Cox & Kings reviews The Kingdom of Bhutan and tells you about destinations to visit, what to eat, where to stay and things to do!
Article Credit: Alefiya Rashiq
Population: 7.78 lakhs (approx. in 2015)
People: Ngalops (Western Bhutanese), Sharchops (Eastern Bhutanese), Lhotsampas (Southern Bhutanese), Others
Religious Groups: Buddhist (75%), Hindu (25%)
Languages: Dzongkha, Nepali, Tshangla
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Time difference: UTC +6 (30 minutes ahead of India)
Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum
Voltage: 230V, 50Hz, Plug type D/F/G
Telephone Country Code: +975
Internet Country Code: .bt
Geography & Location
A landlocked kingdom nestled in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a small country encompassing an area of approximately 38,364 sq. km. It borders China at its North and India at its South, East and West. The landscape of this South Asian country is mountainous with elevations ranging from 100m to 7554 m. Geographically, Bhutan can be divided into three regions from north to south: the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the Duars Plain.
The Weather In Bhutan
The climate in Bhutan is diverse owing to the vast difference in altitudes and the influence of the north Indian monsoons. While southern Bhutan is hot and humid, the snow-clad alpine region in the north tends to be very cold. Bhutan has four distinct seasons of Spring (March-May), Summer (June-Aug), Autumn (Sept-Nov) and Winter (Dec-Feb). The peak tourist periods are spring and autumn, when the weather is warm and dry. Winters are off-season and are a great time to get glimpses of wonderful Himalayan vistas.
The History Of Bhutan
The ‘Land of The Thunder Dragon’ is believed to be inhabited since 2000 BC. Tibetan king, Songsten Gampo introduced Buddhism here in the 7th century, and it was further strengthened by Guru Rinpoche, an Indian Buddhist Master. Later, Bhutan was unified by Ngawang Namgyel from Tibet who established a comprehensive system of governance. After his death, civil wars broke out between the various local rulers. This continued until Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck established himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907, and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that rules today. In 2008, Bhutan converted to a democracy. Bhutan is the only country to measure its growth in terms of Gross National Happiness.
The distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese food is in its spiciness, owing to the lavish usage of red chillies. However, the flavours are toned down for tourists. Red rice forms the main portion in a meal, accompanied by meat like pork, beef or yak. A must try is the national dish, Ema Datshi, which is a mix of chillies and cheese. Tibetan dumplings or Momos are reserved for special occasions. Other famous dishes are Phaksha Paa (pork cooked with red chillies and vegetables), and Jasha Maru (spicy minced chicken served with rice). Quench your thirst with Sura (salted butter tea) or locally brewed Ara (rice wine) after a steaming hot meal.
People Of Bhutan
Bhutan remained isolated from the rest of the world, until few decades ago. This resulted in the Bhutanese being simple, custom-abiding people devoid from the shackles of globalization. They are said to be among the happiest people in the world. Buddhism is widely followed. The Driglam Namzha is the official behaviour and dress code of Bhutan. Under this, men wear Gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by belt Kera. Women wear Kira, an ankle-length dress accompanied by jacket Tego. The Bhutanese wear long scarves when visiting places of importance; Kabney is worn by men and Rachu is hung over a woman’s shoulder.
Getting To & Around Bhutan
Paro is home to the only international airport in Bhutan. Alternatively, you can enter the country through the Indo-Bhutan border in West Bengal, India. Travelling within the country must be done on foot or by road. Railways/domestic airlines aren’t available. Un-metered taxis ply within Thimphu and Paro, and also operate between cities. We wouldn’t recommend riding the public buses, especially when moving through the winding hilly roads. Instead, rent-a-vehicle is a good option, provided it comes with a skilled driver to navigate through the narrow roads and sharp bends.
Where To Stay In Bhutan
You can choose from high-end hotels, resorts, home-stays or farm-stays. Backpackers can stop by at budget hostels. Hikers are provided with tents and camping equipment. Regardless of where you are put up, be assured of a comfortable time, while being treated to traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
Taktsang Lhakhang Or Tiger’s Nest Monastery
They say there are some things in life you simply must do. Visiting the heavenly abode of the Gods, perched on a cliff 900 m above Paro valley is just one of those. Long ago Guru Rinpoche arrived at this spot on the back of a tigress and meditated, thus bringing Buddhism into Bhutan. Hence, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a very sacred site, which the Bhutanese visit at least once in their lifetimes.
Shop & Mingle With Locals At The Weekend Market, Thimphu
Get closer to the Bhutanese culture by wandering around the streets of the capital in The Weekend Market. Vendors from all over the country set up their stalls by Friday, and are there till Sunday. Stock up on the local food items, handicrafts, clothes and souvenirs. And yes, don’t forget to bargain and strike fun conversations with the dealers!
Scale The Himalayas – Druk Path Trek/Snowman Trek
The Druk Path trek is a 6-day trek where you hike through gorgeous landscapes of pine forests, unspoiled lakes and high ridges. Ancient dzongs and villages on the way add a mystical charm to your journey. Altitudes range from 2400-4200m and on the last day, and you’re gifted with stunning views of Mt. Gangkar Puensum (7570 m), the highest unscaled peak in the world. And if this still isn’t enticing enough, try the king of all treks, the Snowman Trek. It’s not for the faint hearted; 25 days long, it takes you through some of the remotest valleys of the country.
The Dochula Pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu and on a clear day, you may enjoy spectacular panoramas of the grandiose Himalayas. Other attractions include the war memorial, which has 108 chortens (shrines) gracing the mountain pass, and the highly ornate Druk Wangyal Lhakhang temple. With the fluttering flags, fierce gales and surprising tranquillity, the Dochula Pass sure does take your breath away.
We believe the Kingdom of Happiness definitely deserves a visit! Try to plan your trip when the locals celebrate the Festivals of Bhutan, and make the most of the vibrant Buddhist culture and heritage!
Want To Explore The Happy Country Of Bhutan?
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