BHUTAN – The Himalayan Jewel

The land of ‘Thunder Dragons’ or ‘Druk Yul’ had been on our minds for the longest time. Most of us have heard about Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness) and how it’s been called a ‘Happy Nation’. Trust us; there is more to that country: their awe-inspiring architecture, magnificent mountains, soothing air, friendly people, reverence for the King & Queen, amongst many others. The more we read about this Himalayan Jewel, the more we wanted to go and see it for ourselves.

To the best of our capabilities, we try to fit in a local festival into our itinerary whenever we visit a new country. Keeping the much talked about Paro festival in mind, we booked a seven nights trip to Bhutan covering Phuentsholing, Paro, Thimphu and Punakha in April 2017 (Looking back, we wish we could have spent another week exploring some more of the off-beat places). Needless to say Bhutan’s beauty is impeccable! Some of the places you just cannot miss are:

Tiger’s Nest or Paro Taktsang monastery in Paro is by far the most iconic symbol of Bhutan. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery. Hence the name – ‘Tiger’s Nest’. The trek takes about 6 hours which includes the tour of the monastery. The trail is uphill but not very steep, pretty doable we must say. It is tiring yes, gives you a serious fitness check (if you don’t believe in any form of exercise, like us!) but believe us, once you reach the top and inhale the pure and serene air, you will forget the aching bones and the gasping you experienced. The scenery over the valley is just mind blowing – completely lined with prayer flags and prayer wheels.

Pro tip – Your ticket entitles you to a guided tour of the monastery and you don’t really need a guide for the trek. Avoid using the horse service. It looks very scary and of course spare the poor thing!

Paro Tshechue/Paro Festival which happens in the month of April at the Rinpung Dzong is a series of dance performances by the monks and laymen wearing ornate costumes and masks. It is said that one gains merit by attending these festivals. (WooHoo! Brownie points for being a part of this) We woke up at 3am (we surprise ourselves by doing things like these :p ) to witness the Thongdrel festival – which is an unfurling of a massive embroidered painting of Guru Rinpoche. It is considered so sacred that simply seeing a Thongdrel unfurl is said to cleanse one’s sins!

National Institute for Zorig Chusum in Thimpu is a must visit! It’s a government initiative to preserve local art and craft. It offers courses on Bhutan’s 13 traditional arts which includes calligraphy, painting, sculpture, wood carving, casting, pottery, embroidery, tailoring, weaving, masonry, silver and gold smith workshops. The discipline and skills that the students exhibit is extremely impressive!

Buddha Dordenma located in Thimpu city is a gigantic 51 meter Buddha statue which houses 12,500 smaller Buddha statues in it.

Do Chula Pass is a picturesque mountain pass in the snow covered Himalayas on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. It has 108 memorial stupas built in the honour of Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in war with Assamese insurgents.

The three day Rhododendron Festival at the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi aims to create a platform for eco-tourism. Bhutan is home to about 46 species of Rhododendrons.

The majestic Punakha Dzong situated at the junction of PoChu and MoChu rivers served as both religious and administrative centres of Bhutan.

House of Juliet: Punakha had a real version of Romeo (Singye) and Juliet (Galem) from the 14th century. It’s a touching love story of two ordinary people and their extraordinary love for each other, who reunited after death. This historically built house which is in ruins now, belongs to Galem (Juliet). News has it that it is getting converted into a museum of love!

Other attractions that can be visited:

Paro: Chelea Pass
Ta Dzong

Thimphu: Chuzom (confluence of Thimphu & Paro rivers)
King’s Memorial Chorten
Textile and Folk Heritage Museums
The National Library
Takin Preserve
Trashi Chhoe Dzong
Simply Bhutan
Handicrafts Emporium and local crafts bazaar

Punakha: Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery
Hanging Bridge

When in Bhutan, MUST DO’s:

1.       Beat the cold with a hot mug of Butter tea. You have to taste it to know what it is!

2.       Savour the national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi – a delicious stew of chillies and yak cheese.

3.       Dress up in the traditional Kira (for women) and Gho (for men). You can experience it at Simply Bhutan (Thimphu)

4.       Drink at the local bars in Thimpu. (I fell in love with the singer at Mojo Park. What a voice!)

5.       White water rafting at PoChu river (it has bigger rapids than the MoChu river)

6.       Chew the local betel nut leaves (It stinks and tastes horrible but gives you a kick!)

7.       Sing some Salman Khan hits with your guide and driver (Salman is a rage in Bhutan)

8. Observe traffic police in Thimphu. There are no signals, so the policemen constantly are moving their hands,to manage traffic. It’s a sight worth watching.They do a brilliant job, and the traffic is well controlled.

9. Take an hour of your time and visit Thimphu post office. The picture below tells you exactly what you can do.

10. Visit Chimi Lkakhang in Punakha and observe the houses.

Hotels we stayed at:

Paro : Hotel Tashi Phuntshok (excellent location, great room and food)

Thimphu:  Hotel Migmar (average room and food)

Punakha:   Damchen Resort (beautiful spacious room, average food)

Flights: Rs. 22,000/- per person (Delhi – Paro – Delhi) (if booked in advance)

Package: Rs. 55,000/- per person (includes accommodation, all 3 meals, AC tempo traveller with driver, guide, all permits, all transfers & sightseeing)

A trip for 2 is approximated at a little over Rs. 1,50,000/- (approx. 2340 USD)

We used Norbu Bhutan Travel Pvt. Ltd. The guide and driver were extremely friendly and accommodative.

Planning your Bhutan trip? Have some queries? Shoot them in the comments section right away!