Bhutan – the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ – is a small and remote Himalayan kingdom with a population of around 750,000. Squeezed between its much larger neighbours India and China. A fierce defender of its traditional values, it was only during the 1970s that it began to open its doors to the rest of the world.
With archaeological evidence pointing to occupation as early as 2000 BC, it’s an ancient country with a fascinating history. The national language is Dzongkha but Bhutan is linguistically diverse, with over 20 dialects. There’s so much to understand about the country. I found this Bhutan travel guide particularly helpful in researching the top historical destinations.
Bhutan has a wonderful way to measure its prosperity. It does it not in western economic terms of Gross National Product, but in terms of happiness. Officially ‘Gross National Happiness’ is more of a philosophical concept. Unveiled by the king at the United Nations in 1971. With its nine domains it’s a thread that runs through Bhutanese life, covering areas like, cultural diversity, education and good governance.
Life in Bhutan as it once was
I found one of the best ways to learn more about the country was by visiting some of the small museums. I started in the capital Thimphu at the Folk Heritage Museum, a restored three-story building designed to replicate a traditional 19th century farmhouse.
Focusing on cultural heritage, the museum, using an eclectic display of household objects, tools and storage vessels, introduces you to rural life as it once was in Bhutan.
In addition to the displays there are frequent demonstrations of some of the traditional skills, which played such an important part in everyday life. Among them, the brewing of the potent drink ara and the pounding and roasting of rice.
If you have time stop for lunch and sample some of the traditional cuisine. I loved the very hot chilli rice with chicken.
Located in Paro in the western part of the country and housed in an unusual round building, which used to serve as a watchtower. The National Museum of Bhutan is tasked with preserving and promoting Bhutan’s cultural values. With six floors to explore there’s a huge range of fascinating exhibits on show. You’ll find displays of arms and armour, Buddhist paintings on cotton and silk, festival masks, manuscripts and much more.
The Tiger’s Nest
As befits a mainly Buddhist nation, Bhutan has a number of monasteries you can visit. For example Taktsang Lhakhang, the Tiger’s Nest, is perched precariously 900 metres up on a cliff edge overlooking the Paro Valley. To get there prepare yourself for an 8 kilometre quite strenuous trek. Alternatively book a quicker but bumpier ride on horseback. With fascinating history and intriguing legend surrounding the monastery your visit will be a wonderful, thought provoking adventure.
While travelling in Bhutan can be challenging, the rewards – as I found – are worth it. The key to a successful visit is preparation, so ensure you have this tourist guide from Expedia to hand for some helpful additional information.
To dig a little deeper into Bhutanese society try and visit one of a number of festivals which take place throughout the year. Tshechu, for example, with its masked dance rituals, is held monthly in temples and monasteries throughout Bhutan and often involves entire communities who dress in their best clothes for the occasion. They sometimes last for several days.
An experience like no other
Visiting the Kingdom of Bhutan is an experience like no other however all travel has to be organised through a registered Bhutanese tour company, or one of their international partners. You need to obtain a visa before you go.