Bhutan can be found in Southern Asia, bordered by China and India. Since it lies on the eastern part of the Himalayas, the terrain is mostly mountainous with a splash of valleys and savanna. Bhutan has an area of about 46,500 square kilometers and is compared to Switzerland due to its size and topography. This Buddhist Kingdom was left untouched for years because of how difficult it was to travel through the Himalayas.
The Bhutanese are about 700,000 in population and still live their lives similar to their ancestors. The majority of the population live in small villages that are sprinkled over the rugged mountain landscape. Buddhism plays an important role to their peaceful lives. Bhutanese have traditionally treasured the environment because of the deep belief that nature is the source of all life.
Bhutan has been labeled as one of the top ten biodiversity hotspots of the world and one out of about 200 global endemic bird regions. Its abundance of diverse ecosystems harbors some of the most exotic animal and plant life of the Himalayas. There are about 770 species of birds, 50 different species of rhododendrons, and a wide range of various medicinal plants.
Paro is the city that connects Bhutan to the rest of the world because it is the only international airport for that region. The National Air Carrier of Bhutan is Druk Air. There are regular flights to and from Paro to Delhi, Kolkatta, Gaya, Kathmandu, Bangkok, and Dhaka. Druk Air has been named one of the safest airlines in the world and since there are very few competitors, the airfare is rather expensive. Travelers have to plan well in advance due to an increase of people visiting the area during tourist season. Once in the air, sit back and enjoy the view.
Most visitors arrange to travel with a tour guide or group, so transportation usually is arranged for you. However, if you need to schedule your own transportation, there are hired services available with the experience to maneuver through the narrow, winding roads.
Hired drivers, taxis, and motorcycles are available to take you through Bhutan and surrounding areas that can be secluded from the rest of the world. There are actually tours and motorcycle clubs that will offer travelers advice on how best to ride on the streets of Bhutan.
Driving a vehicle in Bhutan requires the purchase of a 14-day permit from the Phuentsholing border. Tour managers will assist in preparing paperwork. As long as you follow all rules and regulations set by the Road Safety and Transport Authority, traveling in Bhutan by vehicle will be the same as in India.
Those traveling to and from Bhutan must procure a visa clearance from Tourism Council of Bhutan. Your tour operator will arrange for your visa service so that you have it when arriving in Bhutan. Visas usually cost about $40 US. You may be required to have more than one depending on your plans while traveling in Bhutan.
Weather in Bhutan
Bhutan and its surrounding area have the most dramatic climate. On the southern border of Bhutan and India, the climate tends to be more tropical. As you gradually ascend the steep slopes and reach the northern border of Bhutan and Tibet, it is colder with snow-capped peaks. The valleys in the center of Bhutan will bring summer rains with warm nights. In the winter, the sun will try to warm the area but once the mountains hide the sun, it will become cold. Nighttime temperature falls below freezing.
Many trips happen year-round. However, the best recommended time to plan any traveling in Bhutan are the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November. The weather is the tamest and several cultural rich festivals happen during these months.
Traveling in Bhutan during festival time will surround you with fine culture and cheerful celebration. Bhutanese gather annually to socialize, dressed in their best clothing and enjoy the time away from their busy everyday lifestyle. There are many festivals that happen in Bhutan honored with dancing, religious remembrance, and a gleeful celebration of life.
Popular Festivals in Bhutan
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
Jambay Lhakhang is a temple that was established in the 7th century. The festival is held to honor the temple as well as Guru Rimpoche who was a Saint that introduced the Tantric form of Buddhism in Bhutan. Tsechu is a Buddhist festival to honor Guru Rimpoche. Those who are traveling in Bhutan during this festival will witness various forms of masked dancing. Each traditional dance that is performed has a significant meaning. The highlight of the festival is Mewang and Tercham. Mewang is the fire ceremony where a religious dance, Tercham, is held in order to bless the infertile women so that they may be honored with the ability to bear children.
The extraordinary part of this popular festival is the traditional dance performed by monks and laymen wearing costumes and masks. One of the most sacred blessings of Bhutan is the unfurling of the silk, Thangka, that covers a whole building. The Thangka is a holy picture scroll that is exhibited for only a few hours at daybreak on the last day of the festival so that people can receive its blessing.
A festival that has traditional masked dances that reenact events and situations from the past. It last for about 8 days and is dedicated to the goddess Mahakala. The last day is a play of warriors being sent off to war. All religious and colorful interests are similar to those performed by Bhutanese ancestors.
Traveling to exotic countries will guarantee new tastes for your palate. You will appreciate the exotic spices that surround the Bhutanese homemade cuisines. Enjoy a nice cup of Arag, a locally brewed fermented drink of rice, maize, wheat, or millet. Arag is as tasty and strong as sake to help you relax and enjoy your meal.
Due to the proximity to India, China, and Tibet, there are some similar qualities to the Bhutanese dishes. There are a few dishes that many suggest while traveling in Bhutan.
Red rice is a staple that is served with a lot of Bhutanese dishes. Red rice is grown in Paro Valley with mineral-rich glacier water. The red coloring on the rice is from flavonoid anthocyanin which is a cancer-fighting antioxidant. One serving size of this red rice delivers 80 percent of your daily requirement of manganese and 20 percent of phosphorus.
(Cheese and Chilies)
This local dish is a stew, very similar to curry, served with red rice. Made with an assortment of chilies, yak or cow’s milk, onions, and tomatoes. Bhutanese really enjoy their spicy food so tread carefully. Ema Datshi is very high on the Scoville Heat Scale so be prepared to sweat a little.
Jasha Maru or Maroo
A hearty broth of diced chicken mixed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, coriander leaves, and ginger.
Similar to the Chinese dumplings, these steamed buns are stuffed with many different types of fillings such as cabbage, beef, pork, or cheese.
(Pork with Chilies)
You will find strips of pork shoulder in this classic Bhutanese cuisine. Cooked until the strips are tender, it is simmered with bok choy, ginger, daikon radish, and a bit of chili powder for spice. With many fine dishes, this is served over red rice.
Trekking in Bhutan
If you are traveling in Bhutan, that means you are more than likely there to trek amongst the picturesque scenery. The people there are so friendly and the area is the most stunning thing that you will encounter during your travels.
Many tours will take the time to educate about local culture and lifestyle as they trek along trails. You will witness traditions and customs when you cross through ancient villages, visit monasteries, and gap at the architecture of the houses in the area.
Jomolhari Trek is one of the most popular trekking routes because it gives you an example of geographical diversity all in one region. From the thick pine forests to the alpine meadows all the way to the pastures where you will find yaks grazing.
Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek
The best part of taking the Dagala trek is the many crystal clear lakes you see along the 3 day hike. Like most trekking adventures in the area, this trail will take you through several villages to give you a chance to experience traditional culture for that Bhutanese village.
Gangtey Black Mountain Trek
The Phobjikha Valley has one of the only few glacial valleys in all of Bhutan. Gangtey is a monastery that was created in the 17th century. During the trek, you will visit villages such as Gogona and Khotokha. It is a moderate level trek because it is in a relatively low elevation of the mountains.
Laya Gasa Trek
Bhutan has many pristine lakes and untouched land which is why Laya Gasa trek is known to be the most scenic trek. For about 14 days, you will plenty of opportunity to take pictures for you scrapbook.