Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India, Nepal and Tibet, and is one of the last ‘undiscovered’ places to visit in Asia.
About the size of Switzerland, this is a land of boundless spectacular beauty and an environment that is still pristine. It is home to a progressive monarchy and friendly, contented people who are deeply rooted in tradition and Buddhism.
Despite a growing number of modern conveniences like electricity, the telephone and modern plumbing, Bhutan’s culture is relatively unspoiled and the country’s leaders have gone to great lengths to keep it that way.
The kingdom has never been occupied or colonised and it was completely closed to tourism until 1974.
There was no television until 1999 and regardless of the introduction of newspapers, mobile phones, the internet, air travel, and even Bhutan Idol, Bhutanese live much as they did a century ago. Life here is uncomplicated and the country measures the progress of society in terms of ‘Gross National Happiness’.
Buddhism is the nucleus of Bhutan’s culture and people here are very devout with the country’s most significant architectural treasures being its monasteries and temples.
‘High quality, low volume’ must be the nation’s unofficial tourism slogan as tourism is strictly controlled to minimise the impact of visitors on the culture and the environment. You can visit Bhutan only on a pre-planned, pre-paid tour that includes hotels, guide services, transportation, and meals. Independent travel is not allowed, and the hordes of Backpackers plaguing Nepal are nowhere to be seen.
The government has set prices and regulates the quality of hotels. They have set a flat cost per day for every tourist which may seem high at first, however, once you consider that they include practically everything including accommodation, meals, guide, driver and car, it represents very good value. The cost per day is lower than the price of most four-star hotels in London, Paris, New York or Tokyo. The flat fee covers all tourist hotels which are quite traditional and although fairly simple are generally very clean and comfortable. About one-third of the daily fee goes to the government as a tax, and is a large portion of the countries income.
Alternatively, there are a few luxury hotels, including Como’s Uma in Paro, Taj in Thimphu and Amankora, with their five lodges located throughout Bhutan. There is a surcharge on these luxury properties on top of the government-set price. On a recent trip with my partner, I was lucky enough to experience Amankora’s lodges which are sublime. The attention to detail, the incredible service, and the amazing locations made for one of the best trips we have taken.
Bhutan’s national carrier, Drukair, is the only airline to service Bhutan and has regular flights to Paro from Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka, Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi. Their fleet consist of two aircraft, and although quite a small airline, had amazingly good service. Although the flying time is relatively short the fares are quite expensive, however Business class is only slightly higher than economy class, and definitely worth the few extra dollars.
As you approach Paro, you have amazing views of the Himalaya’s, especially from the left hand side of the plane. Landing in Paro is quite spectacular and not for the faint hearted as the plane descends while navigating the winding valley to the landing strip! P.s. Drukair has a perfect safety record.
Generally the Spring and Autumn months are most popular, however my recent trip was in January which is the midst of their Winter. During this time the temperature in various parts of Bhutan drops down below zero, however the days have beautiful clear blue skies, there is no rain, and there is plenty of sunshine. It was quite chilly during the evenings, which was perfect for the open fires, hot water bottles, and red wine!! Bhutan is an amazing destination and, once you understand how the packages work with the inclusions, it is quite affordable, and one that must be on your list.
info: Visit www.outandabouttravel.com.au to find out more about travel to Bhutan.