Bhutan can boast a truly unique and carefully preserved history and culture with gentle people whose culture and traditions are deeply rooted in their Buddhist principles. Buddhist monks chant ancient prayers in the many monasteries while families survive by growing their own vegetables and raising their livestock. The scenery, architecture and customs are a delight but the most memorable thing about Bhutan is the people – generous, kind, peaceful and above all, happy. World Journeys can provide a range of itineraries throughout the country including the stunning 6 star Aman Resorts.
Thimpu Thimphu lies in a steep valley at an altitude of 2,350m, surrounded by richly forested mountains dotted with ancient monasteries and lhakhangs (temples). The town is built up from the Thimphu Chhu (river) and is centred by the quaint Clock Tower and its surrounding lanes of shops, markets, and local restaurants. As Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu is home to many attractions and activities, including the National Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum and the bustling Changlingmethang Market.
Thimphu Memorial Chorten
An impressive stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third King. Here you can witness people “circumambulating” (the ritualistic act of going around a holy structure three times or more as a gesture of respect) the temple.
Taktsang (Tigers Nest) Monastery
Located about 20 minutes from Paro, this unique building clings to the mountainside perched on a cliff 900m above ground. It consists of 4 temples with residential accommodations for monks and the steady uphill hike is well worth the effort!
Sitting at an altitude of 3150 metres, this pass spectacular views over the high peaks of the eastern Himalayas, making it one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world.
One of the highlights of Punakha is the Punakha Dzong (complex temples and courtyards) which straddles the confluence of the Mother and Father rivers. 21 temples are contained within the area of the dzong’s third courtyard, the largest of which is the monks’ hundred-pillared Great Assembly Hall.
The most popular time to travel to Bhutan is the spring (Mar – May) and autumn (Sep – Nov). The weather is warm, the skies clear and perfect for photography but also most of the countries intricate and fascinating festivals are held during this time.
Flying into Paro, the plane swoops and circles down the valley with mountains appearing to brush each wing; I can see in the windows of the farmhouses dotting the hillsides, each with their immaculate terraced gardens. Once safely on the ground, most people in national dress; the men in their gho, a wrap around garment not unlike a dressing gown with huge turned back sleeves, socks and business shoes and the women in their kira, a long dress with a short Chinese style jacket over the top with the same huge sleeves. All totally enchanting. The first thing that struck me was how tiny everyone is… then how utterly charming they all are! We were whisked us along a VERY winding road for an hour and a half to Thimphu. Although it is the capital and largest city (popn 100,000) it still manages to look like a little alpine village.
During our stay we were lucky to be in Thimphu during a National Holiday and there were huge celebrations at the Dzong in the city so we decided to join in. We joined enormous numbers of brightly coloured locals, the men wearing different coloured scarves to denote their standing in government roles, and crowded into the main courtyard. We joined the queue to see a gigantic painting of Buddha, were blessed by the monks as we passed in front of it who did not seem the slightest bit concerned to see a group of white foreigners in amongst the throng.
Kate Couling, Director
Currency Bhutanese currency is the Ngultrum. Indian rupees can also be used in Bhutan.
Language Dzongkha is the official language, but there are various Tibetan dialects, and Nepalese dialects are also spoken.
Why we love it From the pristine mountain air of the Himalayas, to the raucous festivals in town, there’s much to love about Bhutan. Having been protected from the excesses of mass tourism for decades, Bhutan has managed to retain a rich and fascinating culture that is an absolute delight, even to the most jaded of travellers. Coincide with an archery competition or a religious festival, and you’ll see a tranquil people really come to life! Explore the ancient dzongs (fortresses), visit the amazing Taktsang (Tigers Nest) Monastery, and get out into the bucolic countryside, and you’ll catch a glimpse of the heart of this amazing country.
Weather Bhutan’s climate varies widely, from tropical in the southern plains, to cool winters and hot summers in the central valleys, to severe winters and cool summers in the actual Himalayas. And with often wild fluctuations in day/night temperatures, never has dressing in layers seemed more sensible.
Social customs & quirks With a long tradition of Buddhist principles, the Bhutanese are a very peaceful people who value their culture highly. Archery is the muched loved national sport, with fierce rivallry between villages leading up to major tournaments nationwide. Spirits are high as the alcohol flows from early in the day, and opponents busy themselves whispering sweet obscenities into their adversaries’ ears and dance wildly in front of them in an attempt to distract. Hilarity all round for the spectator, who just needs to be wary of where they’re sitting when the actual archery begins! Although western food can be found, its worthwhile eating local occasionally – as long as you like chilli! Here chillies are treated as a vegetable rather than a seasoning, and spicy chillies mixed with cheese (emadatse) is the national dish. Textile weaving of raw silk and cotton is truly an artform in Bhutan, and you’ll see women in the mountains busily weaving on portable looms – it can take six months to complete one garment!
Festivals & events Festivals in Bhutan (Tshechus or Dromchoes depending on which deity they celebrate) are generally raucous joyous affairs, lasting up to 5 days, but many do actually have a religious basis to them. Most take place in Sept/Oct and March, with dates based on the Lunar Buddhist Calendar. Probably the biggest most popular ones are the Thimphu Tsechu and Paro Tshechu in Spring. The dzongs (ancient fortresses) come to life with colour, music and dance as people flock to join in the festivities with bright costumes and masks, armed with huge exuberance and pride in their rich traditions.
Health* As innoculation requirements change regularly, we highly recommend you contact a travel health professional for advice. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required by all travellers coming from an infected area. Drink bottled water only, and ensure fruit and vegetables are either peeled or cooked. Medical facilities are good but scarce, so it is advisable to carry all required medicines with you.
Notes *Please be aware that Health information is subject to change at any time and you should always double check these requirements at the time of booking and before travel.