Bhutan Travel: Sightseeing in the Himalayas
Bordering India and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, Bhutan is full of beautiful scenery and rich culture. Getting into the country may seem difficult because of visa requirements, but Bhutan is a great way to learn about the Himalayan culture and have a blast!
With majestic snow-capped Himalayan Mountains, Buddhist temples & monasteries, historic forts, and quiet valleys there is a ton to see and do in Bhutan. Because of the isolated location and unspoiled natural environment of Bhutan, it is often referred to as The Last Shangri-La. Visitors to Bhutan will quickly see why it's citizens have earned the country the reputation of being the happiest country in Asia in a study done by Business Week in 2006.
Visit Paro Taktsang Monastery
As one of the most famous monasteries in the world, many visitors to Bhutan make the pilgrimage to the cliffside Paro Taktang Buddhist Monastery. This temple, known as The Tiger's Nest, was first constructed in 1692, built around the around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave. Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated here in the 8th century. Today visitors come here from all over the world to see the beautiful, serene monastery.
This beautiful temple hangs 2,300 above the bottom of Paro Valley just 10 kilometers from the town of Paro in western Bhutan.
Experience Bhutanese Culture at the Tsechu Festival
Bhutan has a number of festivals each year, but nothing is as colorful as Tsechu (meaning "day ten".) This Buddhist festival, usually held in October, attracts a large number of people coming to see the masked dances. Each dance represents an important point in Bhutan's history, particularly centered around events in the life of Padmasambhava, an important figure in Buddhism.
The festival lasts four days and brings together people from remote places throughout Bhutan, who otherwise do not meet, making it an important social gathering for the Bhutanese people.
See the Beautiful Rinpung Dzong
Another beautiful monastery to visit in Bhutan's Paro district in Rinpung Dzong. This large structure, containing 14 shrines and chapels, is guarded by the Ta Dzong watchtower fortress built in 1649, just five years after Rinpung Dzong was constructed.
As the Ta Dzong no longer serves to guard the monastery, it now houses the National Museum of Bhutan. The museum is home to a huge amount of Bhutanese art covering 1,500 years of Bhutan's artistic legacy. Many of the pieces include paintings as well as bronze statues.
Visit the Ruins of Drukgyel Dzong
Drukgyel Dzong, located in Paro District, played a major role in Bhutan's history as it protected the country from many Tibetan invasions. Gutted by a fire in the 1950s, the fort now lies in ruins which, today is a popular attraction for those visiting Bhutan.
The area surrounding Drukgyel Dzong may be of particular interest to trekkers as Mt. Chomolhari (meaning "mountain of the goddess") lies just to the north of the ruins.
Shop the Weekend Market in Thimphu
Thimphu, Bhutan's capital city, is a great place to shop. Bringing home a souvenir from a travel locale is one thing, but the weekend market offers more than just trinkets. During the weekend, travelers and locals alike can browse the many crammed stalls of Thimphu's streets. This is the perfect time to see the beautiful wares vendors offer, enjoy fabulous street food, and feel like a part of it all.
From Thursday until Sunday evening, shoppers can find all sorts of food such as in-season vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, cheeses, meat (even yak.) Locally made goods can also be found here which include prayer wheels, cloth, baskets, art, clothing, and more. Bargaining is very common here and is a great way to get an amazing price on really unique gifts.
Make Babies at Chimi Lhakhang
Travelers looking to conceive a child should look no further than the Chimi Lhakhang temple. Located in the fertile valley of Lobesa, this temple is given credit for the thriving crops that farmers in this region bring in. The droves of people who seek fertility make Chimi Lhakhang one of the most visited temples in all of Bhutan.
The temple itself is an homage to the Buddhist figure Drukpa Kuenley who would use his *ahem* phallus to impart his teachings. Today, monks use a replica of Drukpa Kuenley's "teaching tool" to bless couples seeking a child. The monks here will also draw a name for the parents to give to their child. If the name is for a male child, the couple should expect a male child and if the name is for a female child, they should expect a baby girl.
Trek Bhutan's Rugged Landscape
The Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet are extremely popular places to trek. The Himalayas of Bhutan are no different. As Bhutan is well-known for its unspoiled natural scenery, it is also a great place for trekkers. The landscape of Bhutan is highly varied from the snowy peaks of some of the highest mountains in the world to lush, green valleys it's no wonder it's such a popular trekker's locale. Bhutan is also home to beautiful alpine meadows and dense, thick jungles, making it a great choice for anyone interested in hiking and camping in South Asia.
Trekkers in Bhutan often hike right past the many Buddhist monasteries, tiny villages, and stone houses which allow a unique glimpse of daily Bhutanese life.
Travel to Punkha Dzong
Punkha Dzong, built in 1637, is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan. As the administrative center of Punakha, this Dzong served as the capital of Bhutan before the capital city was changed to Thimphu in 1955.
This beautiful structure is located right where the glacial-fed Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers meet. The Punkha Dzong has been through a large number of natural disasters including six fires, a huge earthquake, and the bursting of two glacial lakes. Luckily, the Dzong has made it through all of these disasters to stand proud as it does today.
Learn Archery: Bhutan's National Sport
People from many countries around the world enjoy soccer, basketball, and hockey. Because of the widespread popularity of these types of sports, it might be interesting to hear that there is a country whose national sport is not soccer (football.) Really?!? Yep! Bhutan's national sport is none other than archery (called 'Dha' in Bhutan!)
Archery is so popular in Bhutan that almost every village has an archery range. During competitions, each player wears traditional archery dress and joins their team. The target is so distant that team members must go dangerously close to the target in order to watch the shot.
Bhutan has a rich cultural heritage which is apparent in the wide variety of things to do in Bhutan. Whether trekking, taking part in festivals, trying to conceive a child, learning about Buddhism, or bargaining for a great price at a busy market, Bhutan has it all. This peaceful country is a great place for any traveler to feel as if they've traveled through time.
© 2011 Melanie Shebel