Bhutan: The holy grail of tourism

The mountains are calling and I must go!

Friday 07th February 2020 11:46 EST

It is a meditative land where the monastries meet the mountains. A country that most backpackers and travel magazines portray as steeped in Buddhist art and spiritual scriptures. Tucked between China and India, Bhutan is the holy grail known for its peaceful escapism and restoration of traditional heritage. Deep vegetative mangroves growing green chilli peppers give way to glaciers and Himalayan peaks and help you detox from the other polluted

Long overhauls, no-direct flights and currency

Considered to be one of the most expensive places for tourist visa, you can bypass the visa fees if you are living in the UK on an Indian, Bangladeshi or a Maldivian passport. However, you will be required to fork out roughly £12/day visa fees from July 2020 as Thimpu approves of a sustainable development fees for all tourists. Whereas, British nationals may have to spend about £100 to obtain a six-month tourist visa to Bhutan. The currency exchange is similar to the Indian rupee and 1 GBP is equivalent to 92 bhutanese ngultrums.

There are no direct flights from London to Bhutan. Therefore, you will have to make one stop layover at either Bangkok, Kathmandu or Kolkata, India. Bhutan Airlines and Druk Air offer some options from New Delhi and Kolkata to Paro, Thimphu which is the only international airport in Bhutan. Word of caution: The flights can be extremely expensive and the journey time can also be long rounding upto 16 hours one-way. Hence, be prepared for a long haul.

Top attractions

1. Buddhist monastery in Punakha and Khuruthang

Punakha Dzong in Punakha and Khuruthang is arguably the most beautiful dzong in the country. It was the second to be built in Bhutan and has served as the capital and the headquarters of the government until the mid 1950s. All of Bhutan's kings have been crowned here. The dzong is still the winter residence of the dratshang(official monk body) even today. For those of who you are interested in the cultural and historical education of the Tibetan invasions, armed battlefields and preservation of the courtyards and heritage, it is perhaps the best living archive.

2. Jhomolhari trek: Archery and snow leopards, Paro

It is one of the most famous treks in the country and the first two days of the trek follow the Paro Chhu valley to Jangothang. It crosses a high pass and visits the remote village of Lingzhi, then crosses another pass before making its way towards Thimphu. During the seven days of trek you will be able to spot yaks, horses, snow leopards and even blue sheep.

3. Buddhist temple in Thimphu: Changangkha Lhakhang

This traditional Bhutanese temple stands tall akin to a warrior above central Thimphu and percolates with pilgrim activity. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, originally from Ralung in Tibet. Parents come here to bless their children with auspicious names from the protector deity Tamdrin (to the left in the grilled inner sanctum). Children are blessed by a ritual dagger and given a sacred thread.

4. River rafting at Mo Chhu

The Mo Chhu starts high in the Himalayas and has a few runnable sections before meeting the Pho Chhu at the Punakha Dzong and becomes the Puna Tseng Chhu. You can take out on the right just below the confluence or paddle down further to the town of Punakha. This section of river has easy Class I and II rapids combined with beautiful scenery, making it the most rafted section of river in Bhutan.

If you have some time left on your hand and feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins after the rafting session, you may want to explore the Changlingmethang Archery Range and handicraft shops. Like they say when in Bhutan, do as the Bhutanese do!

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