Visit Bhutan – Tips for Travel to Bhutan

Why Travel to Bhutan?

If you are planning to Visit Bhutan, this article aims to help you get the best out of your Travel to Bhutan.

Bhutan is often referred to as the last Shangri-La. Shangri-La means a place where everything is perfect and exactly how a heaven is supposed to be, where people are Happy and well. During your Travel to Bhutan you would notice this to be largely true. Bhutan Government measure’s the countries success based on Gross Happiness Index and not GDP as is done by all the other countries.

If you are someone who love’s the natural beauty and mountains, then there is perhaps no other country in the world that can rival the pure innocence of Bhutan.

Lofty mountains, gentle rivers, delicious food and a content population, all these and more make a Visit to Bhutan a once in a lifetime experience.

A visit to Bhutan will both amaze and humble you. A combination of green alpine meadows, chalet-style homes, and snowy peaks make it mystical and It was in this remote part of Himalayas the culture of Himalayan Buddhism was founded. Its spirit manifests itself in the people, in their humility and wonderful sense of humour.

Image by Ying Chu Chen from Pixabay

Budgets to Consider when Visiting Bhutan.

 

Bhutan is definitely not a Budget destination and this is deliberate, Bhutan’s tourism policy is “High Value, Low Impact”, what that really means is they want tourists visiting Bhutan to have a Holiday of a lifetime while still respecting its culture and its environment.

To ensure this they make Travel to Bhutan slightly expensive. If you are visiting in High Season (March, April, May, September, October, and November), the cost of visiting Bhutan is $250 US per person per day. If you are a Solo traveller, you have to pay a supplement of $40 US a day, your cost hence is $290 US per day.

In the low-season months (December, January, February, June, July, and August), the cost of visiting Bhutan is $200 US per person per day (the $40 US charge for a solo traveller remains the same).

There are a few discounts available for children and students that are worth looking into if you’re travelling with kids (and if you’re a full-time student who is under the age of 25, you get 25% off the daily fee).

If this seems excessive to you, you probably didn’t understand that this amount that you pay, covers everything, basic 3 Star accommodation, meals, car and guide and once you arrive in the country you do not pay any thing extra for Food, Hotels and transportation. (You still need to pay for your Travel to and out of the country and Visa and any Alcohol that you consume while in Bhutan with your meals)

There are also lots of Luxury and upgraded Hotels in Bhutan and if you wish to stay in one of these there are supplements which would be intimated to you by your Travel Agent at the time of the booking.

As you see, It is not that expensive unless you were hoping to backpack your way across Bhutan on a tight budget.

This does not apply to the passport holders from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives, who can not only travel at more economical costs but also don’t need to be on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom designed travel program.

 

Image by Little MiMi from Pixabay

Places to Visit in Bhutan

Bhutan is not very complex when it comes to planning your itinerary. If you are flying in  you would arrive at the only International airport, Paro or if you are arriving overland from India then Phuntscholing would serve as the entry point.

Either ways most of the itineraries start in Thimpu and it is advisable to keep Paro as the last halt on your itinerary since you would be flying out of Paro.

Thimpu which as said earlier would be a starting point for most of the people, is also the capital of Bhutan and the largest town, Thimpu boasts an atmosphere that is relaxing and friendly. By wandering around the streets, you can begin to appreciate the Bhutanese way of life.

Established as the permanent capital of Bhutan in the 1950s, Thimpu has gradually grown over the last decade but remains a relatively small town dominated by the impressive Tashi Dzong, which is a Buddhist monastery and fortress and house the secretariat, king’s headquarters and the summer residence of the central monk body, on the northern edge of the city.

Other Places to visit in Thimpu are The National Memorial Chorten a stupa that was built in the year 1974 to honor the third Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It is one of the quintessential landmarks of the city given its golden bells and spires.

National Folk Heritage Museum

The National Folk Heritage Museum established in 2001, offers a glimpse of Bhutanese traditional lifestyle, values and heritage.

The museum is set in a 3 storied timber and rammed earth building which still hold its authenticity. The museum artefacts transforms seasonally.

Changangkha Lhakhang

Perched on top of a ridge above Thimphu, Changangkha Lhakhang is the oldest temple in Thimphu. The temple was built in 12th century and houses the central statue of Chenrizig, a manifestation of Avolokitesawara with eleven heads and thousand arms.

It offers a stunning view of the surrounding Thimphu valley from the top. The structure is a fine example of Bhutanese faith, tradition and architecture. There are a number of black and golden coloured prayer wheels in the temple.

In the evening a wander along the streets is recommended. You will discover small shops stuffed with indispensable goods imported from China and India and religious paraphernalia.

If you happen to be in Thimpu on a weekend, then you are in for a treat as the weekend market attracts people from miles around to bargain for everything from dried chillies and yak butter to hand-woven textiles.

Places to Visit in Central Bhutan.

If your Travel Plan to Bhutan allows for you to spend around 9-10 days then from Thimpu you should plan to start making your way towards the lesser explored region of Central Bhutan.

Cross the Dochula pass located at an elevation of 3100 metres and head over to Gangtey, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. A comfortable 4 hour journey full of stunning vistas would bring you to Gangtey not counting the stops.

In a country where most of the valley’s are tightly enclosed, Gangtey valley is wide and flat without any trees giving a delightful impression of vast space.

The valley boasts of two beautiful meandering rivers, Nakay Chhu (Chhu Naap-black water) and Gay Chhu (Chhu Karp-white water).

According to a local legend, the two rivers actually represent a snake and a boar. The two animals once raced each other with an agreement that if the snake (Nakay Chhu) won, Phobjikha valley would be able to grow rice, but if the boar won, then rice could never be cultivated in the area.

The snake lost since it had to meander all the way during its journey. Rice cannot be cultivated in the valley even today.

Gangtey Goempa

Perched on a small hill that rises from the valley floor, the Gangtey Monastery is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountain’s Gangtey valley, Bhutan and also the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan. The Monastery is surrounded by a large village inhabited mainly by the families of the 140 Gomchens who take care of the Monastery.

Gangtey was founded by Pema Trinley, the grand son of Pema Lingpa, the famous Nyingmapa saint of Bhutan. In 1613, Pema Trinley establish the monastery and became the first Gangtey Tulku. The religious traditions of Pema Lingpa still taught there. The second Tulku, Tenzin Legpa Dondrup (1645 to 1726), enhanced the size of Gangtey while keeping up good relations with Drukpas, and rebuilt the monastery in the form of a Dzong.

Black Necked Crane Information Centre

The Back Necked Cranes are winter visitors during the months of late October to mid February to the Phobjikha Valley. They arrive from the Tibetan Plateau, where they breed in the summer. They visit the Phobhjikha valley in large numbers, which is a declared protected area for the cranes, and also to other valleys in smaller numbers in central and eastern Bhutan.

the Information centre is Situated on the edge of the forest and wetland along the main road of Phobjikha valley, and has an observation room equipped with high power telescope and spotting scopes for catching the best view of the cranes.

The centre also offers display information that outline the natural and cultural history of the area. 

Places to Visit in Trongsa

Trongsa forms the central hub of Bhutan and is historically the place from where attempts at unifying the country were launched.

Both His Majesty King Ugyen Wangchuck, the Penlop of Trongsa, who was elected the country’s first hereditary monarch and his successor, King Jigme Wangchuck, ruled the country from Trongsa ancient seat.

Chendbji Chorten

Approximate an hour before you reach Trongsa is Chendbji Chorten, patterned on Swayambhunath temple in Kathmandu. It was built in 18th century by Lama Shida, from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot.

Trongsa Dzong

Like almost all towns in Bhutan, the  architecture of the . Dzong dominates the entire Trongsa horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buildings.

Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan.

An impenetrable valley protected Trongsa from the invaders and furthermore the Trongsa Dzong is an impregnable fortress.

The Dzong itself is a labyrinth of temples, corridors and offices holding court over the local community. Built on many levels into the side of the hill it can be seen from every approach to Trongsa heralding its strength as a defensive stronghold

TA Dzong

Built in 1652 as a Dzong, this cyldrical stone structure rises five storeys.

After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy living museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. There are 224 items on display including a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries-old treasures like dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings and scrolls, and textiles.

The main lhakhang ( Lhakhang are religious structures found throughout the Himalayas that house sacred objects, and in which religious activities take place. Lhakhang means “the house of gods”: enlightened beings such as the Buddha, his followers, and other deities) in the Utse is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha (Gyaltsab Jampa), also known as the Future Buddha).

A Khesar Lhakhang is dedicated to Khesar of Ling. (Khesar or Geser of Ling, is an epic cycle, believed to date from the 12th century, that relates the heroic deeds of the culture hero Gesar)  The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in life long meditation.

The Ta Dzong is the only structure that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan celebrated the centenary of the Monarchy.

Image by Marie O'Malley from Pixabay

Bumthang.

The Eastern most point that you are likely to visit as Tourist, this part of Bhutan was accessible only on foot or by mules till the 1970s.

Bumthang comprises of 4 smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey and is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin.

Jambay Lakhang

The Jambey Lakhang is said to be one of the 108 temples built by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659 CE on a single day to pin down an ogress to earth forever. A supine demoness was causing obstruction to the spread of Buddhism, and the temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet, Bhutan and the Himalayan region. Its present architectural appearance dates from the early 20th century.

Kurje Lakhang

A Complex of 3 temples surrounded by 108 chorten walls Kurje lakhang is situated before the Jambay Lakhang. Of the 3 temples the one on the right was built in 1652 on the rack face where Guru meditated in the 8th century.

The Second temple is built on the site of a cave containing a rock with the imprint of Guru’s body and is therefore considered the most holy.

The third temple was built in 1990s by Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother. These three temples are surrounded by a 108 chorten wall.

Tamshing Lakhang

Across the river from Kurje Lakhang is the temple of Tamshing Lakhang founded in by Terton Pema Lingpa, the re-incarnation of Guru Padsambhava, in 1501.

The Lakhang houses ancient religious paintings like 1,000 Buddhas and 21 Taras (female form of Buddhistava). The temple was restored at the end of the 19th century.

Jakar Dzong

The Dzong which dates back to 1549 is now used as administrative centre for Bumthang valley, and houses the regional monk body. Originally built as the Monastery by great grand-father of the first Shabdrung it was converted to a Dzong once the Shabdrung had firmly established his power in 1646.

 

Image by Ambir Tolang from Pixabay

Punakha

From Eastern Bhutan you should be undertaking a long journey to bring you to Punakha which was the erstwhile capital of Bhutan and still it is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (the chief abbot).

Blessed with temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from the 2 rivers called Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female), the Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits.

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history, It is a majestic structure built strategically at the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region.

Over the years it has been damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King.

Chimi Lhakhang

On your Journey to Paro after you have crossed Wangdue Phodrong (There is a Dzong in Wangdue as well but compared to others it is not something which warrants a Stop) 

You should plan a stop to visit The Chimi Lhakhang, which is situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley. Dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatise his teachings and is also referred to as “Divine Madman”.

This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon.

A 30 minute walk across field from the road leads to the temple. This trail is a great way to experience the tiny settlement of Pana as you walk through the rice fields. A tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields before making a short climb brings you to Chimi Lhakhang.

Image by Zoltán Szabó from Pixabay

Paro.

Paro which was the Gateway if you chose to fly in or it would be your exit point is the final stop on your itinerary. The beautiful valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends.

It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, National Museum apart from having the only Airport. Paro is also one of the most fertile valley in the Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its terraced fields.

Places to Visit in Paro.

Paro (Rinchen pung) Dzong

Paro Dzong is considered a high point of Bhutanese Architecture with massive buttered walls that tower over the town and are visible throughout the valley, especially when floodlit at night.

It was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, on the foundation of a monastery built by Guru Rinpoche.

It was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly and now like the most Dzongs, it houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district.

The dzong’s formal name, Rinchen Pung Dzong (usually shortened to Rinpung Dzong), means ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’.  The fort on numerous occasions was used to defend the Paro valley from invasions from Tibet.

Ta Dzong

The inter valley wars of the 17th century led to the construction of a watch tower to defend Paro Dzong. In 1967 Ta Dzong was converted to the National Museum of the country.

It holds fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps. Due to the fact that it was built as a watch tower, it’s circular shape augments its varied collection displayed over several floors.

Drukgyal Dzong

Built to celebrate the victory over Tibet in 1649 in the upper part of the Paro District, Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, which now lies in ruins. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mount. Chomolhari from the village, below the Dzong

Kyichu Lakhang

Considered to be one of Bhutans most beautiful temples, Kyichu Lakhang is most well known for a 5m-high statue of Guru Rinpoche and another of Kurukulla (Red Tara), holding a bow and arrow made of flowers.

Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the Paro valley.

Tiger Nest

Best done in the early hours of the morning, a moderate to steep hike (3-5 hours is the time taken to visit this Monastery) brings you to one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor.

It is believed that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence the name “Tiger’s Nest”. This site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.

Severly damaged by a fire in 1998, this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.