Bhutan is a tiny Kingdom nestled deep in the Himalayas. Visitors to Bhutan are promised a sense of excitement, optimism and also inspire revelations that come with the personal discovery of the ancient cultural heritage and the pristine environment. Legislation and national developmental activities in Bhutan are guided by Gross National Happiness. GNH is a national ideology that the happiness of its people is the true measure of progress of a society. GNH deems preservation of culture and environmental conservation equally important as socio economic development. Thus to achieve sustainable and responsible tourism which has minimal impact on the environment and avoid the degradation of its culture, the Royal Government of Bhutan promotes high value low impact tourism to avoid being overrun by mass tourism.
The land of Happiness is thus perceived as an exclusive high end destination. All visitors must book their trip to Bhutan through an authorized local travel agent in Bhutan. The local agent will assist travelers with all travel management services including hotel and flight reservations, processing tourist visa, transportation and planning a tour itinerary. Interested travelers can either purchase pre designed Bhutan Tour Packages or discuss with the local agent and customize it as per their preference. This article shows interested visitors how to make the most of their trip to Bhutan in the shortest period of time. The three day road trip covers three most popular tourist destinations, a good mix of nature, adventure and cultural activities and the trip ends with the popular hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. To ensure comfort and quality experience, all road trips in Bhutan are either assigned a relatively new model SUV (1 – 2 people), a minivan (3 – 8 people) and a coach for big groups.
The adventure begins right from the get go. Flying into the Paro International airport can be an exhilarating experience with the breathtaking aerial view of the Himalayan snowcapped mountains including the Mount Everest. Passengers hang on to their seats anxiously waiting to sight the runway while the plane maneuvers the mountainous terrain rapidly descending into the valley.
The first destination of the trip is Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan. It is an hour drive from the airport to Thimphu. Thimphu is the most urbanized district in Bhutan and it serves as the political and economic center of Bhutan. The city center is clustered along the Norzin Road and the residential areas are scattered mostly in the northern, southern and western region of Thimphu. Some of the popular attractions in Thimphu include the Memorial Chorten built in the honor of the third King of Bhutan; Buddha Dordenma which is a 50 meter bronze statue built on a hill overlooking the city and the Institute of Traditional Arts and Crafts.
The second day will be an early drive to a small mountain village of Punakha from Thimphu city. The two hour drive passes through a mountain pass known as Dochula at 3100 meters. During a clear weather day, one can see a panoramic view of the entire eastern Himalayan mountain range from the pass. A 108 Buddhist temples spread across the mountain pass adds to the tranquility of the place. After a brief stop, the road descends all the way to Punakha valley. Punakha is a countryside village dotted with typical traditional Bhutanese houses and spread with acres of agricultural land. Visiting the countryside village is known to induce a feeling of time travel back to the medieval era.
The two most popular attractions in Punakha are the 17th century Fortress, the Punakha Dzong and an ancient temple with a peculiar history. There are many fortresses in Bhutan and the Punakha Dzong is considered the most beautiful fortress in the country. Its architectural aesthetics are considered the perfect embodiment of the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan and the Dzong houses Bhutan’s most sacred religious artifact. The ancient temple was built in the honor of a Tibetan Buddhist saint who was known for his unorthodox approach to preaching religion. He was known for his indulgence in alcohol, music and women. The Chimi Lhakhang is also known as the temple of fertility and it is a tradition for couples to visit the temple to receive blessings in hope of conceiving. The entire household in that village paint their walls with phalluses to worship the saint. Locals believe it raises harmony among household members and keep away curses. The glacial fed rivers in Punakha are also popular for rafting and kayaking.
In the evening, it will be a three hour drive back to Paro from Punakha.
The trip to Bhutan ends with the epic hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro. Locally known as Paro Taktsang, the monastery is perched on a cliff 900 meters above Paro valley and it is one of most sacred religious site in Bhutan. The only way to get to the monastery is a two hour hike up the mountains. The monastery itself is roughly over 300 years old but its significance dates back to the 7th century.
According to the legend, Guru Rinpoche a Buddhist master is believed to have meditated in a cave for many years and it is believed that he arrived at the sight riding atop a flying tigress thus the name of the monastery, the Tiger’s Nest. Subsequently the monastery was built around the cave and it remains the inner sanctum of the monastery.
Once at the top after a tiring hike, the vantage offers a panoramic view of the expansive Paro valley below and the architectural accomplishment is simply spectacular. After taking in the sight, a must do list is to take an Instagram worthy selfie with the majestic monastery in the backdrop.
Depart from Paro
How much does it cost to visit Bhutan and getting there?
To achieve high value low impact tourism, all tourists visiting Bhutan are subject to the Minimum Daily Tariff. The minimum daily tariff is an all-inclusive package which covers accommodation, food, transport and guide services. The minimum daily tariff is US$ 250 per person per night during the peak season and US$ 200 per person per night during the lean season. Tourists also have to pay a one-time visa processing fee of US$ 40 per person. There is also surcharge levied to solo traveler and to group of less than 3 travelers.
Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operate an inbound flight to Paro Bhutan from India (New Delhi, & Kolkata), Bangkok Thailand, Kathmandu Nepal and Singapore.
Sonam Dorji is from Bhutan and he is a travel writer at BookMyTour. Aside from his writing, he also enjoys mountain hiking and outdoor cycling.