Shrouded in the mists of the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a small kingdom tightly wedged between Chinese Tibet and northern India. As one of the last bastions of Himalayan Buddhism, here religion impacts all aspects of daily life and lends a unique influence to culture and architecture.
In the Land of the Thunder Dragon, tourism is tightly controlled to prevent the erosion of rich traditions, and landscapes and ecosystems are reverently protected. It is this preservation and the country’s isolation that makes Bhutan such an intriguing and unique place. Those lucky enough to visit soon understand the reasons this land of stunning landscapes, legendary temples and colourful festivals should be on everyone’s bucket list of places to visit.
Though the country protects its heritage, there’s no better time than the present to experience what might be the world’s last Shangri-la for oneself. Here’s why.
Hidden high in the Himalayan foothills, Bhutan has always been a relatively isolated kingdom. For many years, this was official policy, and even today tourism is heavily controlled. In exchange for a little extra trip planning and budgeting, however, travellers benefit from true cultural authenticity and pristine landscapes.
In this land, Buddhism flourishes and guides every aspect of daily life. Whether visiting an ancient monastery or even just wandering the streets, one can find locals walking meditatively with their ropes of prayer beads. Buddhism in Bhutan is not a religion – it’s a way of life.
One of the most popular times of year to visit Bhutan is in the fall when annual religious festivals known as Tschechus are in full swing. These gatherings are a special chance for people to gather and dress in their finest traditional garb. While you will see dancing and merrymaking, including the unique mask dances for which this country is known, this is essentially a religious ceremony and an important part of Bhutanese life.
Buddhism permeates the culture, and you can even see it in the monastic influences in the architecture of its traditional and administrative buildings. Buddhism first came to this land from Nepal but here it took on its own flavour and flair – the tantric traditions are especially notable. Similarly, other cultural influences from Tibet, China and India to the southwest find their own unique expression in Bhutan. In Bhutanese dress, for example, men’s traditional ghos are kimono-like wrapped jackets, bearing similarity to styles once prevalent across the region, and you can almost imagine the women of Bangladesh or Burma wearing similar woven skirts as those seen in the streets of Bhutan. While neighbouring countries also enjoy their chillies, the Bhutanese have taken this fiery condiment to another level. Here it is considered a vegetable and a primary ingredient in food! Bhutan is, in some ways a living museum, highlighting the rich history and distinctive cultures of the region.
In addition to its cultural wealth, Bhutan is blessed with rich ecology. The mountainous nation boasts well-protected biodiversity and forest cover, an uncommon win for Mother Nature, and a blessing for the fortunate few who get to experience this unsullied environment. Bhutan is a land of scenic vistas, precipitously placed monasteries and towering mountain tops. While trekking is a popular activity for travellers, many highlands still remain unexplored and their lofty peaks unclimbed. Peaks such as Mount Jhomolhari or Jitchu Drake are off-limits as they are the abode of deities and spirits, another testament to Bhutan’s commitment to conservation. Whether it’s rafting down crystal clear, glacier-fed rivers or trekking through lush, virgin forests, however, Bhutan offers a one of a kind experience for travellers seeking adventure in an unspoilt and unexplored environment.
While history, traditions and landscapes are treasured and preserved, Bhutan isn’t stuck in the past. The country is modernising, but with great intention. The only country to measure gross national happiness, Bhutan considers more than just the economic prosperity of its people. Because of this, you will find that authenticity, that ever-elusive element for which seasoned travellers long, is found here in spades.
One glimpse at Bhutan’s pristine landscapes and rich cultural heritage tells you all you need to know about why this country is often referred to as Shangri-la. With only one airport and few roads in and out of the country, the road to Bhutan is truly the one less travelled, beckoning travellers with its majesty and mystery.
Discover Bhutan now! Contact us here.