Bhutan

Exotic, exclusive, and shrouded in mystery - Bhutan is the ultimate destination for spiritual and trekking retreats. This is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the world - a Himalayan Shangri-La where almost a third of the country is protected by a network of pristine national parks, and where deep-rooted culture, tradition and religion gently push back against the modern world. 'Gross National Happiness' - a philosophy which puts the wellbeing of Bhutanese citizens at the forefront of economic development - underpins this remarkable society, and inspires worldwide curiosity.

Bhutan’s plunging valleys and mountainous peaks are dotted with ancient monasteries and temples. Small villages cluster around them, farmers tend their fields, and monks rise before dawn for morning prayers. Entry visas are strictly limited in pursuit of low-impact, high-value tourism, to the extent that even the capital, Thimphu, has an otherworldly aspect to it, despite the occasional nod to ‘progress’. Once you step behind the veil, however, it becomes obvious that Bhutan welcomes strangers with open arms - and armfuls of Buddhist blessings.

Paro (a short drive from Thimphu over the majestic Dochula Pass) is the main point of entry to Bhutan, with the country’s only international airport. Paro's sacred Tiger’s Nest temple rewards trekkers with stunning panoramas over the valley and a sense of spiritual serenity. Central Bhutan, thick with tropical forest, is the cultural heartland; some of the country’s oldest and most significant religious sites are found here in the valleys of Bumthang, along with a slightly incongruous Swiss cheese factory.

In Punakha, the former capital, rice paddies and bountiful orchards make for blissful wandering, while the marshy terrain of the Phobjikha Valley draws hundreds of rare Black-Necked Crane every winter, prompting country-wide celebrations. Eastern Bhutan is almost completely undeveloped, and rarely visited, offering an authentic experience for adventurous travellers who make it that far. But the domestic airport has recently reopened in Trashigang, and plans are afoot to improve the main road, so the east may not be so remote for long.

The world’s highest unclimbed peak can be found in Bhutan - the sacred mountain of Gangkhar Puensum - so it should come as no surprise that mountain trekking is a popular activity, and the best way to really take in the genuinely epic scenery of the Eastern Himalayas. The Jhomolhari Trek is among the best-known routes, while the Snowman Trek, at 25 days, is reckoned to be among the most challenging in the world. Whatever your ability level, there are no end of satisfying treks available countrywide. Multi day journeys are accompanied by specialist guides, camp staff and horsemen to carry your equipment, leaving you to soak up the views.

A highlight of many Bhutan holidays is to mix with the locals at a tshechu. These religious festivals take place throughout the year, with masked dancers performing elaborate dances. The Paro and Punakha tshechus in particular, held in courtyards outside the dzongs, draw huge crowds, while those in more remote areas have a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

If you’ve always wanted to explore Bhutan, we’re just as excited as you to finally see it listed among our destinations. It’s been on our bucket-list for a long time.

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