10 Things To Do in Bhutan To Experience The True Essence of This Place

Bhutan, a Himalayan realm deeply rooted in its ancient values and traditions, captivates with its aura of mystery and enchantment. These defining characteristics permeate every aspect of the country, whether it's the pristine natural landscapes showcasing unique biodiversity, the spiritual essence of Buddhism, or the cultural ethos shaping its way of life. Bhutan offers a plethora of activities and experiences that promise an unforgettable journey through the last bastion of the Himalayan Kingdom on Earth.

Distinguished as the only nation prioritizing happiness over rapid economic growth, Bhutan has institutionalized this pursuit through its pioneering concept of Gross National Happiness, integrated into its five-year planning framework. Beyond its isolation, Bhutan's treasures lie in its rich tapestry of culture, adventurous pursuits, natural wonders, spiritual sanctuaries, and vibrant festivals. Below is a curated selection of the top 10 experiences in Bhutan, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in the authentic essence of the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

# National Museum

A guardian and advocate of Bhutan's cultural heritage, the National Museum stands as a remarkable synthesis of the nation's past and present, ranking prominently among the top attractions in Bhutan. Situated in the town of Paro in western Bhutan, this museum is celebrated for its collection of some of the finest examples of Bhutanese art, some dating back 1500 years. Exhibits include exquisite fine arts, 3-D stamps, silk stamps, the iconic triangular stamp depicting the mythical yeti, as well as paintings and bronze statues, all offering insights into the country's rich cultural tapestry. Established in 1968 within the historic Ta-dzong building, the museum is often referred to by locals as the Ta-Dzong museum, reflecting its deep connection to Bhutan's heritage.

# Thimpu

Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, serves not only as the administrative center but also holds significant cultural and commercial importance. Similar to the intriguing aspects of Bhutan, Thimphu boasts a fascinating feature: it stands as the only capital city worldwide where roads operate without traffic lights. This peculiarity may add to the workload of traffic policemen, yet it epitomizes the city's unique character, blending traditional charm with modern convenience.

This contrast is palpable throughout Thimphu, encouraging visitors to appreciate both the timeless traditions and the contemporary developments of Bhutan. The city showcases architectural marvels like the Simtokha Dzong, a 16th-century fortress exuding artistic grandeur, alongside modern structures such as the Memorial Chorten, National Library, Institute for Zorig Chusum, and Folk Heritage Museum, emblematic of Thimphu's ongoing modernization efforts. Moreover, Thimphu has adeptly adapted to the evolving trends of the modern world, further enhancing its allure.

Despite the urbanization, Thimphu maintains a harmonious coexistence of urban culture with the traditional and spiritual essence of Bhutan. Among the must-visit attractions in Thimphu are the Thimphu Tshechu festival, the iconic Buddha Dordenma Statue, the National Memorial Chorten, the Jungshi paper factory, and the bustling Centenary Farmer's Market. These destinations offer a glimpse into the vibrant tapestry of Thimphu's cultural heritage and contemporary lifestyle.

# Chime Lhakhang

Could you imagine a place where phalluses are venerated? Well, Chime Lhakhang in Bhutan is precisely such a site. While this notion might be startling to many religious traditions, in Bhutan, it holds a sacred significance akin to the reverence for Buddha. Chime Lhakhang is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley, a saint whose unconventional ways set him apart from the typical image of sanctity. Legend has it that Lama Drukpa Kunley was known for his unorthodox behavior; he enjoyed alcohol and the company of women, and even scandalized others by urinating on religious paintings. Despite these antics, he remained a devout Buddhist, though his teachings were considered radical, albeit well-intentioned.

According to belief, the saint vanquished the demon of Dachu La using his phallus, which he called the 'Magic Thunderbolt'. Since then, he has been revered by the people, and Chime Lhakhang stands as a testament to his legacy. Located approximately 77 kilometers from Thimphu, Chime Lhakhang attracts numerous women struggling with infertility, who seek blessings for fertility. The presence of large phallus images adorning Bhutanese homes finds its justification in the story of this saint.

# Paro Valley

Emerging from the convergence of two vital rivers in Bhutan—the Paro Chuu and Wang Chuu—Paro stands as a picturesque valley, often regarded as the lifeline of the nation. Blanketed with sprawling expanses of rice and paddy fields, the valley exudes a verdant allure further accentuated by the meandering course of a crystalline river. Adding to the enchantment are the dense forests of oak and rhododendrons that adorn its landscape.

Paro ranks among the most sought-after destinations in Bhutan, particularly for travelers seeking spiritual solace. The valley hosts over a hundred temples and monasteries, some dating back to the 14th century. Notable among them is the Taktsang Monastery, a revered landmark in the Himalayan realm perched dramatically on a cliff, offering breathtaking panoramic vistas of the Paro valley. Numerous other religious sites dot the valley, including the Kila Gompa and Dzongdrakha Temple, each contributing to the region's spiritual ambiance.

For those planning a visit during the spring season, the vibrant Paro Tsechu festival promises a cultural spectacle not to be missed. With its rich tapestry of religious sites, natural splendor, and cultural festivities, Paro epitomizes the essence of Bhutan's spiritual and scenic treasures.

# Taktsang Monastery

Perched atop a cliff within the breathtaking valley of Paro, the Taktsang Monastery stands as an essential pilgrimage site in Bhutan, beckoning visitors with its serene ambiance and profound spiritual significance. Revered as one of Bhutan's holiest sites, this monastery holds deep associations with the nation's Buddhist heritage, particularly with Guru Padmasambhava, the revered founder of Bhutanese Buddhism. According to legend, Guru Padmasambhava arrived at this sacred spot on the back of a giant tigress, who made it her dwelling, hence earning the monastery its moniker, Tiger's Nest.

Accessing the temple involves a trek along mountainous paths, each carrying symbolic significance for the Bhutanese people. The initial path winds through pine forests, symbolizing protection from malevolent forces and imbuing travelers with positive energies. Subsequent routes ascend from a plateau believed to be inhabited by countless fairies, adding to the mystical allure of the journey.

# Punakha Festival

Formerly referred to as Punakha Drubchen, this festival serves as a poignant reminder of the 17th-century clash between the Bhutanese and Tibetan armies. During the festivities, locals don full battle attire and reenact scenes from this historic confrontation, honoring the triumph that ensued. Over time, this commemorative event evolved into an annual festival, deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of Bhutan.

Another rendition of this celebration, known as Punakha Tsechu, was introduced in 2005 with a specific aim: to uphold the teachings of Lord Buddha and perpetuate the legacy of Zhabdrung Rimpoche. Both iterations of the Punakha festival hold immense significance in preserving Bhutan's cherished traditions and heritage, a source of enduring pride for the nation.

# Dochu La Pass

Merely 30 kilometers from the capital city of Thimphu lies the Dochula Pass, famed for its collection of numerous Chortens. A total of 108 Chortens, erected in honor of Bhutanese martyrs, embellish the pass, enhancing its scenic allure. Nestled at an altitude of approximately 3150 meters above sea level, the pass offers panoramic vistas of the majestic snow-capped Himalayan ranges. While at the pass, indulge in a steaming cup of coffee and marvel at the ethereal beauty of this pristine location.

Winter serves as an ideal time to venture to this part of Bhutan, as the region experiences heavy snowfall, adding to its charm. Additionally, Dochula Pass hosts an annual festival in December, aptly named the Dochula Festival. Commencing in 2011, this festival commemorates the victory of Bhutanese soldiers over Indian insurgents, underscoring its historical significance.

# Gangtey

Located in the central region of Bhutan, Gangtey holds significance as one of the most prominent monasteries within the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. Situated amidst the enchanting Gangtey Valley, also known as the Phobjikha Valley, this monastery offers a serene retreat amidst breathtaking natural beauty. Visiting the valley during winter, when its landscape is blanketed in pristine white snow and flocks of black-necked cranes migrate to the region before continuing their journey to Tibet, is highly recommended.

Accessing the monastery entails trekking through forests adorned with rhododendrons and magnolias, rendering the journey a scenic delight. The Gangtey trek, known for its relatively moderate difficulty level, also traverses through tribal villages such as Gogona and Khotokha, providing travelers with a glimpse into the traditional way of life in Bhutan.

# Tashicho Dzong

Throughout the Bhutanese mainland, numerous monasteries take the form of grand fortresses, each imbued with religious and administrative significance. Among these, Tashicho Dzong stands prominently in the northern region of Bhutan, serving dual roles in religion and governance.

For over a century, Tashicho Dzong has served as the seat of the royal Druk Desi, the principal figure in Bhutan's civil administration. This regal edifice encompasses thirty temples, shrines, and chapels, rendering it a highly revered pilgrimage destination in Bhutan. For an enriching experience, consider visiting Tashicho Dzong during the Tsechu festival, a time when the site brims with vibrant cultural festivities and spiritual fervor.

# Kurje Lhakhang

Yet another revered site in Bhutan, this one holds a distinguished status among the devout. Legend has it that the esteemed Tibetan Buddhist master, Guru Rinpoche, engaged in profound meditation at this very location, leaving behind imprints of his body. Dating back to the 8th century, Kurje Lakhang is situated in the picturesque Bumthang valley of Bhutan.

Also known as Kurje Monastery, this sacred complex comprises three distinct buildings, enveloped by a circle of 108 Chortens. Revered not only by the Bhutanese people but also by Buddhists worldwide, Kurje Monastery holds significant spiritual importance. The monastery radiates with festive fervor during the 5th Bhutanese month, as the Tsechu festival illuminates its grounds with vibrant celebrations.
Share this article