Bhutan – The Last Paradise
Hidden in the Eastern Himalayas between India and China (Tibet), this tiny kingdom, practically unknown to the outside world, presents a most fascinating yet an untouched natural beauty, unique culture and ancient traditions. Bhutan is truly SHANGRILA, a mythical country hidden deep in the mountains For centuries isolated, inaccessible and forbidden, this Himalayan Kingdom cautiously opened its borders to curious visitors. Travellers to Bhutan will experience the enchantment of a pure and exotic land, through its ancient fortresses, monasteries and temples, with their imposing architecture and superb art, that dot the country side. Bhutan is endowed with breathtaking natural beauty, surrounded by sacred mountains, virgin peaks and holy lakes. Bhutan is definitely one of the world’s most exclusive tourist destinations.
Important Information About Bhutan
Lying in a valley (elevation 2,350 m), Thimpu is unlike any other capital in the world. The traditional architecture of its houses and buildings is particularly striking. The places to visit are the Memorial Chorten, dedicated to the late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk; Tashichho Dzong, seat of the government of Bhutan and the summer residence of the central monk body; the Traditional Medicine Hospital where herbal medicines are prepared; the National Library, a treasure trove of ancient texts; the National Institute for Zorig Chosum for thanka painting, sculpture, wood and slate carving, gold works, embroidery and traditional boot making; Changangkha Lakhang which contains ancient scriptures and thanka paintings; and Simtokha Dzong, Bhutan’s oldest fortress which now houses a school for Buddhist studies. You can also visit the smithy on the other side of the Thimpu River to see traditional gold and silver smiths at work, the Folk Heritage Museum, which showcases a typical Bhutanese farmhouse, and the Takin Sanctuary (the takin is the national animal of Bhutan) above the Motithang area.
WESTERN BHUTAN – Paro is 65 km (two hours’ drive) to the southwest of Thimpu. The Taktsang Monastery where Guru Rinpoche meditated to subdue evil spirits; Rinpung Dzong, venue of the Paro tsechu (festival); Ta Dzong which houses the National Museum; the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, built to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan aggressors; Kyichu Lakhang, one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan; and Dungtse Lakhang with its extraordinary collection of religious paintings, are the places to see in the valley. Punakha, 77 km (three hours and 15 minutes’ drive) north-east of Thimpu, served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and, even today, it is the winter home of the central monk body. The Punakha Dzong houses many sacred artifacts and temples. The road from Thimpu to Punakha crosses the 3,115-m Dochula Pass. Wangdi Phodrang (or Wangdi) is situated 70 km (three hours’ drive) south-east of Thimpu. The Wangdi Phodrang Dzong played a key role during the unification of Bhutan. En route from Wangdi to Tongsa is the Gangtey Gompa, the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan.
Trongsa is 129 km (four and a half hours’ drive) east of Wangdi and crosses the 3,300 m Pelela Pass. The Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of Bhutan’s royal family, houses 23 temples. The watchtower, Ta Dzong, has a temple dedicated to King Gesar, the hero of a great epic. Bumthang consists of the valleys of Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. It takes two and a half hours to reach Bumthang, 68 km northeast of Trongsa. Bumthang is ideal for making excursions to the many monasteries and shrines — Tharpaling, Choedrak, Tamshing, Kurjey, Jambey, Kunzangdra among others – as well as to Mebartso, “the flaming lake”.
Mongar is 198 km (seven hours’ drive) south-east of Bumthang. The road to Mongar crosses Thumshingla (3,800 m), the highest pass in Bhutan. The Mongar Dzong is relatively new compared with the other dzongs of the kingdom. Lhuntshi is 76 km (three hours’ drive) north of Mongar. The landscape here is spectacular with stark cliffs and gorges and dense coniferous forests. This district is famous for its weavers and the fine quality of fabrics they produce. The 90-km trip from Mongar to Trashigang, the Easternmost district, takes four hours. Some 20 km before Trashigang is the Dametsi Monastery, the most important monastery of Eastern Bhutan. After Thimpu, Trashigang is the largest urban center where the Trashigang Dzong stands over the Gamri river. Tashi Yangtse, north of Trashigang, has a dzong and the Nepalese style Chorten Kora.
Foreign travellers must possess a visa for Bhutan which is granted initially for 14 days. While the actual visa is stamped on arrival in Bhutan upon payment of US $20, visitors need to obtain visa clearance from the Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB) in advance. The visa can be extended in Thimpu for up to six months. The operator making your travel arrangements will handle the official formalities.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Druk Air, Bhutan’s airline, operates flights to Paro from Bangkok, Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu and New Delhi. The overland entry/exit point is from the Indian state of West Bengal into Phuntsholing in southwest Bhutan. Phuntsholing is four hours’ drive from Bagdogra, the nearest Indian airport, and seven hours’ drive from both Gangtok (Sikkim) and Darjeeling. The drive from Phuntsholing to Thimpu takes six hours.
Transport within the country is provided by tour operators who have their own fleet of luxury buses. All major places of interest are connected by paved roads.
Bhutan has a strip of plain in the south, a network of valleys in the central parts and over 7,000-m high mountains in the north.
The Department of Tourism has set minimum tariffs which are different for the high and low seasons. Individuals and groups of less than four persons must pay a surcharge. The rates are the same for both cultural tours and treks.
March-May and September-November are the high season months, while June, July and December-February comprise the low season. Bring cotton or light woolen wear in summer (maximum temperature 30 degrees Celsius) and heavy woolens and down jacket in winter (minimum 1.1 degrees Celsius).
Trekking and mountaineering.
Modern hotels are available in Thimpu. The outlying areas have comfortable resorts and lodges.
The State religion is Drukpa Kagyupa a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It has been institutionalized in the Dratshang (Central Monk Body), headed by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) who is chosen from among the most learned Lamas and enjoys an equal rank with the King. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have adopted Mahayana Buddhism in its Tantric form as its official religion. The Buddhist faith has played and continues to play a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and sociological development of Bhutan and its people. It permeates all strands of secular life.
Summer (June-August) is pleasant but wet due to the monsoons .Winter (December-February) is cold with temperatures dropping below zero. The daytime is pleasant with clear blue skies. Spring (March-May) is the best time of the year-pleasant weather with plenty of greenery, Autumn (September-November) is similar to spring but warmer.
Bhutanese are of a Mongolian decent who originally migrated to this the country in the 7th Century AD. A nomadic and pastoral society at first, they gradually turned to agriculture in the fertile valleys. There are three main ethnic groups – the Ngalongs in the western and central regions are the descendants of Tibetan immigrants who arrived in Bhutan from the 9th century. The Sharchops who live in the east of the country, are recognized as the original inhabitants of Bhutan. The third group is known as Lhotshampas. They represent the Nepali speaking ethnic group. The total population of Bhutan is about 600,000.
These massive fortress-monasteries decorate most hill-tops and valleys. They serve as the administrative headquarters and are the focus of secular and religious authority in each district.
FESTIVALS OF BHUTAN
- Punakha Festival – February or March
- Paro Festival – March or April
- Ura Yakchu Festival – April or May
- Nimalung Festival – June or July
- Thimpu and Thangbi Festival – September or October
- Jambay Lhakhang Festival – October or November
- Festival & Culural Trek – November or December
- Year End Trongsa Festival – December or January