Bhutan- the last Shangri La is a mystical land locked Himalayan country in between the gorgeous green massive mountains. Known as the world’s happiest country, here are a handful of more reasons why you should visit Bhutan.
Good to know:
The country was originally known by many names including
- Lho Jong, ‘The Valleys of the South’
- Lho Mon Kha Shi, ‘The Southern Mon Country of Four Approaches
- Lho Jong Men Jong, ‘The Southern Valleys of Medicinal Herbs
- Lho Mon (term used by the Tibetans to refer to Mongoloid, non-Buddhist peoples that populated the Southern Himalayas) Tsenden Jong, ‘The Southern Mon Valleys where Sandlewood Grows’.
The country came to be known as Druk Yul or The Land of the Drukpas sometime in the 17th century. The name refers to the Drukpa sect of Buddhism that has been the dominant religion in the region since that period.
The country was first unified in 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After arriving in Bhutan from Tibet he consolidated his power, defeated three Tibetan invasions. His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers.
This continued until the Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people to establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907.
His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.
In 2008, Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. The current reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned in November, 2018.
So, why should Bhutan be on your bucket list?
Cops on cycle!
Again, the only country where you will see cops on a cycle. They do not need fast running vehicles since the crime rate in Bhutan is only 3%!
Dochu La, an extremely gorgeous pass is on the way to Punakha. This stop was beautiful because of the snow-capped mountain views.
The 108 chortens was built by the present Queen Mother of Bhutan Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Indian militants and to liberate of the souls lost.
To witness people jostling around in their national dress
Bhutanese are fiercely protective of their culture. Bhutan’s national dress code is Gho for men and Kira for women which have existed for over 400 years.
You will see a lot of Bhutanese jostling around every day in their national dresses because they wear these dresses to the office. You can figure out the social status from the kind of color of the scarf over their shoulder, for eg., orange is for monks/noblemen and white is for the common people.
We were based in Phuetsholing during our first two days of the trip. My friend and I often monkeyed around on the border since this was our first border crossing ever.
We spotted a lot of people in their official dress and were surprised. I was happy to see how culture is still respected and maintained.
Free open-air gymnasiums
Bhutan government wants its people to be fit and healthy. To promote this thought, the King has installed exercise machines in all possible gardens to create open-air gymnasiums. The locals use these extensively while enjoying the workout!
The Bhutanese are fiercely protective of the environment. As per the local law, at least 60% of the country should be covered in trees and currently the number is 71%!. Bhutan set a world record in 2015 by planting 50,000 trees in one hour.
There are no tall talks about sustainable development but also actual implementation of the same! It is the only carbon negative country in the world! Meaning it absorbs more CO2 than it produces!
Bhutanese like spicy food. The official national dish of Bhutan is Ema (chilly) Datshi (cheese). You can also add Potatoes, fern, mushrooms, yak cheese or beans for variety. Chilli and rice is the favorite food of the Bhutanese. I had a chance to taste Kewa Datshi with chilies. Yum, I must say.
Palaces right out of a fairyland
A river right outside Punakha Dzong welcoming us. I couldn’t stop staring at these blue waters. The Rinchen Pung Dzong means ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’.
In 1644 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal ordered the construction of the dzong on the foundation of a monastery built by Guru Rinpoche. The fort was used on numerous occasions to defend the Paro valley from invasions by Tibet.
Unfortunately, the Dzong survived 1897 earthquake but was severely damaged by fire in 1907.
Ladies are respected
Respecting everyone is part of the culture here. The inheritance law states the eldest daughter to be the heir to everything while the sons are expected to ear their own fortune.
Bhutan is also extremely safe for a solo female traveler because of this reason and also because the crime rate is just 3%!
Trek, Trek, and trek
If you are in Bhutan and love trekking which may last up to 3-8 hours, you MUST totally do the Paro Takshang trek.
Unadulterated Cultural Experiences
In June 1999, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan allowed television broadcasting and the internet for the first time. Hence, you can enjoy unadulterated cultural experiences since western influence has just begun. We met a monk who taught us how to pray using a vajra and a bell.
We trekked for an hour in Thimpu to reach Tango University. This is a school where men/boys become monks. Never in my life, I had thought of visiting a Monk University to chant mantras with them!
A Unique flying experience
Paro is the only airport in Bhutan due to its treacherous mountain passes.
That’s why, only the best 8 pilots are allowed to fly into Bhutan. Since not all the pilots can maneuver in between these dangerous mountain tops and land on 65 feet thousand above sea level!
Hence, landing and take-off are allowed only during daylight.
We entered and left Bhutan through Phuentsholing because it was cost-effective. However, we stopped by at Paro Airport to witness the landing and takeoff. The airplanes in these mountains and terrains were none like I had ever seen. Maybe next time I’ll be experiencing pilots’ maneuvering skills while sitting in the plane.
A tip – get a seat on the left side of the flight while flying in (on your right side while flying out) Bhutan to catch a glimpse of Mt Everest’s top shining with golden shimmery rays.
It is illegal to import products with chemicals in it. Everything used in Bhutan is natural, organic and cultivated in their own country.
Meet furry friends
If you love animals and especially dogs, Bhutan is heaven for you! I’d request you to carry loads of food for them when you are on road. The dogs are pure angles and will shower unconditional love in spite of you just meeting them!
Houses popped out of our storybooks
Most of the buildings in Bhutan are two-storied. The ground floor is a shelter for the cattle and other animals. The first floor is for the family to live and the rooftop to store the grains/hay because of the availability of great ventilation.
Phallus is worshipped
When in Bhutan, you will see phallus painted on most of the walls and especially on all the walls in Punakha. It is an age-old tradition to worship phallus. You can see them everywhere! As souvenirs, as murals, hanging on the doors, etc.
Folklore has it that Bhutan’s beloved saint Drukpa Kunley used his ‘divine thunderbolt of wisdom’ to defeat a demoness. He also went around talking to people about many tantric and/or sexual topics and earned himself another name of Madman aka The Divine Madman.
He is also said to have “blessed” a woman with his offspring who believed in him. Hence, this temple in Punakha is also called the Fertility Temple. Many locals and tourists who have trouble conceiving, flock here to take the blessings.
Funerals in Bhutan
The Bhutanese believe in death signifying re-birth or a mere passing on to a new life. Therefore, elaborate rituals are performed to ensure a safe passage and a good rebirth.
The 7th, 14th, 21st and 49th days after a person’s death are considered especially important. Hence are recognized by erecting white prayer flags in the name of the deceased and performing specific religious rituals.
On top of Chele La where we were amidst a zillion white flags for the deceased and prayer flags.
No Smoking in Bhutan
The first country in the world to ban tobacco cultivation and import of tobacco/cigarettes. You have to pay a fee if you want to get your pack of cigarettes inside Bhutan. Do not try to smuggle in tobacco if you do not want to face any charges or pay a penalty.
We were mesmerized and transported to a fairyland when we visited Punakha Dzong. We spent a lot of time there because of this reason and got late for The Suspension Bridge on the Po Chu river.
Well, we did not regret it even once because who gets to do a mini trek under a moon in a misty night?!
No traffic lights
Bhutan is the only country in the world without any traffic lights. The cops manually control and direct the traffic. They also have their own booth which is also a tourist sight. I was really surprised to not hear any honking anywhere!
Om mani padme hum (ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ)
Om is a sacred syllable found in Indian religions. The word Mani means “jewel” or “bead”, Padme is the “lotus flower” (the Buddhist sacred flower), and Hum represents the spirit of enlightenment.
It is commonly carved onto rocks, known as mani stones or else it is written on paper which is inserted into prayer wheels. When an individual spins the wheel, it is said that the effect is the same as reciting the mantra as many times as it is duplicated within the wheel.
And prayer flags take these good thoughts and wishes around with the winds.
Crystal clear rivers
We dipped our feet in the cold waters of Paro Valley where we could see pebbles through these crystal clear waters!
We also ziplined on top of these waters. The view from the zipline of only 6 feet was breathtaking! Ziplining at a cost of Nu. 50. Say whaaaa..??
Bhutan’s Happiness Index
Bhutan is the only country who thinks measuring Happiness Index is as important as measuring GDP. The Gross National Happiness Commission was formed in 2008 to take care of people’s inner peace. They carried out an extensive survey in 2015 to measure this index where 91% of the people voted that they are happy and 43% deeply extensively happy.
This initiative was taken by the 4th King of Bhutan. The Four Main Pillars of Gross National Happiness are:
- Equitable and equal socio-economic development
- Preservation and promotion of cultural and spiritual heritage
- Conservation of environment and
- Good governance which is interwoven, complementary, and consistent.
Furthermore, the concept of Gross National Happiness has greatly enabled the pursuit of development, while at the same time promoting the attainment of happiness as the core philosophy of life.
Is Bhutan worth it?
I think the above photo answers your question
Visa for Indians, Dhivehins (Maldives), and Bangladeshis
There is no visa cost for Indians (as on April, 2020) , Dhivehins (Maldives) and Bangladeshis.
Hence, these three nationalities SHOULD visit Bhutan before the following rules for other countries are implemented in these three countries too.
If you are entering Bhutan via road, there is an immigration office on the border. Keep all your documents passport, tickets and hotels handy. In an hour or two, you should get your visa and you should be good to enter Bhutan officially!
If you are entering Bhutan by flight, follow the same process and your visa will be stamped in the airport itself.
Visa for other nationalities
The minimum daily fee for other nationalities is:
- $250 per person per day from March-May, and September – November
- $200 per person per day from December – February, and June – August
- If you’re traveling solo, add an extra $40 per day to the cost of traveling in Bhutan.
- You’re traveling on a private tour with only two people, you’ll pay another $30 per day, per person.
- If you are looking for luxurious experiences and hotels, expect to pay some several hundred dollars more.
These fees include visa, accommodation, entrance fees to the spots, driver and transportation, food and beverages, licensed guide and taxes.
So this doesn’t include flights in and out of Bhutan, alcohol expenses and tips.
$65 per day from the tourist fee is the government’s sustainable development fee.i.e for free health care, free education, poverty relief, and infrastructure for the Bhutanese.
They are levying this fee to avoid mass tourism (hoards of backpackers) which will also help maintain cleanliness in the country and the crowd and keep the environment intact.
So if you are an Indian, Dhivehin or a Bangladeshi – PLEASE VISIT Bhutan! Other nationality people, if you can afford it, PLEASE visit Bhutan.
Bhutan’s Guides’ contacts
Bhutan’s tourism laws states that the tourists are to always be accompanied by a guide.
You can contact Mr. Ugyen +97517521524 or Mr. Jamyang on +975 17 708 813 if you are planning a trip without any agent and I think you should be good to go with his help.
Costs for exploring Bhutan
I had visited Bhutan in November 2018 with The Land of Wanderlust (not sponsored).
The entire trip cost me ~INR 32,000 (land package – INR 20,000, flights ~INR 9000, food and souvenirs ~INR 3000).
So what are you waiting for? Did you contact TLOW or Mr. Ugyen or Mr. Jamyang and start packing?
Other blogs that you might like:
- Things to know before your Paro Takshang trek. Read here.
- Meeting the last surviving tattooed headhunters of India. Read here.