The ancient kingdom of Bhutan is known by many names. It is called the last Shangri-la of the earth owing to its majestic valleys deep within the heart of the eastern Himalayas. It is also known as the Dragon Kingdom or the Drukpa Yul, or the land of the Thunder Dragon - a name given after the country’s dominant buddhist sect. Bhutan is undoubtedly the one of the most beautiful places in the world, giving a sense of an otherworldly peace and calm. A visit to Bhutan is an immersion in this ancient culture full of buddhist mythologies, with its monasteries perched on mountain cliffs, rich green valleys and swift rivers that crisscross through the bed of the sloping eastern Himalayas.
Historically too, Bhutan is one of the most interesting places in the subcontinent. While the rest of the subcontinent was colonized for more than 350 years, Bhutan remained untouched, preserving its ancient traditions and defending its borders from both the colonial British and the imperial China. In recent years, Bhutan has been known as a country with the world’s highest happiness index, also ranking first in terms of economic freedom, ease of business and peace. It has emerged as an important travel destination, especially suited for travellers looking for a tranquil atmosphere and wanting to explore some of the most untouched parts of the Himalayas. Bhutan also offers one of the greatest challenges to adventure enthusiasts and serious climbers in the form of the Gangkhar Puensum - the highest mountain in Bhutan and one of the only few unclimbed mountains in the world. If you are interested in travelling to Bhutan, you might need to know some of the basics about this enchanting land.
Bhutan lies amongst the slopes of the Eastern Himalayas, bordered in the north by the Tibet Autonomous Region and in the west and the south by the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim. It is a completely landlocked country with a mountainous terrain within which a dense network of tributaries flows to meet some of the biggest rivers in the world, namely the Brahmaputra and the Ganges. Bhutan lies at an altitude range of 200 meters in the southern foothills to more than 7000 meters in the northern parts.
- By Air: The only international airport in Bhutan is the Paro International Airport. The Yongphulla airport in Trashigeng is the other prominent domestic airport in the country. Flights to Paro, Bhutan are regularly available from most major cities in India.
- By Road: Bhutan is accessible by road through an overnight journey from Kolkata* which takes you to the capital city of Thimphu.
- Rail: No railway network exists in Bhutan, although there are talks of connecting the southern parts of Bhutan, namely, Toribari, with the Indian town of Hashimara in West Bengal by an 18 km long broad gauge railway track.
Due to its extremely steep degree of elevation, the climate in Bhutan is subject to the altitude. It ranges from sub-tropical in the southern lowlands to temperate in the highlands and polar type climate in the northern parts. Bhutan experiences five distinct seasons - summer, monsoons, autumn, winter and spring. The average temperature in the capital city of Thimphu during summers can go as high as up to 24 degrees Celsius in September and as low as 1 degree Celsius in the December winters. The best time to visit Bhutan is said to be from October to December and February to April.
- Thimphu: Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and its most populous city. It also houses some of the country’s most important cultural artefacts and sites worth visiting like the Tashichho Dzong and the Gangteng Monastery.
- Damphu: The administrative headquarters of Tsirang district. Contains the Tsirang Dzong.
- Jakar: Jakar roughly translates as white bird, referring to the ancient myth about a roosting white bird signalling the auspicious location of the founding monastery of the city. Jakar is said to be the place where buddhism entered Bhutan.
- Paro: The sole international airport is located in Paro. The Paro valley, of which the town is a part, hosts some of the best sites to see in Bhutan.
- Tiger’s Nest Monastery: One of the most iconic places to visit in Bhutan
, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is located 900 meters into the clouds perched on the cliff of a mountain. According to legends, the buddhist spiritual leader Rinpoche came here on the back of a tigress and founded the monastery, hence the name.
- Punakha Dzong: The second oldest dzong or historic fortress in Bhutan, the Punakha dzong is also the largest and the most magnificent. It is located at a scenic meeting point of two rivers and houses some of the nation’s most valuable artefacts.
- Zuri Dzong: The oldest dzong in Bhutan, the Zuri dzong was built in 1352. Its location is a part of a popular hiking trail which winds through a rhododendron forest. Gautam buddha is said to have meditated in a nearby cave.
- Gangteng Valley: The Gangtey valley is known as the best known marshland in Bhutan, and is a popular 3 day trek route. The black necked cranes visit here from the plains of Tibet every year. Interestingly, the cranes circle the Gangteng monastery three times as soon as they in the valley in the last week of October, and do the same before leaving the valley for Tibet.
- Cheche La: One of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan, the Cheche La Pass is an hour’s drive away from Paro Valley. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountains of Jomolhari and Jichu Drake.
- Dochula Pass: Dochula is a snow covered pass in the Himalayan mountains
which is encountered between Thimphu and Punakha. The highest peak in Bhutan and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world - Gangkar Puensum - can be viewed from the pass.
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