Why visit Bhutan? Bhutan Travel Guide.
1. About Bhutan:
Bhutan is a small country, mountainous and predominantly Mahayana Buddhist with a geographical area of 38,816km² with a sparse population of about 7,50,000 people in the eastern Himalayas. The natives are generally nice, simple and unsophisticated in nature, smiling most of the time with great hearts. Bhutan is often described in the entire world as the last “Shangri La” on earth, a Himalayan Utopia with its own unique charm and identity. The kind of tradition and culture you will get to see and experience in Bhutan is so different and unique that it could be the experience of a life time for you.
All along its history, it was never conquered or colonized by any foreign power. It has had a very interesting geographical river valley system wherein there the valleys are separated by the high mountains and a river flowing through them mostly from north to south. It’s in these broad and narrow valleys where the majority of the populace resided. That was because of the fertile land in those valleys and the freely available water for agriculture. So every valley has its own character and the valleys are never close enough, and because of the inhospitable and inaccessible mountainous terrain, communication was not always at its best. So this self isolation even from the rest of their own countrymen may have been the primary reason why the Bhutanese have been so independent minded all through the ages. Your Bhutan Travel/Travel to Bhutan can be a very interesting one if you understand these finer details of the country that most visitors haven’t.
(Award-winning Chef, Vikas Khanna is the owner of New York’s Michelin star restaurant, Junoon).
3. The history of Dzongs:
In those ancient times, every formidable valley or area used to have large fortresses called “Dzongs” that housed the administrative and monastic HQs of that particular region which are still in use even today apart from the various monasteries, temples known as “Lhakhangs” and other religious sites. The Architecture of Bhutanese Dzongs is perhaps unique to just Bhutan. Thus we have Dzongs like the Punakha Dzong, the Rinpung Dzong, Simtokha, Wanguephodrang, Trongsa, Jakar, Trashigang, Mongar Dzongs et al with their own area of jurisdiction. The biggest among them is the Trongsa Dzong, followed by the Punakha and Trashigang Dzongs. Most of the important and powerful Dzongs except the Trongsa Dzong was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who himself came to Bhutan via Laya in Gasa district in northern Bhutan from Ralung in Tibet in the 1600s.
He in fact built the Dzongs and unified Bhutan into one and introduced the administrative and monastic systems. These Dzongs were always built at such strategic places from where the attacking enemies could be easily subdued and driven away. The Zhabdrung used to get visions for the sites of Dzongs to be built at night from The wonder saint “Guru Rinpoche”, who came to Bhutan from India in the 8th century. Prior to his arrival in Bumthang in central Bhutan, the Bhutanese mostly practiced the Bon religions and believed in protective deities. Guru Rinpoche introduced Buddhism to the Bumthang valley and then preached and spread it to the rest of the country.
Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Trongsa and Bumthang for example are the must visit places along with other various historical places and monumental sites. Each place, each Dzong has its own unique history and tradition. Plus the numerous monasteries and Lhakhangs that exist at different places in the whole country.
Most of the important places are in excess of 2000m and the highest motorable mountain pass is Chele La Pass at nearly 4000m between the Paro and Haa Valleys. Rice cannot be cultivated beyond a certain elevation so the Bhutanese grow buckwheat, millet, corn, turnips etc. The thin and rarified atmosphere up in the high elevations and the “cold factor” could pose difficulties for those accustomed to living in the low plains and low altitudes near the equator. So please come prepared with a pack of medicines to be used for “high altitude sickness”. The best advice is to spend a day or two in Paro and Thimphu, to acclimatize yourself and get the hang of the altitude. Because of the rugged mountainous terrain, weather can be quite erratic most of the time. And also be prepared to brace the winding roads at those high elevations. So pack your woolens and other paraphernalia accordingly or get your advice from your Tour Operator to make your travel to Bhutan/Bhutan Travel a successful one. Also try to plan for a homestay tour where you get to see the real rural Bhutan for yourself. Farm House Experience in Bhutan 1
5. Bhutan travel tips:
Please click here for important tips for your Bhutan Travel
6. Bhutanese cuisine:
A unique and distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillies, big long jalapeno types, are a very essential part of almost every dish and is considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy enough. Chillies are used as a vegetable, not as a condiment!
Ema Datshi, a dish which is made with chilies and cottage cheese, is considered the national dish but is prepared very differently at every home. It’s spicy and is typically eaten with every single meal. Veterans will proclaim that you really haven’t visited Bhutan unless you’ve had Ema Datshi. Have your guide ask for it at your hotel or restaurant as it may not be served with your meals because it could be too spicy for many visitors. An yet another hot fiery rough chili mixup in its own right is Ezzay which the Bhutanese people just love to have.
Suja, salted Butter tea is served on all social occasions in Bhutan, as is prevalent among all Buddhist communities of the Himalayas (from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh). At traditional homes in the Bhutanese hinterland, the serving host will sit beside you with a jar full of hot butter tea and will almost instantly fill your cup up to the brim after you have had a sip!, a part of the Bhutanese tradition, of course.
Chang is a local beer and Aara is a clear alcohol distilled from various grains cultivated in the mountains.
The diet in the high mountains includes the indigenous red rice which is the main dish with side dishes of chicken, fish, yak meat, dried beef, pork, pork fat, etc. Soups and stews of meat, rice, fiddle-head ferns, mushroom, lentils, and dried vegetables, spiced with peppers and cheese are a favorite meal during the cold seasons. Dairy foods, particularly butter and cheese from yaks and cows are also popular and in fact almost all milk is made into butter and cheese.
A typical tourist class hotel serves a western style breakfast and Bhutanese style lunches and dinners which are adjusted for the western palette. Some hotels and restaurants, however, forego Bhutanese cuisine entirely for a more international fare which is quite a shame as Bhutanese food is quite good!
(Mark Wiens, based in Bangkok is a world known Travel and Food Blogger)
7. Bhutan Festivals
Tshechus (Festivals) of Bhutan are world famous. So are the Cultural, Special Interest Tours and Treks. Please check the festival dates beforehand. Thimphu and Paro Tshechus are the biggest draws.
Trekking in Bhutan
An important advice to prospective visitors who plan for a Bhutan Travel/Travel to Bhutan is to plan the Bhutan tour at least three months in advance. The Druk Air planes are small, Airbus A319 has a capacity of only 118 seats, 16 in the business class and 102 in the economy class. So the planes are not like the massive jumbo jets that you may be familiar with because these Druk Air planes are adapted to suit the mountainous terrain and the seats are mostly sold out months in advance during the High Season. A new A320 plane with a seat capacity of 140 will be introduced in 2019.
8. Flora of Bhutan
The government’s policy as mandated in the constitution is to maintain 70% of the land under green cover at all times. The present ratio is even higher, with a remarkable 72% of the country covered with green vegetation, forests of fir, mixed conifers, temperate and broad-leaf species. Bhutan’s forests also has 7000 vascular plants, 360 orchid species, 46 species of rhododendron, and other rare and endemic species, including over 500 species of medicinal plants. It is a true biodiversity haven for nature lovers and specialists consider the whole country as one beautiful natural park.
9. Fauna of Bhutan
Bhutan has been identified as one of the top 10 bio-diversity hotspots in the world, with an estimated 770 species of birds and animals which includes the plumage, the Himalayan griffin, the unique high- altitude wader, the ibis bill, the spectacular horn-bill, barbets, sun birds, fulvattas, yuhinas, cuckoos, and many more. The country also has a great variety of endangered species like the black- necked cranes, the monal pheasant, peacock pheasant, raven and the Rufous-necked hornbill. Along its southern border, the narrow tropical and subtropical belt supports the Asiatic elephant, one-horned rhinoceros, gaur, wild water buffalo, hog deer, tiger, clouded leopard, hornbill, trogon and other mammals and birds. Only 150 kilometers to the north, high Himalayan fauna include the blue sheep, takin, musk deer, wild yaks, snow leopard, Himalayan wolf and other species characteristic of the Palearctic realm. Bhutan is also known for about 500 birds of the vulnerable black-necked crane in the valleys of Phobjikha and Bomdeling that migrate from the extreme cold Tibetan Highlands come November and stay till the end of February. About 300 settle down in the cup shaped glacial Phobjikha valley out of the 500 or so that land in Bhutan.
10. Bhutan and its development policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH):
Bhutan has several parallels with Tibet, Sikkim, Western Arunachal pradesh and Nepal. The religion, culture and tradition, the cuisine, they are almost similar, the similar Mongoloid blood, even the dress and attires among many other things.
The one of a kind concept of the government that Gross National Happiness (GNH) is more important than Gross National Product (GNP) is a first theory that any country has introduced or embraced in the entire world, because it believes the happiness of its citizens is more important than wealth… the prosperity and happiness of the mind is far more important than material richness.
Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before because travel is the only thing that makes you richer in the mind and heart. To travel to Bhutan is to discover that everything is wrong about others’ views and opinions about Bhutan. Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place like Bhutan can occupy you in the entire world. To awaken alone in a strange place is one of the pleasantest sensations one would ever experience. The basic aim of travelling is to regulate imagination into reality and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of people can’t be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime. Because 25 years from now on, you will be more disappointed about the things you missed about Bhutan than by the ones you did do.
Now putting all these points onto a broader prospective, analyzing about it.., its but your opinion and decision how you’d make your Bhutan Travel a unique and interesting one.
Welcome to Bhutan!!!