Bhutan is no ordinary place. It is the last great Himalayan kingdom, shrouded in mystery and magic, where a traditional Buddhist culture carefully embraces global developments.
Bhutan holds many surprises. This is a country where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just a seasoning but the main dish. It’s also a deeply Buddhist land, where monks check their smartphones after performing a divination. Yet while it visibly protects its Buddhist traditions, Bhutan is not a museum. It’s this blending of the ancient and modern that makes Bhutan endlessly fascinating.
Environmental protection goes hand in hand with cultural preservation in Bhutan. By law, at least 60 per cent of the country must remain forested for all future generations; it currently stands above 70 per cent. For the visitor, this translates into lovely forest hikes and superb birding across a chain of national parks. Whether you are spotting takins or blue poppies, trekking beneath 7000m peaks or strolling across hillsides ablaze with spring rhododendron blooms, Bhutan offers one of the last pristine pockets in the entire Himalaya.
Low Volume, High Value Tourism
he Bhutanese pride themselves on a sustainable approach to tourism in line with the Gross National Happiness philosophy. Foreign visitors famously pay a minimum tariff of US$250 (NZ$357) per day, making it seem one of the world’s more expensive destinations. However, the fee is all-inclusive – accommodation, food, transport and an official guide are all provided, so it’s not a bad deal. You don’t have to travel in a large group and you can arrange your own itinerary.
The Last Shangri La?
So why spend your money to come here? Firstly, there is the amazing Himalayan landscape, where snow-capped peaks rise above shadowy gorges cloaked in primeval forests. Taking up prime positions in this picture-book landscape are the majestic fortress-like dzongs and monasteries. This unique architecture sets the stage for spectacular tsechus (dance festivals). Then there are the textiles and handicrafts, outrageous archery competitions, high-altitude trekking trails, and stunning flora and fauna. If it’s not ‘Shangri La’, it’s as close as it gets.