The Kingdom of Bhutan has adopted a cautious approach to tourism to avoid any negative impact on the country's culture and environment. All tourists, group or individual, must travel on a pre-planned all inclusive guided tour through a registered tour operator in Bhutan or their counterparts abroad. The basic rate is fixed by the government.
There are still plenty of takers wanting to explore the breathtaking mountains and valleys of this astonishing country. The tourism industry in Bhutan is founded on the principle of sustainability, meaning it must be environmentally friendly, socially and culturally acceptable and economically viable. The number of tourists is also kept to a manageable level by the limited infrastructure.
The Bhutanese name for Bhutan, Druk Yul, means 'Land of the Thunder Dragon'. Much of Bhutanese history is lost in legends but the first major event was the arrival of Guru Rinpoche, believed to have brought Mahayana Buddhism from Tibet in the eighth century. Bhutan, the world's last Mahayana Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom, became a coherent political entity around the 17th century and has never been conquered or ruled by another foreign power.
Bhutan is a peaceful country with strong traditional values based on religion, respect for the royal family and care for the environment. Trip to Bhutan is considered an experience once in a lifetime.
A few years old, Thimphu was built by the late king Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, to replace the ancient capital of Punakha a mountain range away. At a altitude of 7,710 ft in the fertile valley of the Wang Chu river, the capital Thimphu is an engaging blend of the old and the new. A unique law, which retains the forms and motifs of Bhutan's traditional architecture even in new buildings give Thimphu a delightful structural harmony. The capital's most striking visual landmark is the magnificent Tashichhodzong, which is the seat of the Royal Government and Central Monastic Body.
To the west of Thimphu, the Phajoding monastery overlooks the town from 10,000 feet and commands a splendid view of whole area. Visitors may also go to Dontsho la pass for an impressive vista of snow peaks, lakes, streams and alpine flowers, and to Dochu la, another scenic mountain pass, where the panorama of vivid rhododendrons and azaleas against the backdrop of the great Himalayas is breathtaking.
With patchwork fields, willow glades, murmuring trout filled streams and scattered hamlels, Paro is the most attractive of Bhutan’s valleys, the air exudes a sense of profound peace. It was here that Padma Sambhava, better known as Guru Rimpoche, came from India in the 8th century with the message of the Lord Buddha. At 7,382 ft Paro is the only airport site of Bhutan. Besides the colourful spring Tsechu, Paro has a number of sights and monuments to enthral the visitor. The pastoral beauty of Paro valley, magnificent views of Mount Jhomolhari, the incredible monastery of Taktsang which clings to a sheer rock cliff, the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong - fortress of the victorious Drupas and the National Museum, housed in an ancient watchtower, are a few of the attractions that make Paro one of the high-points of any holiday in Bhutan.
paro-museumBelow the Dzong, across a covered medieval bridge, is uggen palri a royal palace, where architect’s imagination reached, hiterto unattainable peaks in the ecstasy of devotion. Here is Bhutan’s architecture at its height. About 6.5-km north of the Dzong, is the legendary and most revered sacred shrine in Bhutan; Kytchu-Lakhang was built in the 7th century, the wooden floor tells the tale of the years of prostration by the devout monks, for goughed into the heavy timber are footprints as clear as if freshly made. The Queen Mother of the present king recently added a new chapel dedicated to the Guru Rimpoche with a great image of the saint crafted by Bhutan’s foremost artisans.
Vhunzom Or Confluence
In an area called “Vhunzom” or Confluence- the meeting place of the Para Chu and Wang Chu rivers - branch roads lead off to Paro and the Ha valleys. This was an important station in Bhutan’s once thriving trade with Tibet, beyond it lies the Chumbi valley.
Taktsang (The Tiger’s Nest) and Kyichu
Beyond Paro, the road runs along the river valley to the Tibetan border. A few miles down the road, a side track leads onwards Tastsang a gem-like monastery that clings to a sheet 3,000 foot rock face. The name Taktsang means “theTtiger’s Nest” for the legend that Padma Sambhava, the bringer of Buddhism, flew here from Tibet on the back of a Tiger. Today pilgrims and other visitors reach it by crossing a bridge and mounting a steep, winding track on horseback. The monks welcome visitors and will readily act as guides and show their small sacred library. Another 15 minutes further along, even highen Thantaktsang, is the Sang-Tog Peri monastery. Its name means literlally “ the temple of heaven” a claim which no one who sees it, would think to contest.
Punakha - The Old Capital
A three hour drive to the east of thimphu takes one to the old capital of bhutan - punakha. A superb example of bhutanese architecture, the punakha dzong majestically stand on the bank of the river punakha. With abundance of trouts, the punakha river is considered an angler’s paradise.