Our recommendation to visit Bhutan and neighboring countries
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We were incredibly lucky to be the only folk on the tour in each country, which meant that we could organise it to suit our interests and away from the inevitable Dzongs and temples and more towards the wildlife, particularly butterflies.
Bhutan Travel advice
Events and festivals in Bhutan
The popular festivals in Bhutan have a name of their own. They are known as tshechus and are the Bhutanese festivals which are most representative of the Buddhist culture. They are celebrated throughout the country according to the Buddhist lunar calendar.
As mentioned previously, the largest festivals in Bhutan are the tshechus which exist through the oral tradition. Mythology and religious beliefs are performed through dramatic dances, with the characters dressed in richly-coloured attire. The brightly-coloured costumes, the masks and the music will transport you to another place.
Below are the most notable events in Bhutan. These are the ones you should not miss.
Punakha Drubchen and Punakha Tshechu
This festival takes place from the 15th to the 17th of February to commemorate the battle fought against the Tibetan army. Despite this, it is not a celebration of war, but the opposite. The Bhutanese hold this festival to celebrate the peace that the victory brought to the country.
Just after this, the Punakha Tshechu begins. This is celebrated in the territories of the magnificent Punakha Dzong. This Buddhist festival is held in honour of Guru Rimpoche and consists of different dances and unique celebrations. The display of the thongdrol (applique silk work) is the main attraction of the festival. It is believed that a single glance of the thongdrol will free the spectator and cleanse them of their sins.
The Paro Tshechu takes place between the 21st and the 27th of March. Both the monks and the rest of the lay population wear traditional clothing to dance and enjoy the celebrations, which last for four consecutive days. Here, all one’s expectations are placed on the final moment, when an ancient Tangka is displayed. At 350 years old, it is one of the most ancient of the Buddhist religion.
Festival of Gomphu Kora
This is another popular Bhutanese festival that is also celebrated from the 14th to the 16th of March. The celebration gets its name from an ancient meditation cave where, it is said that the deity Gomphu Kora defeated an evil spirit in this same place.
The Bhutanese make a great pilgrimage to this region as it is one of the country’s most sacred festivals. The most notable part of this celebration is to try the water of immortality that emanates from the holy cave, or to dance all night with the locals.
Festival de Sakteng
If you want to go to one of the most colourful Bhutanese festivals, travel between the 12th and the 16th of June. Bhutanese people from all over the country go to the Sakten Valley dressed in their traditional clothing. There are many traditional dance performances, but best of all are the Yak and Ache Lhamo dances.
Haa Summer Festival
This famous festival takes place between the 13th and the 14th of July. It is famous for, firstly, the festival location, which is the exuberant Haa Valley and, secondly, because it is an exponent of the country’s traditional nomad culture. There are many local games, dances, gastronomy and many amusements.
If you are in the Ura Valley during the 23rd and the 24th of August, you will be able to go to this festival whose principal element is gastronomy. During the festival you can try different types of mushrooms which can only be found in Bhutan. The locals allow the tourists to stay in their houses, to learn about their traditional cuisine, they award them prizes for preparing family recipes, and much more.
Wangdue Phodrang Tshechu
To attend this celebration you will need to travel to Bhutan between the 5th and the 8th of October. The festival gets its name from the region in which it is celebrated, Wangdue Phodrang. It is famous for its local songs and speeches, which are known as Lozeys. This annual festival has been celebrated since the 17th century. The Dance of the Oxen is one of its high points, and it is said that this dance guarantees a happy life.
Also in October, a little later in the month, between the 7th and 9th, the iconic earth celebration takes place. This is one of the popular festivals of Bhutan that gathers the most attendees. The locals dress in traditional attire and enjoy dancing and other cultural activities in the courtyard of the fortress of Tahichhodzong. The best dances are the 21 black hat dances representing different Buddhist deities.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup
This celebration takes place from the 13th to the 19th of November. It includes masked dances, rituals and other ceremonies. Nonetheless, this festival is notable for the fire ceremony, in which participants run under a door surrounded by the flames of dried grasses. The Dance of the Treasure is another unique attraction of this festival, in which the masked dancers perform a unique dance in the middle of the night, naked. It is said that this dance blesses infertile women so that they can have children.
As you can see, there are many popular festivals in Bhutan, so be sure to prepare your trip so that you can go to some of them.GO TO EVENTS
Food in Bhutan
If you have no idea what to eat in Bhutan, we tell you that Bhutanese cuisine generally has a lot in common with Asian cuisine. The main difference is that in Bhutan, pepper and rice are more commonly used, as well as potatoes, because they also have Indian influences.
The base of the Bhutanese cuisine is rice, specifically red rice, which is a type of very tasty brown rice, with a certain nutty flavour. They also use buckwheat and corn. In addition to these cereals, meat is part of typical Bhutanese dishes, beef, pork, lamb and especially yak, are the main ones.
To season dishes, Bhutanese use a lot of chili, as well as cheese, which are also the star ingredients of their national dish: Ema Datshi. This dish is made with green chillies with a cheese sauce, and if you like spicy food, you will immediately become a fan.
Having said that, we will get to know Bhutan’s cuisine better, through a tour of its most traditional and tasty dishes.
As in Nepal, in Bhutan momos are everywhere, especially in street food stalls, but also in restaurants. These kind of vegetable or meat patties can be served fried or steamed. Of course, chilli is a key ingredient in Bhutan.
We have already mentioned this excellent Bhutanese dish, but it is worth noting that it varies depending on who is cooking it. It can be prepared with fresh green chillies, or dried red chillies. Chillies are added to cheese and lots of butter, depending on the taste of the chef.
Another dish to eat in Bhutan is kewa datshi, made with potatoes and choose, but also sometimes with chillies or tomatoes added. To prepare it, potatoes are cut into thin slices and sautéed in butter, then the cheese and other ingredients are added.
Continuing with cheese, but this time mixed with mushrooms, because that is how this other basic Bhutanese dish is prepared. The mushrooms are cooked in a kind of stew with cheese and butter and served with rice. There is also a vegan version, shamu datshi.
If shakam means dry meat in Bhutanese, shakam datshi can’t be anything other dry meat with cheese and butter. To prepare this dish, the meat is cut into small pieces, which are boiled over a low heat, and the butter and cheese are added generously at the end.
Shakam Shukam Datshi
This rare variation, as it is very difficult to find anywhere, is a combination of dried meat (shakam), with dry white chillies (shukam) and cheese (datshi). The result is a very tasty dish, with that bitter touch of white chilli, which you will definitely want to try again.
Take note of one of the more peculiar dishes eaten in Bhutan, which is strips of dried pork, fried with dried chilli. It is a calorific bomb that will leave a strong taste in your mouth, as well as your stomach.
If you are in Bhutan and you like meat, you have to try yak, so this dish is for you. To make this typical Bhutanese dish, yak meat is chopped and cooked with fermented yak cheese. As you can see, yak is the undisputed star of this Bhutanese dish.
Meat-eaters will be delighted on their trip to Bhutan, as they can then try a kind of sausage, made with minced meat, rice and spices. Sichuan pepper gives an unusual citrus flavour to these Bhutanese sausages.
There is more to eat in Bhutan, this time scrambled eggs cooked in butter. The eggs are mixed with a lot of butter to fry them, and then datshi cheese is added. The mix is amazing, so it will surely become your favourite breakfast. You can also combine this dish with rice and chillies, and you have a perfect meal for the rest of the day.
This dish consists of a chicken stew with a ginger flavour, although it is also known as chicken curry. Without a doubt it has a special touch, which makes it different from the typical Indian dishes from which it originates.
To accompany such tasty dishes, the most popular drinks include butter tea (suja), milk tea (ngaja), black tea, and locally produced ara (rice wine), as well as beer.GO TO GASTRONOMY
Shopping in Bhutan
Before deciding what to buy in Bhutan you should know that the Kingdom of Bhutan is Buddhist, so its culture is influenced by this religious practice. Nonetheless, the art world of Bhutan has many dimensions.
If there is one thing to buy in Bhutan, that is the handicrafts. Within this category are the textiles, the religious craftwork and the masks, which are also decorative items. You will find all these items in the street markets, particularly in the city of Thimbu, as well as in Paro.
As for religious craftwork, as this is a Buddhist country, you will be able to find an endless amount of Buddha figures and all kinds of religious objects, such as malas (prayer rosaries), prayer wheels, tangkas (religious paintings), incense burners, etc.
Alternatively, if you want to make purchases that have a certificate of guarantee and quality, you can do this at the Thimbu School of Arts and Trades, apart from their authenticity, they will give you the best prices. In this school they study up to 13 different arts which have their origins in Buddhism.
Below, we will talk about these 13 arts, as they are the best things you can buy in Bhutan during your trip.
Painting in Bhutan is part of an ancient tradition, reflecting daily life as much as the spirituality and the customs of the Bhutanese. Within this art are the Tangkas, which are beautiful hand-painted, very detailed pictures representing Buddhist deities.
You will find Tangkas of all prices and sizes. It all depends on their antiquity, but there is no doubt that their value is based on the amount of work it has taken to create these sacred paintings.
If you are looking for souvenirs in Bhutan, a sculpture or Jim-zo, is a good choice. The Bhutanese artisans work both in clay and in bronze. The former makes pieces to use every day, such as bowls, pots, etc. This is a profession practiced by both men and women.
In contrast, sculpting in bronze is used more for giving shape to deities and manifestations of Buddha. The sculptors are men and, generally, they work for the temples. Although it is forbidden to take images of Buddha out of the country, in the markets you will find many suitably-sized figures to take away as gifts without encountering any problems with the law.
Within sculpting, there is also the art of smelting, or Lug-zo, a tradition that goes back to the 17th century. This art is responsible for creating the famous Tibetan bowls which are, without a doubt, something unique to buy in Bhutan.
Paper making is another of the most deeply-rooted traditions in Bhutan. The craft is linked to the monasteries and was used principally for religious manuscripts. Later, it led to a trade which has been adapted for tourists by creating beautiful, delicate paper objects, such as photo frames, envelopes and letter writing paper.
It is the best quality paper in the world and the price is unbeatable. It is made by hand following artisan principles which have survived since the 18th century.
Wood is another protagonist of this country’s craftwork and, of course, one of the things to buy if you want to take home an attractive souvenir of your trip. More than being artisans, the Bhutanese are master carpenters who know how to carve wood with expertise.
Not only do they make wooden structures for buildings, windows, bridges, etc. but they also sculpt the most intricate figures by hand with extraordinary precision. With this in mind, you can acquire sculpted religious masks of unequalled beauty.
For those who like jewellery and ornaments, other traditional things to buy in Bhutan are pendants, bracelets, earrings, rings and all kinds of trinkets with religious designs. From beautifully hand-sculpted small prayer wheels made of copper or silver, to pendants with incredibly laborious designs.
There are also the malas (Buddhist rosaries), consisting of both 108 beads, to wear around your neck, or of 54 beads, to wear around your wrist. To make these, both seeds and wood are used, or gemstones such as quartz and turquoise.
Tailoring and embroidery, as well as textiles (Thag-zo), also form part of the traditional products to buy in Bhutan. The women wear the Kira, the traditional costume, and the men wear the Gho, a long robe which is tied with a belt. Wool, cotton and silk are used to make these and other items of clothing.
The traditional boots which are decorated with beautiful coloured textiles are, without a doubt, one of the most sophisticated and original souvenirs from Bhutan. You are sure to surprise your friends and family with such a special gift.
And up to this point, this is everything, or almost everything to buy in Bhutan, a country that knows how to attract tourism in a sustainable manner.GO TO SHOPPING
Bhutan tourist attractions
More information about Bhutan
At the eastern end of the Himalayas lies a small country named Bhutan. Known as the "Land of the Thunder Dragon", believing that the violent storms that occur in the highest mountains in the world came from this dreaded dragon, this hidden kingdom is one of the most exclusive destinations on the planet and a unique place to enjoy a fascinating package tour holiday.
It borders the two most populated countries in the world, on the north with China and on the south with India. It is landlocked and has a small area of 40,994 km², divided into 10 provinces in which its 800,000 inhabitants live. The highest peak is Gankhar Puensum at 7540 m, whose summit is famed for having never been climbed. All the rivers are linked to the Brahmaputra basin, the Drangme Chhu being the most important. None of them is navigable and they are fed by glaciers and monsoon rains.The climate varies from north to south and from east to west. In the areas near the Himalayas, the summers are cool and the winters are glacial; in the valleys, the temperature is temperate with hot summers and cold winters and the south is subtropical, with great rainfall that decreases at higher altitudes and to the east.The current monarch, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, is the fifth of a dynasty that was established in December 1907 and is called the "king of the dragon". After centuries of absolute monarchy of a theocratic nature, Bhutan's model of government became a parliamentary monarchy and the country held its first democratic elections in 2008. The urban centres are impeccably integrated into the Bhutan landscape. Everything appears unchanged despite the passage of time. One of the most emblematic and important buildings of the kingdom are the dzongs, a mixture between a fortress and a Buddhist temple with a certain oriental medieval air, which is scattered throughout the territory. They house the monastic community of the region and the administration offices and serve as both civil and religious building at the same time. Its imposing architecture shows a robust and solid aesthetic in the defensive towers and high stone walls whitewashed and decorated in its upper part with coloured borders. Doors, balconies and windows are framed with ornaments and beams of exquisitely carved and coloured wood. Its courtyards are adorned with colourful fabrics during the celebration of the tseshus or religious festivals, in which all the inhabitants of the region participate.The temples are distinguished from the houses by a wide red band that decorates the upper part of its facade and the prayer wheels of the lower part. A government decree has forced the villagers to respect the style of the traditional Bhutanese house, so cities and towns lack modern buildings. All architectural designs respect the aesthetics of the country. In the villages, the houses are large and made of wood or bamboo. The first floor is intended for animals, the second as storage and kitchen and the third, is where the family resides. There is always a room for a family altar or chosum. Numerous walls of rural facades are adorned with paintings of sacred animals to attract good luck and ward off evil spirits. Help between neighbours is the basis of these communities.There is a dress code in Bhutan, another element to the traditionalism of the country. The typical costume is the daily attire worn during work hours by everyone from tour guides, farmers, masons, teachers, students or officials among others. They wear a Kira, a long dress to the ankles and silk shirt of cheerful colours and a gho, a kind of smooth or checkered gown, tied at the waist, with large white cuffs that complement their knee-high socks. To enter the dzongs, men have to put a shawl over their shoulders around their chest as a sign of respect. Its colour determines the wearers status: orange for the officers, yellow for the king and beige for the people in general.Archery is the national sport and attending and participating in competitions are one of the leisure activities preferred by the locals.Bhutan is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world: elephants, rhinoceroses, snow leopards, Bengal tigers, red pandas, golden langurs, black bears of the Himalayas, ravens, which are considered the national animal, and up to 670 species of birds such as the endemic black-necked crane, can be found in the country. The vegetation is represented by extensive and shady forests of conifers, pines, oaks, rhododendrons and junipers, meadows of magnolias, orchids and blue poppies and up to 300 species of medicinal plants. The ten national parks that exist throughout the country guarantee the preservation of their wildlife.
Bhutan happiness index
In 1972 the king created the concept of "Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index" replacing the concept of the gross domestic product, a value measure used by the other economic models of the world.This curious concept, invented according to the Buddhist philosophy, aims to ensure the welfare of the population by guaranteeing social rights and respect for the environment and natural resources, rather than focusing on material goods. Its four basic pillars are sustainable and egalitarian socio-economic development, the protection and promotion of cultural values, the conservation of the environment and the establishment of good governance. It is not surprising that Bhutan is thought to be one of the most peaceful and happy societies in the world.Bhutan has not taken on industrialization and globalization as the rest of the world have. Until recently the borders were closed, and although it has begun to open itself to the world in recent years, it remains shy, preserving its privacy to the maximum. In 1975 the first hotel was built to accommodate the guests for the coronation of the king. In 1999 came the first car, the first television and internet. It lacks factories and buys all manufactured products, fuels and technologies from Indian neighbours. There are no fast food restaurants and there are no advertising signs or international brands. No plastic bags are used. There are no zoos and it is prohibited to cage animals and since 2004, the commercialization and consumption of tobacco in the street and public places was prohibited.It also holds a number of world records. 72% of the country is covered in forests, so it is the only country in the world that is carbon negative; it is the first one with a hundred per cent ecological agriculture, which ensures a healthy and high nutritional value and the second most smoke-free country.
Bhutan's economy is based on the agriculture of barley and rice and subsistence livestock. Tourism is the second source of national wealth, but despite this, Bhutanese want to preserve their natural and cultural heritage. For this, the government has regulated the entry of tourists charging a daily rate, so they can not travel freely, but only through one of the agencies with official permission, which are responsible for organizing trips to Bhutan with all necessary concepts included in the price: visa, food, accommodation, transportation, guide and entry to the places visited. The objective is to promote quality tourism focused on those travellers who wish to know the country specifically, always putting respect for nature and traditions first, so as to produce a low environmental, economic and social impact.There are many reasons to take a tour of Bhutan and several types of trips that can be carried out either alone, with friends, as a family or as a couple: hiking, bird watching, meditation, cultural or a mixture of all of them.75% of the population is Buddhist and the official religion is the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism, originally from neighbouring Tibet. There are meditation and yoga centres in the temples and monasteries, and hotels also have facilities for this purpose available to their guests. Both the landscapes, cities and rural areas of Bhutan look like the setting of a film in which all the details have been taken care of to create an impeccable staging where there is no element that destroys the sought after authenticity. The interpreters are perfectly integrated with their clothing and wander in harmony through the so-called country of happiness that is anchored to their traditions, almost isolated and trying to remain inaccessible to Western influence. This makes Bhutan a very unique place to enjoy a holiday.
Dusting this remote hidden country of the Himalayas from the map and choosing to travel to Bhutan is an excellent decision. For people who want a unique experience where they can slow down and put the level of stress to zero, forget the asphalt and get back together with nature, experience an exquisite treatment, admire unique architecture, hear how the wind rustles the prayer flags, breathe fresh air, find inner peace, throw your prayers to the mountains, feel the tranquility and the most absolute silence, sink your gaze on the horizon between steep peaks, forests, rivers, bridges and valleys, listen to the deep sound of the mantras in the monasteries and see the happiness in the faces of the people, then, the last Shangri-La will be waiting for you, hidden among the unexplored and snow-capped mountains.
Passport with a minimum of six months validity.
A visa is required before arriving in the country. Price approximately $40.
UTC + 06:00.
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Other useful information
People drive on the left-hand side of the road.
Please consult your doctor regarding malaria prophylaxis.
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