Smiling faces, robed monks, Buddhist temples and monasteries – Bhutan is one of the world’s most magical countries. It is the only country in the world that uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) to measure its citizen’s happiness. This tiny country provides free healthcare and education to its citizens, which many of the world’s top countries lack. Located on the eastern edge of the Himalayas, Bhutan’s mountainous terrain offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in the South-Asian region. Bhutan places great importance on nature and its preservation and law requires at least 60% of land to be covered in forest.
Capital Thimphu is dotted with Buddhists monuments, dzongs and markets. A Dzong is a Bhutanese fortress and every major town has one. It is also the most prominent building in every town. Thimphu’s Trashi Chho Dzong is the seat of the Bhutanese government and houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and several ministries. Visitors are allowed to visit and explore the dzong. Memorial Chorten (also known as Thimphu Chorten) is one of the must-see places in Thimphu along with the 55m tall Buddha Dordenma statue. Archery is a common pastime, and you might see the game being played at Changlimithang Stadium and Archery Ground.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery (also known as Taktshang Goemba or Paro Taktsang), hanging off a cliffside in Paro Valley is the highlight of Bhutan. While a gruelling 2 hour hike is required to reach the monastery, the views from the top make the climb well worth it. Paro is also the site of the only international airport in the country, designed in traditional Bhutanese style and a flight into or out of the airport is an adventure in itself. Paro is home to Rinpung Dzong (shortened from Rinchen Pung Dzong which means ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’) and the National Museum of Bhutan, which is located on a hill, just above Rinpung Dzong. You can enjoy mesmerizing views of Paro Valley from the Dzong.
About 70 km from Thimphu, Punakha Dzong is regarded as the most beautiful dzong in the country, and has a serene river-side location. On your way to Punakha from Thimphu, you will come across the picturesque Dochula Pass. Trongsa Dzong in central Bhutan is, however, the largest dzong in the country.
To spend some quiet time and explore the rural landscape and birdlife of Bhutan, Phobjikha and Bumthang Valleys are your best bets. Bumthang has some beautiful lhakhangs (temples), where may come across young monks playing cricket with improvised bats.
Though Bhutan is a beautiful country with rich natural resources, some tourists are discouraged by the tax rate and a mandatory sustainable development fee which make it an expensive destination. Having said that, travelling to Bhutan is a refreshing experience that you will cherish for a long time.
Bhutan is the only country in the world that uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) to measure its citizen’s happiness.