Why would you need reasons to visit Bhutan? You’ve probably never even heard of it – right? Well, listen up because there are really are some excellent reasons to visit Bhutan. This tiny Himalayan kingdom is purported to be the closest you’ll get to Shangri-La on Earth. Known as The Land of the Thunder Dragon, it is one of the most eco-friendly tourist destinations and deeply seated in Buddhist culture. It is a land of surprises, such as it being illegal to even buy cigarettes, let alone smoke them. The fact that Bhutan is enigmatic, charming and magnificent are just the basic reasons to visit Bhutan.
Buddhism is the Bhutanese guidebook to life, and it is directly related to Bhutan’s high Gross National Happiness index. A shining example of the way a deeply ingrained Buddhist society functions, Bhutan is a peaceful, meditative and tranquil place, where it’s quite ordinary for men and women to pray with a string of beads in public. One of the quaintest reasons to visit Bhutan is that the quality of life is not measured by material possessions or caste systems; instead GNH is laid down upon a measuring stick of Buddhist values, which are based largely on mental well being and spirituality, something which every person, rich or poor, young or old, male or female can strive for, making happiness in Bhutan a much more obtainable goal.
The spiritual and meditative nature of Bhutanese life encourages solitude. So the fact that Bhutan sees few tourists annually means you’re more likely to soak up the culture one-on-one, in a more independent and solitary manner. Though busy in summer and spring, particularly during the Bhutanese festivals, the bureaucracy one must navigate to get to Bhutan weeds out the less enthusiastic travelers from the hell-bent ones – those passionate enough to jump the hurdles of expensive travel fees, limited entry points and flights, and other such extensive planning. Though the red tape may seem a reason NOT to visit Bhutan, it’s a small price to pay for the peace and solitude the country has to offer.
Neighboring countries, like Nepal and China, offer great hiking trails, but the routes are often well-trodden. For those who like to take the “road less traveled,” Bhutan’s uncharted hiking terrain is ideal, at times with no trails to follow or cabins to rest in. Though this leads to fairly tough trekking, with muddy paths, few navigational markers, camping accommodations and steep ascents, the adventurous type (and those who travel to Bhutan tend to be just such the sort) will get off on the challenge of being their own Lewis & Clark on an expedition into no-man’s land.
Though the terrain you tackle may be uncharted, you won’t have to navigate it without a compass. Your Sacajawea guide will lead you, as Bhutan requires that visitors travel with a tour operator. This form of travel may dismay those who prefer the freedom of independent travel; however, the fact that the daily tourist fee (~$250/day) is all-inclusive, including the tour operator, accommodations, car arrangement, meals and access to incredible attractions, may turn your head. The organization of your trip by another will free you up to soak Bhutan in without the hassle of worrying about the working parts of travel.
When you visit other Asian countries (or any other foreign cultures, really), you visit museums and tourist shows to experience the customs of the old ways and traditions. In Bhutan, you don’t have to, as its old ways and traditions are alive wherever you look. Traditional dress is the Bhutanese everyday garb – men in their “ghos," a knee-length robe with a belt; and women in their “kiras,” a folded cloth formed into a dress. Bhutan’s traditional identity is important to its people, so they take pains to preserve it.
If you love Asian festivals for their amazing colors, you’ll love this as one of the reasons to visit Bhutan. Though you don’t HAVE to visit a festival to observe Bhutanese traditions and customs, you’ll probably want to anyhow, as their festivals are phenomenal. The Bhutanese place significant importance on “Tsechus” (festivals), which are colorful cultural exhibitions, full of brilliantly shaded costumes and masked dancing, during which one receives blessings and is cleansed of sins.
The unique architecture of Bhutan is best displayed in its striking dzongs, which are enormous white-washed forts which appear larger than they, in reality, are through the inward sloping of the battered walls. These religious and administrative centers can be found in every region of Bhutan, two of the most famous being Trongsa and Punakha. It’s no surprise that the Dzongs’ beauty and function inspire the many legends and myths which surround the fortresses.
I think there are some truly great reasons to visit Bhutan. Do you agree?