Entry to Bhutan used to be particularly difficult for the average tourist, yet these days the country has lifted restrictions to foreign visitors. However, the Kingdom of Bhutan is still very new to the eye of the traveller and much of its vast, mountainous landscape remains untouched. Nestled high in the Himalayas, the tiny country is full of dramatic scenery and rich traditional culture. Affectionately referred to as ‘the last Shangrila’, Bhutan is the world’s only remaining Buddhist kingdom, and is home to many magnificent temples that sit precariously on the sides of steep mountains.
Visit the Taktsang Monastery
The jaw-dropping sight of the Taktsang Monastery is one that you’ll be hard-pressed to replicate anywhere else in the world. Perched on a ledge of one of Bhutan’s many jagged cliffs, the monastery was first built in the 17th Century around a deep cave called Taktsang Senge Samdup, where Guru Padmasambhava once meditated for three consecutive months in the 8th Century. The holy place, which locals call the Tiger’s Nest, is one of the most famous landmarks in Bhutan, and is a must-see for any visitor. A climb to Taktsang never fails to leave visitors awestruck by the sheer drama of its surroundings. The stunning traditionally Bhutanese architecture is a stark contrast to the natural wonders that envelope it; a trip to the spiritual Taktsang is sure to inspire as you take in panoramic mountain views from two thousand feet above the floors of the valley.
Mingle on the streets of Thimphu
Bhtuan’s bustling capital, Thimphu is brimming with life and activity that is a true representation of the country’s rich culture and history. The city is situated in a picturesque valley among rolling hills and beside the dramatic Thimphu Chhu River. Thimphu is a charismatic city that is home to many colourfully decorated buildings and decorative architecture. A major landmark in the city is the Trashi Chhoe Dzong temple, which sits atop a dramatically steep hill. Upon climbing up to the temple, one can enjoy unparalleled panoramic views of the city and its surrounding landscape; a truly magical experience that is literally like being on top of the world. The city centre is full of things to do – from charming cafes set amongst medieval streets, to shops and stalls selling locally-made crafts – and walking around Thimphu evokes a never-ending feeling of discovery and adventure.
One piece of trivia about Thimphu is that it is the only city in the world without any traffic lights. Authorities tried to install them a few years ago, but locals complained that they looked unnatural, so they were promptly removed and no further plans have been made to use them.
Take an extreme cruise down the Paro Chhu River
The Paro Chhu is a wild and wonderful river that flows from Bhutan’s snow-capped mountains, right down past the border with India. The country has many rivers and glacier lakes, but the Paro Chhu River is arguably one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Bhutan; towards the top end, conditions are treacherous, and water crashes down over jagged rocks. Further down, however, you will see many-a-monastery along the banks, including the Paro Dzong, a Buddhist temple. Due to its untamed nature, the Paro Chhu is ideal for extreme sports river cruises. White water rafting cruises are becoming very popular; the river has become regarded as one of the world’s best rafting destinations. The Tourism Council of Bhutan is now pushing rafting as one of the country’s many attractions and, for those with a dare-devil spirit, this unconventional means of transport also offers an awe-inspiring way to witness Bhutan’s dramatic scenery and to become at one with its wild and untamed natural habitat.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg with Bhutan; this magical kingdom has so much to offer the tourist that it is hard to single out any activities. Upon your visit, you will be intrigued, inspired and amazed and – better still – you will be one of the few people privileged enough to visit this once forbidden gem.