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The top things to do in Bhutan

Author: David Pettitt

Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan, ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, is a nation of profound beauty and centuries-old traditions. Bhutanese history is a complex tapestry of spirituality, myth and legend heavily influenced by neighbours Tibet and India, yet this kingdom has its own unique cultural heritage expressed in its distinctive art and architecture, food and Buddhist beliefs.

Arguably the most instantly recognisable feature of the Bhutanese landscape, isolated monasteries and dramatically sited dzongs are scattered across the country with visits a key component of any holiday to Bhutan. Serving multiple functions, dzongs are not only key administrative centres but also the setting for colourful religious festivities known as tshechus which take place throughout the year and can be incorporated into a tour.

Bhutan's geography and natural world is equally enchanting, and the nation’s commitment to the environment and sustainable, responsible travel is commendable. A carbon negative country, Bhutan is blessed with pristine forest, towering snow-capped peaks, crystal-clear rivers and lush fertile valleys. Outside of capital Thimphu there are few built up areas and one of the joys of a holiday to Bhutan is the opportunity to fully experience the landscape, the connection to its rural communities and the haven it provides to its wildlife.

Whether exploring ancient monasteries, savouring local dishes, attending age-old festivals or embracing the natural world, Bhutan promises an unforgettable journey. Here is our selection of the top things to do whilst on a tailor-made holiday in Bhutan.

Explore the nation’s capital, Thimphu

Thimphu is the modern capital Bhutan and by far the largest settlement in the country. Bhutan’s political, financial and administrative centre, Thimphu is also the home of the Bhutanese royal family. Highlights include the National Memorial Chorten, National Library with its ancient Dzongkha, and Tibetan texts, Tashichho Dzong where major tshechus are held, the Textile Museum and, if visiting on a weekend, the main market to experience the sights, sounds and smells of everyday Bhutanese life.

Hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Bhutan, a hike to Taktsang, or Tiger's Nest Monastery is a highlight of a visit to the country. This iconic monastery and major pilgrimage site is precariously perched on the edge of a cliff and reached by an increasingly steep climb first through forest and latterly on well-maintained mountain paths. The climb is not only a physical journey but also a spiritual one with far-reaching, panoramic and spectacular views throughout.

Spend a morning in Punakha Dzong

Beautiful Punakha Dzong is possibly the most impressive in Bhutan. Located at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu Rivers, the dzong served as the capital of Bhutan until this was relocated to Thimphu but has retained its centuries old religious and administrative importance. Housing numerous chapels and temples, the dzong is unique for having three courtyards rather than two and is the setting for the important annual Punakha Tshechu.

Discover the collection at the National Museum of Bhutan

Housed in a former watchtower known as Ta Dzong, the National Museum of Bhutan houses a comprehensive and noteworthy collection of artifacts that shed light on the nation's history and culture. Among the many treasures, the National Museum is particularly known for its collection of ancient thangkas, however, it also showcases a range of traditional costumes and religious relics, which when viewed together provide shed a light on Bhutan's unique cultural heritage.

Marvel at the views from Dochu-La Pass

Most visitors to Bhutan will traverse Dochu-La Pass at some point on their holiday as they head east from Thimphu towards Punakha and Gangtey. Dochu-La, which stands at 3,140 meters, is one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan and offers a stunning vantage point for taking in the snow-capped Himalayas. The summit of the pass is crowned with fluttering prayer flags as well as 108 small white-washed memorial chortens or stupas.

Enjoy authentic Bhutanese cuisine

Bhutan’s varying climates and diverse geography have played a major role in the development of its cuisine and the opportunity to experience the country’s food and drink is a particular highlight. Try Bhutan's national dish Ema Datshi, a spicy and creamy cheese and chili pepper stew beloved throughout the kingdom or Ara, a potent alcoholic rice wine usually served hot and particularly popular for warming the spirits during cool Bhutanese evenings.

Attend a Tsechu

One of the most unique things to do in Bhutan is to attend a Tsechu, or religious festival, to witness at first-hand the rich traditions and pageantry that define Bhutanese life. Tshechus are held throughout the country throughout the year so it is well worth checking if you will be able to attend one of these celebrations during your stay in Bhutan. Held in local dzongs, the masked dances and colourful rituals of Paro Tsechu and Punakha Tsechu are amongst the most famous.

Spot the rare black-necked crane

A glacial valley bordering the Black Mountains, Gangtey is best known for its rare migrant population of black-necked cranes that overwinter here between late October and March. Considered sacred, Gangtey is a key breeding ground for these magnificent birds. One of the best ways to view the black-necked cranes is by following the Gangtey Nature Trail – a leisurely two-hour hike from Gangtey Monastery through the grasslands and forest of the valley.

Speak to a travel expert

Speaking to one of our experienced sales consultants is the best way to begin your Bhutan holiday enquiry.

It allows us to answer any questions you may have as well as make suggestions and recommendations for your planned trip.

We are available on evenings and weekends by prior appointment so please do not hesitate to book a call in with us at a time convenient to you.

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