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Get ready to ride on a mystical journey of Bhutan and explore the western influences while creating fresh trails that burst with vibrancy and spirituality. Unveils the historical monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys. This small country in the Himalayas, between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and India, is closed to the world for many years and is cherished for the stunning natural scenery that woos visitors.

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Bhutan

Bhutan is the original land of smiles (sorry Thailand!). With a national manifesto that’s based on cumulative, community happiness and cohesion, the country has only recently stepped out of the shadows. And while it can still be difficult to get visas and permits to travel here, the treasures that await really do make the admin worth all the bother.

In the east, soaring villages hide between the clouds and the mighty peaks of the Himalaya. In the west, towns dress the valley bottoms with whitewashed dzongs (traditional Bhutanese fortress-monasteries). Meanwhile, totemic Buddhist relics and revered sites of ancient gurus can be found in the hills, high-perched monasteries cascade from the summits, and there are trekking trails so wonderful you’ll hardly believe they’re real. So, no matter if you’re a culture vulture, a history lover, or just a budding adventurer pining for one of the world’s less trodden corners, you can rest assured that beautiful Bhutan has you covered!

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery hangs on a cliff and stands above an enchanting forest of blue pines and rhododendrons. As this beautiful and very exceptional monastery is a sheer clim

b the hill (900 meters), a pony can be arranged for the ride up, but only until the cafeteria. From then on, it is another steep walk and some narrow stairs towards the monastery itself. The trail crosses a chapel of butter lamps and descends to a waterfall by the Snow Lion Cave. The view of the Paro valley from here on is breathtaking, and the atmosphere very holy, a place where every Bhutanese will want to come at least once in his/her life. The place where Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism into Bhutan, arriving on the back of a tigress.

Punakha Dzong

Being the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan, Punakha Dzong, or some call it Pungtang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), is also the country’s most gorgeous and majestic dzong. Punakha is accessible from a 3 hours drive east of the capital Thimphu, and after crossing a pass in the mountains, the place is a breathtaking and glorious sight on the first glimpse from the road. It is placed strategically in between two rivers, Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (females) that has noticeable color differences between the rivers’ water. Punakha Dzong joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge and contains many precious relics from the days when successive kings reigned the kingdom over this valley. Furthermore, it is blessed with a temperate climate, and lovely lilac colored jacaranda trees grow around the dzong during the spring season.

Zuri Dzong Hike

The peak of the Zuri Dzong Trek is probably the perfect spot to have a bird-eye view of the entire Paro valley. The Zuri Dzong is the oldest Dzong in Bhutan, and in there lies a cave where Buddha came to meditate in, in the 8th century. This peaceful place allows both Bhutanese and tourists to soak in the tranquil that radiates from the extraordinary view, something one can stare at for hours in wonder and awe. The total journey time to get there will take approximately 30 minutes if one starts from the museum watchtower, and an additional 1 hour to exit out towards Uma. Tourists can expect to sit and relax there, and also remember to catch the amazing side view as you hike through Trek.

Gangtey Valley In Winter

The valley of Gangtey is one of the most stunning valleys in the Himalayas, and many call it the Shangri-La of Bhutan, just as how Bhutan is well known for being “one of the world’s happiest nations,” and “the last Shangri-La on Earth.” The surprise of finding such a wide, flat valley without any trees after the hard climb through dense forests is augmented by an impression of vast space, which is an extremely rare experience in Bhutan as most of the valleys are tightly enclosed. This moderate trek visits the villages of Gogona and Khotokha, passing through meadows and fields, then forests of juniper, magnolia and rhododendrons, which will be in full bloom in April. Besides the attractive scenic valley and mountain trails passing through the magnificent forest with its undergrowth changing from rhododendron and magnolia to ferns and dwarf bamboo, we can also visit the historical Gangtey monastery and the blacked necked crane information centre. Additionally, there will be a special treat for those visiting the Gangtey during the winter season, as they will be able to catch the graceful Black-necked Cranes in action as they head to the roost

Although geographically quite small, Bhutan’s weather varies from north to south and valley to valley, mainly depending upon the elevation. In the North of Bhutan on the borders with Tibet it is perennially covered with snow. In the western, central and eastern Bhutan (Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Wandue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Trashi Yangtse, Lhuntse) you will mostly experience European-like weather. Winter lasts here from November to March. Punakha is an exception as it is in a lower valley and summer is hot and winter is pleasant. Southern Bhutan bordering with India is hot and humid with a sub-tropical climate. While the monsoon affects northern Indian it does not command the same influence in Bhutan. Summer months tend to be wetter with isolated showers predominantly in the evenings only. Winter is by far the driest period while spring and autumn tend to be pleasant.

All towns connected by motorable roads have hotels, though the standard varies considerably. International standard hotels are mostly found in tourist areas or major towns, while five star accommodation is only available in Paro, Jakar, Punakha, Gangtey and Thimphu.

It is important to note that the hotel rates shown on the city articles are only relevant to people who have residency, visa exemption (generally this only applies to Indian nationals) or who are visiting the country as an invited guest. Other visitors can only enter the country as part of a tour, for which the daily rates are set by the Bhutanese authorities at around $250 per person per night irrespective of the hotel rates (except for very expensive hotels where a surcharge is added).

 

While there are ample restaurants on highways between main towns and the hygiene standards at such places is acceptable, the quality of the food is very low and the choice of dishes limited. In addition, the dining halls offer an environment no better than a bus station waiting room. Therefore, it is generally better to prepare food and refreshment for the journey at the point of departure.

Rice is a staple with every meal. Vegetable or meat dishes cooked with chili and/or cheese comprise the accompanying cuisine.

Bhutanese food has one predominant flavour - chili. This small red condiment is not only added to every dish but is also often eaten raw since chillies are considered a vegetable. So, if you don't like spicy-hot food, make this abundantly clear before ordering a meal. Otherwise, you'll be spending the next hour dousing your mouth with cold yogurt or milk.

Hot-pot and Western European food is now available in some restaurants in Thimphu where French fries, pork or beef ribs, pizza etc. are served.

Bhutan is a unique destination, and as such it has a few unique rules. All tourists, except for citizens of Bangladesh, India and the Maldives, must obtain a visa before arriving in Bhutan.

All tourists must book their travel through a local licensed tour operator (or international partner). Visas are applied for online by your local tour operator and it is not required that you visit a Bhutanese Embassy or consulate. Your holiday must be paid in full, via a wire transfer, to the Tourism Council of Bhutan account before a tourist visa is issued. The money remains with the Tourism Council until your travel in-country is complete before the local tour operator is paid.

Visa clearance takes no longer than 72 hours, once full payment has been received. At your point of entry, the visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of USD 40, also prepaid through your tour agent. Visa extensions can be obtained through your local tour operator and the tourist will also be subject to the daily tariff for the additional days.

 

While drug abuse, gang and domestic violence are common in urban areas, these crimes are kept within their communities and rarely, if ever, affect tourists. Indeed, Bhutan remains one of the safest places in the world for tourists.

Police in Thimphu are quite active, they keep doing rounds around the city late nights to ensure safety.

Bhutan has a universal health care system - hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, even in the remotest areas. However, travellers should not expect hi-tech facilities, and at many of the Basic Health Units the resident doctor is often away.

Indigenous medical facilities are located in all district capitals, with the largest being in Thimphu, so it is also possible to have ailments diagnosed and treated using natural herbal compounds while in Bhutan.

The king and former king are accorded a great deal of respect in Bhutan, as is Vajrayana Buddhism - the state religion. It is wise to bear this in mind when conversing with local people.

Sacred Objects

Always pass mani stones, stupas and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object, and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. Never sit on mani stones or stupas.

Clothing

When visiting temples, remove shoes and headgear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site. You will need to wear pants and long skirts.

Donations

At monasteries, it is custom to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect; and also to the Buddhist statues as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. There are many places in each temple where you can donate, and it is expected that you donate to each place. Remember to have small notes for this gesture. However, this is not mandatory.

Smoking

It is illegal to smoke at monasteries and in public places.

Tobacco

Products containing tobacco (cigarettes, chewing tobacco etc) are effectively banned throughout Bhutan (which remains the only country in the world to do so) and penalties for possession or use may be severe.

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