Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is no ordinary place. This is a country where buying cigarettes is illegal, where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just a seasoning but the entire dish. It’s also a deeply Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, where giant protective penises are painted on the walls of most houses, and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is also unique. Visitors famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel. This is Nepal for the jet set.
First off there are the early Buddhist sites in the cultural heartland of Bumthang Dzongkhag and the undisturbed traditional Tibetan-style culture that sets Bhutan aside as the last remaining great Himalayan kingdom. Then there are the textiles, outrageous trekking as well as the stunning flora and fauna of Phobjika Valley. Trashigang is an interesting town and also useful for launching into a trip in Eastern Bhutan.
It is also a country of surprises. This is not just a nation of saintly, other-worldly hermits. Bhutan is straddling the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as traditionally dressed noblemen chat on their mobile phones.
If you do visit Bhutan, you will become one of the few who have experienced the charm and magic of one of the world’s most enigmatic countries – the ‘last Shangri La’ – and you’ll be playing your part in this medieval kingdom’s efforts to join the modern world, while steadfastly maintaining its distinct and amazing cultural identity. So why spend all your money to come here? Because most of all, Bhutan offers an opportunity to glimpse another way of living, an alternative vision of what is truly important in life.