Major Tourist Attractions: Paro Taktsang, Taschichho Dzong, Rinpung Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang
Nestled high in the Himalayas and landlocked between Tibet, China, and India, The Kingdom of Bhutan is the world’s last remaining Buddhist Kingdom and the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world. It is primarily known for the unique preservation of its ancient culture and untouched landscape.
Pristine Bhutan, with its population of little over 700,000, has been careful to open its doors to modern global influences. Here exists the philosophy of Gross Domestic Happiness, where development is measured by the notion of a holistic society. Economic objectives are combined with social and environmental ones for overall wellbeing, including a law passed for 60% of the land to always remain forested.
Because of this sacred hold to nature, Bhutan holds the claim as one of the world’s ten most revered biodiversity hotpots, being dubbed “The Last Shangri La." Magnificent mountainous terrain lies in the north, with Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570m said to be the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. In the center are hills, valleys, and gorges and to the south a more tropical landscape and diverse wildlife.
The traditional etiquette of ‘Driglam Namzha’ is still widely upheld and Buddhism is apparent in almost every aspect of Bhutanese life. Architecture especially remains one of the country’s huge draws, including the monasteries built at great heights and the infamous ‘dzong’ fortresses.
Although a major draw for tourists, the continuation of such preservation meant limited numbers of tourists were allowed into the country each year (although this has now been lifted), yet those who do get their visa granted have to pay a minimum of $200-$250 per day to enter (an all inclusive cost).
- The valley of Paro is a good starting point and is home to Rinpung (Paro) Dzong, one of the biggest and most impressive Buddhist monastery and fortresses.
- Check out the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong and the National Museum in Paro.
- Bhutan’s valleys are all linked by ‘passes’ so walk along the highest - the Chelela Pass - that links the Haa and Paro valleys.
- Trek within the remote Haa valley, one of the least populated districts in the country.
- Chow down on the Bhutanese national dish, Ema datshi – a spicy dish of chillies and cheese.
- Go to Thimpu, the largest city in Bhutan and its capital. This mini metropolis within a valley is home to an array of monasteries, Dzongs and a palace.
- Visit The Motithang Takin wildlife reserve in Thimpu. The Takin is Bhutan’s national animal.
- Meditate at the Burning Lake in Bumthang.
- Head to the flat and treeless Gangtey Valley and to visit the monastery of Gangster Goempa, home to one of the most sacred relics in Bhutan.
- Pay a visit to Punakha, the ancient and first capital of Bhutan with its terraced rice fields and Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (the Palace of Great Happiness), considered by many as the most beautiful Dzong in all of Bhutan.
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