The sacred Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan is also referred to as the Tiger's Nest monastery. | Richard I'Anson
Once off limits, the remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan 'Land of the Thunder Dragon' is well known for its untouched wilderness, rich Buddhist culture and a history steeped in mystique and legend. In recent times Bhutan has become one of our most popular travel destinations and 2015 is already booking fast.
What makes Bhutan so unique? If we had to put it down to three things it would have to be the strong, well protected culture and the rugged and remote landscapes that make it ideal for trekking. Below is a little more detail about why we have fallen in love with Bhutan and why we think you will too.
Proud Buddhist Culture
You don't need to be into trekking to enjoy the wonderful Kingdom of Bhutan. Completely cut off for centuries, Bhutan still fiercely guards its ancient traditions and Buddhist customs. National dress - the knee-length wrap-around "gho" for men and the ankle-length dress known as the "kira" for women, is compulsory and the performance of the nation/economy is measured in terms of "Gross National Happiness". Unlike many other destinations that have seen a growth in tourism and a dilution of the traditional way of life, these measures are ensuring the preservation of Bhutanese culture for years to come.
Besides simply immersing yourself in daily life on the streets in Paro and the markets of Thimphu, one of the highlights of travelling to Bhutan is a visit to the Taktsang Monastery 'Tiger's Nest' nestled on the cliff edge high above the Paro Valley. Said to have been one of the divine resting places of the Guru Ringpoche, it is worthwhile to ascend the walking trail to appreciate the monastery's breathtaking location on a cliff edge about 800 metres above the valley
floor. If you would like to experience Bhutan without extended trekking our 'Bhutan Cultural Journey' can get you there.
Festivals of Bhutan
As part of its proud Buddhist culture, Bhutan is home to a large number of festivals held throughout the year that add even more colour and vibrance to any journey here. World Expeditions runs a number of special trips to get you to these festivals, including the famous Paro Tshechu, Thimphu Tsechu and the Jambay Lhakhang Drup.
Tshechus are Buddhist religious festivals held around the Dzong (fortress monastery) and generally last several days. The Paro Tshecu, held in April, is a bright, colourful affair with hundreds of people from the city and surrounding countryside filling the courtyards and temple grounds to watch and participate in the event. Masked dances are performed by trained Buddhist monks depicting life events of an historic Buddhist teacher, Padmasambhava. Other dances include that of the Nobleman and Ladies, where flirting princess are punished for their indiscretions. The stag dance tells the story of a hunter who gives up his profession and converts to Buddhism whereas the Barco dance reminds the Bhutanese that their past and present deeds are responsible for their future destiny. The costumes of the dancers are as bright and colourful as the clothes of the local people who have come dressed for this important occasion. Our 'Land of the Thunder Dragon ‑ Paro Tshechu' journey can get you there.
For those who would like a little more trekking with their festival experience, we recommend visiting the Thimphu Tsechu on our 'Bhutan Thimphu Festival & Trek' journey. The Thimphu Tsechu is held in the courtyard of the Tashichho Dzong around September, and the Bhutanese come from all over the country, dressed in their finest clothes to attend. It is believed that those who witness the festival will be brought much luck and their wishes and dreams realised. It is the biggest cultural festival in Bhutan, and we spend the entire day attending. Like most festivals in Bhutan, the Thimphu festival is held to honour Guru Rinpoche, who in the 8th Century contributed to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions.
Another great festival in Bhutan is called Jambay Lhakhang Drup, which is held each October in one of the oldest temples in the Kingdom. Considered one of the most spectacular, the festival lasts for five days and the highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance, designed to bless fertile women and allow them to conceive. Our 'Bhutan Festivals - Land of the Thunder Dragon' will get your there. Visit the Tourism Council of Bhutan's website more more information on the festivals in the Kingdom.
Remote Trekking Opportunities in Bhutan
No matter what your level of experience, the trekking in Bhutan is some of the finest in the world and offers spectacular, remote and quiet treks for the discerning traveller. The treks we offer include the Bumthang Ngang Tang Valley Trek, Druk Path Trek, Chomolhari Base Camp Trek, Chomolhari Laya Gasa (High Passes) Trek and the Snowman Trek.
This three day trek passes through several villages and provides an exceptional opportunity for contact with Bumthab rural life. The valley, which is wide and lush, is also known worldwide for its exquisite handicraft industry. Spectacular mountain scenery, remote and dramatic monasteries and pristine Himalayan culture are hallmarks of this unique region. Our Bumthang Ngang Tang Valley Trek will get you there.
The Druk Path Trek is the most popular trek in the country as it passes through a gorgeous natural landscape of blue pine forests, high ridges and pristine lakes while at the same time offering the opportunity to visit some ancient lhakhangs (temples), dzongs (monasteries)and villages. The Druk Path Trek is also a fairly easy hike to undertake as the distances between rest camps are fairly short. The trail takes you through forests of fir, blue pine and dwarf rhododendrons at altitudes ranging between 2,400-4,200m. This trek also offers hikers stunning views of Mt. Gangkar Puensum, Bhutan's highest mountain and the highest unscaled peak in the world. Our 'Bhutan Thimphu Festival & Trek' journey will get your there.
Also known as the ‘Bride of Kangchenjunga’, this is often described as the finest short trek in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Beginning beyond Drugkyel Dzong at Shana, in the picturesque Paro Valley this trek takes you through stunning rhododendron forests as you weave your way up the valley crossing and recrossing glistening glacial streams. Eventually the landscape opens up to grassy meadows and leads us to Jangothang where you camp below the sacred peak of Chomolhari (7,314m). Continuing toward the Nye La Pass (4,700m) you are treated to views of the startling Jichu Drake (6,794m) and Tshrim Khang, before making the gradual crossing of the pass with views of the Lingshi Dzong perched high on a hill top. The most difficult day of the trek sees the crossing of the 4,950m Yale Pass before descending to the Thimphu River and the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu. Our 'Chomolhari Base Camp Trek' will get your there.
The Laya-Gasa Trek is considered one of the most scenic treks in Bhutan, offering amazing views of some of the most pristine and unspoiled landscapes in Bhutan. The trek follows forest trails where you can appreciate the wide variety of rhododendrons and other spring flowers as you ascend to your camp beneath the sacred peak of Chomolhari. The trek includes a series of high passes (each in the vicinity of 5000m) and camping in alpine meadows beneath a constant backdrop of snow capped peaks. Yak herder encampments and isolated settlements also provide an attractive cultural perspective to the trek. Our 'Bhutan High Trails via Laya' trek will get your there.
An extension of the Laya-Gasa Trek, this is our most challenging trek in Bhutan (and indeed worldwide) and one of the finest in our Himalayan programme. It is undertaken by only a handful of trekkers each season and accesses Lunana – the most remote region of Bhutan. The trek crosses eleven high passes over 4,500m that define the borders of Bhutan and Tibet. Savouring views of Chomolhari and Jichu Drake, you follow trails through yak herders encampments and isolated farming settlements as you prepare for the trek to Lunana. Amid a constant backdrop of 7000m peaks we discover a region of tiny Buddhist monasteries and secluded villages that are isolated from the rest of Bhutan for many months of the year. Our 'Bhutan Snowman Trek' journey will get your there.
The mystical Kingdom of Bhutan is the perfect venue for cycle touring in the Himalaya, it's compact and has mostly sealed roads which cross passes in excess of 3000m, from Paro in the west to Bumthang in central Bhutan. We take in all the highlights including a crossing of the Dochu La, a visit to famous Punakha Dzong, Tongsa and the Gangtey Valley. There are plenty of long mountain climbs and exhilarating descents on this tour, and so a good level of cycling fitness is required. We also supply a support vehicle in case there are stages where a little rest and relaxation are required! Our 'Bhutan by Bike' trip is a unique and rewarding way to experience the Himalaya at handle bar level.