th century Kyichhu Lhakhang, the Rinpung dzong and Drukgyel dzong.

In Punakha you will see the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, one of the greatest displays of fine Bhutanese art and architecture, with a scenic hike leading to it.

Apart from these main towns, there’s also Bumthang District, the historically significant spiritual hub of Bhutan with several ancient, sacred sites.

There’s a lot of untouched natural beauty which you can discover on your treks. Find all routes on http://www.tourism.gov.bt/activities/trek.

Drive through lush landscapes to the Jigme Dorji National Park to see snow leopards and tigers, drop by at the Motithang Takin Preserv to see Takin or Cattle Chamois – the national animal of Bhutan, visit the Haa Valley.

The Bhutanese are warm, friendly people, so you may just get invited to lunch at a village home. You must try the momos, thukpas, salted butter tea and the cheesy, yummy Ema Datshi.

One of the best places to take a break from fast-paced, materialistic lifestyles to re-discover simple joys, find peace and happiness, Bhutan is indeed the world’s last Shangri La.