The tiny Asian kingdom of Bhutan is perched among the peaks of the mighty Himalaya. Bhutan offers a fascinating insight into a Buddhist culture where time has stood still, and the chance to experience Himalayan landscapes of astounding, untouched beauty. See below for 10 cultural and natural highlights of a visit to this ancient and mysterious kingdom.
1. Take a day walk to the Tiger’s Nest, the sacred Taktshang monastery which clings to the rock face 900 metres above the valley floor. Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century, is said to have flown to the site riding on a tigress and subsequently meditated here for three months. This is one of Bhutan’s holiest sites.
2. Visit the imposing Punakha Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness). Built in 1637, it is strategically placed at the confluence of two rivers, the Po Chu and the Mo Chu.
3. The Druk Path trek is a 5-day hike, starting from Paro and climbing through remote valleys and past mountain lakes to Bhutan’s bustling capital, Thimphu; it’s one of the most scenic and popular treks in Bhutan.
4. Festivals take place throughout the year in all the dzongs and monasteries across Bhutan. Attending one of these festivals is great way to experience Bhutan’s culture and history through scenes and stories re-enacted in dance dramas.
5. Biking in the Haa valley. This remote and beautiful valley is a great place to take to two wheels. A tough climb on a switchback road leads up to Chele La pass at 3,822 metres, from where you will have a view of Mount Jomolhari to the north as well as down the valley, before continuing down the switchback to Haa town.
6. If you’re looking for luxury, COMO hotels offer the perfect stay with their luxury properties at Uma Paro and Uma Punakha allowing you to experience the cultural highlights of Bhutan in style.
7. Continuing the luxury theme, stay in the splendid Gangtey Gompa Lodge in the remote Phobjikha valley where you can see the rare black-necked cranes wintering in the valley from Tibet.
8. Take a day hike in the Bumthang valleys. Three hours’ walk up the Bumthang river from Thangbi Gompa is the small region of Ngang Yul (Swan Land). The hike takes you through charming farm villages where you’ll witness scenes of traditional rural Bhutanese life.
9. Visit a farmhouse and try a traditional hot stone bath, before joining the farmer and his family for dinner for a real taste of local living.
10. To continue the cultural theme, try your hand at archery, Bhutan’s national sport, or visit a fascinating and colourful weekly market.
Experienced Bhutan specialists, Blue Poppy Tours and Treks, who offer tailor made itineraries for independent travellers, contributed this handy article.