Bhutan nudged its door open to tourism in the late 80s and by the mid-90s was allowing a restricted 3,000 people in per year. We were one of the first companies to be fully accredited and have been organising holidays there ever since. In Bhutan it is still who you know rather than what you know, and we know all the right people.
Why we like Bhutan
One cannot fail to like a country which measures itself through gross national happiness. It offers peace and tranquillity, unmatched physical beauty, an attractive culture and people, and a genuine sense of wellbeing and enlightenment. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the ancient monasteries, or dzongs, which serve as the administrative headquarters for each region. Bhutan is a tonic for the soul and should be visited by everyone once in their lifetime.
What to expect on your Bhutan holiday
Bhutan is a remarkable country of fascinating lifestyles and surprises in every region and has, through the careful control of the King, continuously strived to maintain its cultural identity by resisting western influences. In the early days, Bhutan was considered the preserve of the more dedicated traveller. Travel was challenging, the roads were poor and the standard of hotels left much to be desired. However, with the opening of new luxury lodges, holidays to Bhutan have taken on a different aspect and it is now possible to drive (and even fly) the width of the country in great comfort. Bhutan is actually about the same size as Switzerland, although with the advent of long winding roads, some construction and helicopters, you can now make a quick stop at a remote location for breakfast and dramatic views before heading off to your next destination.
Some ideas for a Bhutan holiday
- Plan a visit to coincide with one of the colourful festivals, known as Tsechus.
- Visit previously inaccessible Yak herder communities and remote lakes by helicopter charter.
- Combine Darjeeling in East India or Kathmandu in Nepal with a Bhutan holiday.
- Pack a fishing rod and go trekking. The lakes are full of trout.
Beyond the ordinary
Feeling fit and adventurous? The Jomolhari trek is one of the most spectacular treks in the world.
Or why not visit during the annual chilli harvest? Behold the vivid red of the roof tiles of local homes, on which chillis are being dried.
Transfers within the country are done by road, which is a fantastic way to see the countryside. On longer journeys it is possible to stop off along the way and see some of the many sights Bhutan has to offer.
Bhutan is extremely safe and travellers on the whole never come into any problems during their trips. We always advise to keep an eye on your belongings and leave your valuables at home.
This travel blog by Sophy Roberts tells the story of her recent trip to Bhutan with her young son, and is a descriptive and charming insight into travelling around Bhutan: http://www.departures.com/articles/the-wonders-of-bhutan.
When visiting Bhutan, it is always important to walk around Chortens (stupas) and spin prayer wheels clockwise. When photographing local people, it is best to ask beforehand. If in the country during a festival, visitors must stay within the crowd and not move into the performance area to get a better photograph – this is thought of as extremely rude by the locals.
Despite being a small, landlocked country, Bhutan is home to some of the Indian Subcontinents most stunning and majestic scenery. The famous Taktsang Monastery, also known at the Tigers Nest, perched on the edge of a cliff in the Paro Valley, is a truly breathtaking sight and a visit to this ancient Buddhist monastery should not be missed off any itinerary.
While it certainly could most visits to Bhutan focus on the many cultural highlights of the country rather than trekking. On a typical visit the main trek that most people would do is up to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery near Paro. This climb is reasonably strenuous and will take between 2-3 hours up, and 1.5-2 hours back down. There is a cafeteria halfway with fabulous views and your guide will encourage you to go at your own pace and no faster. If you are interested in trekking there are some terrific options ranging from half a day to the epic Snowman Trek that takes around 25 days – the latter recognised as one of the world’s hardest treks.
It most certainly is and is known locally as Ema Datshi. I actually really liked it but be warned a lot of the food in Bhutan looks quite similar and (as our Bhutan specialist Joe learnt to his peril) it is very easy to mistake it for another less fiery dish such as runner beans in a sauce. If you aren’t expecting Ema Datshi it can give you quite a shock!
If you are flying to Paro from Kathmandu or Delhi a seat on the left-hand side of the plane will give you superb views of the Himalayas. It is not possible to pre-book these seats so we advise checking in nice and early to avoid disappointment. Don’t forget to carry your camera in your hand luggage.