Bhutan

Landlocked between Tibet and India into the Himalayan Mountains, Bhutan is all things peaceful and charming. It can be rightly described as “one of the most intriguing countries in the world today.” With only about an average of 50,000 tourists a year, the beauty of Bhutan is something only very few people have had the privilege to witness. With pristine countryside and well-preserved lifestyle and thriving culture, Bhutan makes for a perfect travel destination.

People of Bhutan are pragmatic and sensitive and have a love for life that is incomparable. Even though they may not have all the modern amenities that most of the world swears by, they are still as happy as they can be and live a fulfilled life. And if statistics are to be believed, Bhutan continues to remain the happiest country in all of Asia and the eighth happiest in the world.

When it comes to preserving the environment, Bhutan has gained global recognition for its policies pertaining to climate change. Although the country may not even be visible on the world map, yet it is the only country in the world to be officially carbon negative.

Not only that, Bhutan attracts tourists from all over the world not only because it is isolated, charming and a religious destination but also because it celebrates at least one major festival each month. The vibrancy of these festivals is famous everywhere and the exciting display of traditional culture only makes the experience worth-while.

 History

The history of Bhutan is deeply shrouded in mythology and remains uncertain. There is evidence that shows the existence of Bhutan as early as 2000 BC. Bhutan has always had the status of an independent country that has never been occupied or governed by anyone externally.

It was in the year 1907 that UgyenWangchuk was elected as the ruler of Bhutan and subsequently signed the Treaty of Punakha with the British which meant that there would be no interference on the part of BritishIndia on the internal front of Bhutan as long as they accepted the advice on external affairs by the British.  After the death of UgyenWangchuk, his son JigmeWangchuk became the ruler. When India gained its independence from the British in 1947, Bhutan was declared an independent country by the new Indian Government. In the year 1949, a new treaty was signed between India and Bhutan which stated that India had nothing to do with Bhutan’s internal affairs but would offer support in its foreign policies. It was only in 1971 that Bhutan became a member of the United Nations.

In the rule of JigmeSingyeWangchuk, modern education, decentralization of governance, development of tourism, to name a few, were emphasized. JigmeSingyeWangchuk abdicated in the year 2006 and his son JigmeKhesarNamgyelWangchuk became King.

 How to Reach

Bhutan is accessible via plane, bus and car. There is only one international airport in the country - Paro International Airport, which makes it the only medium to enter via air. Druk Air serves the routes Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkatta, Bodhgaya, Guwahati, Kathmandu in Nepal and Dhaka in Bangladesh. Bhutan Airlines, on the other hand, serves multiple locations in India, Bangladesh and Thailand. Apart from the international airport, there are two domestic airports as well - Yongphulla Airport (in Trashigang) and Bathpalathang Airport (at Jakar). As of August 2017, both the airports are rendered non-operational for tourist flights.

Bhutan cannot be reached via train as there are no railways in the country.

And if you are traveling to the country from India, you can also take a bus from Kolkata, and Siliguri. There are three buses that ply from Kolkata’s Esplanade bus station on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. As far as Siliguri is concerned, the journey takes roughly four hours from Siliguri to Phuentsholing. Once you reach Phoentsholing you can take private buses or shared taxis to reach Thimpu and beyond.

 Best Time to Visit

The weather in Bhutan depends from valley to valley and upon the elevation of the land. While some parts of Bhutan (North side) is permanently covered with snow, other parts (East, West and Central) have European-style weather. Between November and March is when it gets cold for the winters. June to August are summer months. The best possible time to visit Bhutan would be in the autumn and spring seasons as the weather is quite pleasant during this time. It is neither too hot nor too cold around then. So visiting anytime in the months of September-October would be ideal.

 Clothes to Carry

Because Bhutan is a very religious country, body revealing clothes should be avoided at all costs. No matter the season you will be traveling in, Bhutan is a place where you’ll be walking more than using any transport. So lightweight and sturdy walking shoes should be the first thing in your check-list. Apart from that necessity, you should pack for the weather. Because it can rain at any time, especially in summers, carry a lightweight raincoat (not necessarily warm though). Nights do get cold most of the time so keep light warm clothes handy as you never know when you might need them because ofunpredictable weather changes.

 Places to Visit

-  TaktshangGoemba or The Tiger’s Nest

Located in the cliff-side of upper Paro valley, TaktshangGoemba is a very famous Buddhist sacred site. The monastery is 4 km one way with 700m in elevation and climbing it takes up to 3 hours at a steady pace. One prerequisite for visiting this monastery is that you have to be physically fit as it is not for the faint-hearted. The views along the trek, however, are mind-blowing.

 -  Haa Valley

Situated in the west of Sandalwood Kingdom and adjoining the districts of Paro, ChhukhaandSamtse, Haa valley offers some of the most picturesque views. Although you may not have a separate tour of the Haa valley in your must-visit checklist, yet there are definitely some interesting sacred sites and traditional villages that are worth checking out.

-   Bumthang

Bumthang is one of the 20 districts that comprise Bhutan. As far as thenumber of ancient temples and sacred sites of significant value is concerned, Bumthang happens to be the most historic Dzongkhag out of all. Bumthang covers four major valleys in Bhutan namely Tang, UraandChhume.

-  TrongsaDzong And The Tower Of Trongsa Museum

TrongsaDzong or TaaDzong houses a museum that exhibits the historical importance of the Dzong and two temples. The museum also shows some of the royal possessions like clothing and everyday objects that depict the life of the royal family. As for the temples, one shrine is dedicated to the legendary King Gesar of Ling and the other to Jowo Jamba or Maitreya Buddha.

 -  KyichuLhakhang

One of the oldest and the most beautiful temples in Bhutan, KyichuLhakhang is situated in the north of Paro town. It is believed to be built in 659AD by a Tibetan King. Initially, it was just a small structure but over the years, after having been visited and blessed by many famous Buddhist saints, it has been expanded in size and grandeur by them.

-   JakarDzong

Constructed in 1667 and located on the pristine ridge overlooking the Chokhor Valley, JakarDzong is one of the largest Dzongs in Bhutan. The name ‘Jakar’ means ‘a white bird’ which is in reference to the myth surrounding Jakar’s foundation. It is surrounded by impressive looking fortress walls and beautiful yet simple interiors.

-   PunakhaDzong

PunakhaDzong, also called PungtangDewaChhenbiPhodrang, is the administrative seat of Punakha in Bhutan. It is arguably one of the most incredible Dzongs in the country. Some even say that it has better views than even the Tiger’s Nest. It is not only historical in nature but also extremely magical. Guess you’ll know only if you visit the place yourself.

-  Gangtey or Phobjhikha

Gangtey is a conservation zone within the JigmeSingyeWangchuk National Park, earlier known as Black Mountains National Park. It is where the endangered black-necked cranes migrating from Central Asia in the winters nest. In winters, the valley of Gangtey exhibits some breathtaking views in the presence of the black-necked cranes.

Summary

Bhutan only opened its doors to international travelers in the year 1974 and it continues to remain a country that is the least touched and spoiled by tourists, making it all the more beautiful to see. It is all about religion, fortress-monasteries, red-robed monks, mountains and magic. It is not just what you see in Bhutan that makes you fall in love with it, but also what you feel there that does. If you want to truly experience the magic of a pure land that defies generalizations, Bhutan is the place to visit.

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