Bhutan – a slice of a Himalayan kingdom is a land of mountains, monasteries and magic. With its fascinating culture, symmetrical architectures, lush greenery, unpretentious nature of the people, and the undying love for their king, Bhutan made me wonder about its own land. Bordering with India and China, this small country is one of the most captivating countries I have ever traveled to. My epic road trip to Bhutan took me on a journey of a lifetime where I discovered Bhutan like never before. A country where you will not find a single traffic light except one in Thimphu, where rice is red and chilies aren’t just a seasoning, but it makes to the main dish, where every Bhutanese is protective about their religion and at the same time you will find phalluses painted on the walls of people’s home. Also referred as The Last Shangri-La, you will be fairly surprised to see everyone wearing their national dress and photo frame of their King and Queen everywhere, from office to home. Bhutan has folded mystery in many layers. What hooked me completely in this Kingdom was not just the alluring landscapes, but people’s efforts to preserve their rich cultural heritage, to make their environment a carbon neutral and the philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
Let me take you on a visual journey to this Land of Thunder Dragon through these breathtaking pictures that captures the true essence of this land.
The charming town of Paro lies on the banks of the Paro Chhu River. The artistically crafted houses, breathtaking natural surroundings and the fertile rice fields, make this valley one of the most picturesque valleys in Bhutan. The country’s first international airport is also located in Paro.
One of the perfect examples of Bhutanese architecture is Paro Dzong. This prominent structure is one of the highlights of the valley. It was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly, but like other Dzong, it houses both the monastic body and district government offices, including a local court. A must visit place in the Paro Valley.
This is the bird’s eye view of the capital city of Thimphu. It embraces the small town feel as well as the modern and urban outlook. Thimphu offers a lot of tourist spots within the city.
Punakha Dzong is one of the majestic structures, located at the confluence of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River. It served as a capital from 1637 to 1907 and holds historical importance. This is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in the country and the most impressive one.
Bhutanese people are famous for their hand weaved clothes, paintings and other artefacts. Especially women are very good in handicraft. The traditional dress for women, known as Kera, is made from finely woven fabric and worn every day in Bhutan. Men wear the traditional dress known as Gho.
The Buddha Dordenma Statue is one of the most prominent landmarks of Thimphu. This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters and is one of the largest Buddha Statue in the world. This statue is located atop a hill in the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park.
The architectural style of Bhutan is one of the most celebrated cultural identities of this Himalayan kingdom. One can find the symmetrical structures all across the country. The intricate details and the exquisite Bhutanese paintings on the wall make it unique in the world.
You will meet those humble monks almost everywhere in Bhutan. I met this monk in Paro Dzong . It was drizzling at that time and I caught him in my lens while walking.
Tashichhoe Dzong is located on the bank of the Wangchhu River in Thimphu. Surrounded by manicured lawn and garden, this impressively massive structure houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Tashichhoe Dzong is only open for an hour, i.e., from 5.30 to 6.30 pm for visitors. This is one of the must-see places in the capital.
Chelela Pass is considered to be the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. Located at an altitude of 3810 meters above sea level, Chelela pass separates Haa and Paro valley. The drive from Paro to Haa valley through this highest mountain pass gives you some breathtaking landscapes. The fluttering prayer flags here make it one of the captivating pits stop on your way to Haa Valley.
The wall art paintings are common sights in Bhutan. Every wall painting depicts the deep meaning of Buddhism. I captured this in the corridor of Paro Dzong
Nestled on the western most edge of Bhutan, Haa Valley is one of the most picturesque valleys in the country. The isolated valley lies behind the mountain ridge of Chele La and it borders with the northern boundaries of the Chumbi Valley of Tibet on one side. This valley was a well kept secret of the country and was off the tourist map till 2002. The pristine valley is the second least populated dzongkhag (District) in the country and popularly known as “Hidden-Land Rice Valley.”
Ema Datshi is one of the most famous dishes in Bhutanese cuisines and is also recognized as the National dish of Bhutan. Packed with powerful flavors, this fiery dish is made from Chilli pepper and Cheese. Ema Datshi is a Bhutanese name, “Ema” means chilli and “Datshi” means cheese.
School students in their traditional attire Gho, strolling in the handicraft market in Thimphu.
Mask culture of Bhutan is one of the most celebrated cultural identities of this Himalayan Kingdom. In most of the religious and cultural events, dancers use masks in their performances.
One of the prettiest sights of Bhutan is Punakha Valley. Encircled by the layers of hills, the flat surface is covered by rice fields, traditional houses and the humble Bhutanese people, which make it one of the charming valleys in Bhutan.
The authentic handicraft market, located in the centre of Thimphu is a must visit place for shopaholics. The traditional bamboo huts aligned neatly, below Norzin Lam offer a wide range of Bhutanese art and craft products.
Paro Taktsang is the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site, located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan. A visit to Taktsang monastery is must when you are in Bhutan.
National Memorial Chorten is a monument to the Third Druk Gyalpo and to World Peace. This is one of the tourist spots in Thimphu. Mostly elderly people pay a visit to Chorten to pray, meditate and spend quality time. Chorten means ‘Seat of Faith’.
A Bhutanese woman crossing the hanging bridge in Haa Valley. People of Haa valley are commonly known as “Haap”. A set of unique cultural practices of this valley sets it apart from the rest of Bhutan.
Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. This wired looking animal looks like as if the head of a goat has been fixed on the body of a cow. Motithang Takin Preserve, located in the Motithang district of Thimphu, is now one of the tourist attractions in the capital.
Sitting on the bank of the Pho Chhu River, seeing the sun fading away, when the sound of electrifying river dominates the surrounding, was one magical moment I had in Punakha.
Bhutan is not a budget traveller’s destination. They don’t encourage Backpackers in their land. Find out a few necessary information before you start your journey to the land of wonders.
All tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders), who wish to travel to Bhutan require a visa and must book their holiday through a Bhutanese Tour Operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors.
The Bhutanese Government has imposed a strict minimum spend on tourists to the Kingdom.
- $200 (USD) per person per night for the month of January, February, June, July, August and December.
- $250 (USD) per person per night for the month of March, April, May, September, October and November.
This cost includes accommodation (Minimum of 3 Star Hotel), All meals, The license Bhutanese Tour Guide, and All Internal Transport ( Excluding Internal flights ).
How to Reach
Air: Drukair -The Royal Bhutan Airlines is the only airline that flies to Bhutan. The International Airport of Bhutan is in the scenic location of Paro Valley. The Drukair operates from Delhi, Kolkatta, Singapore, Kathmandu and Bangkok.
Road: One can opt for a road journey in Bhutan with the licensed Tour Guide. To do that one has to obtain prior permission. Tourists can enter the country through Phuntsoling, via Bagdogra in West Bengal.
Being a Buddhist country, the tourists are required to dress up appropriately, especially in temples and Dzongs. (Shorts and Sleeveless tops are not allowed )
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu) which is at par with the Indian Rupee. Indian rupees can be used in all your transactions throughout Bhutan. Denominations up to INR 500 are accepted in Bhutan.