Luxury Bound loves to introduce you to places that are as authentic as they are alluring, and as diverse as they are different from anywhere else in the world you may have been. Perched high in the eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a magical country where secluded monasteries are heady with sandalwood incense and deep ravines are coated with misty forests of oak and pine.
Some consider it the last great kingdom of the mountain range. But while it may be small in size, its landscape is epic when measured in terms of altitude change. Away from the crowds of Thimpu, the bustling capital, lie treasures that reveal the peace of this predominantly Buddhist nation, where you can slow down in a mysterious world of dzongs and prayer wheels, intricate thangka paintings and golden stupas.
The country remained largely closed to the outside world for most of the 20th century, with the first foreign tourists permitted by invite only in 1974. This lack of contact allowed the locals to evolve at their own pace, and even today, to encourage high-value, low-volume tourism that protects the cherished customs and spiritual identity of the citizens, international visitors are subject to a minimum daily spend. This means it has avoided the impact of over-tourism other destinations have experienced, and attracted people who are more engaged with the local life. It’s a typical move in a nation where the Gross National Happiness of every citizen is valued more than their contribution to the GDP.
Investment has arrived in the form of luxury hotels and wellness spas with meditation gardens for discerning travellers, while homestays are reassuringly remote. But what else can you see and do in this nation up in the clouds?
The most spectacular and symbolic of Bhutan’s Buddhist festivals, this not-to-be-missed, 5-day event is held each spring and includes the unfurling of the world’s biggest embroidery painting (Thangka or Thongdrel). It’s a staggering social gathering where the Bhutanese come together in their finery to enjoy vibrant masked dances that commemorate the 8th century master, Guru Rinpoche, widely venerated across the land as the second Buddha.
The monastery of Paro Takstang looks down on the Paro Valley from its lofty cliff-side setting, 900 metres above a thick pine forest floor. The hanging temple is allegedly secured to the mountain by the hairs of angels, and many visitors opt to combine a visit to this heavenly site with a multi-day trek to the surrounding meditation centres.
Also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery and the Temple of the Guru with Eight Names, you can follow pilgrims uphill to holy springs and images of demonic deities with animal heads, and descend into the dusty cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated for three months.
Punakha Dzong is perhaps the most beautiful of the dzongs, especially in spring when the jacaranda trees bloom with scented lilac flowers against the whitewashed walls of the winter residence of the dratshang (Commission for Monastic Affairs). King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Queen Jetsun Pema here in 2011, following in the tradition of all preceding monarchs.
Sat between the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, the only access to the exquisite complex is via the wooden Bazam bridge that takes you to three courtyards of elaborate buildings and serene monastic quarters. You can gaze at murals depicting the life of Buddha, and discover the temple where the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the bearded lama who unified Bhutan) are preserved.
From soul-stirring monasteries to stylish restaurants, there are many reasons to visit Bhutan’s capital, but the Weekend Market on the banks of the Wang Chhu river is a sensory delight in a maze of market halls filled with the aroma of incense and spices. Vendors start to descend on the city a couple of days in advance, bringing their banana pods, roasted barley, discs of soft cheese, and wild honey to sell. Across a cantilevered bridge, the handicraft market is riot of colour where smiling locals trade authentic crafts from shops made out of bamboo.
Hot Stone Baths
One of Bhutan’s ancient names is ‘Menjung’ (‘Land of Medicinal Herbs’), and to take a traditional hot stone bath is to fully pamper yourself with the tranquility of the culture. Drawing on Ayurvedic practices, it’s a mindful form of medicine where fire-roasted river stones are placed in wooden bathtubs of water scented with Artemisia leaves. Offered all over the country, from luxury hideaway hotels to rural farms, it will lift your spirit and transport you back to a place where time really has stood still.
To take your next holiday to new heights, contact Caroline today and she will design a transformative travel experience tailored precisely to your needs. Call 1300 767 237 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.