A Shangri-la nestled in the Himalayas

Diane Manson of Mountain City Travel talks of the dreamy wonders of Bhutan

  • Oct. 16, 2014 9:00 a.m.

The Paro Taktsang monastery

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan, landlocked in the Himalayas between India and China, is one of the most mysterious places you will ever visit, and yet far and away one of the most special.

With a population of only 750,000, Bhutan famously measures its productivity not in Gross Domestic Product but in Gross National Happiness. These are a people encouraged to find the balance in their lives between the material and the spiritual, and it shows. They’re quick to laugh and go out of their way to welcome visitors.

The number of tourists allowed into Bhutan is limited yearly in order to preserve national culture and resources. As a result, unless you’re from India, you’ll be required to pay a daily tourist tariff ranging from US $200–$290 depending on the time of year and how many people you’re travelling with.

The amount may seem steep at first, but it includes accommodation in a three-star hotel, meals, all transportation within the country, (excluding flights), and a local guide for the duration of your trip. (The itinerary is up to you.)

It’s an unconventional tourism model that strangely enhances the experience of coming here.

Most people will begin a visit to Bhutan in its largest city, Thimphu. It’s a place that’s culturally rich at any time of year, but if you manage to make it here during one of the country’s national festivals, you’ll be exceptionally fortunate.

Tshechu in October is Bhutan’s largest festival and the country’s loudest statement about who they are culturally and historically. Local monks perform traditional masked dances, and the joyous atmosphere is positively infectious.

Also when in Thimphu, or even in the smaller city of Paro, be sure to make your way to one of the open markets for a real glimpse at daily Bhutanese life. You may not fancy yourself a photographer, but the brilliant visual spectrum of food and spices will make you believe you are. The colours are surprising and fantastic.

Bhutan’s most famous landmark is the Paro Taktsang monastery. Also known as the “Tiger’s Nest,” this stunning structure north of Paro is built into the rock face of a cliff, about 900 metres (3,000 feet) above the valley floor. The journey there is a bit of a challenge and will require you to have acclimatized to the altitude, and the lookout itself feels terribly perilous. Don’t let that stop you: It is a day you will remember forever.

Those looking for nature will get an exceptional taste of it in Bhutan. The largest national park is Wangchuck Centennial and stretches over 4,914 square kms (1,897 square miles) — over ten per cent of the area of the entire country. Here you’ll find Bengal tigers, snow leopards, wolves, and bears, not to mention some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see on any trip anywhere.

Bhutan is a dreamy place, so let the dream-makers at Mountain City Travel help you get there —  and anywhere else you could possibly want to go. Really. Anywhere. Call toll-free 1-877 -427-2233 or 250-427-2233, or email us at travel@mcity.ca.

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