For the majority of travelers, the mystical country of Bhutan is not commonly a place that tops the list of places to visit, but this is certainly not because it lacks in feel or substance. This is truly one of those “hidden gems” that we so often hear about with much more to offer in terms of memories and experiences then your typical drop and flop all inclusive beach vacation to Cuba. Why wouldn’t you want to visit a country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important then Gross National Product? If you happen to be the type of traveler that revels in the unknown and relishes the exotic, then I highly recommend setting your radars on Bhutan, also known as the “Dragon Kingdom”.
Tucked away in the Eastern Himalayas, the mountain kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia that is bordered to the South, East and West by the Republic of India and to the North by the People’s Republic of China. It derives its own distinct cultural flavour and vibe by combining elements of Indian and Chinese culture. Before delving into detail on specific activities and must see attractions comes the small detail of actually arriving in Bhutan from whatever country you reside in. The most convenient way to access the country is by Druk Air, the national carrier. Druk Air flies a few times each week from gateways in India, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh making it easy to connect with other major airlines around the world. Visitors to the country famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary if you wish. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel so couch surfing hostel lovers will have to look elsewhere for their dream destination.
If the thought of tediously constructing a complex and satisfying travel itinerary for you or your companions is not exactly your idea of fun then why not leave it to the experts and choose one of the already available circuits created by the industry leader in adventure travel, G Adventures. With an intimate small group feel and over 22 years of experience you can trust that you are getting the vacation that you need and deserve. Depending on the type of traveler that you are, you can choose between the two trips that are offered by G Adventures based on the service level and level of accommodation that you prefer. The “standard” level ten day “Bhutan Adventure” gives you the cultural immersion that you desire while giving you the best bang for your buck and the twelve day “Spirit of Bhutan” “comfort” option allows for a bit more of life’s luxuries for the discerning traveler who seeks a softer landing at the end of the day. In my opinion, the highlight of either one of these options being the expert local guide that will accompany you throughout the journey making the experience more authentic and consequently more meaningful.
Accommodations in Bhutan have no star ratings unlike in the West, however all tourist hotels, lodges and guesthouses are graded by the tourism council of Bhutan. The more traveled destinations such as Western and central Bhutan usually have higher standards on a par with star-rated properties. In the less traveled areas of eastern Bhutan, modest but adequate accommodations are the norm. It is not large chain hotels and pampering spas that attract visitors to the dragon kingdom each year it is the pristine and peaceful nature of the land and it’s people. For lovers of Asian culture that want to dig deeper, Bhutan is riddled with monasteries and Buddhist temples to wander through and explore. Perhaps the most well known monastery worldwide is the Takstang Monastery also known as the “Tiger’s Nest” which is precariously perched on the rock towering 900 meters above the valley. After hiking to this particular monastery you are awarded with not only photographs and memories to last a lifetime but a feeling of inner serenity and peace that will peel away the hardened layers of stress caused by everyday life in the Western World. The effort of getting there is well worth the reward of being there.
The Bhutanese people have gone to endless lengths to preserve the way of life of the “last Shangri-La” and both the land and the people have been blessed with an invaluable and spiritual cultural legacy. Bhutan is a unique blend of the old and the new and it is currently straddling the ancient and the modern world. Those fortunate enough to visit this country describe it as a unique, deeply spiritual and mystical experience. Bhutan offers to the world a country packed with awe inspiring sights and unparalleled trekking routes, all served up with a dash of culture, history and religion.
Join me next month when I fly to Peru to follow in the footsteps of the Inca’s.