If happiness were a place, it probably goes by the guise of the Hermit Kingdom that is Bhutan.
A land of staggering natural beauty where the past blends with the present, it was recently recognized by the Lonely Planet as the best country to visit in 2020 in their latest volume of “Best in Travel.”
At last, Bhutan is taking center stage as well as its much-deserved spotlight in the global travel arena as an excellent destination that offers unique sights and unparalleled experiences aplenty.
Here, we round up eight great reasons why this Himalayan beauty belongs on your travel bucket list:
High Value, Low Impact Tourism
When it comes to tourism, Bhutan promotes what they call High Value, Low Impact Tourism, a principle developed based on the country’s Gross National Happiness values, which is the country’s integral philosophy to secure the wellbeing of the Bhutanese population by putting real value on cultural heritage, the environment, health, education, good governance, and more.
Now, the concept of High Value, Low Impact Tourism will set foreign visitors back to about $250 per day (one of the reasons why many shy away from visiting beautiful Bhutan), but this fee is all-inclusive, covering accommodation, food, transportation, and an official guide, ensuring that every traveler gets to experience the essence of Gross National Happiness.
Picturesque landscapes, amazing wildlife, charming traditional villages—Bhutan might just be the Last Shangri-La. It is known to have the largest proportion of protected land on earth, preserving diverse habitats that serve as home to various flora and fauna, including snow leopard and Bengal tigers. It is also the only carbon-negative country in the world, and the government is actively working to keep the entire nation that way for a long time. Under Bhutanese law, at least 60% of the country must stay forested for all future generations.
Fantastic Outdoor Excursions
Along with astonishing natural landscapes come fantastic outdoor excursions that will keep any adrenaline junkie hyped throughout their trip. Bhutan boasts some of the best and most scenic Himalayan treks that may be physically demanding but are also incredibly gratifying. Among the most difficult treks you can try here is The Snowman Trek, which will take you along the Bhutan-Tibet border, crossing over 13 mountain passes that will treat you to amazing alpine scenery. For another unique experience, you can give horseback riding a go to explore Bhutan’s verdant valleys.
From massive monasteries to jaw-dropping fortresses locally known as “dzong”, Bhutan flaunts some of the world’s most fascinating architectural wonders that have stood the test of time. But perhaps, the most iconic structure you will find in the country is the Taktshang Goemba. Fondly called the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, this sacred site is perched on the side of a cliff in Paro Valley and may require you to put your leg muscles to work if you want to reach it. Your effort will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Paro’s lush landscape and the rare opportunity to see a marvelous 17th-century temple complex up-close.
There’s nothing like Bhutanese cuisine. It would be easy to assume that the culinary tapestry of this nation is similar to that of India’s or Nepal’s due to its geographic location, but no. It’s quite different and in a good way! Here, red rice is a staple and chili is the main ingredient of many dishes, so if you’re a fan of food with a spicy kick, then you’ll definitely love Bhutan’s specialties including national food ema datshi, a chili-cheese stew, and phaksha paa, a type of curry prepared by stir-frying slices of pork with dried whole red chilies.
Awe-inspiring scenery, strong Buddhist traditions, wonderful people…Bhutan ticks off all the boxes of the perfect destination if spiritual healing is what you’re seeking. Here, Buddhism is not just a religion but a way of life—a practice that’s tightly weaved into the Bhutanese society and mentality. On your visit, you might want to consider joining a meditation retreat for an uplifting spiritual experience.
No visit to Bhutan is ever complete without experiencing at least one religious festival known as tshechu. A word that translates to “tenth day,” tshechus are observed on the tenth day of a month on the lunar calendar; however, each dzong or monastery has its own month to celebrate its tshechu, making festival dates widespread throughout the year. Visitors are very much welcome to join in the revelry of these festivals. It is believed that those who take part in the festival and witness the mask dances will receive blessings and have their sins washed away. Among the most-attended tshechus in the country are the Paro and Thimphu Tshechus, which usually fall between the months of March and April (spring) and September and October (autumn), respectively.
When traveling around a country where the citizens’ happiness is prioritized, you may be surprised by how different the locals’ outlook on life may be. The Bhutanese are possibly some of the most positive people you will ever meet during your journeys, and it’s all because of the Gross National Happiness philosophy and, of course, their solid Buddhist values. On your trip, do try to strike conversations with the locals. They might just give you some of the most eye-opening realizations about life that you won’t get anywhere else in the world.
Will you be visiting Bhutan any time soon?