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Visiting Bhutan is like taking a journey into a different reality where temples uncomfortably dangle on the edge of cliffs 4,000 feet in the air, fortresses are built without nails, snow-capped peaks enhance primeval forests and spectacular dances commemorate important actions of the Great Sage. Images of chilies decorating rooftops, red rice served at every meal, reincarnated lamas blessing passersby, and great sages who transform into lotus blossoms in their next life implore weary sightseers to find rest in their own Shangri La.Help Me Plan My Trip
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For Bhutanese, life is all about balance and the belief in Gross National Happiness, which states that the well being of the people is more important than Gross National Product numbers. Besides the fact that Bhutan is the last remaining pocket of pristine life, the government limits – by law – the number of tourists allowed into visit their country making a vacation in Bhutan the most exclusive trip of a lifetime.
People and Culture
The philosophy of the Gross National Happiness described above is part of the Vajrayana Buddhist religion, which exerts the strongest of influences on all aspects of life in Bhutan. This belief includes the Bhutanese view that protecting the environment is part of their cultural preservation. A law was recently passed which mandates that a minimum of 60% of the nation must remain forested at all times and for all future generations.
When to Go
In spite of attempts to market Bhutan tourism in October, the truth is that any time of year is an excellent choice to visit the place, depending on where you wish to go and what you want to do.
For example, since July and August are both fairly wet months, hiking and biking expeditions are ill advised. November and December, on the other hand, are ideal for photography since the light is softened by winter light and skies are crystal clear – and cold. If you want to enjoy flowers and fauna, you must plan to go between March and May. If you would like to see the traditional way of life such as rice harvesting, September and October are your best bets.
But, for the most exciting and memorable experiences, choose one of the many festivals and plan your visit around those.
Tshechus, is a festival celebrating an important event in the life of the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche who is also known as The Precious Gem. Even though to the outsider these festivals look like a secular celebration or one that is ancient and performed for tourists, they are not. Each one of these is a sacred religious feast and social gathering sometimes performed by monks only and at other times, performed by monks and specially designated men of the village. For that reason, spectators are welcome but asked to be appropriately respectful of the people.
A chart of all the festivals, their locations and dates for 2017, is included at the end of this article.
Simtokha Dzong – a fortress with the only tower with 12 sides and a large statue of Mahakala, the Buddhist deity that protects the household
Jakar – a tiny “one street town” in Central Bhutan that has plenty of restaurants and small gift shops as well as an Internet Café and espresso bar!
Since there is a moratorium on the number of tourists allowed to enter Bhutan each year, shopping districts as are common in other countries are equally as minimal. The products made in Bhutan are primarily for the use of those who live and work there.
Sleeping and Eating
There are plenty of good hotels in Bhutan, namely:
- Taj Tashi in Samten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
- Amankora Lodges – consisting of 5 lodges across Bhutan and the only foreign hotelier in the country
- Hotel Gangtey Place – Paro, Bhutan
- Meri Puensum Resort, Woolakha, Punakha, Bhutan
- Como Uma Paro – Paro, Bhutan **this hotel was once owned by the Uma group and has been recently purchased by Como Hotels
The restaurants at the Amankora Lodges and Como Uma Paro hotels offer some of the best food in all of Bhutan. You will need a reservation for either one and, may have to wait anyway, but it is worth the wait.
Bhutanese food is similar to Chinese, Tibetan and Indian foods with slight differences. It’s not as oily as Chinese and Indian and less spicy than Tibetan – which doesn’t say a whole lot since Bhutanese cuisine is loaded with red peppers and designed to make you sweat (a good thing for cold climates!)
If you like fresh mushrooms, Bhutan has more than 400 varieties that are identified as safe to eat. There is even a festival dance dedicated to celebrating the Matsutake mushroom.
You’ll definitely want to try the Red Rice of Bhutan which is grown in fields irrigated by glacier waters high in manganese and phosphorus that make it very red when raw. (It turns a pink color when cooked so don’t be put off by the color.) Bhutan’s red rice is the ultimate in sticky rice and full of antioxidants!
Momos are likely something you’ve heard of or tried in some other Asian cuisine, but Momo is an authentic and original dish of Bhutan that was transported to China, India, Tibet and Thailand over the years. These are usually eaten as snacks or treats between meals.
Jasha Maroo (Jasha Maru) is a spicy chicken dish made with diced chicken, hot, hot, hot chilies, onion, garlic, coriander and ginger. It’s a soup laden at the end of the cooking time with chicken broth. If you don’t like spicy food, be sure to let your server know this in advance – or order several portions of yogurt to cool your mouth.
A Country Too Big For One Trip
The actual square mileage of Bhutan may be small but getting around on mountain roads – even those that are paved – takes longer than it would in more cosmopolitan nations. Once you’ve been to this fantastic country, you’ll want to go back again and again.
Be sure to book well in advance for your second trip.
|1||TAKIN FESTIVAL||Damji, GASA|
|2||NOMAD FESTIVAL||Nagsephel, BUMTHANG|
|3||Bhutan International Marathon||(Annual Event organized by BOC)|
|4||PUNAKHA DRUBCHEN||Punakha Dzong, PUNAKHA||4th – 6th March|
|5||PUNAKHA TSHECHU||Punakha Dzong, PUNAKHA||7th – 9th March|
|6||THARPALING THONGDROL||TharpalingLhakhang, Chummi, BUMTHANG||12th March|
|7||CHHORTEN KORA||Chorten Kora, TRASHIYANGTSHE||11th April & 26th April|
|8||GOMPHUKORA||Gom Kora Lhakhang,TRASHIGANG||4th – 6th April|
|9||TALO TSHECHU||TaloGonpa,PUNAKHA||4th –6th April|
|10||GASA TSHECHU||Gasa Dzong, GASA||3rd – 6th April|
|11||ZHEMGANG TSHECHU||Zhemgang Dzong, ZHEMGANG||4th –7th April|
|12||PARO TSHECHU||Rinpung Dzong, PARO||7th – 11th April|
|12||Chhukha Tshechu||Chhukha Dzong, Chhukha||9th – 11th Apri|
|13||RHODODENDRON FESTIVAL||Lamperi Botanical Garden, Dochula, THIMPHU||14th – 16th April|
|14||DOMKHAR TSHECHU||Domkhar, Chummi, BUMTHANG||5th – 7th May|
|15||URA YAKCHOE||UraLhakhang, BUMTHANG||7th – 10th May|
|16||NIMALUNG TSHECHU||NimalungDratshang, Chummi, BUMTHANG||1st – 3rd July|
|17||KURJEY TSHECHU||KurjeyLhakhang, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||3rd July|
|18||HAA SUMMER FESTIVAL||Town Festival Ground, HAA||5th July|
|18||Mushroom Festival||Genekha, Thimphu||15th –16th August|
|19||MATSUTAKE MUSHROOM FESTIVAL||Ura, BUMTHANG||23rd –24th August|
|20||TOUR OF THE DRAGON (BICYCLE RACE)||Bumthang to Thimphu||2nd September|
|21||THIMPHU DRUBCHEN||TashiChhodzong, THIMPHU||25th – 29th September|
|22||WANGDUE TSHECHU||Tencholing Army Ground, WANGDUEPHODRANG||29th September-2nd October|
|23||GANGTEY TSHECHU||GangteyGonpa, Phobjikha, WANGDUEPHODRANG||3rd–5th October|
|24||TAMSHING PHALA CHHOEPA||TamshingLhakhang, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||29th September – 1st October|
|25||THIMPHU TSHECHU||TashiChhodzong, THIMPHU||30th Sept. – 2nd Oct.|
|27||Jhomolhari Mountain Festival||Jhomolhari||14th –15th October|
|27||THANGBI MANI||TangbiLhakhang, Choekor, BUMTHANG||4th –6th October|
|29||JAKAR TSHECHU||Jakar Dzong, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||29th – 31st October|
|29||Dechenphu Tshechu||DechenphuLhakhang, Thimphu||30th October|
|30||PEMAGATSHEL TSHECHU||Pemagatshel Dzong, PEMAGATSHEL||26th – 28th November|
|31||JAMBAY LHAKHANG DRUP||JambayLhakhang, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||3rd – 7th November|
|32||PRAKHAR DUCHHOED||PrakarLhakhang, Chummi, BUMTHANG||4th – 6th November|
|33||BLACK NECKED CRANE FESTIVAL||GangteyGonpa, Phobjikha, WANGDUEPHODRANG||11th November|
|34||MONGAR TSHECHU||Mongar Dzong, MONGAR||26th – 28th November|
|35||TRASHIGANG TSHECHU||Trashigang Dzong, TRASHIGANG||27th – 29th November|
|36||JAMBAY LAKHANG SINGYE CHAM||JambayLhakhang, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||3rd December|
|37||NALAKHAR TSHECHU||NgaaLhakhang, Choekhor, BUMTHANG||3rd – 5th December|
|38||DRUK WANGYEL TSHECHU||Dochula, Thimphu||13th December|
|39||TRONGSA TSHECHU||Trongsa Dzong, TRONGSA||26th – 28th December|
|40||LHUENTSE TSHECHU||Lhuentse Dzong, LHUENTSE||26th – 28th December|
|41||NABJI LHAKHANG DRUP||NabjiLhakhang, Nabji, TRONGSA||2nd – 4th January 2018|