New Bhutan Journey Information

A Himalayan Kingdom that has solely been open to the skin world for the reason that 1974, and a rustic that measures success by Gross Nationwide Happiness, Bhutan has all the time fascinated us. Including to the intrigue of “The Land of the Thunder Dragon,” they took pandemic precautions to a brand new stage and closed their borders for the final 2.5 years. The nation lastly opened to guests on September twenty third, 2022…however by way of a collection of governmental hoops and a stroke of magic, we had been invited in early to assist present that Bhutan is again and higher than ever. In the course of the 916 days with out guests, the dominion took that quiet time to shine each aspect of its tourism sector, together with countrywide lodge renovations, transportation enhancements, and personnel coaching. In addition they furthered their dedication of being a carbon-negative nation with a slew of latest sustainability initiatives—from an electrical taxi fleet to the Million Tree Mission. It was an unbelievable honor to be among the many first vacationers to expertise the “New Bhutan” and canopy the story for Journey & Leisure, and now (in juicier element) for our HoneyTrek followers. From trekking to the well-known Tiger’s Nest to flying within the cockpit over Mount Everest, becoming a member of a masks dance pageant, glamping at 12,000 ft, river rafting previous Seventeenth-century fortresses, sleeping in Buddhist temples, planting bushes, to sharing tea with nomadic cow herders, we’ve acquired quite a bit to share…

Flying within the Cockpit with Druk Air

most dangerous airplane landings

Touring from the US to Qatar to India to Bhutan, it was tempting to go out on the final leg, however we weren’t about to sleep by way of this legendary flight over the Himalayas—or miss out on Druk Air’s first-class service. Our flight attendants in formal Bhutanese gown, delivered champagne and chilled towels, and stated “While you’re completed, the captain would really like you to affix him within the cockpit for takeoff.” Say wha? This is able to be extraordinary on any post-9/11 flight, however the journey to Paro, Bhutan additionally occurs to be one of many world’s most technical routes. To make the descent between the 18,000-foot peaks, down a slender valley and a really brief runway, it could solely be completed throughout the day, manually, and by lower than two dozen licensed pilots on this planet, however we didn’t let that fear us. Captain Kinga Tshering and First Officer Tashi Tshering welcomed us with smiles and full-body seat belt directions. As soon as we hit cruising altitude the captain confirmed us an inventory of the ten tallest mountains on this planet, he stated, “We’ll go by 5 of them, together with Everest.” Then piercing by way of the clouds, we noticed the peaks usually reserved for the world’s best climbers. I nearly wept. We returned to our seats for a beautiful lunch of veggie stir fry, accompanied by Bhutan’s signature pink rice beer. Because the flight attendant cleared our plates, she provided us a wide range of worldwide newspapers to learn or the selection to return to the cockpit for touchdown. We almost jumped out of our seat and joined the pilots for the descent with lush inexperienced mountains at eye stage and an airport that regarded extra like a gilded palace. We landed in with no bump and had an amazing feeling…that is gonna be a visit like no different. Watch our TikTok video, the place we acquired to do the identical cockpit flight in reverse.


Our Bridge to Bhutan Household

We exited the Paro airport and our Bridge to Bhutan guides, met us with conventional white silk scarves and our chariot for the following 18 days collectively. We don’t usually do multi-day excursions, however Bhutan is exclusive in that licensed guides are required to journey outdoors the 2 main cities, plus we actually linked with Bridge to Bhutan as a journey firm. Based by two Bhutanese brothers, Fin & Lotay, who studied Worldwide Sustainable Improvement and Environmental Research, and are available from a household that has labored in each tourism and the federal government, they’re deeply dedicated to the way forward for sustainable journey in Bhutan. We’d been chatting with Lotay on Instagram since 2019, so by the point we arrived in Bhutan it was actually like visiting outdated buddies. We reached Pamtsho Lodge, and Fin, Auntie Uygen, Uncle Tsewang, and a number of cousins, ushered us in for a vegan feast of their new restaurant. We had been their first lodge friends since 2020. Over bottomless bowls of pumpkin soup, garlic roasted greens, ginger-fried rice, Sichuan pepper tofu, and many chilies, we chatted out our upcoming journey. Not simply pulling from a inventory itinerary, the group was trying on the newest street situations, climate, cultural happenings, and familial ceremonies,to craft probably the most dynamic journey for our journey model.

Thimphu: Bhutan’s Capital

Bhutan travel guide

The “huge” metropolis of Thimphu is ready in a stunning valley, anchored by their Thirteenth-century dzong (a fortified monastery) and a small downtown of ~115,000 individuals. Whereas the capital is quickly increasing, it nonetheless doesn’t have a single stoplight and it actually hasn’t misplaced its sense of custom. New buildings are contructed with Bhutan’s conventional woodworking and adorned with colourful Buddhist motifs. Strolling round downtown most residents swear the nationwide gown, a robe-like “gho” for males and lengthy “kira” skirts for ladies, trying impeccable whether or not they’re operating a financial institution or a fruit stall. We liked our time wandering the hilly streets, nibbling our means by way of the momo dumpling stalls, watching artisans on the Thimphu Handicraft Market, catching an archery event on the Changlimithang Stadium, and sampling meals on the new riverside farmer’s market. For the perfect views of the town, we headed as much as Kuensel Phodrang Hill to see The Nice Buddha Dordenma (one of many largest sitting Buddhas on this planet) and get a really feel for the topography of Bhutan, a nation constructed into the slopes of the Himalayas and gathered collectively in its valleys. To the perfect locations to go within the capital metropolis, see our Thimphu Fb gallery.

Bhutan Postal Museum

Thimphu Bhutan Travel  guide

This may sound obscure, but when there’s one museum it’s essential to go to in Thimphu, it’s the Postal Museum. Along with the Bhutan’s fascinating historical past of communication, from the mountain mail runners (the one supply choice till the Nineteen Sixties) to the arrival of the payphone within the Nineteen Nineties, it’s additionally a fantastic overview of how Bhutan transitioned into the trendy world. Largely beginning with King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (the third of 5 kings thus far) who introduced roads, a public transportation system, and worldwide mail service to the nation by 1968. The fourth king, noticed his nation opening up and sought a strategy to proceed modernizing whereas nonetheless honoring custom. He got here up with the idea of Gross Nationwide Happiness as their measurement of success and guiding drive within the face of globalization. With a powerful sense of nationwide id, he handed the crown to the current king, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel, to usher in a extra progressive period with a democratic constitutional monarchy (which means the king is head of state, govt energy is vested within the cupboard, and residents can vote). Plus, the museum holds a stamp assortment like no different…scented, singing, 3D, selfie stamps, and different uniquely Bhutanese postage.

Haa Valley Homestay

bhutan travel guide

When Fin obtained an invitation for an annual home blessing ceremony in his household’s ancestral village, we bee-lined to Haa Valley. This western district was a restricted space till 2003 and most of the mountain villages are solely now getting roads…together with their village of Dorikha. Fin and Lotay’s mom grew up right here in a nomadic cow herding household, shifting between their summer season and wintering grounds on foot and sheltering in stone huts in between. She now lives in Thimphu, however typically returns to be with the herd and reconnect with mountain life, like she did this week. Driving the unpaved switchback roads to 10,000 ft, we reached Dorikha and the household farmhouse. We spent two nights sharing meals across the wood-burning range, shadowing the morning chores of milking cows and making cheese, and spending time within the 20-house village, which facilities round a wonderful temple and archery vary (each of equal cultural significance).

Mountain climbing Thergo-la & The Dying Artwork of Nomadic Herding

Bhutan's Thergo-la hike

Only a brief drive away and alongside the path to their household’s herding camp is a hike that has been rated among the many finest on this planet by CNN. From the 12,000-foot Tergo-La Move, we climbed the craggy mountain, chiseled by creeks and lined in wildflowers, and acquired views to India and Tibet. After a number of hours, we reached a clearing with two stone huts and smiling faces ushering us in for tea and Parle-G cookies. We sat cross legged on a mattress of pine needles and had been served numerous refills, as we chatted and pet the cows. The 20-year-old daughter, Pema, spoke English completely and informed us she was simply visiting from college in Thailand, the place she is finding out engineering. She is amongst a choose group of scholars in Bhutan to earn the King’s Scholarship to review overseas. Her mom shared how proud she is of Pema, but additionally her unhappiness that their custom of nomadic herding will probably come to an finish.

Buddhist Home Blessing Ceremony

Bhutanese Choku ceremony

We headed again down the mountain to catch the “Choku” ceremony that introduced us to Haa Valley. This occurs yearly in most Bhutanese households, the place Buddhist monks carry out ceremonies of artwork, music, and choices to the native deities to cleanse the home of destructive vitality and usher in positivity for the 12 months forward. We walked in and adopted the music to a tiny altar room, adorned with colourful sculptures product of dyed butter (a available “artwork” provide in cow nation). We sat within the circle of monks, every taking part in a horn, drum, or bell whereas the abbot led hypnotic chants and made choices to the deities. The room swirled with sounds, smells, and symbolism means over our head, however we did our greatest to observe our guides’ cues because the monks got here across the circle providing us blessed fruit to eat or holy saffron water to rub over our hair. The one factor we knew for positive was that evil spirits didn’t stand an opportunity in that home! After the ceremony, we had been invited for a celebratory bottle of ara (home made rice wine) and dinner (cooked by the son-in-law who was once a chef on the Taj Luxurious Lodge…the Bhutanese by no means stop to amaze!). The youthful technology was fluent in English and helped bridge any gaps within the dialog for a meal that made us really feel a part of the household.

Watch our Haa Valley video to see the great thing about this homestay and Bhutanese village life.


Punakha: The Authentic Capital of Bhutan

Punahka Dzong

Being sandwiched between the highly effective China and former British India, Bhutan has amazingly sufficient all the time stayed an unbiased nation. And when the Tibetans tried to invade within the 1616, they formalized that sovereignty below ruler Ngawang Namgyal. He created 16 dzongs across the nation to defend and unify Bhutan as a nation state. Punakha turned the capital and its dzong (The Palace of Nice Happiness) continues to be arguably a very powerful constructing within the nation. It’s the place saints are buried, kings are coronated, and rulers ruled till 1955. It’s additionally one of the attractive, sitting on an island on the convergence of two rivers surrounded by the Himalayas. We crossed the footbridge, following the fluttering crimson robes of monks, to a steep staircase earlier than the foreboding Seventeenth-century constructing. Within the central courtyard stood an enormous bodhi tree, identical to the one the place Buddha discovered enlightenment. Our information Tim did his finest to show us the ins and outs of Vajrayana Buddhism, with its numerous deities, however one that we’ll all the time bear in mind is Lu. Earlier than new building or renovation tasks in Bhutan, staff construct an altar to this earth spirit to pay homage to her land and its vibrations earlier than they’re disturbed. We payed our respects to Lu and went into the principle temple. The intricate element and riot of coloration within the spiritual murals and silk embroidery felt like strolling inside a jewel field. On the altar had been three large gold statues of Bhutan’s most necessary figures: Guru Padma Sambhava (who launched Buddhism in 747 A.D) Ngawanag Namgyal (the nation’s unifier), and Buddha himself. Want we may share images of this gorgeous temple, however no images allowed inside Bhutan’s sacred areas! To culminate our dzong expertise and stage up our Bhutanese adventures, we went river rafting down the Pho Chhu (father river) to its confluence with Mo Chuu (mom river). The category II rapids provided simply sufficient thrills and down time to admire the mountains, villages linked by swinging bridges, and the grand finale, the Punakha Dzong from the water—a view reserved for adventurers!

Hike to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten

Just a few miles north of that historic dzong is one in every of Bhutan’s trendy marvels of Buddhist structure: Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. Constructed below the course of the Queen Mom in 2004, this chorten (or stupa) is meant to keep off evil spirits and stand as an emblem of common peace. We hiked throughout the river’s suspension bridge, lined in prayer flags, to the mountains tiered with rice terraces. Up we went previous little waterfalls flowing between paddies, spinning large prayer wheels, and chatting with pleasant farmers. Bhutan’s royal household hikes this path every year as a pilgrimage to evoke the deities. We arrived to closed temple doorways, then a monk got here jogging down the hill with the keys; he was the brand new caretaker and had by no means proven it to a foriegner. There have been lots of of carved sculptures of wrathful deities to scare away evil spirits, balanced by sensual yab-yum figures. These depict a male deity in union together with his feminine consort, representing the wedding of knowledge and compassion. To the western eye, it could look like numerous intercourse and violence, however with such unbelievable element and complicated spiritual symbolism, it’s onerous to not recognize this distinctive model of artwork.

Temple of the Divine Madman

Temple of the Divine Madman

In Bhutan, with all its gorgeous Buddhist artwork & structure, you may’t assist however discover using phallic symbols. Painted on the facades of homes, hooked up to the eaves of roofs, sculpted because the spouts of fountains, they’re in all places….largely due to Lama Kunley, aka the Divine Madman. This Fifteenth-century character unfold Buddhism together with his comedic & sexual escapades & rose to saint standing by subduing a demon together with his “magic thunderbolt of knowledge.” Come see this monastery in his honor.

On the observe of phallic symbols, they’re in all places in Bhutan! Painted on homes, hooked up to the eaves of roofs, sculpted because the spouts of fountains, the phallus is a staple in Bhutanese artwork and structure, largely due to Lama Kunley (aka the Divine Madman). This Fifteenth-century character unfold Buddhism with comedic and sexual escapades and rose to saint standing by subduing a demoness with “his magic thunderbolt of knowledge.” As ridiculous as that sounds, he was making an attempt to mock typical faith and make it enjoyable and approachable to the plenty. At this time when pilgrims go to the Divine Madman Temple they’re hit on the top with a 10-inch wooden phallus, and {couples} who want a lift in fertility haven’t any disgrace in coming right here. And if a baby involves fruition for the pair, they return to have the child’s title chosen by the monks. Let’s simply say, Kunley is a standard title in Bhutan.

Fears & Pleasure for Journey within the New Bhutan

Puenzhi Diner Punakha

When Puenzhi Diner heard Bridge to Bhutan had friends again on the town, the proprietor Yeshey opened her restaurant for the primary time in 2.5 years. In all that point with out tour teams ordering her signature prix-fixe meals, she needed to be ingenious along with her area and alternatives for earnings, so she turned her restaurant right into a boutique for locals. We sat down in what had change into a comfy lounge moreover her outdated bar, ingesting beers and feasting on a dozen completely different dishes—from bathup noodle soup to emi datshi chiles. We laughed the evening away and took a selfie to shut out the enjoyable. We she regarded on the image she stated, “Wow. So many reminiscences of the nice outdated days simply got here flashing again…however, I’m scared issues received’t ever be the identical.” Like many Bhutanese who labored in tourism, they needed to transfer on to different careers. The federal government of Bhutan helped them do that throughout these onerous occasions with the De-suung “re-skilling” program, providing programs in all types of trades (carpentry, plumbing, building, and extra) to assist their residents discover new employment and for the nation to develop extra unbiased from neighboring India, who has lengthy supplied a lot of their items and labor. She expressed fears that her outdated workers won’t return from their villages and that Bhutan Tourism’s newly elevated Sustainable Improvement Charge would scare away many vacationers, leaving her but once more with a closed restaurant. We gave her an enormous hug, with full confidence that with the great thing about this nation and unbelievable high quality of her delicacies, she was going to be okay.

Phobjikha Valley

phobjikha bhutan

Leaving Punakha, the panorama went from cactus-studded hillsides to birch bushes dripping with Spanish moss and grey langur monkeys taking part in within the bushes. Our driver Sonam was very affected person to make numerous photograph stops for wildlife, gushing waterfalls, and mist-shrouded peaks. Zigzagging up the ten,000-foot go, we lastly descended into the glacier-carved valley of Phobjikha. This wildflower-filled marshland is a protected space for the endangered black-necked cranes, and 13 different globally threatened species. Come October when the majestic cranes make their annual migration from Tibet, individuals from all over the world observe (which explains why there are a ton of luxurious accommodations on this sleepy village). We stayed on the beautiful new Dhangsa Resort, run by Tim’s sister, to proceed rising our Bhutanese household. She gave us a incredible room overlooking the valley, full with stunning textiles, suave lighting, and a wood-burning hearth. Her group even taught us easy methods to dress in conventional clothes so we’d look our Bhutan finest on the huge pageant…

Gangtey Monastery

Gangtey Monastery Bhutan

Phobjikha Valley homes the most important personal monastery within the nation and one of the spectacular. Tim’s brother-in-law is the abbot (pays to know individuals!), so we scored an invite for tea with a lama who had not too long ago come again from his 3-year meditation, and front-row entry to the closing ceremonies of this five-day pageant. Bhutan is well-known for his or her masks dance festivals and with this stunning Seventeenth-century, mountain monastery as a backdrop, we couldn’t have requested for a greater spot or time to expertise it (we had been actually the one vacationers out of almost 4,000 individuals!). We walked right into a room with intense vibrations of drums and chants from individuals seated hip to hip. We hoped our native garb would assist us mix in, however it didn’t matter, all of the stares had been accompanied with a smile. When individuals poured out of that area in direction of the principle stage, we hung again and witnessed it flip into the inexperienced room for elaborate costume modifications and grand entrances on this procession to keep off life’s obstacles. The dances had been fascinating to look at, as they moved from the courtyard to a bonfire finale on the cliff. We’ll let the images converse for themselves and finish by saying, you must witness a Bhutanese masks pageant in some unspecified time in the future in your life!

The Trans-Bhutan Path

How to Hike the Trans Bhutan Trail

Up till roads had been constructed within the 60s, the Bhutanese relied on a 250-mile footpath that linked the nation. Trendy occasions and Mom Nature just about erased the trail, however as of 2022 the restored Trans-Bhutan Path is open for locals and overseas trekkers alike. We hiked a piece of the path close to Dochula Move, and had been impressed by the luxurious wildlife, the botanical indicators, historic markers, and useful QR codes alongside the best way. We ended at Dochula’s 108 hand-painted chortens hungry for extra path time. FYI: Whereas the restoration of the path was led by the Bhutan Canada Basis with assist from the Tourism Council of Bhutan, the De-Suung, and numerous volunteers, don’t let the web site idiot you into considering it’s essential to spend $20,365 to hike it. It’s a public path and might be completed for any length you’d like, everytime you’d like by any licensed trekking information. It’s a path everybody ought to expertise, so hike at the very least a number of miles and picture the centuries of footsteps earlier than you.

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Tigers Nest Bhutan

If there’s one picture of Bhutan that brings individuals to the nation, it’s Paro Takstang (aka Tiger’s Nest). Seventeenth-century structure hugging a sheer cliff and overlooking a Himalayan valley is in fact photogenic, however it’s additionally deeply symbolic to Bhutan’s Buddhist historical past. There are a number of legends on the title’s origin, however principally within the eighth century, Guru Rinpoche flew from Tibet on the again of a Tigress to defeat the Tiger demon within the cave and subdue the evil spirits throughout the land. He then meditated there for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and three hours and introduced Buddhism and peace to Bhutan. Legends apart, the great thing about this monastery and the pilgrims’ ardour for it’s one thing extraordinary. Mike was main the cost for us all to rise up at 4am to hike up for dawn. As a lot as I groaned, I’m glad he made us trek two miles at nighttime to see the early-morning mist swirl across the temple with completely nobody round. Because the solar got here up, so did the pilgrims trekking the ultimate stretch previous the waterfall and up the cliff of their best garments. We took off our footwear to enter the temple, feeling the nippiness of the rock beneath our ft. The bottom of the partitions match completely with the angle of the cliff, but regardless of this rough-hewn construction, it the ornament is masterful. We climbed from room to room, receiving handfuls of holy water to coat our hair, neck, and tongues. Each Bhutanese particular person there was doing a number of full-body bows to the altar whereas our heads simply spun with the depth and great thing about this place. After experiencing Tiger’s Nest, most individuals flip round and head again down, however in actuality that is simply 1 of seven temples on this mountain and there’s a glamping camp close to the highest! Climbing 5,867 ft in elevation to Bumdrak temple and camp, we trekked below bushes dancing with lichen, laundry traces of monk robes, and cliffs that solely appeared to get taller. 9 kilometers later, by way of the rain, we reached Bumdrak Camp serving up cozy beds and sizzling meals and felt like we had reached nirvana.

TIP: Ask your information to point out you Dzongdrakha, a lot lesser identified cliff temple with visible and historic nods to Tiger’s Nest, simply outdoors of Paro city. A Guru Rinpoche was stated to have leapt to Tiger’s Nest from this cliff, with a tiger footprint within the rock to point out for it. Our favourite a part of the go to? Getting an impromptu personal tour, from the 80-year temple-keeper.


Paro Bhutan

Figuring out we may use a bit pampering after our in a single day trek, Bridge to Bhutan organized a standard hot-stone bathtub (dotsho) and lunch on the historic Tshering Farmhouse. We slipped into the wood baths with herb-infused water because the innkeeper dropped fire-heated rocks right into a chamber at our ft. Taking within the steam, sizzle, and smells melted the miles away and the meal to observe left us completely glad. However the goodness saved coming! That evening we had a reservation at Le Meridian Paro, one of many best accommodations within the nation. Our nook suite was divine, with views over the Paro River and surrounding mountains. We had a barbecue dinner for 2 on the terrace and a particular of bottle of wine to toast the 100 reminiscences we’d made on this journey.

Planning Your Journey to Bhutan

How to Travel to Bhutan

Shangri-La by no means comes straightforward, so listed below are few issues to know to make your Bhutan journey a actuality. To finish the visa course of, you will have a passport (legitimate for six months); journey insurance coverage (we swear by our Allianz AllTrips Premier Plan); dates of arrival and departure; and cost particulars. COVID-19 vaccination is strongly inspired however not required. To take precautions, the federal government is issuing random RT-PCR testing on the airport. The visa software price ($40) might be paid by bank card and processed along with the Sustainable Improvement Charge ($200 per day for adults, $100 for teenagers ages 6 to 12, and free for these 5 or youthful). The Sustainable Improvement Charge (SDF) funds the nationwide social packages, infrastructure, and environmental protections. You’ll be able to apply to your 90-day visa on-line or let your information do the processing (it’s sometimes included of their service). For flights, Drukair and Bhutan Airways fly to Paro, the nation’s solely worldwide airport. Departures can be found from Singapore; Kathmandu, Nepal; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Bangkok, Thailand; and 5 Indian cities (New Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Gaya, and Bagdogra). Tickets are typically cheaper from India, although you’ll must get India’s vacationer visa ($25) for this transfer. (We flew from New Delhi and used our Indian visa and trans-Atlantic flight as an excuse to increase our journey for three weeks within the unbelievable subcontinent.) The nationwide tourism web site www.Bhutan.journey affords probably the most up-to-date info (don’t belief outdated articles, quite a bit has modified!) they usually encourage guests to succeed in out to their in-house “hosts” to area any questions by e-mail (their FAQ web page can also be tremendous useful for all kinds of matters.). As we talked about, guides are essential to journey outdoors of Paro and Thimphu, and to any cultural websites. Do your individual analysis on tour corporations however we can not advocate Bridge to Bhutan extremely sufficient and are so grateful we discovered them as guides and buddies.

Love for Bhutan

Bhutan Travel Guides

Of the 70 nations we’ve explored on our HoneyTrek, Bhutan is definitely one of the distinctive and dazzling. We are able to’t wait to return and hope to see you there! For extra movies and images on our travels by way of Bhutan
see out our Instagram Tales Spotlight Reel and for any questions, simply attain out!

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