Bhutan - Overview

A Buddhist kingdom set high in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan was virtually untouched by the outside world until just a few years ago when television and the Internet were finally allowed in. Visiting the country still feels like going back in time, the proud people holding fiercely to their cultural heritage and still dressing in traditional gho and kira robes as they have for centuries. Walking down the streets feels like entering a child’s fairytale book as every building follows a charming old-fashioned architectural style.

Bhutan is a remote Eden like none other on this planet and retains its idyllic charm. The King measures his people’s contentment with a self-coined index of “Gross National Happiness”. The wealth of the Bhutanese is, indeed, extremely high by this measure.

Trips here can be anywhere from five days to three weeks long and Nonpareil can customise your itinerary to fit any schedule or set of interests. You will stay at sumptuous five-star hotels and have a private car, driver and guide at all times.

You fly to Paro, the only city in Bhutan with an airport. During the flight, you are treated to views of Mt Everest and the Himalayan mountain range before continuing on to Thimphu by car after landing. You hike to a remote village and, at the outskirts, the residents greet and welcome you with a chipdrel flag procession to the town centre, organised in your honour. Visit a farmhouse and join the family for a cooking demonstration and tasting.

Enjoy a delicious lunch of fresh yak-butter tea, and home-brewed liquor fiery arak or sweet sinchang. Help them make ema datsi (cheese chilli), buckwheat noodles and pancakes with red rice, served along with hot chilli curries. After lunch, help the family with their daily chores such as taking care of the livestock and crops. Over 85% of Bhutanese still practice subsistence farming and this affords an authentic encounter with the Bhutanese way of life.

Have a lesson in archery, the national sport of Bhutan. Be a spectator at one of the many tournaments that are likely to be taking place at the Thimphu, Changlimithang Stadium archery grounds. Here the skilled archers shoot their arrows over long distances with incredible accuracy. After the tournament, the archers are happy to give informal lessons so that you can try your hand at this sport.

Head into the wilds and go “glamping”, (glamorous camping) in the pristine environment of Punakha, the agricultural breadbasket of Bhutan. Explore the grand Buddhist monastery of the former capital of Bhutan, Punakha Dzong. After receiving a private blessing from the head abbot, hike across rice paddies to the nearby Chimi Lakhang, a temple dedicated to the “Divine Madman”, a 16th century monk who united the country. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy white-water rafting and fly fishing in the Punakha Valley as well as hiking along the banks of the Mo Chhu River through rice, chilli and cabbage terraces. Relish the serenity of this untouched landscape in the comfort of luxury camping amenities including a personal chef, masseuse and other staff.

In your hotel’s spa, indulge in a luxurious massage and hot-stone bath in traditional Bhutanese style. The bath is prepared with hot stones baked over a fire and then added to the water until it reaches the optimal temperature.

Return to Paro and hike or ride a horse up to the amazing and awe-inspiring Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery clinging to a rocky ledge 2,300-foot above a sheer drop to the Paro Valley floor below. Legend dating back to 747 AD has it that Guru Rinpoche arrived at the site on the back of a tiger. Tradition dictates that the Guru concealed among the rocks various forms of dharma treasures known as ters. Three-quarters of the way to the monastery after an approximately two-hour trek or horseback ride you arrive at an observation pavilion. Breathtaking views from the monastery of the mountains and valley below greets those willing to brave the final approach to Taktsang up and down steep staircases carved into the cliff and on foot. Once you reach Tiger’s Nest, a private tour and special blessing by the senior lama will be your reward.

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