Travels in Bhutan... the Dragon Kingdom


| March 12, 2017

Cox & Kings’ Roop Kumar travelled through Bhutan to discover this mysterious, remote kingdom and learn more about the rich, if somewhat unorthodox, culture.

Prayer wheels in Thimphu

Prayer wheels in Thimphu

With its spectacular mountain terrain, varied flora and fauna and ancient Buddhist monasteries, Bhutan is considered one of the last Shangri La’s of the Himalaya. Its people are kind, gracious and welcoming and the government places a higher value on national happiness than GDP. There are sanctions in place to keep at least 60% of landmass as forested areas and free education and healthcare are pillars of this seemingly idyllic society.

With the locals at the Haa valley village fair

With the locals at the Haa valley village fair

During my 13-night stay in Bhutan I experienced all of the above and the distinct culture and age-old traditions are simply inescapable. One of the first things you will notice on arrival in Bhutan is the traditional dress, which is preferred by the vast majority, and the native dzong-style architecture, an almost fortress-like design, graces almost every building. Traditional crafts, such as weaving and paper-making, were demonstrated in every city, town and village that I visited and a strong cultural identity seemed instinctive in almost everyone that I met.

Bhutanese craftmen

Trainees at the Institute for Zorig Chusum in Thimphu (commonly known as the Painting School)

Despite this, signs of modernisation and urbanisation are creeping into Bhutan, catalysed by increasing exposure to the western world. Access to television, the internet and mobile phones is particularly having an effect on the younger generations and it is likely that you will see some teenagers dressed in T-shirts and jeans. The fissures between modern and traditional life are opening out and although this does not take anything away from this beautiful country, you do stop to wonder what the future holds for Bhutan. Tourism is also having its effect, with international visitors growing at an average rate of 12.5% a year, bringing further exposure to the outside world.

Prayer wheel, Taktshang monastery, Paro

Prayer wheel, Taktshang monastery, Paro

I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the locals and conversations were always two-way, learning from each other’s day-to-day life. People were inquisitive about life in England but also fiercely proud of Bhutan. And why not? Bhutan is unlike any country that I have ever been to: stunningly beautiful, intriguing and charming. Bhutan amazed me before I even set foot in the country: the views from the flight to Paro from Kathmandu across the Himalaya were even more spectacular than I expected and the descent into the kingdom was simply exhilarating. The following 13 nights were a true adventure, exploring everything from the cities and towns to the small villages and valleys dependent on agriculture. Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Punakha dzong, famous for housing a temple where the sacred remains of the Terton Pema Lingpa (a saint in Tibetan Buddhism) and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (a Tibetan Buddhist lama) are preserved.

Archers in Bhutan

Locals compete against each other in Bhutan’s national sport, archery, often hitting targets at well over 100 metres.

 Village fair, Haa Valley

A local village fair in Haa valley. Festivals, known as tsechus, are frequently celebrated in Bhutan. They are usually large community events celebrating Bhutanese culture with traditional dances, music and food.

Dochula Pass

On the Dochula Pass, a beautiful mountain pass between the cities of Thimphu and Punakha.

Tigers Nest monastery

The Taktsang monastery (also known as the Tiger’s Nest monastery). A good level of fitness is required to reach the monastery as the climb can be steep. The total trekking time is approximately 5 hours, although there is a rest stop en route that offers good views of the monastery. Bhutan is a quirky place, at least in the eyes of westerners. Ancient traditions are still a daily way of life and not just a display for tourists. From the capital to the outer villages, Bhutan charmed me. The reason to go to Bhutan isn’t for its delicious food or luxurious hotels. Go to Bhutan to explore a place unlike any other, a place that is likely to change within a generation. Read more about Bhutan: The Dragon Kingdom here > Share:

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